BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Short and Sweet

Good things come in small packages. Navigating the world as a vertically challenged person, this particular truism is one that I hold close to heart. Height, or lack thereof, should never be viewed as an obstacle, but rather celebrated for all the unique benefits it provides. Leg room is never an issue when flying, even on a cut-rate coach ticket, for example, and it’s effortless to slip in (or out) of a crowd. I’d like to think that a smaller size means that all the good things inside are merely condensed and intensified to fit, amplified into a more pure form. Although that can’t be said for all people, that’s certainly the case for strawberry shortcake.

Modern interpretations of this sweet biscuit sandwich stretch the definition, often towering higher than a modest layer cake, but at its core, the concept remains short and sweet. Today, I’m here to push the boundaries further, albeit in the opposite direction. Flattening out the assembly into one thin plank, this confectionery rendition measures less than a centimeter tall, dazzling with flavor rather than lofty aspirations.

Encased in darkly caramelized toffee, crispy quinoa stands in for cake or biscuits, adding just the right cereal note to support the star players. Strawberries, dried and sliced, are both beautiful and flavorful; removing the excess water creates a far sweeter treat than fresh fruit, while simultaneously extending their shelf life to suit any season. Whipped cream is out of the picture, handily replaced by a luscious drizzle of white chocolate instead.

Although shortness often carried negative associations, like being short-tempered or getting short shrift, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t celebrate the more compact things (and people) among us. There’s no need to drone on and turn this into a long post; let’s keep it short and sweet, starting with a morsel of strawberry shortcake toffee, shall we?

Strawberry Shortcake Toffee

1/2 Ounce Freeze-Dried Strawberries, Divided
1/3 Cup Crispy Quinoa Cereal or Crispy Rice Cereal
3/4 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Demerara or Turbinado Sugar
1 Tablespoon 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

3 Ounces (1/2 Cup Chips or Finely Chopped Pieces) Vegan White Chocolate, Melted

Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, lightly grease, and sprinkle half of the freeze-dried strawberries along with all of the crispy cereal over the bottom, as evenly as possible. Set aside.

Grind the remaining dried strawberries down to a fine powder in a coffee or spice grinder. Combine it with the vegan butter, sugar, maple syrup, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and set over moderate heat. Stir just to moisten all of the sugar, and then keep your spatula out of the mixture until the very end. Instead, swirl the pan gently to mix the contents, which will help prevent premature crystal formation.

Allow the margarine to melt and sugar to dissolve before clipping a thermometer to the side of the pan. You’ll want to bring the sugar to a steady boil, until it turns a deep amber brown color and reaches 300 degrees, which is also known as the “hard crack stage” of candy making.

Turn off the heat, carefully stir in the vanilla as it may sputter angrily, and immediately pour the mixture into your prepared pan. Try to pour it evenly over the goodies within so as not to displace the goodies at the bottom.

Let cool completely before snapping into more manageable pieces. Drizzle with melted white chocolate, and let set once more before handling. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

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Fit for a Fiesta

Funny how holidays tend to sneak up on a person, even when the date is baked into the name itself. Cinco de Mayo is largely an excuse for day drinking here in the states, but it would truly be a shame to let it pass without indulging in a bit of edible hedonism as well. Someone who was more prepared, or at least aware of the rapidly advancing calendar, might have shared something suitable with enough time to plan, prepare, and lock down a party game plan before the actual date.

I am not that person.

However, I don’t need to be, and neither do you! Not only are these spicy appetizers compulsively munchable, they’re effortless to throw together at the drop of a sombrero. Modeled after meatballs but inspired by tacos, each bite-sized morsel turns the classically meaty, spicy, typically messy dish into dainty finger food. No more crumbly taco shells dumping their contents all over your white pants; crushing tortillas into a crunchy coating allows them to remain perfectly crisp, yet intact and firmly adhered from plate to palate.

Clear your schedule, call up all your friends, and start crushing ice for a boatload of frozen margaritas; there’s a party brewing as soon as you preheat the oven.

Taco Bites

1 12-Ounce Package Vegan Beef Crumbles or Crumbled Tempeh
1/2 Cup Black Beans, Roughly Mashed or Refried Pinto Beans
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 Clove Garlic, Finely Minced
1/4 Cup Yellow Cornmeal
1 1/2 Teaspoons Chili Powder
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1/3 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Finely Crushed Tortilla Chips

Salsa, to Serve

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

Place your meatless crumbles of choice in the food processor, along with the beans, tomato paste, garlic, cornmeal, chili powder, paprika, cumin, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Pulse briefly to combine, but be careful not to over-blend. You want to break down the crumbles a bit but still leave a lot of texture here. Introduce the aquafaba, cilantro, and salt next, pulsing once more to incorporate. Blend just until you achieve a cohesive, meaty dough.

Scoop out balls the size of walnuts and roll them in the crushed tortilla chips, completely coating the exteriors. Place each ball on your prepared baking sheet and repeat the process until you’ve used up all of the central mixture.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the balls are firm and evenly browned. Serve hot, alongside your favorite salsa and an icy cold beverage.

Makes About 20 Bites

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Coffee Flour Brew Haha

Think outside the cup. For every scalding-hot carafe of coffee, how often have you stopped to consider what didn’t make it into that brew? Precious as they are, those beans are but a small part of a bigger plant, celebrated yet simultaneously, curiously ignored. Nutritious, perfect viable fruit is stripped away from these kernels, left to rot in the fields without a second thought. Considering just how much coffee the average office drone will down in a given day, you can only imagine the staggering amount of food going to waste.

Slowly but surely, a steady buzz is growing around turning this by-product into a worthy crop in its own right. Dried and milled, the resulting coffee flour contains only as much caffeine as chocolate (which is negligible at most), but can boast a much more measured energy boost in the form of abundant protein and fiber. Although it’s been an esoteric ingredient on the fringes of mainstream food ways, considering the fact that it’s now available at Trader Joe’s, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of it from here on out.

Preserving personal health and the environment at large are both admirable goals, clearly within the cross hairs for those singing the praises of this power flour. Whether or not they’re attainable depends entirely upon more hedonistic perspectives: Taste. Leftover husks and skins don’t sound particularly delicious, and the flavor is one you might not expect based on the label. Fruity, floral, with notes of lemon and (of course) cherries, the dark brown powder tastes nothing like a cup of mud. Is that a good thing? A bad thing? Just a thing to consider?

If you ask me, that unique essence just proves how much more the coffee cherry has to offer. Functioning much like cocoa powder in baked goods, it can generally take the place of 30 – 40% of the standard all-purpose flour in a given recipe, or blended into smoothies for a whole new sweet sensation.

Of course, given the comparison to cocoa, I couldn’t resist trying it first in a batch of fudgy, gluten-free brownies.

Held together by the magic of aquafaba and crowned by a perfect crackled crust, these are pretty much my ideal cookie bars. The impulse to add a bit of coffee essence was too strong to deny, but you could just as happily omit the instant coffee powder if you’re not a natural coffee fanatic. Accenting with a pinch of cinnamon, or playing up the subtle citrus notes of the flour with a hint of orange zest, would be equally delightful.

Coffee Flour Brownies

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter, Melted
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/3 Cup Aquafaba
3/4 Cup (4.5 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Divided
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Coffee Flour
1/2 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder (Optional)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch square pan.

Place the vegan butter, sugar, aquafaba, and 1/4 cup of the chocolate chips in a small saucepan over low heat. Gently warm, stirring constantly, until the chocolate and butter have melted, and the sugar has dissolved. It should be smooth and silky. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Let cool for 10 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the coffee flour, cocoa powder, instant coffee (if using), salt, baking powder, chopped pecans, and remaining chocolate chips. Toss to combine and thoroughly coat the mix-ins with flour, to prevent them from sinking to the bottom.

Add the liquid chocolate mixture into the bowl of dry goods, mixing with a wide spatula to combine. You needn’t worry about over-mixing here, since it’s completely gluten-free! Make sure there are no pockets of flour or lumps hiding within the batter before transferring it to your prepared pan. Smooth down the top so it’s one even layer.

Bake for 16 – 20 minutes, until the top is dry and shiny. A toothpick inserted into the center should pull out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it; you don’t want it completely clean, or the brownies will end up being dry. Let cool completely before slicing.

Makes 12 – 16 Brownies

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Mary Me

How one of the most beloved brunch pairings ever became associated with a murderous ex-queen of England is beyond me. Countless were condemned to an early death under the rule of Queen Mary I, leaving her with few friends to raise a glass with. Complicating matters is the fact that the tomato and vodka mixer didn’t appear anywhere in history until the 1930s when vodka began to flow from Russia following the second world war, many centuries after her own demise. Numerous early mixologists claim to have invented the original cocktail, and just as many stories behind the gruesome name exist- None particularly compelling. Attempts at uncovering the truth end up looking about as murky and opaque as the drink itself.

No one needs help understanding the modern Bloody Mary, on the other hand. Instantly recognizable and ubiquitous across the globe, you can rest assured that if there are spirits on the menu, the bartender can undoubtedly fix you the bold red brew. Like pizza and sex, even the bad ones are pretty good.

That all said, there’s no reason to settle for sufficiency or fall into a boring routine. Though incredible simple in composition, each separate component can be tweaked to yield a brave new blend.

Vegetable Juice: Tomato will always reign supreme and for good reason. Naturally balanced with the delicate nuances of savory, salty, sweet, and sour, it’s tough to beat such a carefully calibrated blend. Tradition shouldn’t put a damper on your creativity though; there’s plenty of room for a fresh perspective, and this foundation ingredient is where you’ll make the biggest impact. Shake things up, with or without a proper cocktail shaker, by looking farther afield. Either solo or in concert with pure tomato juice, consider carrot, celery, tomatillo, or beet.

Alcohol: While generally mild spirits that play well with others are your best bets here, more robust beverages can become a more prominent piece of the puzzle, defining the character of the drink. Vodka or sake are your best bets for simplicity, and tequila or gin can provide a refreshing change of pace. You could even turn it into more of a spritzer or cooler with champagne or dry white wine. For a virgin drink, use still or sparkling water.

Acid: Bright, astringent notes are essential for lightening the overall mix, delivered via citrus or vinegar. Lemon juice, lime juice, rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or balsamic vinegar are all excellent options.

Umami Sauce: For lack of a better title, this is your secret weapon; the component that most people will overlook but miss sorely if it doesn’t make the final cut. Vegan Worcestershire, store-bought or homemade, is the default option, but you should definitely consider soy sauce, coconut aminos, or vegemite/marmite for the job, too.

Spice: Heat preferences are highly subjective so dial it up or down according to taste, taking the potency of your selection into account. Add a touch of warmth or a blazing inferno with horseradish, Tabasco sauce, sriracha, wasabi paste, crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, or paprika.

Salt: Salt is salt, right? Not so fast. Seasoned salt can jazz things up, and celery salt could lend an extra vegetal zest. Smoked salt is also fabulous for adding another layer of depth and meaty aroma.

Garnishes: If it fits in or on a glass, it’s a valid garnish option. The sky is truly the limit (just take a cursory look through Google Images if you think that’s an exaggeration) but classic, mostly highly recommended options include: coarse salt rim, celery stalks, pickled okra, jalapeno, or green beans, lemon wedge, cucumber spears, asparagus stalks, olives, or sliced radishes.

With these suggestions in mind, select your favorites and follow the Basic Bloody Mary Blueprint:

1/2 Cup Vegetable Juice
1/4 Cup Alcohol
2 Teaspoons Acid
1/2 Teaspoon Umami Sauce
1/8 – 1/2 Teaspoon Spice
Pinch Salt
Pinch Ground Black Pepper
Ice (Optional)
Garnishes (Optional)

Mix everything up, adjusting individual components to taste. Serve over ice (or don’t) and garnish as desired (or don’t.) You really can’t mess this one up, I promise.

Makes 1 Drink

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All About That Hass

Morning, noon, or night, avocado toast always hits the spot. Something about the way a luscious, creamy slab of ripe avocado melts into a hot slice of burnished golden toast defies explanation, yielding a taste far greater than the sum of its parts. Dress it up with any variety of spices, seeds, fruits, or vegetables; there’s no way to go wrong with this universal foundation. That said, it’s hard to beat the original and I always crave even more avocado, piling it up as high as gravity will allow.

Seeking a new way to pack in even more of the rich green fruit, I turned to crafting a more perfect base. This bread gets its soft, tender crumb and vibrant hue from a buttery blend of both mashed avocado and avocado oil. It makes for brilliant sandwich bread as well, sliced thin and layered with sweet and savory fillings alike… But of course, I’d always opt to add more avocado whenever possible.

Avocado Bread

1/4 Cup Warm Water (About 100˚F)
1 Teaspoon Light Agave Nectar
1 Packet (2 1/4 Teaspoons) Red Star Active Dry Yeast
2 Large, Ripe Avocados (About 9 Ounces Total)
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 Cup Aquafaba
2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil
1 Teaspoon Salt
3 – 3 1/2 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour

Combine the water and agave in a small bowl before sprinkling the yeast on top. Allow it to sit until the yeast is reactivated and bubbly; about 5 – 10 minutes.

Transfer the yeast picture to the bowl of your stand mixer and add in the flesh of the avocados and apple cider vinegar. Using the paddle attachment, begin to mix on medium-low speed, mashing the avocado until completely smooth. Once homogeneous, introduce the aquafaba, avocado oil, and salt, mixing to incorporate.

Add 3 cups of the flour and begin to mix slowly. Swap out the paddle attachment for the dough hook before adding in the remainder of the flour, if needed, to bring the dough together. Let the machine continue knead the dough for about 10 – 15 minutes on low speed, until the dough forms a smooth, elastic ball. It should be a rather soft dough, so don’t be tempted to add more flour.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature for about 1 hour or until doubled in volume.

When the dough has risen, preheat your oven to 350˚F. Transfer the dough into a greased 8 ½ x 4 ½-inch baking pan and gently smooth out the top with lightly moistened hands. Let rest once more at room temperature for another 30 minutes.

Bake 40 – 50 minutes, until golden brown all over and irresistibly aromatic. Let the finished loaf rest in the pan for 15 minutes before removing it to cool completely on a wire rack. Slice, savory, and enjoy!

Makes 1 Loaf

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Sugar, Spice, and Everything Rice

Rice is life. The original “ancient grain,” rice in some form has been around since the beginning of recorded history, flourishing in every cuisine across the globe, the very foundation of civilization itself. The word for “rice” in Japanese is the same as the word for “meal,” which succinctly demonstrates just how essential this basic cereal has been for many millennia of cooks and eaters. Boasting well over 40,000 different, wholly unique varieties, one could easily eat rice every single day for their entire lives and never grow bored. Today, I’m talking about basmati, but not just any basmati; Texmati, the first of its kind to be grown in the US.

In collaboration with RiceSelect, I’ve plunged head-first into these tender, subtly nutty grains, relishing their versatility in both sweet and savory applications. Remaining firm and chewy after cooking, it’s particularly well-suited for stir-fries, soups, fried rice, pilafs, and stuffings, but to really highlight this whole grain, I wanted to take a less conventional approach.

Horchata, the greatest form of rice milk known to humankind, is arguably just as important to the evolution of society. Creamy but still light and refreshing, cinnamon tints the icy-cold beverage lending its gentle spice to the blend. It’s hard to improve upon something so brilliantly simple, so infallibly satisfying… Which is I didn’t try to in the first place. Instead, I took that inspiration and turned it into an entirely new treat, in the form of soft, decadent cookie bars.

More flavorful than plain white rice and more toothsome than typical basmati, Texmati Brown Rice truly shines in this new sweet sensation. Falling squarely between cake-y and chewy, these blondies manage to strike a delicate balance that’s only improved when served thoroughly chilled, just like a tall glass of horchata itself.

When the formula is so uncomplicated, every last ingredient counts, which is why I want you to taste these horchata blondies the right way: With Texmati rice. RiceSelect and Mambo Sprouts have generously offered to equip one lucky reader with not one, but two containers of Texmati Brown Rice, plus a bonus tote bag to flaunt around town. To enter, just hit the giveaway page here, and don’t forget to leave me a comment! This giveaway will run until April 19th, and the winner will be notified shortly thereafter.

Horchata Blondies

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Aquafaba
1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Almond Extract
1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Cooked and Cooled Texmati Brown Basmati Rice

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Lightly grease and set aside.

Place the vegan butter and sugar in a small saucepan and set over medium-low heat. Cook gently until the butter is melted and the sugar has fully dissolved.
Turn off the heat and stir in the aquafaba, vanilla, and almond extract. Let cool for at least 10 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Incorporate the cooked rice, tossing to evenly coat with flour. This will help prevent it from simply sinking to the bottom as the bars bake. Once equally distributed, pour in the liquid mixture and stir with a wide spatula, just until the batter is homogeneous. Transfer to your prepared pan and smooth down the top.

Bake for 22 to 28 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely before slicing.

Store the blondies in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature, or for up to a week in the fridge.

Makes 8 – 12 Bars

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What’s in a Name?

One name is pretty standard baggage, if not the bare minimum for informal identification. Whether you’re a fan of your moniker or not, it sure beats yelling out “Hey, you! You with the face!” to command attention from friends and family. We all have at least one good name, and often two, perhaps three, and even a nickname for closer confidants. However, the web of casual connections grows increasingly tangled from there, when a seemingly endless stream of unrelated aliases all point in the same direction. What kind of secrets are hidden behind each different title? Where did all those names come from, and why did they keep relabeling the exact same item?

Sea foam, fairy food, hokey pokey, honeycomb, sponge candy- There could very well be more pseudonyms that I’ve missed, well concealed by this cunning candy. This vintage sweet had taken on a new assumed name with each community of unsuspecting bakers. None were troubled enough to ask many questions, so utterly enchanted by its signature matrix of sugary bubbles, forever frozen at the hard-crack stage, that all other concerns were quickly abandoned.

Though I set out on a mission to uncover the truth, that cause fell by the wayside as I cooked and caramelized, stirred and stewed, bubbled, boiled, and crystallized my very own sweet mystery. If anything, the kitchen enigma I created was even darker, more powerful than the old fashioned candies of yore. Crisp foamy craters redolent of chocolate define this newest incarnation, possessing almost as many forms of cacao as its storied names. There’s cocoa and dark chocolate of course, and cacao nibs for extra crunch, but the real secret ingredient here is chocolate extract. Nothing else is able to convey such a depth of flavor in this fragile ratio of sugars and liquids without collapsing the delicate framework of airy perforations.

I’m no closer to uncovering the true indentity of this culinary chameleon… But I do understand why so many before me have fallen for such a sweet devil without question. Now that I’ve given it yet another name to contend with, the waters of history grow murkier, tinted with the all-consuming powers of chocolate, but that’s far from a bad thing. What’s in a name, anyway?

This post was made possible thanks to Rodelle and their superlative cacao contributions.

Quadruple Chocolate Honeycomb

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar
5 Tablespoons Water, Divided
1 Teaspoon White Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Chocolate Extract
2 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
2 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1 Tablespoon Cacao Nibs

Line an 8 x 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper and lightly grease. It doesn’t need to fit perfectly inside the pan, as long as it will cover the bottom and sides without any holes for the liquid candy to escape through.

Combine the sugar, agave, 4 tablespoons of the water, and vinegar in a medium saucepan. Stir just to moisten all of the sugar and place over medium heat. Swirl the pan gently to mix the ingredients as the sugar slowly melts, but avoid stirring from this point forward to prevent premature crystallization.

Meanwhile, mix together the remaining tablespoon of water, cocoa powder, and chocolate extract in a small dish; set aside.

Cook until the mixture caramelized and reaches 300 – 310 degrees, also known as the hard crack stage in candy-making terminology, and remove the pan from the heat. Things will move very quickly from here, so be on your toes. Vigorously stir in the cocoa paste along with the baking soda, allowing the mixture to froth and foam violently. Immediately transfer the liquid candy mixture to your prepared baking dish but do not spread or smooth it down. Allow it to settle naturally to maintain the structure of fine bubbles trapped within.

Let cool for at least 1 hour until fully set. To finish, melt the the dark chocolate in a microwave-safe dish, heating at intervals of 30 seconds and stirring thoroughly in between each one, until completely smooth. Pour over the top and spread it evenly across the surface. Sprinkle with cacao nibs and let rest until solidified. Break the candy into pieces and enjoy.

Sadly, it doesn’t keep well for more than a two or three days at room temperature, even when sealed in an air-tight container, so enjoy without delay!

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