BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve

January is upon us. The quietest month of all, a natural respite from the cacophony of holiday festivities, the days ahead stretch out like a lazy yawn. Mercifully unhurried and undemanding, it’s back to work as usual, but without the same frantic pace as before. Some unspoken understanding allows us to resume our activities with a greater margin for error. Retreating back into the warmth of our homes, insulated under the padding of thick sweaters and blankets, I used to see this as a very isolating time of year. Now I’ve come to realize that it’s just a matter of how we choose to find comfort. We’re actually all in this together, experiencing the very same nesting instinct; whether we choose to share our nests with one another makes all the difference.

Inevitably, much will be said about comfort food in the coming days, despite of the incessant push to “eat clean” or observe a “New Year, new you.” Join me in rejecting these silly slogans, once and for all. Changing your diet or exercise regime won’t change who you are. No matter how far you run, no matter how many green smoothies you chug, your essential core remains the same, and you know what? I think that’s pretty amazing.

Pardon the terrible segue here, but I just wanted to take that brief opportunity to wear my heart on my sleeve, inspired by the deeply soul-satisfying dish known as manicotti to us Americans, or “little shirt sleeves” to Italians. Such a labor-intensive pasta preparation could only be made with love and patience, both of which I’d like to believe are in ample supply as we stride boldly forward into 2017. Fitting the definition of comfort food to a T, the combination of noodles, cheese, and red sauce is one that can’t be beat… But perhaps, with just a bit of innovation, improved upon.

Chef Barry Horton of Sanctuary Bistro replaces the wheat-based pasta with savory sheets of yuba, naturally savory, toothsome, and somewhat lighter on the fork. Lithe and flexible, the tofu skins are wrapped up around dairy-free ricotta filling like crepes. There’s less danger of tearing apart hot pasta while fruitlessly burning your fingers during preparation, so even the cook can take it easy during this meal.

A perennial favorite on the menu, it strikes me as an especially appealing dinner now as we steep ourselves in the depths of winter. Soothing and familiar, yet exciting enough to pull us out of hibernation, it’s the kind of meal that makes it a little bit easier to share openly- of food, thoughts, and comfort.

Tofu Manicotti

By Chef Barry Horton of Sanctuary Bistro

Marinara Sauce:

1/2 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic
1/2 Cup Red Wine
1 14-Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Tofu Ricotta:

1 Pound Firm Tofu
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning
1 Teaspoon Minced Garlic
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock

To Assemble:

10 Ounces Fresh Yuba, Cut into 3×5-inch Rectangles
Olive Oil
Fresh Chives (Optional)

Begin by preparing the marinara. In a sauce pot, sauté the onions in olive oil until translucent. Add in the garlic and cook until aromatic and very lightly browned. Pour in the wine, reduce the heat to medium-low, and let simmer until reduced by half. Stir in the tomatoes and continue to simmer for an additional 10 – 15 minutes. Add the seasonings and yeast, along with salt and pepper to taste, before transferring to a blender. Blend until as smooth or as chunky as you’d prefer.

While the sauce is simmering, make the most of your time and get started on the tofu ricotta. Add all of the ingredients into your food processor and pulse to combine. Pause as needed to scrape down the sides of the container, ensuring that everything is well incorporated. Continue blending until smooth.

To assemble, spoon about 3 tablespoons of tofu ricotta across the short width of each yuba rectangle. Gently roll the strips of yuba up like a little wrap. Sauté 3 or 4 at a time in a generous amount of olive oil, cooking until crisp and lightly golden brown.  Serve on a pool of sauce and garnish with freshly chopped chives, if desired.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

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Beeting the Odds

To everyone who survived 2016 in more or less one piece: You deserve a drink. Each passing year seems especially intense right as we prepare for the next, the most news-worthy events still fresh, stinging wounds that have yet to heal. It’s the immediacy, the fact that we’re still so close to it all, that each lurid detail snaps to mind with painful clarity. That said, this one struck me as a particularly difficult slog, through all the losses, ugly politics, and general malaise that the entire world is still struggling to overcome.

Impossibly, inexplicably, some facets of these tragedies give me hope. The worst can also bring out the best in people, and I’ve seen some incredible acts of kindness, courage, and inspiration as a result. There’s still so much to celebrate, and I sure as hell am not going to let anyone stop me from moving forward with optimism, no matter the situation. The key here is community, supporting one another in the darkest of days, which is why my festive drink of the season is one made for a crowd.

Beets sound like a terrible idea for a cocktail, granted, but their natural sweetness and mellow earthy flavors ground the mixture in a comforting, satisfying way. Brighter citrus flavors lift up the taste buds, singing with unexpected harmony, elevated by the effervescence of champagne. The essential inspiration for the combination came from Stirrings, in the form of a challenge to use their mixers in new and innovative ways. This is my entry into the contest, and I’m looking forward to raising a glass with all of the other celebratory entries sure to come. You can keep up with them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Stirrings can be found at Bevmo, Total Wines & More, Draegers, Mollie Stones, Hi Time Liquors, Pacific Ranch Market, Daniels Market, and Bristol Farms stores.

In the face of these challenges and unresolved, unsettling cliffhangers, I turn to 2017 and say: Bring it on. Do your worst. If we could manage this past year, we can tackle anything. So join me in raising a glass to celebrate the successes and failures alike, to move forward to a brighter New Year. After all, I have faith that with such perspective underneath our belts, it can only get better from here.

Beet to the Punch

1 Cup Stirrings Lemon Drop Cocktail Mix
3/4 Cup Golden Beet Juice*
2/3 Cup Orange Liqueur
3 Cups Hard Apple Cider
3 Cups Champagne or Sparkling White Wine
Spiralized Golden Beets, to Garnish (Optional)

*To make the beet juice without a juicer, start with at least 2 cups of raw, peeled golden beets. Chop them roughly and place them in a high-speed blender with just enough water to allow the blades to spin freely. Puree completely, until entirely smooth. Pass the resulting blend through a very fine-mesh sieve or nutmilk bag and extract as much liquid as possible. Discard or reserve the pulp for another use.

Combine all the ingredients in a large punch bowl with a ladle for guests to help themselves. Serve over ice. Garnish individual glasses with spiralized beets, if desired.

Makes 10 – 14 Servings

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Nothing Bundt Chocolate

Despite the recent influx of chocolate-covered features here on BitterSweet, I swear the trend is entirely unintentional. Given the festive season that’s upon us, I’d much rather share treats infused with bright spices, sweet winter fruits, and hearty whole grains. The catch here is that I’m typically not baking for myself, but for others, and there are quite a few picky eaters on my list. While you can never please everyone, you can bet I’m still going to try.

Thus, most nuts and dried fruits are out. Anise and clove are incredibly polarizing flavors. Nothing with booze for the staunch non-drinkers. Vegetable-haters object loudly to pumpkin in any format, which means that butternut and sweet potatoes are also out. What, then, is left in the average baker’s arsenal?

Chocolate. Everyone loves chocolate, aside from liars and the mentally unstable. This one is nothing new, and in fact, is quite a throw back. Pilfered from my mother’s recipe box on a recent visit, this classic chocolate cake is brought to you by my Great Nana Blanche. I never met the woman, but clearly, she knew how to cook for a crowd. Easily modified to yield layers, cupcakes, or a bundt, the basic formula never disappoints.

If you’re also going crazy trying to make something special for a number of picky eaters, take a hint from the classics. Sometimes, you just can’t beat a tried-and-true, old-fashioned chocolate cake. There’s a reason why those recipes have survived through so many years.

Great Nana Blanche’s Sour Cream Chocolate Cake (Veganized)

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Vegan Sour Cream
1/4 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Hot Water

Simple Chocolate Glaze (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease your baking vessel of choice.*

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the vegan butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add in the sour cream, yogurt, and vanilla, mixing until homogeneous. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed to ensure that all the ingredients are fully incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the hot water. Mix just until smooth.

*You have many options for the final shape of this cake, and all are equally delicious! Simply adjust the baking time accordingly:

9×5 loaf pan = 45 – 50 minutes
12 – 14 cupcakes = 16 – 18 minutes
8 layer cake round = 30 – 35 minutes
10-cup bundt pan = doubled recipe, baked for 60 – 70 minutes
6 – 8 mini bundts = 20 – 25 minutes

Let cool completely before glazing, if desired.

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Cacao Concerto

To talk of decadent white chocolate treats but withhold all the corresponding recipes would be terribly cruel.

Inspired by the myriad shades of chocolate that color the culinary world, I wanted to create a cookie that celebrated as many facets of these revered beans as possible. Not just in chips or chunks, but in powdered format, and even sticky syrup too. The results came out exceptionally tender, chewy beyond my wildest dreams, and utterly, thoroughly, chocolatey. Though I would never tempt fate to suggest that these darker, richer morsels could replace traditional chocolate chip cookies altogether… Let’s just say that the classics have some serious competition to contend with now.

Chocolate Quartet Cookies

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Natural Cocoa Powder
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips or Chunks
1/4 Cup Vegan White Chocolate Chips
2/3 Cup Natural Chocolate Syrup
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with either parchment paper or silpats.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, and salt so that all of the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout the mixture. Add in both kinds of chocolate chips and toss to coat.

Separately, combine the chocolate syrup, oil, and vanilla. Stir well, and then add the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Using a wide spatula, mix just enough to bring the batter together smoothly. Portion out cookies with a medium-sized ice cream scoop, and place them with at least 1 1/2 inches between each cookie on your prepared baking sheet. They spread out to become sizable cookies, so I usually bake about 8 or 9 per sheet.

Flatten them out slightly with lightly moistened hands, and bake for 10 – 12 minutes, until barely browned around the edges and no longer shiny on top. They may looks a bit underdone, but they will continue to bake once removed from the oven, and you want to keep them nice and chewy. Let the cookies rest on the sheets for 10 minutes before cooling completely on a wire rack.

Makes 16 – 20 Large Cookies

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Go Big or Go Bake

Six ounces of flour, sugar, chocolate, and nuts. Tipping the scales at almost a half pound of dough, the chocolate chips cookies from Levain Bakery in NYC are infamous for good reason. Instantly recognizable, these behemoth baked goods have inspired a cult-like following and countless imitators over the years. Size alone sets them apart from the pack, but it’s the distinctive combination of the very best textural aspects of America’s favorite chewy cookie that cements their place in popular culture. Crisp on the outside, each miniature mountain is tanned golden brown from a blazing hot oven, yet still nearly raw and luxuriously gooey on the inside. If the mere mental image of that sort of decadence doesn’t send your sweet tooth into overdrive, then perhaps you should check your pulse.

Copycat formulas are a dime a dozen as just a cursory internet search will show. Some remain more faithful than others, and I will shamelessly declare mine a vast departure from the inspiration. Naturally, translating the concept into vegan vernacular takes the results out of the running for best doppelgangers, so I saw no harm in taking a few more flavorful liberties from there.

Levain Bakery makes a big fuss about stripping down their dough to the bare essentials, omitting even vanilla extract, which quite frankly strikes me as a crime against all cookies. Also, rather than sticking with the traditionally prescribed walnuts, cashews add a more buttery crunch to my mixture. Finally, and I must apologize to the Levain Bakery fanatics here, but I simply didn’t have the gustatory fortitude to form my balls of batter into full six-ounce cookie bombs. Knocking them down to a mere quarter pound still yielded enormous treats will all the right ratios, but in ever so slightly more manageable portions.

If this is your first introduction to the iconic cookie, consider yourself warned: Each one is truly a mouthful. For the jaded eater who thinks that all chocolate chip cookies are more or less the same, I dare you to try just one bite while maintaining a straight face. Something as universally adored as the classic chocolate chip cookie truly needs no further explanation, so for all those voracious bakers who have already skipped on to the recipe, I don’t blame you. All anyone really needs to know is that you’re in for a treat.

Levain Look-Alike Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 Cup Vegan Butter, at Room Temperature
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Vital Wheat Gluten
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
2 Cups Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1 Cup Cashews, Toasted and Roughly Chopped

Place the vegan butter in the bowl of your stand mixer and begin beating it on low speed to soften. Add in both sugars and cream together until completely homogeneous, pausing as needed to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Slowly pour in the aquafaba, vanilla, and vinegar, blending thoroughly to incorporate. It may look somewhat strange and curdled at this point, but don’t worry as long as the it’s well mixed.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, vital wheat gluten, salt, baking powder and soda. Add the dry ingredients into the stand mixer bowl and start it on low speed. Once mostly incorporated, add in chocolate and nuts, and continue mixing until the dough is smooth and all of the goodies are properly distributed.

Stash the dough in the fridge and chill for at least 1 hour before proceeding.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line 3 – 4 baking sheets with slipats or parchment paper.

Scoop out about 1/3 cup of dough for each cookie, roll the dough lightly between moistened palms into round balls, and do NOT flatten them out. Allow a generous margin of space between each mound on the baking sheets; at least 1 1/2 – 2 inches of breathing room in between the cookies.

Bake for 10 – 14 minutes, until lightly golden brown all over. Quickly remove the silpats from the hot baking sheets as soon as they emerge from the oven and let cool completely. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week… If you can resist them that long.

Makes About 16 Giant Cookies

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Open Sesame

Just think: Every time you blend up a new batch of hummus, sprinkle on the finishing touch to a bagel headed into the oven, or slather your morning toast with a savory spread, you’re partaking in the oldest oil seed crop known to humanity. The sesame seed truly is an ancient wonder that’s managed to stay as relevant as ever in modern life. You might reasonably imagine that this old dog no longer has any new tricks left up its sleeve, but if so, you’d be dead wrong.

Taking on the Simply Sesame Blogger Recipe Challenge was no challenge at all, given the subtle but transformative new twists presented by Simply Sesame. Each spread contained a wealth of rich, warm sesame flavor, but one in particular will continue to haunt my memories. The unconventional combination of crisp, nutty pistachios with a subtle undercurrent of spicy cardamom flavor immediately leapt out at me from my very first taste. It didn’t take much effort to find fresh inspiration from this primeval paste.

Infusing sesame essence throughout each soft, tender crumb, these are no mere snack cakes. Though baked rather than fried like traditional doughnuts, each bite is so rich and full of flavor that you’d never dream of adding another drop of oil. Freshly toasted pistachios add another dimension of roasted aroma, not to mention a satisfying crunch every now and then. Cardamom continues to sing quietly in the background; just enough to add a certain something special, without necessarily shouting its name from the rooftops.

Top the whole treat off with a gossamer-thin glaze enhanced simply with delicate vanilla bean flecks, and it’s impossible to resist the complete package. As soon as they emerged from the quick icing dip, I regretted making only a single batch.

Consider this the least challenging “challenge” on the entire internet. I dare you to take it yourself, but be warned; no other mere tahini will ever quite measure up again. Keep in touch with Simply Sesame through Facebook, Twitter, and Instgram for the contest results and more delicious inspirations.

Baked Sesame-Pistachio Doughnuts

1 1/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Toasted Pistachios, Chopped
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/4 Cup Simply Sesame with Pistachio Morsels
1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar

Vanilla Bean Glaze:

1 1/4 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
1 – 3 Tablespoons Water

Dragees or Sprinkles to Garnish (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a standard doughnut pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, chopped pistachios, baking powder and soda, salt, and cardamom. Thoroughly combine to distribute all of the ingredients equally throughout the mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine the Simply Sesame with Pistachio Morsels with the non-dairy milk, sesame oil, vanilla, and vinegar. Once smooth, pour these liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula to incorporate. Mix just until the batter is smooth.

Either transfer the batter to a piping bag to dispense it cleanly into the prepared baking pan, or simply use a spoon to carefully distribute it between the six indentations. Leave it slightly mounded up towards to center of the rings, rather than smoothing it out.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers of the cakes comes out clean. Cool completely before preparing the glaze.

For the glaze, simply whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, vanilla paste, and 1 tablespoon of water. Continue slowly drizzling in additional water water until it reaches your desired consistency. Dip each doughnut into the glaze, allowing the excess to drip off, and apply dragees or sprinkles to your heart’s content.

Makes 6 Doughnuts

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Steamy Secrets

It’s remarkable how the most ubiquitous, seemly mundane ingredients can be utterly transformed with a fresh perspective. For example, eggplants show up in nearly every culture, every grocery store, and every cookbook. For the wide range of varieties available across the world, accompanied by the distinctive palate of flavors that each locale prefers, there’s truly an eggplant preparation for everyone. Despite the abundance of options, it seems we’re drawn back to the same recipes time and again, sticking to the familiar for the sake of simplicity. That was certainly the case for me, which is why the promise of an all-eggplant cooking class held both intrigue and skepticism. What new was there to learn about this staple vegetable that I naively presumed had already divulged its culinary secrets long ago?

The one way I would never have attempted to cook an eggplant turned out to be one of the most revolutionary. Believe it or not, steaming these burnished violet nightshades created one of the most superlative eggplant dishes to hit my plate in years. Previously ignorant to this dramatic metamorphosis, the idea of steamed eggplant sounded about as appealing as stewed gym socks. On the contrary, the softened and shredded fruit is downright silky, luxuriously caressing the tongue with unexpected richness.

Hailing from China, this unsung hero of eggplant cookery comes to life with an impossibly creamy glaze of toasted sesame, soy sauce, vinegar, and a gentle kick of heat. Such complex flavors seem to contradict the simple procedure, but that’s the true beauty of this secret formula. This radical departure from the standard menu was right there all along, hidden in plain sight

Beijing-Style Steamed Eggplant with Sesame Sauce
by Chef Philip Gelb

2 Chinese Eggplants, Halved Lengthwise
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
2 Teaspoons Light Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Black Vinegar
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
1 Teaspoon Palm Sugar
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1 Tablespoon Chili Paste (Optional)
1 Thinly Sliced Scallion, to Garnish

Steam the eggplants for 10 – 15 minutes, until very tender. Meanwhile, combine all the remaining ingredients for the sauce in a large bowl.

Let the eggplants cool for a few minutes so that you can handle them comfortably, and then use your hands to tear them into long strips.

Toss the eggplants with the sauce and top with scallion. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

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