BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Given the Cold Shoulder

Blurring the line between genius and madness, typical recipe brainstorming sessions can yield any number of wild, unpredictable results, combining disparate flavors that bear tenuous connections at best. It’s the best and worst part of any free-association exercise, opening up the floodgates and allowing a torrent of unfiltered ideas to flow. I’ve come up with some of my greatest hits this way, but sometimes, I’ve inadvertently managed to cobble together terrifying Frankenstein monstrosities instead. Most of these are easily eliminated before they ever come to fruition to assault unsuspecting eaters in real life, but unfortunately, it sometimes takes a round of testing before I realize the errors of my ways. Recipe writers don’t like to talk about it, but failure is far more common than success.

Thus, given my adoration for ice cream and endless supply of crazy concepts, I’ve dished out more than my fair share of distasteful scoops. In honor of Nation Ice Cream Day today, I thought it might be fun it dive into the archives to unearth some of these frozen horrors. Brace yourselves: The following list is not for the weak of stomach.

  • Raisin Bran Ice Cream
  • Black Garlic Ice Cream
  • Old World Borscht Ice Cream
  • Ketchup Ice Cream
  • Bread & Butter Pickle Chip Ice Cream
  • Cinnamon-Raisin Noodle Kugel Ice Cream
  • Smokey Barbecue Sauce Ripple Ice Cream

Consider yourselves lucky that I had enough common sense to know when to put the ice cream paddle down. Not all ideas can be winners, but you have my word that only the best ever make it into print.

I hope everyone is enjoying this “holiday” with only the creamiest, sweetest, and most luxurious of sweet scoops!


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Weather or Not

Don’t talk about the weather. No one wants to read another dissertation on the current atmospheric conditions in their own immediate locale, let alone those in some irrelevant corner of the world. Not a single person out there could care less about the recent rainfall, temperature swings, or the balance of sun and clouds, and yet you’d be hard pressed to find two consecutive posts here that don’t bear at least a passing mention of one. Keep this up and you’ll have to convert BitterSweet to a weather blog. Of all the topics to open a conversation with, discussing the weather is absolutely the most boring approach, guaranteed to stop any casual interaction in its tracks. Please, I’m begging you, do not start another article based around the weather.

It’s a conversational dead end, a social death sentence, a trap that I’m well aware of and yet fall into every time. Weather affects countless facets of my daily life, making it impossible to merely push aside as though it wasn’t such a dominating force. That’s especially true when it comes to culinary inspiration. No other single element affects the food I crave and create more than Mother Nature, each dish an edible manifestation of her mischievous climate deviance or meteorological phenomenon. Shopping more often at farmers markets and less at traditional supermarkets only intensifies this connection. Given this overwhelming influence, how am I to introduce a recipe inspired entirely by seasonal availability?

Let’s just talk about the food, shall we? The latest gems sparking my interest have come straight from the aforementioned farmers markets, thanks to the brilliant program CUESA has assembled, featuring local chefs and produce every weekend.

Presented by Chef Ben Paula of Sauce, this colorful composition has been a delicious reminder of the brilliance in simplicity for many ensuing meals. A Pickled Beet and Braised Beet Top Salad may not sound like much on paper, but the lightly briny taproot adds a new dimension of flavor to the leafy greens. Utilizing the whole vegetable, each plate presents a complete and thoughtful study of the much-maligned beet. I would wager that even naysayers would find something to love in such a fresh approach.

For a sweet accompaniment that won’t weigh you down, I would highly recommend the Blood Orange-Carrot-Almond Dreamsicle from Neka Pasquale of Urban Remedy fame. Truth be told, the name itself is far more complicated than the actual recipe. Simply mixing together prepared juices and almond milk provides a smart alternative to juicing from scratch, and creates an unexpectedly luscious drink. All you need is equal parts carrot juice, orange juice (blood or orange or standard work equally well, I’ve found), and almond milk. Add the almond milk last to prevent it from curdling, and enjoy chilled. I’ve taken to mixing up the formula with beet juice as well, since I just can’t get enough of the ruby red orbs.

Even if your immediate outlook isn’t nearly so sunny, go ahead and leave the forecast off the menu. I’d argue that these spring-time treats needn’t require optimal weather for your enjoyment.


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A Cookie for Every Craving

Whether you’ve baked a dozen batches of every cookie bookmarked in your recipe file or have yet to fire up the oven, it’s never too late to squeeze in another sweet option. Especially true around the holidays, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the season than with a few homemade morsels of sweetness. The possibilities are simply endless, taking form in every shape under the sun, boasting colors and flavors previously beyond the scope of imagination. Even if you have a game plan all set out for your festive gifts, desserts, and midnight snacks, it’s never to late to add a few more recipes to that list.

This is especially true when you’re talking about the winners of the annual VegNews Holiday Cookie Contest. Certified delicious by a panel of discerning sweet teeth, I was tasked with an assignment of significant import: Photographing the top three victorious treats. Yes, it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

In third place, the Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies by Alison Sullivan sparkle with the warm spices and rich chocolate flavor. The only thing better than enjoying one still warm out of the oven would be to pair it with a cup of the eponymous beverage itself.

Coming in at second place, the Gingerbread Fudge Buttons by Anna Jurik are real beauties to behold. Luscious pools of melted chocolate resting in tender gingerbread cups, these options are sure to shine on any cookie platter.

Taking the grand prize in first place, it’s easy to see why the Salted Caramel Cookies by Michelle Norton took the cake- Or cookie, as it were. Dangerously easy to whip up, this sweet and salty combination hits all the high notes in every soft, chewy bite. Just try and leave a single one out for Santa, I dare you!

No matter how you decide to celebrate the holiday, or not, be sure to make it sweet. Have a happy everything!


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The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

Who hasn’t landed on a lavishly curated new blog, garnished with extravagant photos tucked between every mouthwatering paragraph, and cursed the fact that the potential for smell-o-vision technology has not been fully realized yet? Better yet, where are those edible 3-D printer inks when you need them? It’s the best and worst aspects of the blogosphere that are inseparable: Inspiring recipes from all corners of the globe can be instantly beamed into your home, but the ferocious hunger that they incite cannot be be satisfied by mere visuals alone. Although this far-flung community is closer than many social groups in real life, it’s hard to bridge that physical gap when you can’t just reach out and share a cookie with your friends.

Thus, the annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap is nothing short of a holiday miracle. Started in 2011, I only regret jumping onto this bandwagon so late in the game. Imagining the joy that my own homemade cookies might spread, the moments that their sweetness might brighten, kept my oven churning even through the stress of work deadlines. Finally having like-minded recipients for my sugared creations was a singular thrill, but admittedly, it wasn’t my only motivation. Tired of winter dinner parties where all meals ended with a cacophony of eggs and butter, I wanted some special holiday cookies for myself, gosh darn it!

Sending out three carefully wrapped parcels and anticipating three others in return, my already lofty expectations were far exceeded by the sweetness soon to arrive.

The Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies from Happy To Be a Table of Two were the first guests to check in at this sugar-fueled gathering. The brilliant aroma of chocolate and cinnamon mingled in the air before the zip-lock bag was even unsealed, and I knew I would be in for a treat. Tender, soft, and supple, each generous round was the perfect texture, made even more impressive due to the time and travel involved. Every bite packs in an ideal amount of chips to add bursts of rich chocolate flavor without dominating the whole cookie. A delightful combination of flavors that seems well suited for all seasons, this is one recipe I’m definitely adding into my collection.

The next, truly outstanding creation came courtesy of Loose Leaf Vegan. Her impeccable Chai Thumbprint Cookies rang with a measured balance of salt and spices, culminating in luscious pools of toothsome fudge on top. Supported by a pillow-y yet satisfyingly dense base, the rich chocolate filling absolutely put these morsels over the top. I’m afraid you’ll just have to take my word for it though, since I selfishly horded, and have since eaten, every last cookie by myself. The baked beauties are just too good to share.

Unfortunately, the final package didn’t fare as well in the hands of our good old postal system. Delivered with a resounding thud at the front door, it’s no surprise that the contents were crumbled to almost indistinguishable grains of sand. At least two or three good bites survived intact, and I was still able to savor the Orange Almond Cookies and Chocolate Vanilla Swirl Cookies baked by Not So Cheesy Kitchen. Of the two buttery shortbread cookies, I was particularly fond of the subtle citrus notes in the former. Though I could have eaten a boxful in that one sitting, I was happy to get a fine sampling all the same.

As for my own contribution to this grand exchange, I shared a few dozen Speculoos (AKA Cookie Butter) Pinwheel Cookies. Rolled with a stripe of chocolate dough, the trendy brown sugar and cinnamon spread sings with harmonious contrasting tastes. That recipe is one I’ve shared with Go Dairy Free, so please pop on over there to grab the details.

This was my very first cookie swap of any sort, and I can tell you without hesitation that it certainly won’t be my last.


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Red, White, and Sweet All Over

As I’ve found to be true for other bloggers, a quiet front on the wide open internet usually means frenetic activity behind the scenes. Although poor little BitterSweet may not be the beneficiary of all the daily food prep and photography, the oven hasn’t even had a chance to cool down for a moment in the past week.

Considering the skyrocketing popularity of red velvet cake, I was eagerly awaiting an opportunity to re-examine this classic confection and infuse it with a fresh palate of new flavors. That occasion lined up perfectly with the changing seasons, dropping the inspiration to add cranberries right into my lap.

The recipe for this alluring Cranberry Red Velvet Cake can be found on Go Dairy Free. In case you were looking for a prime Thanksgiving dessert that wasn’t the same old standard pumpkin pie, consider your search complete. A seasonal treat with its own bold style, it would be simple enough to convert the cake into a more everyday affair by turning it into cupcakes, too.

Elsewhere, my nearly ancient Pumpkin Bread Pudding recipe got a little facelift over on VegKitchen. First born from the oven about seven years ago, it was due for a small revamp in the writing department, and a big overhaul in the photography department. While the formula was solid before, it’s a knock-out, no-fail winner now, with some much more attractive visuals to boot.

The days may be growing darker and colder, but I’m just getting warmed up. There are a whole lot more sweet (and savory) treats to come soon!


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Matzo, Matzo Man

Sundown on Monday, April 14 marks the beginning of Passover, a week devoted to celebrating spring, remembering the past, and eating cardboard instead of delicious grains, whole or otherwise processed. Needless to say, it’s that last part that really gets to me, as matzo has never been my favorite food in the world. Perhaps they would come in handy as mulch or filler for the litter box, but unadorned sheets of the unleavened bread hold little if any culinary value in my eyes. Thankfully, immense improvements in flavor can be made with just a little bit of work, and I’ve had the opportunity to photograph and give Nava Atlas’s truly tasty suggestions a test drive well in advance of the holiday. Proving the power of a well-written recipe, there are now matzo-based dishes that I can claim to genuinely enjoy!

A show-stopper for any Passover meal, this Spinach, Leek, and Potato Matzo Gratin is an impressive but surprisingly simple dish to pull together. It sounds like a humble side dish but eats like a hearty lasagna, which makes it an incredibly versatile addition to any festive menu.

Matzo toffee is a classic treat that always shows up on our seder table, but for an even quicker fix, Nava’s Chocolate Matzo Brittle takes all the boiling sugar and candy making out of the equation. Straight-up chocolate-covered matzo with any sweet toppings your heart desires, it’s perfect for keeping cravings at bay. Sliced almonds with espresso salt are a top pick around here, but it’s hard to go wrong no matter what goodies you choose.

And let’s not forget the indispensable classic, the Jewish staple known around the world: Matzo Ball Soup. This recipe is the only vegan rendition I have yet to encounter that not only yields consistently cohesive, plump dumplings, but also tastes just as good as my memories suggest. It’s the kind of dish that could make me willingly break out the matzo any time of year, which should really say it all.


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Ate by Eight

Could it be? Are my numbers correct? Is it even possible that eight full years have passed since BitterSweet first began, all with one hesitating, painfully timid post? Each time this date rolls around, it never fails to knock me off my feet. Reflecting back, I could have never guessed what immense waves such a small endeavor could create, or how strikingly it would come to shape my career. The constant influx of new inspiration tends to bury the painstakingly composed and throwaway posts alike, so I wanted to take this opportunity to really comb through the archives and dust off some treasures lost in time. It would be impossible to single out just eight favorite posts out of over 1,200, and counting, so this list is by no means the best of the best! Just the entries that stood out as worth sharing at least once more… But hopefully for another eight years more, too.

Hold onto your hats and prepare yourself for a trip down memory lane… The road starts out rough, just like the pictures, but it gets better with every passing year. If you can power though the nostalgic love-fest, there’s a little giveaway waiting for you down at the bottom of the post, so let’s get started!

2006: Bake Off!

[See what I mean about those pictures? I swear, I must have once lived in a world of all yellow…]

History in the making, folks. My first big win in any dessert competition, and while the photos themselves are not exactly shining examples of such a landmark victory, this post really marks a turning point in my baking career. The recipe for that award-winning Mocha Devastation Cake went on to join the final lineup in My Sweet Vegan, my first cookbook. Hard to believe it was that long ago when it all began!

2007: Float Away

Though it arrived on the scene so early on in the cupcake craze, hopefully some longtime regulars will recognize this particular frosting-capped treat. Inspiration from the soda shop classic created the foundation for this signature dessert, one that came to define my style as a baker for many years. Experimental, whimsical, and uncomplicated, I believe that this is really the recipe that helped to secure that first book deal. While I must admit I rarely revisit my older recipes after they’ve been thoroughly tested, approved, and published, this is one choice pick that has frequently returned to its place of honor- In my oven.

2008: The White Stuff

Quite possibly my most popular posts to this day, I seem to have struck white gold when I developed my infamous recipe for vegan white chocolate. Nothing makes me happier than to see fresh blog posts still refer back to this formula, especially since it remains a staple in my kitchen, too. Want to knock the socks off of someone special for Valentine’s Day? Just whip up a bar of homemade white chocolate. Trust me: It couldn’t be simpler, but will score you much more than mere brownie points.

2009: Three Tiers of Terror

Oh, dear readers, were you there with me as I struggled with this edible behemoth? I almost forgot about the agony and horror of the ordeal, but now it’s flooding back to me as if it was yesterday. I still haven’t made another wedding cake since, but I couldn’t be more proud to have managed some miracle and pulled this one off. It’s a humbling, character-building experience that every baker should endure at least once.

2010: Of Heartbreak and Hummus

My beloved pizza hummus may have stood me up years ago and still left me hanging, but I’ve recovered from the heartache and moved on to more attractive dips. Homemade is the way to go, naturally! Savory recipes were still largely uncharted territory at this point on the blog, but wild successes like this hummus proved that there was an audience out there, receptive and hungry for more.

2011: Nog-Off!

The post that launched an obsession. Before this head-to-head battle of the non-dairy nogs, I was just a gal who liked nutmeg in my creamy holiday beverages just a little bit more than the rest, but now, I had a purpose. Every time a new vegan nog arrives on the scene, it’s become my solemn duty to put it to the test! I’ve since had one update just this past December, and plan to continue the tradition for as long as manufacturers keep on producing more eggless, milkless festive beverages.

2012: Around the World in 80 Plates: Lyon, France

Where would I be without this carefully composed plated dessert? Probably not in Hawaii, I’ll tell you that much. Prize winnings from this competition afforded me the opportunity to visit the islands in the first place, and it really was love at first sight. While I do adore the layered chocolate confection itself, the implications that it, and my other worldly recipe entries have had on my current trajectory cannot be understated. If there’s anything to blame when I pack up and move out here, it would be this win!

2013: Tuna of the Field

A tuna look-alike made of watermelon! Once the I got the idea into my head, I simply couldn’t resist. The concept may be a bit “out there” for conventional eaters, but as they say: Try it, you’ll like it! Especially when you have a melon that’s sightly less sweet than desired, savory flavors fill the gaps beautifully and transform the fruit into an entirely new entity.

2014: Mochi Madness

The year is still young, but so far, these chewy chocolate bar cookies have taken my heart and run with it. Being surrounded by so many mochi delights here in Hawaii has only served to strengthen that particular craving, and it doesn’t hurt that the recipe is so darned simple. Even the pitiful oven on hand here can manage with good results, and that should say something about the strength of that formula.

So here we are, back in the present. What will the future hold? If past postings are any indication… Then I have no idea, but I trust that it will be delicious. I couldn’t have made it all these years without the love (sometimes necessarily tough,) support, and of course comments from you, my dear reader. This is really your blogoversary in that sense, too.

Now, because it’s just not a party without presents…

I’m thrilled to have a new sponsor on board not only to help fuel new and exciting content here on BitterSweet, but also directly benefit you, the reader! Natalie Quirk, the skilled fiber artist behind Comfort Food Cushions has a real prize-worthy treat in store that will turn this little blogoversary into a genuine celebration. Up for grabs is your choice of a Hot Dog, Taco, or Macaroni Cheese Noodle pillow, depending on your tastes. It will take 1 – 2 weeks for your winnings to arrive, since these high-fiber creations are always handmade to order. Everyone is welcome to enter, but readers located outside of the US would be asked to contribute a $5 shipping fee. Also, it is important to note that items cannot be sent to Italy or Greece as the materials are considered prohibited items.

Click through to Rafflecopter to enter, and don’t forget to leave a comment!

UPDATE: The entry period has now ended. Click the link above to view the winner.

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