BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Cracking the Eggless Code

Through the best of times and the worst of times, wealth and poverty, tofu has always been there. Soft as a pillow around delicate subjects but firm when more support is needed, that trusty soybean block can accommodate the wildest of culinary whims. How many other ingredients can claim such a rich history and vast repertoire of winsome dishes? An indispensable staple beyond just vegan kitchens, tofu has never enjoyed such wide mainstream acceptance before, and yet… Sometimes, simple bean curd won’t quite do. Scrambles, omelets, and fry-ups are top brunch treats, leading both herbivores and omnivores alike still demand more out of their mid-morning meal. Tofu, my dear friend, has finally met its ovoid match.

Follow Your Heart originally rose to fame over four decades ago, pioneering the vegan options for dressings and sandwich spreads, and continues to innovate to this day. The VeganEgg breaks new ground as the only complete whole egg replacer that actually behaves like an egg in both savory and sweet applications.

Tear into the dry mix and you’ll immediately be hit with a wave of familiar sulfurous aroma, the distinct calling card of kala namak. Whisking easily and smoothly into cold water, there’s no need to break out the heavy artillery (or blender) for assistance. The raw mixture may appear awfully thin at first, perhaps even alarmingly so, but all doubts will be instantly erased the minute that golden batter hits a hot skillet. Granted, it takes longer to cook than actual eggs, clocking in at 6 – 8 minutes for a single scramble, it does indeed form soft curds with a slightly bouncy yet creamy texture, easily yielding to the bite. Very mild in flavor, despite the initial aroma, it stays true to form as a good neutral base to build upon.

And build I did. Shakshuka calls for poaching eggs directly in spicy tomato sauce, a classic Middle Eastern preparation difficult to come by with vegan needs. The VeganEgg couldn’t quite hold its form in a pleasing round shape, but firmed up triumphantly in the bubbling red stew. Don’t expect anything as decadent as a rich, runny center, but the overall package is so satisfying, you won’t miss it one bit.

Reviving another previous eggy favorite, Chinese egg drop soup was next on my hit list. Thin ribbons of VeganEgg swim peacefully among the scallions in this simple broth, a flawless dupe for any takeout temptation. Its simplicity makes it the ideal comfort food, enjoyed in sickness and in health, effortlessly converted with a one-for-one swap from the original omnivorous formula.

For greater culinary ambitions, though, I’m delighted to report that tamagoyaki is finally back on the menu again! Lightly sweetened, slowly cooked in a square frying pan, and painstakingly rolled into a savory layered omelet, it’s an essential Japanese dish that can be eaten solo or sliced thin to top nigiri sushi. I haven’t quite mastered the technique, but with such promising initial results, you can bet it’s a recipe I’ll be revisiting, and soon.

But wait- What about dessert, you may ask? Though my approach to baking has never required a straight replacement for eggs, there are definitely a few recipes that don’t quite translate without that essential structure or flavor. Creamy custards such a flan are a perfect example; absolutely doable without any ovoid additions, but not quite the same, and rarely as easy to replicate. The VeganEgg makes the conversion effortless, and adds just the right subtle tasting notes without dominating the dish.

With that immense hurdle cleared, now there’s simply no excuse to reach for any animal products.

Easy Flan for Two

2 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Tablespoons Follow Your Heart VeganEgg
1/2 Cup Cold Water
1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Finely Grated Orange Zest

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease two 4-ounce ramekins. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of brown sugar into the bottom of each ramekin and set aside.

In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together the VeganEgg and cold water until completely smooth. Make sure there are no lumps remaining before proceeding. Add in the non-dairy milk, vanilla, and zest, and whisk again to combine.

Distribute the liquid mixture equally between the two ramekins, and place them in a larger baking dish. Place this in the oven and pour hot water into the larger dish to reach just about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. This will create a water bath to more gently cook the custards, and prevent them from cracking as they bake.

Bake for 45 – 60 minutes, until set around the sides and top, but still wobbly much like a cheesecake. Let cool completely before moving to the fridge. Chill for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. To serve, invert the flans on individual plates, and enjoy!

Makes 2 Servings

Printable Recipe

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Dreaming of a White Chocolate Christmas

Gleaming in the early morning light, bright and luminous as freshly fallen snow, white chocolate is an irreplaceable staple for the holiday baker. Generous pans of fudge, slabs of peppermint bark, and boxes of cookies all shimmer with these sweet morsels, unrivaled in their versatility for ornamentation and flavor enhancement. The trouble, as every careful shopper knows, is that mainstream options contain far more dairy than cacao. White chocolate gets a bad rap for precisely this reason, to say nothing of the waxy hydrogenated oils that often bind the whole sugary messes together. While relatively limited vegan options exist on the market, the tides are slowly changing.

Homemade options are always a treat, and you’ll find boutique bars aplenty online, but what I’m talking about today are genuine chips, capable of holding their own in any dessert rather than functioning simply as a treat to eat out of hand. Right now, there are two types of vegan chocolate chips: Those that are good for melting, dipping, and drizzling, and those that maintain their shape, more resistant to the heat of the oven.

The newest chip off the block is somewhat revolutionary; 100% organic, no hydrogenated oils or questionable fillers in sight. Cocoa butter, rice milk powder, sugar, and vanilla are the only things that go into Pascha Chocolate‘s new rice milk white chocolate chips. For the obsessive label-readers or highly allergic eaters, this stuff is heaven-sent. Flatter than the traditional snowy peaks of conventional chocolate chips, they’re more like crisp white disks, ideal for melting down into creamy cacao creations.

Mildly flavored, they don’t beat you over the head with sweetness, but whisper gently of vanilla with a subtle buttery undertone. This nuanced approach is perfect for crowning more aggressively flavored baked goods, like these gingerbread bars pictured above, cutting their intensity without detracting from the overall experience. Although their more delicate composition means they’re more likely to pool and puddle when faced with a trip through the oven, they’re perfect for turning into white ganache or icing once your treats are fully baked. For your highest quality option with the cleanest label, Pascha Chocolate is your one and only choice.

If you’re craving a smattering of white chocolate freckles throughout your cookies or cakes, however, you still have one great option! While there are a few white chips out there designed for the kosher crowd, most of those taste of little more than wax and sugar, entirely eschewing cocoa butter and thus losing the essence of this simple sweet addition. Not so with the White Chocolate Chips offered by Chocolate Emporium. These are the little morsels of pale cacao goodness that I’ve been buying (and hoarding) in bulk for years.

Although they’re stubbornly resistant to melting down smoothly, that quality serves them perfectly for baked applications. They have a slightly softer chew right out of hand, but somehow manage to hold their own in the face of a 350 degree inferno. Their flavor would be described as subtle at best, but their main function should be to add sweetness, creaminess, and color contrast anyway.

When the chips are down, these two are your very best bets, and both should have a place of honor in your kitchen year round. Vegan white chocolate is still something of a rarity, so these sweet treats will undoubtedly elicit astonishment, wonder, and awe- Not to mention hunger.


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Toast of the Town

Living in the land of the original $4 toast, it’s easy to become jaded about the countless open-faced sandwiches now infiltrating menus across the country. In fact, looking back at this story now, $4 seems like a remarkable bargain. It’s not uncommon to see a single slice of crusty bread command $6, $7, or even as much as $12 dollars if topped with half an avocado and paired with a frilly salad. Strange but true, the toast trend appears to be here to stay, and is only inflating alongside the inscrutable local economy.

Friends, it’s time to take toast back. I don’t mean that we should all be making Instagram-worthy edible artworks on thickly sliced, grainy artisan loaves, but that we should be able to take some average sandwich bread, throw it in a toaster, and spread something delicious on it. Is that so much to ask? I think that a lot gets lost in translation when it comes to the endless array of topping options, at least when ordering toast at a restaurant. When it arrives at the table with over an inch of spreads, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, it’s a wholly delicious creation, but don’t call it toast; you’ve gone well beyond those boundaries and into the terrain of tartines.

Getting back to home toast, all that really matters is starting out with decent bread and slathering on a quality topping. Pick out a sweet option and you could be looking at breakfast, snack, or dessert; talk about getting a real bang for your buck. Nocciolata Dairy Free will instantly cure even the most severe chocolate craving. A flawless dupe for the beloved chocolate-hazelnut spread known as Nutella, it’s sticky yet silky smooth, and honestly sweet enough to pass for frosting. It feels outrageously indulgent to pass for a morning meal, and yet somehow easy enough to rationalize as a healthy choice, thanks to all those wholesome hazelnuts packed into each jar. Don’t question that logic; just slather it on thick, and if anything, top only with a pinch of coarse salt for maximum enjoyment.

Plain nut butters naturally make for a more neutral base, but that doesn’t mean they should lack flavor. Vivapura’s raw pecan butter is a shining example of a superlative spread, positively radiating nutty aroma upon opening the jar. It’s hard to believe that something so luscious could be just so simple, containing only nuts and salt. Almond butter may be having a moment, but pecans have all that richness, and then some.

Many have decried the toast trend, pointing out blatant price gouging as if that wasn’t the case for every other dish on offer, but that’s not my MO. I just think we should start taking toast back; back into our own kitchens, and back to its more humble roots.


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Hip To Be Shared

Puffed snacks represent the pinnacle of junk food innovation and technology. No matter how hard you try, there’s simply no way to replicate that characteristically light, airy, yet impossibly crisp texture at home; trust me, I’ve gone through the ringer in my own kitchen, to no avail. Coated in powdered cheese of varying fluorescence hues, the salty morsels have been staining fingers since the 1930s but never gained much traction among the nutritionally conscious. That should come as no surprise, since questionable oils and highly processed dairy ingredients have long been the “best” that these salty treats could offer.

Hippeas is a new company set to change all that, turning away from the traditional corn base and towards one composed of everyone’s favorite legume: the chickpea.

Much more substantial than your typical puffed snack, each kernel boasts a sturdy, satisfying crunch, backed by impressive protein and fiber values. Unlike the Styrofoam whips of yore, one serving really will do… Although the tempting flavors might convince you keep munching.

Six unique seasonings offer a different taste for every craving. Cheese is the gold standard, the essential foundation of the puffed snack hierarchy, so the Vegan White Cheddar has very high expectations to live up to. While the overall effect doesn’t disappoint, it doesn’t entirely deliver either. Evoking the flavor profile of creamy mac and cheese, it will certainly scratch that savory itch, but an incongruous sweetness detracts from the experience. Simply put, they’re highly enjoyable, but would never fool an omnivore.

Where Hippeas shine is in their more creative offerings that make no allusions to imitation. Delicious within their own right as a completely unique snack, the Far Out Fajita was the stand-out winner by my account. Cumin and coriander ring clearest out of the seasoning melange, imparting a Tex-Mex vibe. Further munching evoked the flavors of crunchy falafel, which made me think they would pair brilliantly with a bold tahini dip.

Pepper Power presents a strong showing for the most basic option. Thoroughly flecked with ground black pepper, each bite provides a nice balance of spice and salt, creating a subtle warmth that doesn’t overwhelm. By contrast, Sriracha Sunshine takes a bolder approach, but falls far short of its scoville target. The initial taste is of vinegar, with a timid heat following quietly, slow to build up steam. Excess sweetness brings down the spice considerably for these morsels, but in the case of Happenin’ Hickory, that same quality creates a pleasing balance. Accented with tomato, onion, and garlic, the overall effect delivers the impression of barbecue sauce more than pure hickory smoke, but is highly munchable nonetheless.

For those with a sweet tooth, Hippeas has something for you, too! The taste of Maple Haze rings true for pancake syrup with subtle buttery undertones. Take a bag with you to the theater next time; I think they’d make delightful alternative to caramel corn.

The full line of Hippeas aren’t perfect across the board, but one thing is for sure: They’ve mastered the elusive ways of the puff, and taken the “junk” out of this particular junk food favorite. There’s a whole lot to savor if you stick with the top hits.


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Coconuts Get Cultured

“Plain” is almost never a compliment, nor a desirable description. The word evokes a certain homeliness, blandness, a lack of zeal or zest. Even worse than “basic,” which suggests a comforting familiarity, there’s little to say in defense of plainness.

Applied to yogurt, however, “plain” is the holy grail, the standard by which all cultured non-dairy products are to be held, and so few make the cut. Rare is the company that will even venture to offer such a demanding flavor in the first place. Without added fruits or flavors for embellishment, there’s nowhere to hide a lackluster base, marred with unpleasant sour notes or strange aftertastes. What’s even more elusive is a blank slate without sweeteners, making savory applications all but impossible. Despite the abundance of new vegan options on the market now, you still have to plan on making your own or finding a suitable substitution. If you happen to live in the bay area, however, you now have another option: Yoconut.

Yoconut is a small but rapidly growing startup created by self-described foodie Bonnie Lau. If you voted in the recent Veggie Awards, you may have noticed this brand on the ballot, right alongside industry giants like Silk and So Delicious. That alone should say volumes about the product- Not yet distributed in mainstream markets, but already competing with the big shots. What sets Yoconut apart is its focus on quality, which is immediately apparent from a cursory glance at the label. No weird gums, no preservatives, no sugar at all; just smooth and creamy coconut, plain and simple. The Original is a cook’s dream, able to blend seamlessly with dips and dressings of all stripes, finally giving “plain” a good name.

Granted, what most eaters will want to know about are the flavored varieties, and I’ll have you know that they’re held to those very same high standards. Vanilla simply shimmers with seeds from the whole bean, without any syrup sweetness to diminish from its glory. Chocolate is admittedly still under development, but the latest rendition I sampled was a revelation; nothing like the pudding I had come to expect from such a title, but a legitimate cocoa-tinted cultured snack. Nothing else on the market comes close to this sort of highly sophisticated approach, and I for one hope the final formula doesn’t stray too far from this exquisite initial taste.

Right now your best bet for scoring a few of these precious containers is directly from Bonnie herself, at the Fort Mason Farmers Market held every Sunday from 9:30am to 1:30pm. Keep a close eye on local grocery store shelves though, because I have a feeling it won’t be long before this small business strikes out in a big way.


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Worth Its Salt

Considering my legacy of dessertfocused cookbooks, it might surprise some to know that my salt tooth often speaks louder than my sweet tooth. Call it an inevitable balancing act, brought on by years of saccharine excess, but it seems that there’s not enough salt in the world to compensate for my reckless, sugar-coated youth. I’ll still dive head-first into a bowl of ice cream or a plate of chocolate chip cookies, but there’s a good chance I’ll spike each serving with a pinch (or two) of coarse salt before indulging.

Clearly, I’m not alone on this impulse. Gourmet salts have taken off in a category all their own, exploring new territory with different flavors far more adventurous than the classic mixtures of herbs and spices. San Francisco Salt Co. is one of the leaders of that pack, blending gourmet ingredients with high quality sea salt for a luxurious finishing touch. While various flavors of smoked salts have been a mainstay of the brand for many years, their newest release offers something unique to this crowded, salty category. Whisky Smoked Sea Salt elevates the concept to a lofty new realm, utilizing empty barrels once employed to age Teeling’s Irish Whiskey to lend deep, oaky aromas to this most humble of seasonings.

Dusty grey and fine as soft beach sand, the powerful scent that emerges from the package is stunning. Earthy and downright primal, like a carefully tended campfire, there’s no liquid smoke nonsense going on here. It’s the truly natural, unmistakable aroma that even the most advanced flavor labs could only dream of synthesizing.

The flavor is naturally a bit more restrained when paired with food. Unless you add a heaping teaspoon of salt to every meal, it’s only natural that it would take a backseat to the taste of the food itself. That doesn’t mean that it disappears into the scenery by any means. As with any good finishing salt, it serves to accentuate those savory morsels, adding subtle notes of smoke that add depth and character otherwise impossible to achieve in a single bite.

Frosting the rim of a tall, icy glass of Bloody Mary, there’s no better way to get a full-frontal hit of this richly smoked salt. Regardless of your final destination on either sweet or savory route, it’s one unmistakable, inimitable condiment that’s definitely worth its salt, and then some.


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Ben & Jerry’s – The Inside Scoop

Blinking sleepily, stupidly at the gate, it took a full ten minutes for the meaning of the digital scrawl to sink in. My cross-country, red-eye flight had been further delayed, now rescheduled to depart sometime in the predawn hour of 2AM. A punishing schedule already awaited me upon arrival, complete with a second plane to catch and events lined up from the moment the wheels hit the tarmac. For all this tumult, I would only be in Burlington, Vermont for a two days all told. What on earth could possible be worth that kind of suffering?

Ice cream. And not just any ice cream, but Ben & Jerry’s new 100% vegan line of almond milk frozen desserts. It’s the one food news story that the whole world is buzzing about lately, omnivorous or otherwise, and I was given the rare opportunity to see the birthplace of this extraordinary creation.

Though the dead of winter would be my last choice for when to visit this picturesque east coast town, the white carpet of snow and cozy blanket of clouds were not without their charms. If only I had an extra day, or perhaps even an extra hour, I would have loved to explore the myriad vegan restaurants just around the corner, but I was here on a bigger mission.

Along with a select group of exclusive, top drawer food bloggers, I was treated to an incredible adventure in the Ben & Jerry’s factory and test kitchen. Our main objective, of course, was to get the goods on the buzz-worthy new pints, developed both for the sake of hungry customers demanding dairy-free options, and to decrease the deleterious environmental impact that goes along with milk production. It was made very clear that these four initial flavors are only the beginning of that pursuit. Although it took 3 years and between 70 – 90 trials in development, there are promising hints that pending the success of this launch, we may eventually have even more flavors tempting us on store shelves.

Delicious and ambrosial as the tasting session was, my highlight of the trip was getting the opportunity to play around with the almond milk base to fabricate a “limited edition” frozen dessert. So exclusive that you will never see it in production, it was still a joy to mix up a big batch of the creamy concoction with any and all the chunky mix-ins my heart desired. Working in teams, my group was responsible for unleashing the “Drunk’n Pumpk’n Pie” upon the party, complete with toasted marshmallows, graham cracker crust pieces, and a generous splash of bourbon. Each spoonful had a whole lot of spirit, but alas, it was no match for the truly superlative “Southern Roots” dreamed up by the competition.

Ben & Jerry’s, if you’re listening: Please put this one on the official line up! Outrageously thick ribbons of caramel swirled through every square inch of the creamy peach bourbon jam base with a hint of cinnamon, intertwining with crunchy chunks of toasted pecans. Within our small, secret sampling society, this creative and unabashedly indulgent mix was a hands-down winner.

But… What about the REAL dairy-free offerings now hitting grocery store shelves and scoop shops nationwide, you ask?

For the full scoop on the flavors themselves and my personal tasting notes, head over to my official review on Go Dairy Free.

This post was is sponsored by Ben & Jerry’s, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.