BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Eats, Shoots and Leaves

A delicacy in many cuisines across the globe and a harbinger of spring, bamboo shoots certainly don’t get a fair shake in western kitchens. Commonly and erroneously considered woody, bland, or worse yet, bitter, these traits apply only to the canned variety, which is the only sort that most people have ever tasted in this part of the world. Available for only a short window as the earth thaws out from winter, fresh bamboo are nothing like the sad slivers found in your average Chinese takeout. Subtly nutty, tender yet toothsome, these pale young plant growths boast a unique nuanced flavor that gets lost in translation once any preservation methods enter the picture.

Now is the time to hunt through specialty produce stores and Asian markets, while bamboo shoots are still available in their natural form. Seek out smooth, unblemished specimen, and always check expiration dates. Even if they’re vital enough to be sold, older shoots should be avoided, as they become progressively harder and more fibrous with every passing day. Considering their scarcity and perishability, it’s not hard to understand why this seasonal treasure is so fleeting. Though I had no intention of buying any nor the vaguest idea of how to cook them, I couldn’t possibly just walk away when I discovered a few saran-wrapped shoots nestled in little Styrofoam boats at the grocery store.

For reasons unknown, it struck me that diced bamboo might make an unconventional yet tasty addition to the classic vegan staple: The humble but ever-popular bean burger. Mild white beans and Asian-inspired flavorings harmonize with the mild vegetable addition without overpowering the whole assembly. Veggie burgers for people who truly appreciate vegetables, these simple patties don’t pretend to be meat and aren’t afraid to show what they’re really made of.

No average white bread buns would do to contain such a special prize. Further accentuating the theme with edible bookends that have more in common with yaki onigiri than dinner rolls, ordinary rice is out of the question. Bamboo rice, infused with the very essence of green bamboo juice, is a perfectly matched pairing, adding another layer of the starring vegetable’s inherent flavor. Floral, reminiscent of jasmine tea with gently grassy, earthy undertones, it may just be my new favorite sort of rice, even without such a fanciful preparation.

Such a hearty yet gracefully composed stack of grains, vegetables, and beans celebrates fresh spring produce through a whole new lens. You don’t have to leave them inside when the weather turns warm, though; carefully packed, unassembled patties, buns, and condiments would make for ideal picnic fodder.

Bamboo Burgers:

1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Cup Diced Fresh Bamboo Shoots
1/2 Cup Finely Diced Button Mushrooms
3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cups Cooked) White Beans, Drained
5 – 6 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
3/4 – 1 Cup All Purpose Flour

Rice Buns:

1 1/2 Cups Water
1 Cup Bamboo Rice
Pinch Salt
2 – 3 Tablespoons Sesame Oil

To Finish:

Sliced Tomatoes
Lettuce
Mustard and/or Vegan Mayonnaise
Fresh Parsley or Cilantro

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lightly grease and set aside.

Heat the sesame oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. When shimmering, add in the garlic, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms, and saute until aromatic. This should take no more than 5 – 6 minutes; be careful not to overdo it and burn the garlic. Deglaze the pan with the soy sauce, turn off the heat, and let cool for at least 10 minutes minutes.

In a separate bowl, roughly mash the beans with a fork or potato masher. You want to keep the texture fairly coarse so that the burger maintains a satisfying bite. Add in the scallions and spices, mixing well to incorporate. Once cool enough to handle, introduce the sauteed vegetables and stir once more. Begin mixing in the first 3/4 cup of flour, making sure that there are no pockets of dry ingredients remaining before assessing the consistency. It should be soft but manageable; something you can fairly easily mold into patties that will hold their shape. Add up to 1/4 cup more flour if necessary.

Measure out between 1/3 – 1/2 cup of the burger mixture for each patty, and form them into round, flat pucks with slightly moistened hands. Space them out evenly on the sheet at least 1 inch apart. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool for 10 – 15 minutes before removing from the sheet.

Meanwhile, prepare the rice “buns.” (This can also be done well ahead of time, to streamline the serving process.) Bring the water up to a boil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat before adding in the rice and salt. Stir once, turn down the heat to low, and cover. Cook gently for 15 – 20 minutes, undisturbed, until the water has been fully absorbed. Turn off the heat and cool for at least 20 – 30 minutes, until you can comfortably handle it.

Transfer the rice to a non-stick baking dish and press it out into an even layer of about 1/4-inch in thickness. Use a lightly greased glass round cookie cutter to punch out circles to form the bun shape. Make sure that the rounds are large enough to contain your patties, without having a lot of overhang, either. Place the shaped rice buns on a sheet pan and move the whole thing into your freezer to chill rapidly. It’s easier to fry them when they’re very cold, or even partially frozen.

Heat a thin layer of sesame oil in a pan over medium-high heat and fry no more than 2 buns at a time. Cook each side until the exteriors are nicely crisped and amber brown. Transfer to a cooling rack and repeat with the remaining rice, adding more oil to the pan as needed to prevent the buns from sticking.

To assemble your bamboo burgers, spread a dollop of mustard or mayo on one rice bun. Top with sliced tomato, lettuce, a bamboo patty, and fresh herbs, as desired. The burgers are best enjoyed hot, but are still quite tasty cooled, packed in a lunchbox, and eaten at room temperature.

Makes 6 – 8 Burgers

Printable Recipe

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Savoring Chocolate

Chocolate goes with everything, or so the enthusiasts proclaim, and for once I’m not here to argue. Though not a rabid chocoholic myself, a square or two of good dark chocolate is frequently the emergency fuel of choice, staving off everything from common hunger pangs to emotional flights of fancy. No stranger to the great range of flavors that can be coaxed from the humble cacao, my greatest disappointment is that fewer feel the need to explore beyond the most commonly accepted flavor pairings. More adventurous confections are beginning to emerge, giving rise to bars dusted with curry, sprinkled with popped amaranth, or blended with beer, but all of these treats still land firmly on the dessert menu. Enough with the candies and confections, just for once! I would challenge those who see chocolate only as a source of sweet gratification to take a walk on the savory side.

To call them “cookies” may be a bit deceptive, but their construction has much more in common with your standard shortbread than any cracker or chip I’ve ever known. Ultra-dark, dry, and slightly bitter chocolate chunks put to rest any preconceived notions of classic chewy chocolate chip cookies– Switching up cacao percentages alone makes an incredible world of difference! Of course, such a small adjustment didn’t satisfy my craving, which is where the unconventional addition of oil-cured olives comes into play. Yes, you heard right: Olives. Briny, rich with oil, vaguely fruity, and very concentrated in their inherent olive goodness thanks to the slow drying process, this salty addition serves to brighten the chocolate while adding a surprising pop of flavor. Catching eaters off-guard at first bite, it won’t be a taste for everyone, but a delight for adventurous eaters seeking something new.

Best served as an appetizer or snack, these delicate cookies shine their brightest when paired with a glass of dry red wine and an equally salty olive-infused hummus on the side. Don’t be afraid to really drive the theme home with a robust tapenade. Trust me, that intense dark chocolate can stand up to anything you throw at it. The saying really is true; chocolate goes with everything, or perhaps more accurately, everything goes with chocolate.

Savory Chocolate-Olive Cookies

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Tarragon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Oil-Cured Olives, Pitted and Chopped
2.5 Ounces 90% Cacao Dark Chocolate, Chopped
2 Tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Fit your stand mixer with the paddle attachment and thoroughly cream together the margarine and sugar, until the mixture is homogenous. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, tarragon, pepper, and salt, making sure that all of the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout. Add in the chopped olives and chocolate, tossing gently to coat all of the pieces with flour. Break up any clumps of olives that may remain sticking together so that they’re equally blended throughout each finished cookie. Starting the mixer back up on the lowest setting, slowly incorporate the dry goods in two additions, alternating with the olive oil, until all the remaining ingredients are used.

The dough should be just moist enough to stick together in a coherent ball when pressed; don’t be tempted to incorporate extra liquid! Gather it all up and form it into a log about 6 – 8 inches long. You can choose to either keep your cookies rounded or square off the edges by gently dropping the log on the counter at regular intervals. It’s merely a stylistic choice, so feel free to play around with it. Once shaped as desired, wrap the dough log in plastic and place it in your freezer. Allow at least 2 hours for it to chill, or store for up to 3 months before baking.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with silpats or pieces of parchment paper.

Unwrap the chilled dough, handling it as little as possible to prevent it from warming up, and use a very sharp knife to cut it into slices approximately 1/4 inch in thickness. (The cookies pictured above are admittedly a bit too thick- Don’t go too chunky here or they will be very dry and cloying!) Lay the cookies out with about 1/2 inch in between them on your prepared sheets, and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until lightly golden brown.

Let cool completely on the sheets before enjoying or storing in an air-tight container.

Makes 1 1/2 – 2 Dozen Cookies

Printable Recipe


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Shell Game

Maybe it’s the heat, or maybe it’s the sun. Maybe it’s just the general summer attitude that’s disrupted the typical work routine, but focused, inspired opportunities to write have been far and few between. Grasping desperately for words that are sufficient at best and cramming them into confused, awkward prose, the irony of speaking at BlogHer PathFinder Day about becoming a published author is not lost on me. When there’s so much to share, from photos to recipes to review and beyond, but no words to tie them all together into one neat, professional package, what’s a blogger to do?

Surely you can relate. You might not be a blogger or a writer at all, but this frustrating state is universally understood across all disciplines, even amongst those terrifically passionate in their chosen field. An abundance of material sits unexplored, despite best intentions. Not even carefully laid plans could create a concise schedule when the words simply won’t flow.

These “lazy days” of summer have never been busier or more fulfilling. Projects are never-ending, and for a workaholic like myself, it’s a dream come true. All I can do is keep going, relishing every moment, and trusting that the words will come sooner or later. That’s why it would be silly to keep waiting for the perfect story to sum up this latest recipe, withholding something so delicious until its forgotten at the bottom of my archives. That analogy is rather fitting, however, since these vegan scallops became buried underneath bags of frozen vegetables and pints of ice cream, far into the depths of the freezer, all for lack of that “perfect” preparation. Instead of fearing that I couldn’t do these rare savory morsels justice, it was high time to just make what sounded best in that moment. And you know what? It was a decision that turned out pretty close to perfection after all.

Spurred on by my mother’s memories of Coquilles St. Jacques, my interpretation came out naturally lighter, brighter, and tastier, in my entirely biased opinion. Still plenty rich, a buttery base of mushrooms and shallot lend depth to the seafood-free scallop, elevating it beyond the standard cream sauce approach. A tangy splash of lemon and and subtly herbaceous parsley round out the flavor profile, ensuring that the last bite is every bit as irresistible as the first. There’s no shame in licking your plate here, especially if it’s a ceramic scallop shell. That could easily be chalked up to enjoying an “authentic” scallop experience.

Coquilles St. Jacques, Re-Imagined and Revitalized

2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Divided
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
1 Package Sophie’s Kitchen Lightly Breaded Vegan Scallops
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
1 Large Shallot, Minced
8 Ounces Cremini or Button Mushrooms, Minced
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Dry White Wine
1 Teaspoon All Purpose Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Tarragon
2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, Finely Minced
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

Heat 1 tablespoon each of the margarine and oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Once the margarine has melted, carefully place the scallops in a single layer on the pan. Don’t try to move or flip them for at least 6 – 8 minutes, to achieve a better sear. If they still appear to be sticking and look pale on the bottoms, let them continue to cook, undisturbed for up to 5 additional minutes. When the undersides are nicely browned, give them a single flip over to the opposite side, drizzle with lemon juice, and saute until similarly golden. Transfer the scallops to a plate and set aside.

Return the empty pan to the heat and add in the remaining margarine and oil. Gently saute the shallot for 2 – 3 minutes, until translucent and aromatic, before stirring in the mushrooms. Cook over medium-low heat until tender; about 5 minutes. Stir together the almond milk, wine, and flour, beating out any potential clumps, and pour the mixture into the pan. Simmer gently for 10 – 12 minutes, until thickened and creamy. Stir in the tarragon and parsley, and finally season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon a small mound of the mushroom mixture onto each serving dish and top with 3 – 4 scallops each. Serve right away while still hot.

Makes 4 Appetizer-Sized Servings

Printable Recipe


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Pommes d’Amour

Botanically incorrect but poetically true, the French demonstrated great wisdom when they named tomatoes “love apples.” What savory fruit is more beloved than the tomato, across all continents with favorable growing climates? Watching their vines twist upwards towards the sky, reaching out for the sun’s warmth, it’s only a matter of time before flowers come, begetting tiny green globes. Initially sour, unpromising at first glance, they slowly swell larger, growing juicier and sweeter with every blush. Even if you’re not a gardener and don’t watch your own tomato babies mature from seed, it’s impossible not to fall for them.

Now that real tomatoes have returned to markets, little by little, it’s about time I shared my recipe for tomato pie. Though initially created only for looks to fulfill a photography assignment, and inspired by a less than attractive recipe with highly processed ingredients, it didn’t take much work to create something worthy of the fresh tomatoes that fill it.

Brightened up with additional herbs and garlic, subtle seasonings make a world of difference in banishing blandness, all while still allowing the tomato to take center stage. It’s the kind of recipe that’s so simple that only the best ingredients will do, because you taste each and every one of them. Don’t even dream of whipping this one up in the middle of January- A winter tomato is nowhere near as lovable.

Tomato Pie

2 Unbaked Classic Crusts (page 36 of Easy as Vegan Pie, or Your Favorite Recipe), 1 Lining an 9-Inch Pie Pan and 1 Unrolled

1 8-Ounce Package Vegan Cream Cheese
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Basil
3/4 Teaspoon Dried Parsley, Divided
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
3 Tablespoons Cornstarch, Divided
3 – 4 Firm, Slicing Tomatoes
3/4 – 1 Cup Vegan Mozzarella-Style Shreds

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Place the cream cheese in a large bowl and thoroughly mash in the garlic, zest, dried herbs, salt, and pepper. Stir until the cream cheese is smooth and all of the seasonings are well-distributed. Smear the mixture evenly across the bottom of your crust-lined pie pan, smoothing out the top as best you can. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the cornstarch over the exposed surface.

Slice your tomatoes to about an 1/8th inch in thickness, and remove the watery seeds. Arrange the slices over the cream cheese layer in concentric circles, overlapping and fitted together as closely as possible. Continue stacking them until they reach the brim of the pie pan. The final amount will depend on the size of your tomatoes and how seedy they are. Sprinkle the final tablespoon of cornstarch over the tomatoes, and then top evenly with your cheesy shreds.

Roll out the second piece of dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thick. Use a sharp knife to cut a few vents in the center. Gently drape the dough over filling, and trim so that there’s still about 3/4-inch of dough overhanging the edge. Fold and roll the excess under the bottom crust, pressing the edge to seal it, and crimp decoratively as desired.

Tent with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees, uncover the pie so that it can brown, and bake for a final 25–35 minutes. Let cool for at least 20 minutes before digging in. The pie can be served at any temperature, but best when warm.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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Take the Chill Off with Chili

When it snows, it blizzards. You’d think the east coast had never seen the powdery white flakes before, based on the panicked reaction that the most recent storm brought bubbling to the surface. Just short of mass hysteria, it’s true, it was not entirely unwarranted. Just the next town over from me, a few miles away at most, streets remained unplowed and impassable for a full week after the sky suddenly dumped three feet of frozen raindrops. Times like these call for a fully stocked pantry and a good instinct for comfort cooking.

Though this cranberry chili, equal parts spicy, tangy, and savory, could very well be the story of this harrowing tale, there’s just one small catch: I wasn’t home. In a fluke that couldn’t have been better timed had I known the forecast four months in advance, I managed to perfectly miss all the commotion while partying it up in Germany. The landing may not have been smooth on the return flight, but there were no delays, no disasters, and no damages for me to deal with. “Lucky” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Thus, my thick and warming stew of hearty beans was not made just for the occasion, but it very well could have been. Considering all of the additional flurries still threatening to darken our days, it’s a recipe that will undoubtedly see more good use before the winter is through.

Cranberries are clearly an odd-ball ingredient here, but suspend disbelief for just a moment and hear me out. Every fall and winter, when bags of the fresh bog berries are on sale, I snap up a handful and toss them in the freezer. Always on hand but rarely called for, they turned out to be the perfect addition to the complex layers of flavor in this classic stew. Adding both their signature tart flavor and incredible thickening powers, they pull the whole dish together, without overwhelming the palate. The combination of both beans and bulgur are sure to satisfy, and with a handful of scallions or vegan cheese to help it all go down, no one will walk away from the table unhappy, no matter the conditions outside.

Cranberry Chili

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Yellow Onion
1 Small Carrot, Finely Diced
2 Stalks Celery, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Ounce Dried Mixed Mushrooms,* Roughly Chopped/Broken, Re-hydrated in Water and Drained
12 Ounces (1 Bag) Fresh Cranberries
1 Fresh Jalapeno Pepper, Finely Diced
3 – 4 Tablespoons Chili Powder
26.5 Ounce Aseptic Box Chopped Tomatoes (or 28 Ounce Can)
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
2 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Cup Prepared Salsa**
4 Cups Cooked Cranberry Beans (AKA Roman Beans) or Pinto beans
1/2 Cup Coarse Bulgur
1/2 Cup Water
Salt, to Taste

Optional Topping Suggestions:

Thinly Sliced Scallions
Finely Diced Red Onion
Hot Sauce
Shredded Vegan Cheese
Vegan Sour Cream or Plain Yogurt
Crushed Tortilla Chips

*I used a combination of dried porcini, shiitake, black, and oyster mushrooms, but anything you’ve got will work just fine.

**Use your favorite! Ramp up the heat with a spicier choice or keep it more tame with mild salsa; it’s all good.

In a large stock pot, pour in the oil, swirling to coat the bottom of your vessel, and set over medium heat. Add in your onion, carrot, and celery, sauteing until softened and aromatic; about 5 minutes. Introduce the garlic next and continue cooking until the onions begin to look lightly golden brown. This should take between 7 – 10 more minutes, but you’re better off keeping an eye on it rather than timing it. Add a small pinch of salt if they begin threatening to stick.

Toss in the re-hydrated mushrooms next, along with the cranberries and jalapeno. Turn down the heat to medium-low, and let the cranberries soften a bit. After a few minutes, use the back of your spoon or spatula to crush the berries against the side of the pan, helping to break them down and release their pectin. Give them about 10 minutes, more or less, to get acquainted.

Starting with the lower amount of chili powder, sprinkle it in and stir well, incorporating it thoroughly with the other ingredients. Quickly add in the chopped tomatoes, liquid and all, to prevent those spices from burning. Scrape the bottom of the pan with your stirring utensil to properly deglaze and ensure that nothing is left sticking there. From that point, add in the rest of the ingredients except for the salt, taking care to first work the paste out so that it’s smoothly dissolved into the stew without any large blobs remaining.

Cover, reduce the heat just slightly again to keep it at a low simmer, and the chili gently bubble away for about 30 additional minutes. Stir and check for consistency periodically. Near the end of the cooking time, adjust the amount of chili powder and salt to taste. When it’s properly thick and the bulgur is tender, you’re good to ladle it up and enjoy! Top as desired, or of course, feel free to just eat it straight.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings (And Freezes Well!)

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Sophisticated Solo Snacking

Holiday season firmly behind us, the time of endless parties and merriment may have passed, but even as we enter the frigid month of January, I’m unwilling to fully surrender to that immense shift. Winter hibernation beckons invitingly, yet the inertia of both work and play pulls me forward, with little conscious decision on my part. Once the wheels start spinning, they can’t simply stop at the drop of a hat, much like my restless mind that continues to churn away. Always coming up with the perfect come-back hours or days too late, it’s the same phenomenon that provides inspiration for recipes that would have been ideal for occasions that have already come to pass.

Thankfully, a raucous celebration is not required to enjoy a slightly more sophisticated snack than the norm, and it’s probably recommended that you enjoy such a savory treat far from the maddening crowds. Bringing together the nutty, toasted notes of hazelnut with herbaceous rosemary, these simple crackers are perhaps more addictive than such a small batch should allow. Horde them if you must, because I guaranteed they’ll fly fast if served to company.

Despite the wild success of such a simple crunchy snack, it’s hard to eat many dry crackers plain. Crackers are always accompanied by dip in the best of circumstances, complimenting and contrasting the crisp texture. Inspired by the tried-and-true beet marmalade we serve at Health in a Hurry, I whipped up a golden version to serve on the side. A bit more like a chutney than a spread, the sweetness of caramelized onions and apple cider mellow the earthy flavors of gold beet in a mild but flavorful harmony. Lest that fools you into thinking this is one boring accompaniment, don’t forget about the surprising kick of cayenne that sneaks up out of the blue, rounding things out nicely.

It’s for the best that we move away from the relentless holiday demands. A few quiet nights at home with more intimate parties of one or two, with a nice, carefully assembled snack platter sound much more appealing anyhow.

Hazelnut-Rosemary Crackers

1 Cup Raw Hazelnuts
1/4 Cup Whole Flax Seeds, Ground
1/4 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
1 Tablespoon Tamari or Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Black Sesame Seeds (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees, and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

Pulse the hazelnuts in your food processor until ground down to a fine meal, with as few coarse chunks as possible. It’s helpful to start with frozen nuts for the best texture, to prevent them from warming up and turning to nut butter. If they threaten to cross that line, just pause and move the bowl of the food processor into the fridge to cool down before proceeding.

Grind the flax seeds down to a powder separately, in a coffee or spice grinder. Add the flax meal to the food processor, along with all of the remaining ingredients except for the sesame seeds. Pulse to combine. Once smooth, transfer the mixture to your prepared baking sheet, and use lightly moistened hands to flatten it out slightly. Top with a second silpat or parchment paper, and roll out to about 1/8th of an inch in thickness. This second sheet will help prevent the “dough” from sticking to your rolling pin, without the need for added flour.

Score the sheet of soft cracker dough into equal rectangles or diamonds, and lightly sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired. Press the seeds in gently with the palm of your hand to ensure that they stick. Bake for a total of 80 minutes, rotating the baking sheet every 20 minutes to ensure even browning. Let cool completely (they will continue to crisp as they cool) and then break along the scored lines. Store in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.

If you’d prefer a raw snack, simply spread the mixture on a teflex or other non-stick sheet instead, and dehydrate until crisp. Your mileage/timing may vary.

Yield varies depending on size and shape of your crackers, but makes approximately about 4 servings.

Gold Beet Marmalade

1 Pound Gold (Yellow) Beets
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Small Red Onion, Diced
1/3 Cup Apple Cider or Unfiltered Apple Juice
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
Pinch Cayenne Pepper
Salt and Black Pepper, to Taste

First things first, roast the beets: Wrap your beets in aluminum foil so that they’re completely covered in a neat little pouch, and place them on a baking sheet to catch any potential drips. Cook in an oven preheated to 450 degrees for 20 – 30 minutes, until fork tender. Let rest until they’re cool enough to peel.

Meanwhile, heat up the oil in a medium skillet on the stove, over medium-low heat. Introduce the diced onion and stir frequently, until soften, not browned, and a golden caramel color. This will take anywhere from 15 – 30 minutes, so keep a close eye on the pan. Turn off the heat and let cool.

Introduce both the peeled beets (cut down to slightly more manageable chunks if they were huge roots to begin with) and the caramelized onions in the food processor, along with the remaining ingredients. Pulse to combine, until the beets are broken down to very small, coarse pieces, but not pureed into a smooth spread. Though the marmalade is best if allowed to chill and mellow for at least an hour, it’s perfectly tasty eaten right away.

Makes 2 – 3 Cups Marmalade

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All-Purpose Eats

Patience is not one of my strengths, as any members of my family could attest, and this painfully slow, barely visible advancement of spring is driving me mad. Bolting up and out of bed upon spying little green buds through my bedroom window, I race downstairs to assess the weather… Only to discover yet another clammy, grey morning laying in wait. Feeling thoroughly ambushed by this disappointment, it’s difficult to know how best to displace that negative emotion. Typically taking to the kitchen and channeling frustrations and joys alike into something edible, the lack of seasonal produce has made even that a daunting task at times. So, let’s talk about season-less food, because it’s not all frozen or found in an aluminum can.

One could argue that potatoes are best harvested in the cooler months, but unlike so much other produce, these tubers keep so well and for so long, that they’ve effectively lost their seasonality through modernization. Unless you’re growing your own spuds (and more power to you, in that case) anyone and everyone should have easy access to dozens of varieties, all year round. Having them at the average cook’s disposal for 365 days of the year has led them to morph and mutate into dishes appropriate for any occasion, hot and cold, rich and light- You name it, there’s a potato for that.

And so I land at the recipe, with what some might find a boring, nothing-special baked potato. However, I have yet to meet a single soul who could claim to dislike such a dish, so that sounds pretty darned special to me. The real take-away from this piece though are the tofu croutons. If nothing else, ‘taters or not, you’ve got to give those crispy, savory, and somewhat salty little toppers a go. Plus, if you happen to be lucky enough to enjoy a more cooperative spring, you could just as well pile them on top of fresh, seasonal salads. As for me… I’ll just keep enjoying those potatoes a bit longer.

Loaded Baked Potatoes with Tofu Croutons

Crispy Tofu Croutons:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 14-Ounce Package Extra-Firm Tofu, Drained and Pressed for 30 Minutes

Baked Potatoes:

4 Medium Baking Potatoes, Such as Russet

1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 – 3 Tablespoons Unsweetened Soy Milk
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Sweet Paprika
2 Scallions or a Handful of Fresh Chives, Thinly Sliced
1 Cup Roughly Chopped Steamed Broccoli
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Roasted Peppers
Vegan Cheddar “Cheese” (Optional)
Avocado, Diced (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

In a resealable plastic container, combine the oil, soy sauce, vinegar, salt, and pepper, and stir well.

Cut your tofu into very small cubes, about 1 cm each, keeping them as uniform as possible to ensure even baking. Place them in the container with the marinade, seal the container, and shake gently to coat the cubes in the mixture. Let rest until the oven comes up to temperature.

Transfer the tofu cubes and excess marinade to your prepared baking sheet, and spread them out into one even layer. Bake for 60 – 75 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes or so, until evenly browned.

Meanwhile, prepare your potatoes by washing them and cutting a slit into the top of each, to vent the steam. Place them in the oven alongside your tofu, and check for doneness at about 60 minutes. The skins will be slightly crispy, and they should be fork tender on the inside.

Let the potatoes cool for at least 10 minutes, and then scoop out the insides, leaving a thin layer of potato around the skins so they don’t collapse. Place them in a medium bowl, along with the olive oil, 1 tablespoon of soy milk, the salt, and paprika. Use a potato masher or fork to break up the potato and incorporate the other ingredient. Don’t overdo it, a little bit of chunkiness is perfect! If necessary, add more soymilk until it reaches your desired texture, and then add in the scallions, broccoli, and roasted peppers. Mix well to combine. Spoon the mashed potatoes back into the skins, and top with the tofu croutons. Finish off with a sprinkle of vegan “cheese” and/or diced avocado, if desired.

Serves 4

Printable Recipe

Recipe originally written for Nasoya tofu