BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Snap Into Spring

Snow peas used to be the only podded legume for me. Thin, delicate green planks that erupted across the miles of twisting vines that proliferated in our otherwise sparse garden, its sheer abundance meant there was never any reason to venture beyond this glorious green bean. The snow peas were always the first vegetables to emerge, welcome each new spring season, heralding brighter days and more bountiful harvests to come.

Now that garden of my childhood is thousands of miles away, sounding like little more than a dream. Farmers markets have come to replace those homegrown goodies, shaking up the standard bill of fare with their comparatively endless, irresistible range of fresh temptations.

Graduating to the thicker, juicier, dare I say, meatier podded delights known as snap peas, I relish snacking on them raw or simply seared. Tossed in a blistering hot pan with a splash of oil and a pinch of salt, their inherent sweetness truly shines through after a scant minute on the fire.

Inspiration to turn this simple concept into a more coherent dish struck while idly browsing through my favorite discount grocery outlet. Fancy pastas, typically out of reach and far out of budget, beckoned from a top shelf, boasting shapes I’d never before seen in semolina format. Though formally dubbed Foglie d’Ulivo, translated as “olive leaves,” I immediately saw noodle incarnations of my beloved snap peas. The two simply had to meet; it would have been criminal to walk away from this particular impulse buy.

It doesn’t take a recipe to explain how simple but satisfying this quick dinner for one turned out. One glance at the photo is likely enough to discern the formula, but in case you need addition reassurance, here’s the full rundown: Seared snap peas tossed with pasta, chickpeas, orange zest, and a handful of cilantro. Garnish with nasturtium blossoms for an extra peppery bite, if you crave a bit more embellishment.

Snappy Snap Pea Pasta for One

3 Ounces Olive Leaf-Shaped Pasta (Foglie d’Ulivo) or Bowties
1 Teaspoon Olive Oil
2 Ounces Snap Peas
1/4 Cup Cooked Chickpeas
1/4 Teaspoon Orange Zest
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
1/4 Cup Fresh Fresh Cilantro Leaves

Cook the pasta to your desired state of al dente; drain and set aside.

Heat up the oil in a medium skillet over high heat. Toss in the snap peas, cooking quickly on all sides until the pods are bright green and lightly blistered. Immediately stir in the pasta, chickpeas, orange zest, and salt and pepper. Season to taste before turning off the heat. Toss with fresh cilantro right before serving.

Makes 1 Serving

Printable Recipe


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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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Pumpkin Puree for Days

Mea Culpa; there’s been a terrible mistake. While every other year brings me closer to alternative squashes, embracing the less celebrated deep green kabochas and stout, pointed acorns, the overwhelming pumpkin mania has finally engulfed my kitchen as well. Beggars can’t be choosers, and when beggars accidentally order about eight times as much canned pumpkin as intended, well… One must learn to get on board with the pumpkin trend, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Luckily, as much of America is already well aware, pumpkin puree is not such a difficult ingredient to love. Whether it plays a starring role or disappears quietly into the background, its just as much at home in any sweet or savory dish. After a few weeks of pumpkin oatmeal, pumpkin protein shakes, pumpkin risotto, pumpkin salad dressing, pumpkin soup, and pumpkin butter, there’s a strong possibility that I’m already seeing the world through orange-tinted glasses. There are far worse fates to befall a voracious vegan, and despite the complete dietary takeover, there is always still room for more pumpkin come dessert.

So nice I made it twice, this is what happens when my classic Self-Frosting Peanut Butter Cupcakes grow up and take on a seasonal affectation. No longer nutty but bolstered by another cult craze, speculoos spread, the concept morphed into a full sheet cake, ideal for serving up at potlucks or big family affairs. Sweet and warmly spiced, the soft crumb is positively irresistible, even to those who have sworn off the old orange gourd.

On the second go around, when I found the stash of puree still not dwindling as rapidly as desired, a more wholesome, breakfast-like cake emerged from the oven. Replacing the maple syrup from the topping with plain water for less intense sweetness, that more subtle swirl paired beautifully with a hearty touch of instant oatmeal thrown into the mix. Consider varying (or removing) the nut, adding in raisins or cranberries, or go totally wild and swap in chocolate chips instead. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no wrong approach with this rock-solid formula.

Perhaps it wasn’t such a terrible mistake to supersize my pumpkin puree after all. I’ll let you know when I finally finish the stash, possibly sometime next year.

Self-Frosting Speculoos Pumpkin Cake

Pumpkin Cake

2 1/2 Cups 100% Pumpkin Puree
2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Aquafaba (Chickpea Brine)
3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Toasted Walnuts, Roughly Chopped

Speculoos Frosting:

1 Cup Creamy Speculoos Spread
1/4 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1 – 2 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease either (2) 8×8-inch square pans or (1) 9×13-inch rectangular pan, and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the pumpkin puree, sugar, oil, and aquafaba, mixing until smooth. Separately, whisk together the the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Once all of the dry goods are well-distributed throughout the mixture, add in the walnuts, tossing to coat.

Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ingredients. Mix with a wide spatula until relatively lump-free, but be careful not to mix more than necessary.

In a smaller, separate bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the frosting, and blend until completely smooth. Add the non-dairy milk until the consistency is similar to a thick icing.

Smooth the cake batter into your prepared pan(s). Drop dollops of frosting at random intervals across the top, swirling it in with a knife or thin spatula until it more or less covers the entire surface. It may seem like too much frosting at first, but trust me: You won’t regret the small excess once you take a bite.

Bake for 40 – 50 minutes if using (2) 8×8-inch pans or 45 – 60 minutes for (1) 9×13-inch pan. It should be golden brown all over and a toothpick inserted near the center will come out clean. Let cool completely before slicing and indulging.

Makes 24 – 36 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Market Fresh

Saturday mornings are the highlight of every week, bearing the promise of exciting adventures around this fine city, without arduous classes encumbering an already overloaded schedule. No matter where the day takes me, each new exploit always begins in the same place: The Ferry Building farmers market, arguably the most renowned year-round source for fresh produce in San Francisco proper, drawing locals and tourists alike. It would be easy to make a full meal of the generous samples, ranging from buttery avocados to sweet dark cherries, but there’s so much more than just fruits and vegetables on offer. Time your visit correctly and you’ll cross paths with some inspiring bay area chefs, freely divulging secret recipes thanks to CUESA‘s Market to Table program.

Featuring the season’s best and freshest offerings, it’s always a treat to see what the innovative food luminaries in the area bring to the plate, and even better when you can get a free taste. The Plant Cafe is a common stop on my market trips, since their Embarcadero outpost is a mere two piers away, so I was especially thrilled when reigning chef Sascha Weiss appeared on the demo schedule.

Presenting chickpea panisse in a whole new light, Mr. Weiss has elevated the concept from french fry-alternative to an elegant plated hors d’oeuvre. Piled high with tender asparagus and mushrooms singing with umami flavor, the whole composition is a shining example of why eating fresh and seasonal is always best. That said, if you make just one part of this dish, it must be the pistachio-pea purée. Somewhere between a pesto and a sauce, the richness of the nuts boosts the sweetness of the tender peas to create a creamy, sublime experience. Rather than reaching for the standard hummus, I think I’ll just call this a dip next time a snack craving hits.

Chickpea Panisse with Pistachio-Pea Purée, Asparagus, and Maitake Mushrooms
Adapted from Chef Sascha Weiss of The Plant Café Organic

Chickpea Panisse:
4 Cups Water
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 1/4 Cups Garbanzo Bean Flour
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Whole Cumin Seed, Toasted and Ground
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
Neutral Vegetable Oil, for Frying

Mushrooms:
8 Ounces Maitake Mushrooms, Cleaned and Halved Through the Stems
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Asparagus:
16 Stalks Asparagus, Trimmed and Bottom 1/3 of Stalks Peeled
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Pistachio-Pea Purée:
2 Cups Sliced Leeks (Washed, Cut 1/4-Inch Thick)
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic
1/2 Cup Shelled Pistachios
1/2 Cup Shelled English Peas, Blanched
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes

Garnish:
1 Cup Arugula, Pea Tendrils, or Other Tender Greens
1 Radish, Sliced Very Thin
2 Teaspoons Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
1/4 Cup Vegan “Goat Cheese” (Optional)

For the panisse: Bring the water, salt, and olive oil to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Add the garbanzo flour, whisking so it doesn’t form lumps. Ass the lemon juice, lemon zest, cumin, and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and pulls away from the sides of the pan; about 10 minutes. Pour the batter into a greased pan and allow it to cool to room temperature. Slice into desired shapes and pan fry in oil until golden.

For the mushrooms: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the sliced mushrooms, olive oil, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Lay the mushrooms out on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and roast for 15 minutes, or until they are lightly browned. Leave the oven on and set the mushrooms aside.

For the asparagus: Toss the asparagus together with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Lay the spears on a sheet pan or baking pan and roast in the oven until soft but not mushy; about 5 minutes. Set aside.

For the purée: In a sauté pan over medium heat, cook the leeks in olive oil until softened; about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until golden. Remove from the heat and transfer to a blender. Add the remaining ingredients, thinning with water as needed to achieve a purée that is silky-smooth and can be spooned on a plate without turning into a soupy puddle.

To finish: Place 2 – 3 stalks of asparagus on each plate. Top each with a piece of chickpea panisse, spoon some of the purée on top, and add a piece or two of roasted mushroom. Toss the greens with olive oil, sliced radish, salt, and pepper. Add the dressed greens to the plate and crumble a small amount of the vegan cheese on top, if desired.

Makes 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Spring Produce Spotlight: Green Almonds

Standing tall and pert in rows a dozen deep, forests of asparagus cover the tables at farmers markets as far as the eye can see. Classic harbingers of spring, their appearance signals a definitive end to winter, as though the slender green stalks had slain the seasonal demon themselves. Deep green, royal purple, ghostly white; all colors were represented on this early April day, each bundling growing more enticing, glowing more vibrantly in the rising morning sun than the last. With a heavy bag straining under the weight of this spring plunder, it would be easy to call it a day, feeling quite content with a delicious, albeit rather predictable haul. Don’t make that mistake. Delve further into the booths, interrogate the farmers if you need to, and seek out rarer treasures. For a window of about three to four weeks, green almonds may be hiding in plain sight at your local markets, amassed in humble little piles or collected in small baskets, just behind the more popular fare. Off-putting fuzzy exteriors belie a firm, crunchy texture, wholly edible and entirely delicious from the outside shell to kernel. Their short window of availability is dictated by the maturation of the almond, transforming the fresh fruit into the crunchy nut we all know and love. Leading with a pleasantly bitter taste, the overriding flavor is that of lemons and cucumbers, sometimes with a hint of tart grape in the background. Juicy yet crisp, they’re impossibly addictive when eaten with just a light pinch of salt. Sure, you could chop them up and add them to salads, use them for garnishes on chilled soups, or otherwise toss them into any raw or cooked preparation you see fit, but they’re best when allowed to shine solo. At most, go ahead and cure them in a lightly sweet and sour brine, and you’ll have the stuff of pickle plate dreams. One would never mistake them for the roasted almonds they may one day become, which is part of the appeal. You may think you know the common nuts, but catch them on the unripe side and you’ll have a whole new snacking sensation in store.


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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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A Novel Approach

If there’s anything better than ice cream, it could only be ice cream on a stick or in a sandwich. Classic novelties have taken advantage of this fool-proof path to frozen dessert perfection, but few truly make the most of the unique, single serving presentation. Finally daring to innovate beyond two chocolate wafers filled with vanilla ice cream, some very exciting developments are turning the marketplace into a very sweet scene, indeed.

So Delicious has certainly been busy in recent days, and my backlog of photos provides ample evidence. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their latest innovations I have on deck for review! Truth be told, the above coconut-based Mini Organic Bars were first devoured back in January, while I enjoyed my time in Hawaii, and the hottest winter I’ve ever experienced. The perfect foil to a sweltering afternoon in the sun, it was hard to pick a favorite between the Just Java, Simply Strawberry, and Fudge Bars, but I quickly found that I really am a coffee-lover through and through. It won’t pummel you with high-octane espresso flavor, but a creamy, sweet, and smooth cappuccino flavor that’s perfectly suited for a light midday snack. For you coconut-haters out there, never fear: I couldn’t detect even a hint of coconut flavor in these babies, unlike the other two options.

Tofutti has been in the dairy-free dessert game for decades now, the veteran in the rapidly shifting field of prepared vegan food stuffs. The masterminds behind these particular treats definitely know what they’re doing, using the same formula that’s survived countless food trends and collective dietary changes. Although best known for their pints, Tofutti Cuties in all their myriad flavors will always hold a special place in my heart. Way back when BitterSweet was but a wee speck on the interweb, those sweet ice cream sandwiches were some of the very first products I ever reviewed. If you unwittingly clicked to read that flashback, I must apologize: Your eyes are likely burning by now from those gruesome photos.

Back to the matter at hand, the varieties have come and gone over the years, and remaining flavors can prove rather elusive. Although I can find their take on the golden standard anywhere I shop, more fanciful concoctions are harder to come by. Case in point, I could only get my hands on the Key Lime and Wild Berry Tofutti Cuties when the kind PR people offered to ship them directly. Granted, this was [shamefully, regrettably] over a year ago, so I’m not even sure if they still exist in the wild. For my own sake, I sure hope they do, because both were unforgettable treats with no equals in mainstream markets. Particularly drawn the to key lime, zesty citrus ice cream provides a bright, tangy contrast to the buttery vanilla cookies. Bearing a satisfying soft bite that is easy to sink your teeth into, the refreshing combination is far more complex than your average child-focused novelty. A new personal favorite from this steady, old school brand.

In case you thought that ice cream was just a summertime treat, then I’d like to introduce you to the most creative, daring frozen desserts to be found in the freezer cases this year: Halloween themed, coconut-based Pumpkin Spice and Candy Corn novelties, made by none other than So Delicious. These are brilliant for their adorable shapes alone, but needless to say it’s the taste is what puts them over the top. The adorable pale orange pumpkins are unsurprisingly flavored exactly like their Pumpkin Spice Beverage, only frozen, of course. Rich and decadent, they definitely feel like a seasonal indulgence, despite the low caloric price tag.

Candy corn was the real wild card here: Would it truly taste like candy corn? The chocolate crown suggested otherwise, but I held out hope for something more reminiscent of Indian corn instead of the classic. (Those were always better, anyway.) For better or for worse, depending on your stance toward the much reviled or beloved confections, these frozen novelties do not taste like actual candy corn. The white stripe is a simple, straightforward vanilla ice cream, but things get considerably more interesting towards the orange base. Immediately familiar yet indescribable, I couldn’t quite pin down what I was tasting… And then it hit me. Orange creamsicle! This was the creamy orange ice cream, long since discontinued, that I devoured without restraint during my early college days. Stuffing myself with both the scoops and pops, having that cool, sweet treat to look forward to after classes was the highlight of my day. Oh, the joy of being reunited, if only for a few fleeting stripes!

It’s never been easier to stay cool, even without scooping a single spoonful. Considering the rapidly expanding field of delicious options to choose from, there’s easily something for everyone to enjoy, no dairy need apply.