BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Where There’s Smoke…

What does autumn taste like to you? Millions would likely respond with a resounding cry of “pumpkin spice” without a second thought, while others might venture down the less celebrated paths of chai, chili, apple pie, or perhaps speculoos. Happily, this isn’t a question we need to fight over. There are no wrong answers, nor any unsatisfying suggestions on this list. They all share one common thread, and that is a palate of bold, warm, yet utterly soothing spices. Colder days call for hotter dishes; succulent blankets to wrap around our tongues. While there’s never a bad time to ramp up the seasonings, a well-equipped spice rack comes in particularly handy around this time of year.

If asked the same question, I might hem and haw in my typically indecisive fashion, but in my heart I always know the answer immediately: Gingerbread is my everything when the temperatures drop and the sunlight wanes. Something about the combination of sticky dark molasses paired with the bite of ginger, belting out its sweet song along with a full cadre of spicy backup singers, makes it feel as though everything is right with the world, at least for those fleeting moments of indulgence. If it were lacking even one of those critical spices, the harmony would be thrown out of balance.

Even so, I can’t help but tinker. Lately I’ve been obsessed with smoky flavors, starting with a few innocent additions of smoked tofu and beets gracing my daily salads and quinoa bowls. Now I’m looking farther afield to the dessert course, finding little if any smoky sweets to experiment with. Clearly, this is a void that needs to be filled. I can think of no better candidate to step up to the plate, quite literally, than gingerbread. Smoky chipotle powder is right at home here, adding a piquant peppery accent to liven up the typical palate. Smoked salt was an obvious winner to continue the theme throughout each tender, sticky bite, and crunchy smoked almonds absolutely seal the deal. It might sound overwhelming in print, but there’s no denying the taste- It may be difficult to return to the same old gingerbread blend after adding a bit of smoke into the mix.

The primary push to explore the smokier side of dessert came from a call to action by Simply Organic and Go Dairy Free. They’ve invited a very talented team of bakers and food obsessives to spice things up with both sweet and savory recipes fit for dairy-free diets. To check out these submissions, vote, enter to win prizes, and find more exclusive recipes, visit Go Dairy Free.

Take your time to luxuriate in all the spicy possibilities out there. The good news is that this cake only gets better with age, as the flavors mingle and meld, over the course of a day or two. Don’t wait too long though; it may be hard for others to resist nibbling away at the edges, until not a single crumb is left. Trust me on this one.

Smoky Chipotle Gingerbread Cake

2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Cup Smoked Almonds, Roughly Chopped
1/4 Cup Crystallized Ginger, Finely Chopped
2 Tablespoons Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Salt
1 1/4 Teaspoons Simply Organic Chipotle Powder
1 Teaspoons Simply Organic Ground Cinnamon
1 Cup Brewed and Cooled Coffee
1/2 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/4 Cup Molasses
3/4 Cup Pumpkin Puree
3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Grated Fresh Ginger

Faux-Fondant Glaze:

3 Cups (3/4 Pound) Confectioner’s Sugar
1/4 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Simply Organic Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan; Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices. Mix well to distribute all of the seasonings throughout the dry goods, and double-check that there are no clumps.

Separately, mix the coffee, maple syrup, molasses, pumpkin, sugar, oil, and ginger until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula to bring the two together. Being careful not to over-mix, stir just until the batter is smooth and not a second longer. Transfer the batter into your prepared baking pan, smooth out the top, and pop it in the oven.

Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean- Perhaps with a few moist crumbs sticking to it but certainly not wet. Let cool completely before preparing the icing.

In a medium saucepan, combine confectioner’s sugar, water, and agave. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches 100 degrees. It won’t look very different from when you began, but should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Quickly pour the icing over the cake and smooth across the top and over the edges. It sets quickly so you want to work fast!

If time allows, this cake does get even better with age, so try to make it a day in advance for the flavor to really meld and sing. I don’t blame you if you can’t wait though; simply allow the glaze to set before slicing and serving, at least.

Makes 12 – 16 Servings

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Ranch, Reinvented

“Obsession” is a good way to describe the level of devotion for many otherwise easy-going eaters across the US. Inspiring a following that borders on fanatic, it makes an appearance on over 25% of menus across the nation. That’s all restaurant menus, in all states, so while it may not sound especially impressive at first, consider the diverse number of cuisines found coast to coast, including the the chefs who wouldn’t touch the stuff with a 10-foot stalk of celery. I’m talking about ranch dressing; the tangy, herbaceous condiment that has become inextricably linked with edible Americana. Even back in the days of my vegetable-hating youth, I too succumbed to the creamy comfort of pale, iceberg salads smothered in enough ranch dressing to sink a ship. Stealthily consumed under the pretense of eating a healthy serving of vegetables, I could empty out those family-sized bottles at an alarming rate.

Ranch has been re-imagined and revitalized in striking new ways since then, appealing to many previous detractors with brighter, bolder flavors and countless bases that cater to more wholesome diets. The concept itself has become so prevalent in popular culture, in fact, that it’s transcended that original format to become a wholly unique flavor. No longer a mere condiment, anything can be ranch-flavored.

That’s where Biena Chickpea Snacks come in with the introduction of their new Rockin’ Ranch Chickpeas. Crunchy garbanzo beans are the new bacon, as far as I’m concerned, proliferating in the snack aisle and home kitchens alike in a rainbow of flavors. The key to their success is their versatility, not only as stand-alone snacks, but also components in other dishes. The most obvious approach to incorporating these nuggets of crunchy goodness into your daily diet is to simply throw a handful into any green salad, replacing those tired old croutons with invigorating new zest. Especially true of these particular gems, the ranch flavor is ideal for perking up even the barest bowl of leafy greens. Bold and tangy notes of vinegar provide the first wake-up call; assertive but not aggressive. Savory garlicky undertones come through with each and every crunch, appealing to a wide range of palates. Despite being generously coated with spices and seasonings, this flavorful dusting won’t cake on your fingers or turn them fluorescent colors should you choose to simply munch out of hand. Overall, the flavor is remarkably ranch-y, yet sure to appeal even if ranch isn’t exactly your dressing of choice.

It would have been easy to plow through a full bag (or two) as fuel for marathon study sessions, but I wanted to make more out of these crispy chickpea gems. My mind quickly went to the classic pairing of buffalo wings and ranch dressing, but with a heartier and more wholesome slant.

Simple and easy enough to suit the most hectic weekday dinner rush, this hearty stew combines all the best parts of a spicy buffalo wing marinade with a few basic pantry staples, elevating the concept well beyond standard bar fare. Thick and rich, each spoonful sparkles with just all the right spice to ring true. Who needs fried fast food when little more than a few humble beans can trump the whole flavor sensation? A cooling ranch creme serves to balance out the heat, and of course, a generous handful of those addictive crunchy ranch chickpeas adds the much-needed textural contrast to complete the picture.

Even as the days grow longer and warmer, this is one satisfying one-pot dish that will stay on my menu as a perennial favorite.

Buffalo-Ranch Chickpea Stew

Buffalo Chickpea Stew:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Stalks Celery, Diced
3 Tablespoons Chickpea Flour
1 Cup Low-Sodium Vegetable Broth
1/2 Cup Tomato Puree
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cup Cooked) Chickpeas, Drained
2 Tablespoons Hot Sauce, such as Frank’s Red Hot
Salt, to Taste

Ranch Crème:

1/2 Cup Vegan Sour Cream
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, Finely Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

To Serve:

Ranch-Flavored Crunchy Chickpeas, Store-Bought or Homemade
1 – 2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced

Set a medium pot over moderate heat and add in the oil. Saute the onion, garlic, and celery together until softened, aromatic, and just beginning to caramelize around the edges. Sprinkle in the chickpea flour and stir well, coating the vegetables. Cook lightly, for just a minute or two, to gently toast and cook the raw flavor out of the flour. Slowly incorporate the vegetable broth, stirring constantly to ensure that it properly hydrates the flour without clumping. Once simmering, introduce the tomato puree, chickpeas, and hot sauce next, stirring well. Turn the heat down to medium-low and let simmer until the liquid has significantly thickened; about 10 – 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the ranch crème by simply mixing together all of the ingredients in a separate bowl. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Once the stew is thick and bubbling away happily, add salt to taste and ladle it out into individual serving bowls. Top with dollops of ranch crème, crunchy chickpeas, and sliced scallions. Enjoy!

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

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Tradition with a Twist

Thanksgiving purists, avert your eyes.

Truth be told, I can’t recall ever having a green bean casserole on the table at any of my childhood Thanksgiving celebrations. Perhaps there was one though, lovingly prepared by traditionalist grandmother, aunt, or uncle, but I sure never noticed. A holiday fraught with food complications even before I went vegan, there’s rarely been much on the expansive buffet table that got me excited, or even remotely hungry for that matter. Hunk of dry, bland turkey for you, my dear? How about a smidgen of mushy breadcrumbs swimming in a pool of their own tears? What about the gelatinous, can-shaped cranberry “sauce” that clearly has remained untouched up to this decade? No thanks, no thanks, and not on your life.

Mercifully, being that the menu remained more or less the same no matter who prepared it or where we met to eat, it became easier to predict the horrors that awaited me on that fated day of celebration. Prepared for the worst, it was a much more survivable experience, like going into battle with a map of where the landmines were hidden. It was still rough going- Downright traumatic at times, depending on the mortifying family memories that might be unearthed yet again- But at least you’d make it out alive.

Best of all, everyone would be so sick of the typical Thanksgiving fixings the next day that in spite of the copious embarrassment of leftovers, it wouldn’t be too difficult to plead for a dinner of Chinese takeout. That was the true festive meal, for all I was concerned.

Now on my own and separated by every member of my family by over 2,500 miles, I’m at a bit of a loss. I’ve finally gotten my wish, freed from the obligations of the traditional dinner, and I’m not quite sure I really want to escape it anymore. Suddenly those old-school favorites seem ripe with potential, and even though I have no plans or guests to feed, I can’t help but go back and create pieces of the feast that I always wished might be on the table.

That means combining the standard green bean casserole with an infusion of spicy sichuan peppers, just hot enough to make your lips tingle but still keep the inherent savory soul of the baked dish intact. The twist might very well horrify those who expect nothing but the same menu, year after decade after century, but for anyone who’s wanted to shake things up just a bit, I can’t think of a better dish to start with.

Sichuan (Szechuan) Green Bean Casserole

1 Pound Fresh Green Beans, Trimmed and Halved
1 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Shallot, Minced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1-Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Minced
1 Cup Cremini or Button Mushrooms, Roughly Chopped
1 Cup Unsweetened, Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cup Vegetable Broth
3 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Teaspoon Dried Red Pepper Flakes
1/8 – 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Sichuan Pepper*

1 Cup Fried Shallots or Onions, Divided
3/4 Cup Crispy Fried Noodles or Wonton Strips

*Given that true Sichuan peppercorns can be difficult to hunt down at times, you can omit them for an equally delicious, if less tongue-tingling experience.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Pour the sesame oil into a medium saucepan and heat over high. Once blisteringly hot, add the prepared green beans and saute while stirring briskly, until seared all over but still crisp; about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool.

Return the pan to the stove, down down the heat to medium, and add the olive oil, shallot, garlic, and ginger. Cook until aromatic and just barely browned around the edges; about 8 – 10 minutes. Introduce the mushrooms next and cook until softened. If any of the vegetables threaten to stick or burn, begin adding in splashes of the non-dairy milk.

Shake up the vegetable stock and flour in a closed jar to create a slurry. Add it into the pan, stirring to thoroughly incorporate, followed by the non-dairy milk. Introduce the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, pepper flakes and Sichuan pepper next, reducing the heat to medium-low and stirring to combine. Continue to cook, stirring periodically, until the mixture comes to a gentle boil.

Remove from the stove and add the green beans back into the mixture. Mix to combine, folding in 1/2 cup of the fried shallots as well. Transfer everything into a 1 1/2-quart casserole dish and top evenly with the crispy fried noodles and remaining fried shallots. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

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Pearl of an Oyster Cracker

Soup season is in full swing, no matter what sort of winter has arrived to greet these early days of March. Whether the elements chose to blow in a gentle yet chilly breeze in the evenings or pound the earth, day and night, with torrents of frozen rain, a bowl of something warm and soothing is guaranteed to hit the spot. Even in the heat of summer, a generous ladleful of steamy, brothy sustenance is not an unwelcome sight, but that’s a tale for another time. Right now, let’s focus on the often overlooked, undervalued side kick to these endless rounds of piping hot stew: The oyster cracker. When dining out, does a single diner give those sterile, single-serving packages a second thought? Or even a third, or fourth? Much more commonly found ground into a fine gravel of crumbs at the bottom of one’s purse than happily floating atop of pool of sumptuous soup, it’s about time they were given their due.

Granted, while I hate to say it, the traditional oyster cracker simply doesn’t have much going for it. It’s the filler that takes the place of more exciting flavors, contributing only a fleeting crunch at best. The only fix for this cracker conundrum is to take matters into our own hands and start from scratch, with a sturdy foundation of spice to build from.

Inspired by everyone’s favorite Japanese junk food, wasabi peas, this wheat-based reincarnation incorporates a buttery bite into every tiny morsel, ideal for adding a bit of depth to the otherwise merely hot sensation. Besides getting a considerable boost in the flavor department, that alluring green hue can be attributed the power of frozen spinach, lending more nutritional value than mere white flour could ever hope to contain.

If it seems like a serious ordeal to go through just for some silly little oyster crackers, consider expanding your snack horizons and cutting your crackers larger. Flavorful enough to stand on their own or pair beautifully with creamy dips, the only limitations come from your cookie cutters. My tiny flowers struck me as more charming than the standard hexagon shape, but anything goes, as long as you keep an eye on them in the oven. Baking times do vary based on the desired sizes, so stay close by while they cook.

Wasabi Oyster Crackers

1 Cup Frozen Spinach, Thawed
1/3 Cup Rice Bran, Avocado, or Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Prepared Wasabi Paste*
1 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
2 1/2 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
2 – 4 Tablespoons Water

*Beware of unwelcome ingredients! 9.5 times out of 10, you’ll find horseradish in those tubes rather than actual wasabi root, but that’s nothing to be alarmed about. What you should keep an eye out for, however, are sweeteners and animal products. Strange but true, many brands incorporate milk derivatives to extend the spicy flavor, so be vigilant!

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line two sheet pans with silpats or parchment paper.

Pull out your food processor and puree the thawed spinach, oil, wasabi, and nutritional yeast, blending until completely smooth. You may need to pause and scrape down the sides of the bowl with your spatula to ensure that all of the greenery is fully incorporated. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt before adding the dry mixture into the food processor as well. Pulse a few times to begin incorporating the flour, again scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Slowly drizzle in just enough water to bring everything together into a pebbly sort of dough that sticks together when pressed. Be careful not to overdo it and add too much liquid, or else it will be next to impossible to handle.

Knead the resulting dough lightly, just until it forms a fairly smooth ball. Flatten it into a disk and roll it out on a well-floured surface. Try to get it out thin as possible, much like pasta dough, for the crunchiest, crispiest crackers.

Use cookie cutters of your choice to punch out the crackers, or simply use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to slice out squares or rectangles. Aim to make them no larger than an inch, or plan to lower the temperature considerably and bake for a longer time if you’d prefer larger pieces. Transfer the shapes to your prepared baking sheets and prick them once or twice with a fork to allow the steam to vent while they bake.

For crackers about an inch wide, bake for 15 – 20 minutes, although your mileage may vary. Thinner crackers and those closer to the edge of your baking sheets will cook faster. Pull crackers out once golden, and return any to the oven that are still soft. Crackers will crisp a bit more during cooling, but should be dry when removed.

Let cool completely and store in an air-tight container.

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Pop It Like It’s Hot

Freshly fallen leaves have settled in crispy piles everywhere the eye can see, while cooler breezes have swept away the summer heat so thoroughly and completely, it’s hard to believe we ever faced such oppressive temperatures. For most people, this shift tends to evoke thoughts of apples, pumpkins, and mulled wine, but for me, this time is inextricably linked with a craving for popcorn, of all things. Popcorn was never a part of any particular seasonal traditions in my childhood, nor was it reserved only for specific times of year, but something about the colder weather and advancing calendar days makes me crave the crunchy stuff. Best of all is the sweet and salty combination of kettle corn, packing in a more satisfyingly crispy texture than plain old Jiffy Pop.

There’s just one self-imposed rule to my annual popcorn cravings: Never pop the same flavors twice. This year, I was inspired by a recent taste of sriracha popcorn, a delightfully fiery little snack that delivered a nice, warm burn with every bite. What it lacked was balance, and all I could do was dream of how much better the concept could be executed with just a bit of sweetness to round things out… At least, until I got into the kitchen for myself.

Like standard kettle corn, these sweet, salty, and spicy little morsels couldn’t be easier or faster to whip up. Whether it’s a sudden craving that strikes or a house full of hungry guests to accommodate, you can’t go wrong with this crowd-pleasing treat. Adjust the sriracha to taste, depending on just how hot you like it.

Sriracha Kettle Corn

3 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
1/2 Cup Popcorn Kernels
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
3 – 5 Teaspoons Sriracha
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Flaky Sea Salt

Heat the coconut oil in a large stockpot over medium heat, along with two or three kernels. Keep covered, and when the first few kernels pop, go ahead and add in the rest, along with the sugar and sriracha. Stir well to coat before quickly covering with the lid once more. Shake the pot constantly and vigorously to prevent your corn from burning. This is critical for even cooking and fewer “dead” (unpopped) kernels as well.

Once the popping has slowed to one every two to three seconds, remove the pot from the heat and uncover, continuing to shake for a few minutes until the popping has stopped. Pour the popcorn out onto a sheet pan and sprinkle evenly with salt, to taste. Let cool and break up the large clumps, picking through to remove any unpopped popcorn kernels that might remain.

Makes 8 – 10 Cups Popcorn

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When Life Gives You Long Peppers…

The inability to simply say “no” or even “maybe not this time” has gotten me into a number of tricky situations, typically ending with an overload of extra work to contend with. This past weekend, however, was the first time that those missing words ended with an overload of hot long peppers.

Valley VegFest was winding down, my pie demo completed and the exhibitor’s hall quickly emptying out, when I chanced by a farm stand display of fresh produce. Picking through the remnants, two shiny, green peppers and three slightly bruised finger bananas satisfied my hunger for new ingredients. Already a dozen steps away, the proprietor flagged me down, practically foisting the whole box of perhaps 2 pounds of fresh, spicy capsicum into my arms. Okay, I’ll admit- That’s a gross exaggeration, but when asked to take the rest, I instantly felt compelled to oblige. Why would I accept such a dubious “gift,” knowing full well that I barely have a taste for spicy food beyond the most tame scoville level? That’s one I can’t begin to explain or understand, but here I was, saddled with more peppers than one person could ever consume.

Half of the bounty went towards making green sriracha, still fermenting quietly on the counter. Meanwhile, I had grander plans for the other half.

Pepper jam instantly came to mind, but most recipes called for a paltry two or three jalapenos at most, floating in a sea of food coloring. Packing the firepower of a full pound of hot long peppers, this rendition doesn’t mess around. Tempered by a good dose of sugar, it manages to balance the burn with grace, all while combining the nuanced notes of lemongrass, garlic, and ginger. Thai green curry inspired the blend, which means that it works beautifully in the place of traditional green curry paste. Softly set, the jam could be further thickened with the addition of a second pouch of pectin, but the slightly runny consistency is dynamite for drizzling over crostini or fine vegan cheeses. For the more adventurous palate, a sweet and spicy peanut butter and curry jam sandwich might be just the thing to shake off the weekday malaise. Once you start thinking about all the new possibilities, an extra pound or two of hot peppers may not seem like enough.

Sweet Green Curry Jam

1 Pound Shallots
1 Pound Hot Long Green Peppers
1.5 Ounces (About 3 Inches) Peeled Fresh Ginger
4 Large Cloves Garlic
1/2 Cup Sliced Fresh Lemongrass
4 Kaffir Lime Leaves
1 Tablespoon Salt
3 Teaspoons Ground Coriander
1 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Cup Lime Juice
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil
4 Cups Granulated Sugar
3/4 Teaspoon Spirulina Powder (Optional, for Color)
1* (3-Ounce) Pouch Liquid Pectin (*2 Pouches for a firmer, more spreadable jam)

For proper canning instructions, see the recommendations made by this very helpful .PDF right here. Otherwise, proceed as written to make a quick jam which will need to be kept refrigerated and last for no more than a month or two.

Roughly chop the shallots and toss them into your food processor or blender. A high-speed blender would be best for achieving the smoothest consistency, but a coarser blend can be quite delicious, too. Stem the peppers, remove the seeds, and chop them into smaller pieces before adding them into the machine as well. Follow that with the ginger, garlic, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves. Pulse the machine a number of times to break down the vegetables into a coarse paste. Pause to introduce the salt and dry spices along with the lemon and lime juice, and then thoroughly puree, until the mixture is as smooth as desired. If you’re using a smaller food processor, plan to process the mixture in two batches, blending everything together in a larger vessel at the end.

Have your jam jars out on the counter and ready to go. You’ll want enough containers to hold approximately 8 cups of jam total.

Begin heating the sesame oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it begins to shimmer, pour in the green curry puree, stirring constantly but gently. Add in the sugar and spirulina (if using), and allow the mixture to come to a full boil. All the while, be sure to continuously run your spatula along the sides and bottom of the pan to prevent anything from burning. When the curry has reached a rapid bubble, pour in the liquid pectin and continue to cook for a full 10 minutes. It should significantly thicken in this time.

Pour the hot, liquid jam into your prepared jars and quickly seal them or otherwise process for longer term storage. Let cool completely before refrigerating.

Makes 7 – 8 Cups

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Chili for Chilly Weather

I don’t mean to alarm you, but there is a very real threat to the whole northeastern area right now, encompassing hundreds of miles and countless souls. Snow, the frozen menace that has become the bane of my existence, has re-entered the conversation after months of blissful warmth. No longer can mere sunshine keep us safe from that fluffy white terror, as current predictions indicate a chance of flurries at any point this week. Sure, it’s nowhere near a definitive statement of fact nor are the conditions expected to be severe, but the mere suggestion has set me on high alert. Glancing up at the sky tentatively every hour or so, just to make sure that nothing is falling out there, I feel a bit like Chicken Little, having histrionics about an absurd implausibility.

Truth be told, the basic concept of snow is actually quite enchanting, especially the first snow of the year, lightly dusting the world like confectioner’s sugar atop a dense, dark bundt cake of earth. This vision of gentle elegance prevents me from hating it thoroughly and unconditionally. An intolerance of cold hits much closer to the heart of my vitriol- Visible, tangible flakes in the air are just easy scapegoats when the going gets tough and the temperatures plunge. Whether or not those ominous clouds decide to open up and let loose a wave of frozen precipitation, one this is certain: It will be cold.

A forecast that promises highs of no greater than 40 degrees at the most is my call to arms. Fighting off that assault is only possible by warming oneself from the inside out and thus, I return to the kitchen for ammunition. Only the heartiest, most rib-sticking dishes need enlist for the task. At times like these, nothing but a big bowl of chili will do.

Contrary to my usual approach of going heavy on the vegetables, this wicked red brew is a real meat-lover’s delight, made with vegan sensibilities of course. It also happens to be the easiest, quickest chili I’ve ever slapped together, thanks to the convenience of ready-to-eat spicy Andouille-style “sausages.” Not even beans are invited to this party this time, creating a rich, ultra-meaty chili that I’d like to think would make a pure-bred Texan proud. Packing in the heat with every fiery bite, it’s impossible to feel one degree of winter chill with this fortifying stew on your side.

Easy, Meaty Vegan Chili

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Large Red Onion, Finely Chopped
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 14-Ounce Packages Artisan Tofurky Adouille Sausages
2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Chili Powder
1 28-Ounce Can Crushed Tomatoes
2 1/2 Cups Mushroom Broth
Salt and Pepper

Toss the olive oil and chopped onion into a large soup pot over medium heat on the stove. Saute for 4 – 5 minutes, until the onion has softened and is fragrant, before introducing the minced garlic. Cook for another 4 – 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the aromatics are lightly browned.

Meanwhile, place the “sausages” in the work bowl of your food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, much like chunky ground meat. If you have a smaller machine, you may want to do this in two (or even three) batches. Be careful not to overdo it, since “meat” puree is definitely not what we want here! Once properly processed, add the “sausage” crumbles into the pot along with the vinegar, chili powder, tomatoes, and 2 cups of the broth. Stir well to combine.

Turn down the heat to low and let simmer gently for 45 – 60 minutes, allowing plenty of time for the flavors to meld. Stir every 10 – 15 minutes to make sure that nothing is sticking and burning on the bottom of the pot, and add in the remaining broth when it begins to look too dry. Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Makes 6 – 8 Hearty Servings

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