BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Flipping Over Pancakes

The greatest traditions of excess are born from their polar opposites, of fasts or famines, celebrating, repenting, or simply surviving. Shrove Tuesday carries that torch with unmatched enthusiasm, having evolved into an unrestrained eating and drinking bender, theoretically in preparation for the 40-day Lenten fast ahead. Pancakes are the star of the menu because historically, the fresh eggs and milk already on hand would spoil during that time of abstention, so the only reasonable thing to do would be to make massive amounts of flapjacks and throw a huge party, naturally. How this simple predisposition to thriftiness evolved into the revelry and debauchery of modern day Mardi Gras is a whole ‘nother story.

Those same concerns of preventing food waste certainly aren’t of primary concern for current festivities, but the universal love of pancakes has kept the practice alive. A simple sort of decadence, pancakes are as easy and uncomplicated as they come, making themselves right at home on the fanciest and unfussiest of tables alike. Regardless, it always feels like a special occasion when diving into a fluffy short stack, buttery and sticky with maple syrup. Despite their humble nature, countless cooks still find the prospect of flipping the perfect pancake rather daunting- Myself included. My own personal pancake disasters are too numerous to recount, but particularly infamous misadventures include scrambled pancakes, pancakes that are both raw and burnt at the same time, and pancakes flipped perfectly… Outside of the pan and literally into the fire.

For this Pancake Tuesday, I decided to seek advice from a master. Sitting myself down at Saturn Cafe with full view of the open kitchen, a few key elements for pancake perfection became clear.

1. Consistency matters. This means two things, actually: The viscosity of the batter is essential for the right texture. Too runny and you’ll get crepes. Too thick and you’ll get doorstops. Your best bet is a ratio of approximately equal parts liquid to flour by weight. The other component to this concept is that you should be consistent in your delivery. Use a ladle or measuring cup to dose out the same amount of batter every time, and space them an equal distance apart. Don’t forget to allow sufficient space to flip!

2. Take it slow. Pancakes already cook quickly so there’s no need to rush things. Keep the heat closer to medium-low to prevent them from burning on the outside before cooked all the way through. Look for the surface to be covered in ruptured bubbles before proceeding.

3. Add in, don’t mix in. Goodies like nuts, fruits, and chocolate chips are often the spotlight ingredients of truly decadent pancakes, but like any celebrities, they should arrive fashionably late to the party. Mix-ins stirred directly into the batter with sink to the bottom, creating some scantily clad pancakes. Wait until they’re about halfway done cooking before sprinkling your starlets on top, keeping them evenly distributed and at the center of attention.

4. Keep it on the down-low. When it comes time for the dreaded flip, don’t try anything fancy. Don’t expect to toss those little flapjacks in the air like pizza dough and don’t pretend that you can flick the pan forward to succeed without a spatula. Check to make sure that they’re ready by peeking underneath first. If the bottom is evenly golden brown, you’re good to go. Make sure the spatula is completely underneath and supporting the cake and keep it as close to the pan as possible when you turn it over. Be firm but gentle. Don’t slap it down forcefully, unless you’d like to redecorate your kitchen walls with raw batter.

If you have flour in the pantry, you could have pancakes for breakfast. The most basic formulas need little more than that to yield ambrosial breakfast treats, to dress up or down as your heart desires. There’s no reason to wait until Fat Tuesday rolls around to break out the skillet, but while we’re all throwing caution to the wind and pouring the syrup on thick, you might as well take advantage of the celebration to indulge.

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Got Greens?

Milk mustaches are out; juice mustaches are in. Unlocking a world of flavor and liquid nutrition that dairy could only dream of, it’s no surprise that fresh pressed produce has taken up the torch in this race for beverage dominance. Green Mustache is one of many companies making a splash with blended fruit and vegetable smoothies, all built upon a foundation of leafy greens like kale and spinach. Inspirational though unexceptional in this burgeoning field, the differentiating factor in their origin story is that these drinks are blended with younger tastes in mind, palatable for both kids and adults alike. More importantly, they don’t neglect the need for more traditional snacks with more mainstream appeal, which is what first sparked my attention- And appetite.

Though not green in color or overt taste, Mustache Munchies “Cheddarish” Crackers quietly sneak a serving of vegetative goodness into these adorable handlebar crisps. Tanned to a gentle golden hue, these aren’t the screaming florescent orange wafers of similar mainstream competitors. Instead, they’re a study of careful balance and nuance, bearing a subtle nutty undertone and light but naturally cheesy essence. Each piece is a perfect little bite, ensuring no crumbs nor mess to contend with later when munching on the run.

As a serial granola bar-eater, sweet snacks start to lose their appeal early on in the day, which makes these satisfyingly crunchy crackers an ideal alternative. I never thought a mustache might look good on me, but these lightly salted morsels could add stylish new flair to any smiling face.


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Great Grains

Farmers dutifully set up shop, week after week, hawking their fresh fare at the market no matter the conditions. A particularly stoic lot, they laugh in the face of adverse weather, forging ahead fearlessly where so many others would turn back. They find great bounty where most would see scarcity. Even during these lean, dark days of winter, life erupts from the soil in all rainbow hues, if only the rest of us would open our eyes wide enough to fully appreciate it.

While cravings for local berries are fierce at times, greater seasonal riches are available to quell that temptation. All it takes is a bit of care, pairing bright flavors with a range of textures, to satisfy while maximizing the available fresh produce.

Leaning more heavily on hearty cooked grains than frilly tender greens, this is a salad built to endure colder, less forgiving days. Toothsome, high-protein kamut, known in some circles as Khorasan wheat, is the backbone of this production here, another unsung hero that rarely garners the praise it truly deserves. Lest you write it off as just another one-dimensional side dish, consider the limitless possibilities it possesses for adaptation. Restorative and soothing when served warm, it’s just as satisfying prepared in advance and served chilled, for those unpredictable spikes in temperature as spring grows nearer. Transform it into a one-bowl main dish by tossing in cooked beans of any sort, and ramp up the rainbow of vegetables by adding thinly sliced radishes, shredded carrots, and/or diced avocado. Crowning the whole affair with a handful of crumbled vegan feta may be gilding the lily, but that small indulgence is the perfect foil to such a robust, no-nonsense foundation.

Having used this base as a starting point for countless culinary adventures already, I can vouch for all of these additions, but by no means are they your only options. Simply look to your local market with fresh eyes and see how many wonderful options still flourish and thrive, rather than the typical staples that may be absent. There’s still a wide world of flavor our there, ready to be discovered.

Kamut and Kale Salad

2 Cups Cooked Kamut*
6 Ounces Kale, Shredded
1/4 Red Onion, Thinly Sliced
1/4 Cup Fresh Mint Leaves, Minced
1 1/2 Cups Seedless Red Grapes, Halved
1 Pound Red Beets, Cooked, Peeled, and Sliced
Vegan Feta (Optional)

Vinaigrette:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Salt

*To cook kamut, I typically use the pasta method, which means adding about a cup or so of grains to a generous measure of water; at least 4 or 5 cups. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 45 – 60 minutes until the grains are tender but still toothsome, and drain off the excess water. This ensure the perfect texture every time without the threat of having anything stick and burn on the bottom of the pot. Measure out what you need for the recipe and store any extra in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

If you’d like to serve this salad warm or hot, begin assembly as soon as the kamut is fully cooked. Otherwise, chill the cooked grains for at least two hours before proceeding.

Preparation is very straightforward, and I have a feeling you could probably figure it out just by looking at the list of ingredients. In any event, toss the cooked kamut, kale, onion, mint, grapes, and beets together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together all oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and mustard, adding salt to taste. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and grains, mixing thoroughly to coat. Top with crumbled vegan feta, if desired. Enjoy!

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

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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

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Neither Flowers Nor Flours

Valentine’s Day kicks into high-gear and still the debate rages on: Boxed chocolates or a bouquet? Countless delinquent romantics face this dilemma right at this very moment, weighting their options at the nearest corner store. It seems like an obvious choice to me, and the numbers agree; polls consistently rank candies and sweets as the top pick, beating out everything from cards to cologne by a landslide. They say it’s the thought that counts, but let’s be honest: For this occasion, any gift less than cacao decadence would be given in bad taste.

While I don’t have a sweetheart to spoil, there’s still plenty of love to go around because the passion for chocolate knows no bounds. Even for those procrastinating Romeos and Juliets out there, this quick-fix flourless cake is simple enough to have ready in about an hour, and is far more impressive than any handful of wilted blossoms or waxy confections. Each dense, dark, and fudgy wedge is incredibly rich so it may very well serve more than just one happy couple… but then again, for my fellow single ladies and lads out there, I certainly wouldn’t judge you for considering it as a single serving, too.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

3 Tablespoons Vegan Butter
5 Ounces Dark or Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Cream of Tartar
1 Tablespoon Finely Ground Chia Seeds
2 Teaspoons Arrowroot Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees with a rack in very center. Lightly grease a 6-inch round mini springform pan and set aside.

Place the vegan butter and chocolate in a large, microwave-safe bowl and heat at 30-second intervals, stirring thoroughly each time, until melted and completely smooth.

Meanwhile, begin whipping the aquafaba in your stand mixer at low speed. Once you work up a stable froth, increase the speed to high. Mix together the sugar and cream of tartar in a small bowl and slowly begin adding the mixture as the machine continues to run. Allow 8 – 10 minutes of steady whipping for the meringue to reach full volume.

Stir the remaining ingredients into the bowl of melted chocolate, taking care to beat out any clumps. Whisk about 1/4 of the stiff meringue into the chocolate to help lighten the mixture, and then switch over to a wide spatula. Gently fold in the remaining meringue until, keeping as much air in the mixture as possible, until fully incorporated. A few residual pale streaks are just fine.

Transfer the batter into your prepared pan and smooth down the top with a spatula. Bake until cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and is set on top; about 40 – 45 minutes. Don’t worry if it seems to collapse in the center! It will just give you more space to fill with fresh berries or whipped coconut cream.

Serves 2 – 4

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