BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Short and Sweet

Good things come in small packages. Navigating the world as a vertically challenged person, this particular truism is one that I hold close to heart. Height, or lack thereof, should never be viewed as an obstacle, but rather celebrated for all the unique benefits it provides. Leg room is never an issue when flying, even on a cut-rate coach ticket, for example, and it’s effortless to slip in (or out) of a crowd. I’d like to think that a smaller size means that all the good things inside are merely condensed and intensified to fit, amplified into a more pure form. Although that can’t be said for all people, that’s certainly the case for strawberry shortcake.

Modern interpretations of this sweet biscuit sandwich stretch the definition, often towering higher than a modest layer cake, but at its core, the concept remains short and sweet. Today, I’m here to push the boundaries further, albeit in the opposite direction. Flattening out the assembly into one thin plank, this confectionery rendition measures less than a centimeter tall, dazzling with flavor rather than lofty aspirations.

Encased in darkly caramelized toffee, crispy quinoa stands in for cake or biscuits, adding just the right cereal note to support the star players. Strawberries, dried and sliced, are both beautiful and flavorful; removing the excess water creates a far sweeter treat than fresh fruit, while simultaneously extending their shelf life to suit any season. Whipped cream is out of the picture, handily replaced by a luscious drizzle of white chocolate instead.

Although shortness often carried negative associations, like being short-tempered or getting short shrift, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t celebrate the more compact things (and people) among us. There’s no need to drone on and turn this into a long post; let’s keep it short and sweet, starting with a morsel of strawberry shortcake toffee, shall we?

Strawberry Shortcake Toffee

1/2 Ounce Freeze-Dried Strawberries, Divided
1/3 Cup Crispy Quinoa Cereal or Crispy Rice Cereal
3/4 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Demerara or Turbinado Sugar
1 Tablespoon 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

3 Ounces (1/2 Cup Chips or Finely Chopped Pieces) Vegan White Chocolate, Melted

Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, lightly grease, and sprinkle half of the freeze-dried strawberries along with all of the crispy cereal over the bottom, as evenly as possible. Set aside.

Grind the remaining dried strawberries down to a fine powder in a coffee or spice grinder. Combine it with the vegan butter, sugar, maple syrup, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and set over moderate heat. Stir just to moisten all of the sugar, and then keep your spatula out of the mixture until the very end. Instead, swirl the pan gently to mix the contents, which will help prevent premature crystal formation.

Allow the margarine to melt and sugar to dissolve before clipping a thermometer to the side of the pan. You’ll want to bring the sugar to a steady boil, until it turns a deep amber brown color and reaches 300 degrees, which is also known as the “hard crack stage” of candy making.

Turn off the heat, carefully stir in the vanilla as it may sputter angrily, and immediately pour the mixture into your prepared pan. Try to pour it evenly over the goodies within so as not to displace the goodies at the bottom.

Let cool completely before snapping into more manageable pieces. Drizzle with melted white chocolate, and let set once more before handling. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Printable Recipe

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Take It Easy

Clear, defining factors that separate Creole from Cajun cuisine are difficult to tease out of each bubbling hell-broth of boiling gumbo, but the difference between typical low country cooking and the offerings at Easy Creole are unmistakable. Born on the bayou, seafood is practically synonymous with the traditional fare, and a love of wild game means that no offal is too awful for inclusion. Uprooting the concept and bringing it to Northern California, this one-of-a-kind kitchen populates half of the menu with entirely vegan options. Though an unthinkable compromise to some, it takes only a taste to realize that no concessions are made when it comes to the underlying flavor, heart, or soul.

Original inventions like Thai Peanut Etouffee meet classic Mahattan Maque Choux or Mushroom Stroganoff, all on the same plate and served over white or brown rice. Unfamiliar with these bold compositions? Don’t be shy, just ask for a taste! Unfailingly friendly servers readily dish out samples, as if doling out tasting spoons at an ice cream parlor, until you strike upon the perfect stew to suit your mood.

An endlessly evolving menu brings a new excuse to drop by every day, but makes it difficult to recommend any particular dish, for fear of heartbreak or disappointment. Luckily, a few of my favorites have proven to be returning staples, enjoyed on many occasions in the past and no doubt many more to come.

Spinach and Mushroom Etouffee is a personal favorite, a creamy and deeply savory combination that hits all the right notes when I’m craving a bite of comfort. It’s a dish that can pull me out of the house at a moment’s notice, as soon as it appears on Easy Creole’s Instagram feed. Considering how often I fall victim to that siren song, perhaps it would be wise to stop following that endless stream of temptation. That said, falling into that delicious trap time and again over the course of two years has yet to disappoint.

Most medleys are quite mild, designed to accommodate for all tastes and all hot sauce preferences, of which the choices are downright mind-boggling. Over two dozen bottles of fire water populate each table, right alongside a generous shaker of nutritional yeast. You know you’re in the right place when you see those golden yellow flakes in ample supply, mixed in with the other condiments as if it was no big deal. Though the cheese and sour cream toppings are out, raw onions are always a good choice to add crunch and cut through the richness of any of the luscious, rich stews. Don’t forget to finish the meal with a side of perfectly crisp garlic bread, satisfyingly greasy in all the right ways.

One constant, at least, is dessert. Dairy-free Rice Pudding is served chilled year-round, spiked with unexpected flecks of citrus; a zesty contrast to the predictable cinnamon-spiced approach. Fruits may vary, but expect soft stewed apples or simmered raisins in most cases. Dive in with an open mind and don’t sweat the details. As promised by the restaurant’s name, it’s easy to fall in love with.

Easy Creole
1761 Alcatraz Ave.
Berkeley, CA


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Fit for a Fiesta

Funny how holidays tend to sneak up on a person, even when the date is baked into the name itself. Cinco de Mayo is largely an excuse for day drinking here in the states, but it would truly be a shame to let it pass without indulging in a bit of edible hedonism as well. Someone who was more prepared, or at least aware of the rapidly advancing calendar, might have shared something suitable with enough time to plan, prepare, and lock down a party game plan before the actual date.

I am not that person.

However, I don’t need to be, and neither do you! Not only are these spicy appetizers compulsively munchable, they’re effortless to throw together at the drop of a sombrero. Modeled after meatballs but inspired by tacos, each bite-sized morsel turns the classically meaty, spicy, typically messy dish into dainty finger food. No more crumbly taco shells dumping their contents all over your white pants; crushing tortillas into a crunchy coating allows them to remain perfectly crisp, yet intact and firmly adhered from plate to palate.

Clear your schedule, call up all your friends, and start crushing ice for a boatload of frozen margaritas; there’s a party brewing as soon as you preheat the oven.

Taco Bites

1 12-Ounce Package Vegan Beef Crumbles or Crumbled Tempeh
1/2 Cup Black Beans, Roughly Mashed or Refried Pinto Beans
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 Clove Garlic, Finely Minced
1/4 Cup Yellow Cornmeal
1 1/2 Teaspoons Chili Powder
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1/3 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Finely Crushed Tortilla Chips

Salsa, to Serve

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

Place your meatless crumbles of choice in the food processor, along with the beans, tomato paste, garlic, cornmeal, chili powder, paprika, cumin, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Pulse briefly to combine, but be careful not to over-blend. You want to break down the crumbles a bit but still leave a lot of texture here. Introduce the aquafaba, cilantro, and salt next, pulsing once more to incorporate. Blend just until you achieve a cohesive, meaty dough.

Scoop out balls the size of walnuts and roll them in the crushed tortilla chips, completely coating the exteriors. Place each ball on your prepared baking sheet and repeat the process until you’ve used up all of the central mixture.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the balls are firm and evenly browned. Serve hot, alongside your favorite salsa and an icy cold beverage.

Makes About 20 Bites

Printable Recipe


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Stud Muffins

More than mere eye-candy, these fine specimens are potential suitors with real substance. Undeniably dark and handsome, it’s hard not to fall for their good looks even at a glance, but there’s so much more to love in each tempting crumb.

Want a partner who won’t insult your intelligence? These fellas are a smart choice, made of high-fiber coffee flour and bolstered by whole wheat, staying with you all morning when so many flaky pastries will let you down. Seeking a bit of adventure in the everyday? Subtly fruity, nutty, and lightly scented with rich cinnamon, each bite provided a flavorful departure from the typical breakfast baked good.

Prepare to meet your perfect match, at least when it comes to sweet muffin romance.

Coffee Flour Crumb Muffins

2 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour
1 Cup Coffee Flour
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Pitted and Chopped Dates
1/4 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans

Crumb Topping:

2 Tablespoons White Whole Wheat Flour
2 Tablespoons Coffee Flour
3 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Tablespoons Toasted and Chopped Pecans
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 1/2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease 12 muffin tins.

In a large bowl, sift the white whole wheat flour, coffee flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, and salt. Stir to combine and thoroughly distribute all of the dry goods throughout the mixture.

Separately, mix together the non-dairy milk of your choice, brown sugar, vinegar, and oil. Pour the liquids into the bowl of dry ingredients, stirring lightly just to bring the batter together. Add the dates and pecans last, folding them in gently. A few errant lumps in the dough are perfectly fine.

For the crumb topping, simply stir together all of the ingredients with a fork until the mixture clumps together in large pieces, approximately the size of peas.

Distribute the muffin batter between your prepared tins, mounding them generously towards the center. Sprinkle the crumb topping over each one as evenly and equally as possible.

Bake for 20 – 24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out clean. Let cool completely before enjoying!

Makes 12 Muffins

Printable Recipe


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Coffee Flour Brew Haha

Think outside the cup. For every scalding-hot carafe of coffee, how often have you stopped to consider what didn’t make it into that brew? Precious as they are, those beans are but a small part of a bigger plant, celebrated yet simultaneously, curiously ignored. Nutritious, perfect viable fruit is stripped away from these kernels, left to rot in the fields without a second thought. Considering just how much coffee the average office drone will down in a given day, you can only imagine the staggering amount of food going to waste.

Slowly but surely, a steady buzz is growing around turning this by-product into a worthy crop in its own right. Dried and milled, the resulting coffee flour contains only as much caffeine as chocolate (which is negligible at most), but can boast a much more measured energy boost in the form of abundant protein and fiber. Although it’s been an esoteric ingredient on the fringes of mainstream food ways, considering the fact that it’s now available at Trader Joe’s, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of it from here on out.

Preserving personal health and the environment at large are both admirable goals, clearly within the cross hairs for those singing the praises of this power flour. Whether or not they’re attainable depends entirely upon more hedonistic perspectives: Taste. Leftover husks and skins don’t sound particularly delicious, and the flavor is one you might not expect based on the label. Fruity, floral, with notes of lemon and (of course) cherries, the dark brown powder tastes nothing like a cup of mud. Is that a good thing? A bad thing? Just a thing to consider?

If you ask me, that unique essence just proves how much more the coffee cherry has to offer. Functioning much like cocoa powder in baked goods, it can generally take the place of 30 – 40% of the standard all-purpose flour in a given recipe, or blended into smoothies for a whole new sweet sensation.

Of course, given the comparison to cocoa, I couldn’t resist trying it first in a batch of fudgy, gluten-free brownies.

Held together by the magic of aquafaba and crowned by a perfect crackled crust, these are pretty much my ideal cookie bars. The impulse to add a bit of coffee essence was too strong to deny, but you could just as happily omit the instant coffee powder if you’re not a natural coffee fanatic. Accenting with a pinch of cinnamon, or playing up the subtle citrus notes of the flour with a hint of orange zest, would be equally delightful.

Coffee Flour Brownies

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter, Melted
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/3 Cup Aquafaba
3/4 Cup (4.5 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Divided
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Coffee Flour
1/2 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder (Optional)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch square pan.

Place the vegan butter, sugar, aquafaba, and 1/4 cup of the chocolate chips in a small saucepan over low heat. Gently warm, stirring constantly, until the chocolate and butter have melted, and the sugar has dissolved. It should be smooth and silky. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Let cool for 10 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the coffee flour, cocoa powder, instant coffee (if using), salt, baking powder, chopped pecans, and remaining chocolate chips. Toss to combine and thoroughly coat the mix-ins with flour, to prevent them from sinking to the bottom.

Add the liquid chocolate mixture into the bowl of dry goods, mixing with a wide spatula to combine. You needn’t worry about over-mixing here, since it’s completely gluten-free! Make sure there are no pockets of flour or lumps hiding within the batter before transferring it to your prepared pan. Smooth down the top so it’s one even layer.

Bake for 16 – 20 minutes, until the top is dry and shiny. A toothpick inserted into the center should pull out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it; you don’t want it completely clean, or the brownies will end up being dry. Let cool completely before slicing.

Makes 12 – 16 Brownies

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Mac Daddy

Passover has mercifully passed on by without incident, the week without leavened bread already a distant memory. Jumping right back into the typical glutenous routine as quickly as pizza crust can crisp and brown back to life, the cupboards miraculously refill with wheated treats, and boards of matzo just as suddenly disappear. Still, its influence lingers, the drive to create kosher eats still strong and the inspiration of past successes just as compelling.

One of my strongest food associations with the holiday, right after matzo ball soup, of course, is coconut macaroons. Sad to say, it’s a regrettable negative mental link, once correlated to the stale, mummified nuggets found at the bottom of an ancient tin can, likely the very same guest invited to a decade of celebrations. Sinewy, overly sweetened strings of processed coconut were woven throughout, like sugary balls of yarn, obliterating any genuine flavor, natural or otherwise.

It needn’t be this way. Coconut macaroons are effortless to make from scratch, suitable for all diets and palates, but many prepared options exist that can deftly carry the torch, too. Coco-Roons first hit the market years ago with a modest selection of standard flavors. Since then, the family has expanded to include more innovative offerings.

Chocolate and vanilla, the mandatory classics, are presented with a bit more flare as Brownie and Vanilla Maple. While such fanciful monikers may be a bit more hype than truth, there’s no arguing that these macaroons are far and away a huge upgrade over the sad leaden lumps that haunt my childhood memories. Vanilla Maple tastes surprisingly more of rum than maple; subtle, unexpected alcoholic notes play among the tropical coconut flavor, surprising but not unwelcome. Brownie offers adds a nicely rounded, robust cocoa taste to the mix, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s equivalent to a decadent fudgy square. For some slightly more avant-garde options, Salted Caramel is a standout, dazzling with warm, toasted notes, heightened by that extra bit of seasoning. Lemon Pie does indeed bear an impressively creamy, custard-like lemon flavor; bright but not tangy, it falls firmly into the sweet camp, rather than sour.

More importantly than the individual flavors though, each tiny morsel is moist, soft, and sweet. Very fresh, full coconut flavor, they employ short strands of flaked coconut to create a more pleasing texture, while still remaining relatively faithful to the original script. Traditionalists would undoubtedly enjoy the modern upgrade, and the fact that they happen to be gluten-free, vegan, and raw are just added bonuses.