BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Go Big or Go Bake

Six ounces of flour, sugar, chocolate, and nuts. Tipping the scales at almost a half pound of dough, the chocolate chips cookies from Levain Bakery in NYC are infamous for good reason. Instantly recognizable, these behemoth baked goods have inspired a cult-like following and countless imitators over the years. Size alone sets them apart from the pack, but it’s the distinctive combination of the very best textural aspects of America’s favorite chewy cookie that cements their place in popular culture. Crisp on the outside, each miniature mountain is tanned golden brown from a blazing hot oven, yet still nearly raw and luxuriously gooey on the inside. If the mere mental image of that sort of decadence doesn’t send your sweet tooth into overdrive, then perhaps you should check your pulse.

Copycat formulas are a dime a dozen as just a cursory internet search will show. Some remain more faithful than others, and I will shamelessly declare mine a vast departure from the inspiration. Naturally, translating the concept into vegan vernacular takes the results out of the running for best doppelgangers, so I saw no harm in taking a few more flavorful liberties from there.

Levain Bakery makes a big fuss about stripping down their dough to the bare essentials, omitting even vanilla extract, which quite frankly strikes me as a crime against all cookies. Also, rather than sticking with the traditionally prescribed walnuts, cashews add a more buttery crunch to my mixture. Finally, and I must apologize to the Levain Bakery fanatics here, but I simply didn’t have the gustatory fortitude to form my balls of batter into full six-ounce cookie bombs. Knocking them down to a mere quarter pound still yielded enormous treats will all the right ratios, but in ever so slightly more manageable portions.

If this is your first introduction to the iconic cookie, consider yourself warned: Each one is truly a mouthful. For the jaded eater who thinks that all chocolate chip cookies are more or less the same, I dare you to try just one bite while maintaining a straight face. Something as universally adored as the classic chocolate chip cookie truly needs no further explanation, so for all those voracious bakers who have already skipped on to the recipe, I don’t blame you. All anyone really needs to know is that you’re in for a treat.

Levain Look-Alike Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 Cup Vegan Butter, at Room Temperature
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Vital Wheat Gluten
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
2 Cups Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1 Cup Cashews, Toasted and Roughly Chopped

Place the vegan butter in the bowl of your stand mixer and begin beating it on low speed to soften. Add in both sugars and cream together until completely homogeneous, pausing as needed to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Slowly pour in the aquafaba, vanilla, and vinegar, blending thoroughly to incorporate. It may look somewhat strange and curdled at this point, but don’t worry as long as the it’s well mixed.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, vital wheat gluten, salt, baking powder and soda. Add the dry ingredients into the stand mixer bowl and start it on low speed. Once mostly incorporated, add in chocolate and nuts, and continue mixing until the dough is smooth and all of the goodies are properly distributed.

Stash the dough in the fridge and chill for at least 1 hour before proceeding.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line 3 – 4 baking sheets with slipats or parchment paper.

Scoop out about 1/3 cup of dough for each cookie, roll the dough lightly between moistened palms into round balls, and do NOT flatten them out. Allow a generous margin of space between each mound on the baking sheets; at least 1 1/2 – 2 inches of breathing room in between the cookies.

Bake for 10 – 14 minutes, until lightly golden brown all over. Quickly remove the silpats from the hot baking sheets as soon as they emerge from the oven and let cool completely. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week… If you can resist them that long.

Makes About 16 Giant Cookies

Printable Recipe


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Keep Calm and Shop On

The array of online retailers available for 24-hour, worldwide, no holds barred means all of your shopping whims can become downright dizzying after just a few cursory searches. Such a wealth of options should be a boon to the average consumer, seeking the best deals and widest selection, but the incessant promotions seem to pull in all directions at once. Overwhelmed rather than empowered, I find myself simply closing my browser and walking away more often than not, too frazzled to make a purchase for even the simplest of needs.

Seeking to filter out the extra noise, I’ve found true solace in the less celebrated, smaller virtual retailers, offering only items that meet a higher standard for quality. That means only vegan products can make the cut, to say nothing of the longevity, versatility, and visual appeal of the items themselves. She Is Worth It is a rising star in this field. If you haven’t yet surfed over to this shining outpost of cruelty-free goods, get ready to watch your wish list grow.

Offering products that are kind to the animals and your wallet, She Is Worth It features just three focused categories of top notch products: Cosmetics, bags, and sunglasses. For the indecisive or merely undecided, this selection makes shopping for a loved one with discerning tastes easier than ever, since you can’t go wrong with any of the options.

Don’t forget to treat yourself while you’re there! As my travels demand a wider variety of bags, I’ve indulged myself in some more stylish carry ons, which is why I was irresistibly drawn to the gorgeous quilted faux-leather backpack above. A rotating selection of items means that this particular option is no longer available, but even more dazzling purses, clutches, and handbags have been added to take its place.

As a special holiday treat to readers, She Is Worth It and I have joined forces to offer a mini shopping spree to one lucky patron. The winner can select either one beauty product or pair of sunglasses, just for giving this new online retailer a shot. Please visit the GIVEAWAY FORM HERE to log your entry, and don’t forget to start shopping now! The holidays aren’t too far away, after all…


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Open Sesame

Just think: Every time you blend up a new batch of hummus, sprinkle on the finishing touch to a bagel headed into the oven, or slather your morning toast with a savory spread, you’re partaking in the oldest oil seed crop known to humanity. The sesame seed truly is an ancient wonder that’s managed to stay as relevant as ever in modern life. You might reasonably imagine that this old dog no longer has any new tricks left up its sleeve, but if so, you’d be dead wrong.

Taking on the Simply Sesame Blogger Recipe Challenge was no challenge at all, given the subtle but transformative new twists presented by Simply Sesame. Each spread contained a wealth of rich, warm sesame flavor, but one in particular will continue to haunt my memories. The unconventional combination of crisp, nutty pistachios with a subtle undercurrent of spicy cardamom flavor immediately leapt out at me from my very first taste. It didn’t take much effort to find fresh inspiration from this primeval paste.

Infusing sesame essence throughout each soft, tender crumb, these are no mere snack cakes. Though baked rather than fried like traditional doughnuts, each bite is so rich and full of flavor that you’d never dream of adding another drop of oil. Freshly toasted pistachios add another dimension of roasted aroma, not to mention a satisfying crunch every now and then. Cardamom continues to sing quietly in the background; just enough to add a certain something special, without necessarily shouting its name from the rooftops.

Top the whole treat off with a gossamer-thin glaze enhanced simply with delicate vanilla bean flecks, and it’s impossible to resist the complete package. As soon as they emerged from the quick icing dip, I regretted making only a single batch.

Consider this the least challenging “challenge” on the entire internet. I dare you to take it yourself, but be warned; no other mere tahini will ever quite measure up again. Keep in touch with Simply Sesame through Facebook, Twitter, and Instgram for the contest results and more delicious inspirations.

Baked Sesame-Pistachio Doughnuts

1 1/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Toasted Pistachios, Chopped
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/4 Cup Simply Sesame with Pistachio Morsels
1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar

Vanilla Bean Glaze:

1 1/4 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
1 – 3 Tablespoons Water

Dragees or Sprinkles to Garnish (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a standard doughnut pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, chopped pistachios, baking powder and soda, salt, and cardamom. Thoroughly combine to distribute all of the ingredients equally throughout the mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine the Simply Sesame with Pistachio Morsels with the non-dairy milk, sesame oil, vanilla, and vinegar. Once smooth, pour these liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula to incorporate. Mix just until the batter is smooth.

Either transfer the batter to a piping bag to dispense it cleanly into the prepared baking pan, or simply use a spoon to carefully distribute it between the six indentations. Leave it slightly mounded up towards to center of the rings, rather than smoothing it out.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers of the cakes comes out clean. Cool completely before preparing the glaze.

For the glaze, simply whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, vanilla paste, and 1 tablespoon of water. Continue slowly drizzling in additional water water until it reaches your desired consistency. Dip each doughnut into the glaze, allowing the excess to drip off, and apply dragees or sprinkles to your heart’s content.

Makes 6 Doughnuts

Printable Recipe


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Steamy Secrets

It’s remarkable how the most ubiquitous, seemly mundane ingredients can be utterly transformed with a fresh perspective. For example, eggplants show up in nearly every culture, every grocery store, and every cookbook. For the wide range of varieties available across the world, accompanied by the distinctive palate of flavors that each locale prefers, there’s truly an eggplant preparation for everyone. Despite the abundance of options, it seems we’re drawn back to the same recipes time and again, sticking to the familiar for the sake of simplicity. That was certainly the case for me, which is why the promise of an all-eggplant cooking class held both intrigue and skepticism. What new was there to learn about this staple vegetable that I naively presumed had already divulged its culinary secrets long ago?

The one way I would never have attempted to cook an eggplant turned out to be one of the most revolutionary. Believe it or not, steaming these burnished violet nightshades created one of the most superlative eggplant dishes to hit my plate in years. Previously ignorant to this dramatic metamorphosis, the idea of steamed eggplant sounded about as appealing as stewed gym socks. On the contrary, the softened and shredded fruit is downright silky, luxuriously caressing the tongue with unexpected richness.

Hailing from China, this unsung hero of eggplant cookery comes to life with an impossibly creamy glaze of toasted sesame, soy sauce, vinegar, and a gentle kick of heat. Such complex flavors seem to contradict the simple procedure, but that’s the true beauty of this secret formula. This radical departure from the standard menu was right there all along, hidden in plain sight

Beijing-Style Steamed Eggplant with Sesame Sauce
by Chef Philip Gelb

2 Chinese Eggplants, Halved Lengthwise
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
2 Teaspoons Light Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Black Vinegar
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
1 Teaspoon Palm Sugar
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1 Tablespoon Chili Paste (Optional)
1 Thinly Sliced Scallion, to Garnish

Steam the eggplants for 10 – 15 minutes, until very tender. Meanwhile, combine all the remaining ingredients for the sauce in a large bowl.

Let the eggplants cool for a few minutes so that you can handle them comfortably, and then use your hands to tear them into long strips.

Toss the eggplants with the sauce and top with scallion. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Spread Hope

Once relatively unheard of in the US, the popularity of hummus has risen to astronomic new heights within the condiment hierarchy. Now rivaling longtime champions ketchup and salsa for top honors, it’s more noteworthy when you can’t find this beloved dip at any establishment selling food. No where is the craze made clearer than in the mainstream marketplace, where even corner store bodegas are likely to carry at least one or two brands. For that matter, there’s a good chance you can even scrounge up a package of the creamy chickpea puree at your local drug store, right alongside the emergency rations of plain saltine crackers and white bread. It’s impossible to escape, as if anyone would ever want to, but such an overwhelming abundance of options does make it challenging to weed out the winners and losers in the field.

Hope Hummus sets itself apart from the pack by blending up unique yet approachable flavors that offer a delicious departure from the average bean dip. Sure, there’s still the austere plain and garlic options for the traditionalist, providing a solid standby for the pickiest palates, but greater gustatory adventures await the more intrepid eater. Heat things up with Thai Coconut Curry or Sriracha hummus, or explore new territory entirely with sweet Dark Chocolate hummus.

Though I can’t claim to have experienced the full range of inventive combinations, it’s only a matter of time before I can hunt them down, since my initial experiences have proven so gratifying. Picking favorites is never easy, but I need to give a special shout out to the Kale Pesto hummus, which combines everyone’s favorite leafy green superfood with basil pesto, lending vibrant, fresh flavor to this coarse blend. Primed for any party platter, it also strikes me as a promising candidate for enlivening creamy pasta sauce or topping a bowlful of piping hot tomato soup. Speaking of hot, Spicy Avocado hummus lights a smoldering savory flavor with piquant jalapeno peppers, tempered by creamy avocado. Though not nearly a five-alarm fire, it certainly boasted a well-defined spice that would appease any heat seekers in the crowd.

In this booming category, surprisingly few variations can be found on the classic staple, despite increasing demands. Hope Hummus is one company clearly thinking outside the plastic tub while always emphasizing high quality, organic ingredients. For a quick fix snack, consider branching out and trying their fresh twists on hummus next time.


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Lady Marmalade

Batten down the hatches and hide the good porcelain; the holidays are here again. Ready or not, Thanksgiving hits in just over a week, throwing cooks and eaters across the country into a predictable annual frenzy. If your menu is already planned and locked down, you’re probably sick of reading the incessant recipe suggestions churning out of every food publication, online, in print, on TV, over the radio waves, and beyond. If you’ve been remiss in your advanced preparations, your blood pressure is probably spiking to greater heights with every mention of yet another overly complicated, time consuming new dish to consider adding to the elaborate affair.

Let’s take it back a step, shall we? Eight days is still plenty of time from either perspective, whether you need to get your act together or just stick to the script. No matter what, you’ve still gotta eat in the meantime.

There’s enough to stress about without adding another random recipe into the mix, so I’m not saying this is one for the Thanksgiving table. It does just happen to fit the theme beautifully, incorporating seasonal root vegetables into an easy condiment that would be just as home atop crackers as it would alongside your festive roast of choice. Ruby red, it glistens with the same luminosity as cranberry sauce, but shines with an entirely unique earthy yet sweet and zesty flavor. Beet marmalade was one of our top selling items at Health in a Hurry, and it remains a nostalgic favorite of mine. It’s the one single dish that I can point to that finally converted me from beet hater to lover.

I deeply regret not writing down that secret formula before the restaurant closed, but the good news is that it’s such a simple concept, it doesn’t take much effort to recreate a very close proxy. Caramelized onions lay down a rich, savory baseline, while jazzy orange peel hits the high notes, complimented by the sweetness of maple syrup. Perhaps an unlikely combination on paper, the final flavor sings with a resonance that far exceeds the sum of its parts.

I’m not saying you should save it for Thanksgiving… But I’m not saying it would be a bad guest at the table, either.

Beet Marmalade

4 Medium Red Beets
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Large Red Onion, Sliced
1 Large Orange, Zested and Juiced
2 Tablespoons 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Wrap the beets up in aluminum foil so that they’re completely covered, and roast for about an hour, or until fork tender. Let cool before peeling. If they’re cooked properly, the skins should just rub right off with a bit of pressure.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat and add in the sliced onion. Cook gently, stirring frequently, for 30 – 40 minutes, until deeply caramelized and almost silky in texture. Add in the orange juice about halfway through, and reduce the heat if necessary to prevent burning.

Roughly chop the cooked beets and place them in your food processor along with the caramelized onions. Add in the maple syrup and salt. Lightly pulse all of the ingredients together until broken down and thoroughly combined but still quite chunky.

Serve warm or chilled, as a dip or topping for crackers, a condiment on the dinner table, or as a spread with bread.

Makes about 2 Cups

Printable Recipe