BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Aquafab-ulous

“It’s made with WHAT?!” she reared back in a moment of candid horror and mild disgust, suddenly eyeing the open jar with suspicion.

It’s the not-so-secret ingredient taking the world by storm, dubbed a “miracle” by some and a food science breakthrough by others. Admittedly, to the uninitiated, it does take some careful explaining. In case you hadn’t heard, aquafaba is the excess liquid found in any ordinary can of chickpeas, just like the ones likely sitting in your pantry right now. Describing it simply as “bean water” hasn’t proven very effective in my experience, so be prepared for some serious questioning from the less adventurous eaters.

Beans in general are still a rather contentious ingredient in desserts, but even the most crunchy granola types give pause when considering more savory applications for this new baking staple. It takes a whole lot of moxy for a national brand to adopt such a potentially polarizing new concept, but Sir Kensington’s seems to have no qualms diving into the aquafaba deep end. Despite producing traditional, non-vegan mayonnaise options as well, their innovative Fabanaise is entirely eggless and plant-based.

Plain mayonnaise is a tricky thing to review. As a sandwich spread, it must have enough character to warrant an invite to the party, but not so much that it dominates every conversation in the room. No one is eating plain mayo on a spoon (at least, I hope not.) So to say that this creamy condiment is a great addition to other dishes, but doesn’t have much to say by itself, is a compliment by my estimation. Fairly neutral and mild in flavor, I’m happy to report that the Original Fabanaise nowhere near as sweet as something like Miracle Whip, while still retaining a well-rounded profile. My gold metal for mayo still goes to Vegenaise, but this is a very close second finisher.

Where Sir Kensington’s really excels is in their Chipotle Fabanaise. I simply couldn’t get enough of this creamy orange condiment, flecked with red and black pepper, sparkling with spices in every smear. Despite that threatening appearance, it delivers a more subtle warmth, rather than outright heat. Call it mild in terms of sheer scoville units, but the rich, smoky flavor infused throughout ensures that every bite will be boldly seasoned. Slathered on lightly charred corn on the cob, I couldn’t get enough, hitting the bottom of the glass jar before the grill could even cool down.

Consider Fabanaise another big win for one tiny bean. As if you need another excuse to enrich your own pantry, the aquafaba employed by Sir Kensington’s is diverted from an upstate New York hummus company, so your purchase helps reduce food waste, too. Sounds (and tastes) like a win-win-win situation to me.


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Just Add Ice Cream

Given my unconventional approach to featuring a pint of my favorite ice cream, as highlighted in my previous recipe melt down, it should surprise precisely no one to learn that I was once a master at making ice cream soup. Especially when the air took on a chilly edge and a solidly frozen scoop could send shock waves rippling through my sensitive teeth, it only made good sense to temper my treats a bit. Science has proven that we’re less capable of tasting the full flavor nuances of anything chilled below 32°F. I’d like to think I was simply wise beyond my years, gleefully turning sundaes into spoonable milkshakes for maximum enjoyment. Inevitably this led to some very sticky situations and many stained shirts, but that’s another story.

It wasn’t long after gaining the privacy of my own tiny apartment kitchen that I began to tinker with some downright insane concepts, while taking my penchant for ice cream soup to the extreme. After one cycle too many in the microwave, I discovered that my luscious chocolate ice cream had “defrosted” far beyond the realm of milkshake territory, sloshing around inside its cardboard carton freely. While one could toss the liquid back into an ice cream churn and salvage the mess, I saw this as a new opportunity. A new ingredient to play with, once again, to transform into an entirely new treat.

No baking is required for those suffering under summer’s stifling heat. In fact, the end results taste even better when eaten chilled; an inadvertent homage to its frozen origins. For anyone who’s ever craved a brownie denser than a cake, or a fudge just a hair lighter than pure ganache, these obscenely rich bars fill that gap. Admittedly, the squares pictured above are much too large for any reasonable human being to consume in one sitting. That didn’t stop me, of course, but I can’t recommend it for the sugar rush and food coma sure to follow. Just a little bit goes a long way with these devilish little dark chocolate squares.

This is yet another entry for the Raise a Pint Recipe Contest, fostered by Go Dairy Free and So Delicious. The entry period will end on July 24th, at which point all the sweet recipes will be revealed and you can vote for your favorites. In the meantime, you can join in by sharing your ice cream moments on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter- Be sure to use #RaiseAPint! Find the full details right here.

Instant Brownie Fudge Bars

1 Pint So Delicious Chocolate Coconut Milk Ice Cream
1/4 Cup Coconut Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
4 Cups (About 18 Ounces) Finely Ground Chocolate Sandwich Cookie Crumbs
1/2 Cup Chopped Walnuts or Pecans, Divided

Line an 8×8-inch square pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease; set aside.

Place the ice cream, coconut oil, and salt into a medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Allow everything to fully melt, bringing the liquid to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking, whisking periodically, for about 5 minutes.

Add in the cookie crumbs and half of the nuts, stirring quickly and vigorously with a wide spatula. The resulting batter will be very thick, so don’t be afraid to put some muscle into it. Transfer to your prepared pan and spread the mixture out into a smooth, even layer. Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the top and use your palms to gently press them into the surface.

Move the pan into your fridge and chill for at least 4 hours, or into your freezer for 2, before slicing into bars or squares as desired. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge, for up to a week… If you can keep you hands off of them for that long.

Makes 16 – 24 Servings

Printable Recipe


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I Did It All For the Cookie

For all the redundant recipes in the world, I still relish the individual personal touches that set each one apart. Even if it’s instructions for the same old chocolate chip cookie that half the country’s grandmothers made for decades and has been transcribed on over a million pads of paper or digital text files, each iteration bears the unique voice of the writer. As personal as a fingerprint, one can hear the voice of each baker through their choice of words, describing exactly how those familiar ingredients should be managed, what the end results should look like, perhaps throwing in a bit of sage wisdom along the way. What grabs the most attention, however, is always the title. Headlines by nature lead the way into any new conversation, and the way that recipe writers decide to engage prospective cooks and bakers says volumes all by itself. Some titles need no explanation, such as something straightforward like “Strawberry Pie”. Strawberries, pie crust, done. Others provide a hint of what’s to come, but leave a good deal of mystery on the table. Try, “Meatloaf Surprise.” A mash of ground meat, and…? Is it a good surprise? A bad surprise? I’m not entirely sure I want to find out.

Then there are the recipes that provide no clues, but plenty of intrigue. “Magic Bars” fall firmly into that category, but it’s easy to discern the kitchen wizardry at work after just a quick glance through the instructions. Cookie bars made in minutes, bound together with little more than a can of condensed milk. Consider it the cookie version of the classic dump cake, traditionally lavished with shredded coconut, chopped nuts, and plenty of chocolate. They come together so easily, and satisfy so effortlessly, there really is a certain sort of magic to them.

The real power of any tried-and-true recipe, however, comes from it’s near magical ability to bend to the will of innovation. When cravings led me to pine over every single cookie I could think of, all at once, I thought it would take a miracle to scratch that itch. Turns out it was really just a matter of some sweet sorcery, combined with a pint of So Delicious ice cream.

It takes a great deal of willpower to consciously melt down a perfectly good pint of Snickerdoodle Cashew Ice Cream, but just keep breathing and trust me on this one: The sum will be so much greater than the parts, if you can believe it. The deck is certainly stacked and expectations run high with this cast of characters, complete with sandwich cookies and crunchy chocolate chip cookies, in addition to the traditional graham cracker base. Oh yes, and don’t forget the chocolate morsels or buttery cashew nuts, either.

Designed for the cookie monster that lies at the heart of every child and reasonable adult, these bars can do no wrong, as far as I’m concerned. Melted cashew ice cream serves as the decadent glue that binds this cookie overload together, handily replacing the sticky dairy syrup that is usually embedded in the formula. Best of all, it brings yet another type of cookie into the party, so all told, you’ve got a cookie quartet singing sweetly in every bite- Five if you count the finished bar itself, I suppose.

Keeping with tradition, my title remains appropriately bewitching, providing a subtle taste of what lies ahead, without giving away the ending. The real magic comes with the baking, after all.

It’s my pleasure to join 20 other inspiring bloggers, authors, and general kitchen whizzes in this summer’s Raise a Pint Recipe Contest, made possible by Go Dairy Free and So Delicious. Tasked with finding new ways to make the most of any So Delicious Coconut Milk or Cashew Milk Frozen Desserts, there will no doubt be loads of tempting sweet treats flooding your computer screen soon. All recipes will be unveiled by July 24th, at which point you, my dear readers, will be able to jump in and vote for your favorites, so stay tuned!

Meanwhile, you can also join in on the fun with the #RaiseAPint Event, running until August 5th. So Delicious will reward 20 entrants with ice cream party prize packs. Simply share your moment on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter and be sure to use #RaiseAPint! Find the full details right here, and start scooping.

Cookie Monster Magic Bars

4.5 Ounces (About 1 1/4 Cups) Finely Ground Graham Cracker Crumbs
1/4 Cup Coconut Oil or Vegan Butter, Melted
8 Ounces (About 1/2 Pint ) So Delicious Snickerdoodle Cashew Ice Cream, Melted
6 Ounces (1 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/2 Cup Chocolate Sandwich Cookies, Roughly Chopped
1/2 Cup Crunchy Mini Chocolate Chip Cookies, Roughly Chopped
1/2 Cup Unsalted Cashews Halves and Pieces

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil. Lightly grease and set aside.

Combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted coconut oil or vegan butter in small bowl and mix until all the crumbs are thoroughly moistened. Transfer to your prepared pan, and firmly press it across the bottom. If you’re having trouble getting the mixture to cooperate, it helps to lightly grease the bottom of a flat measuring cup and use that to get a nice, smooth layer.

Now comes the fun stuff! Pour the melted ice cream all over the crust, distributing the mix-ins to the best of your ability. Sprinkle the chocolate chips, both types of chopped cookies, and cashews all over. Use your palms to press the goodies down gently but firmly.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool completely in the pan, and then use the aluminum foil like a sling to remove the whole lot. Slice into bars or squares as desired.

Makes 12 – 16 Bars

Printable Recipe


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Banh Mi and Banh You, Too

Please don’t call the authorities, but I think I may have just robbed a sandwich shop.

It was an accident, I swear. My intentions were good through the entire transaction, my demeanor nonthreatening, the cashier entirely unconcerned by my presence. It was all so mundane, so unremarkable that I might have forgotten the whole scene by tomorrow if not for that one sticky detail. All I wanted was a sandwich, an honest meal after a long day. Something easy and fast, unchallenging flavors to soothe the ache of comfort food cravings. Indeed, I got precisely that; a glorious banh mi, decked out in crisp pickled vegetables and beautifully burnished lemongrass tofu.

In five minutes flat, from the moment I burst through the door at Cam Huong, my order was ready, stuffed to bursting with bean curd still warm from the fryer. I raced home, cradling my treasure close to my chest, like a precious baby swaddled in deli paper. Only after I tore through the wrapping paper and took my first monstrous bite did I realize my potentially larcenous predicament. Checking my wallet, only three one-dollar bills were missing. That wouldn’t even be enough to cover the tip for most bay area meals. How could that possibly suffice for a full 8 inches of sub satisfaction? Even a prepackaged gas station peanut butter and jelly sandwich would command a 5-spot, at least.

I suppose this makes me a fugitive on the run now. I’m neither armed nor dangerous, but I do command a ferocious appetite, so if you ever need a partner in banh mi crime… I’d gladly become a repeat offender.


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Back to the Roots

A flavor that defies all seasons and locations, root beer is nonetheless inextricably linked to memories of my childhood summers, celebrations both big and small in cozy easy coast suburbs. Reserved for grand finales rather than the accompaniment to a meal, this fizzy elixir would rarely arrive at the party alone. Creamy scoops of ice cream always set those bubbles off in perfect contrast, the pale vanilla dollops slowly melting, melding into the dark sea of syrupy sweetness. If you were lucky, it might all be topped off with a swirl of chocolate syrup; just enough to hint at a cocoa undertone, never so much as to steal the show.

Few desserts have shaped my palate quite like that combination, inspiring a wide range of spin-offs over the years, the most “famous” of which can more or less lay claim to landing my first cookbook deal. No matter how many times root beer re-enters my consciousness, in any sort of shape, I will never grow tired of its unique spices, herbal and earthy in all the right ways.

It’s effortless to infuse root beer flavor into absolutely anything, thanks to the magic of baking extracts and concentrates. Armed with this secret ingredient, I’ve set my sights on another adolescent favorite: The classic rice crispy treat.

Not only is the flavor more mature, but the grains themselves are all grown up. There’s still some rice in there for good measure, but it’s kissed with cocoa, adding a greater depth to the whole conversation. Most notably, tiny flecks of crunchy quinoa cereal and popped sorghum round out the affair, lending a distinctive nuttiness not found in the original invention.

That said, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more appealing treat for kids and adults alike. Lacking the fancy cereals, this formula will easily work with all rice crispies just as well. Go ahead and play around with your top breakfast cereals, because as it turns out, just about anything light and crunchy will do. Bathed in a binding mixture of root beer and maple syrup, even the most humble of breakfast fodder can be transformed into an ambrosial sweet snack.

Nostalgia is a strong pull for the overall concept, but the flavor itself will bring you back for more, whether you grew up indulging in root beer floats or not.

Popped Root Beer Crispy Treats

2 Cups Crispy Quinoa Cereal
2 Cups Cocoa Crispy Rice Cereal
1 Cup Popped Sorghum
1 1/2 Teaspoons Refined Coconut Oil*
1/2 Cup Grade B Maple Syrup
6 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
2 Teaspoons Root Beer Extract

*Opt for refined coconut oil to minimize the coconut flavor, or if you’d prefer, simply use your favorite vegan butter instead.

Line an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease. Combine both cereals and popped sorghum in a large bowl. Set both aside.

Set a medium saucepan over low heat and begin by melting the margarine coconut oil. Once liquefied, add in the maple syrup, sugar, and salt, stirring as needed until the sugar crystals dissolve. Bring the mixture to a steady boil and then cook for an additional 3 – 5 minutes, until it appears to have thickened slightly. Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the root beer extract.

Pour the contents of your saucepan over the dry mix and fold it in carefully but briskly with a wide non-stick spatula, being careful not to crush the cereal.

Pour everything into your prepared pan and gently press it out into an even layer. Let cool completely before cutting into bars.

Makes 10 – 12 Bars

Printable Recipe


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Go Fourth and Conquer

Fellow Americans, arm yourselves with a cold beverage and prepare for the party of the summer! If you’re really on the ball, you’ve already checked out of work and are easing into a full four day weekend, packed with all the things that make this country great: Explosions, drunken revelry, and more food than you can comfortably consume but still manage to, heartily. It’s a no-holds-barred celebration of summer, and I believe that very same free spirit should apply to the menu, no matter what your specific plans are. Whether you’re planning a low-key affair with just a few friends, a giant neighborhood bash that includes a couple of zip codes, or some very patriotic Netflix and chill alone, this is not an event that calls for culinary frippery. Leave the recipes in the kitchen, but take these ideas to the celebration.

Potato salad is pretty much mandatory, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be larded up with a thick miasma of creamy dressing and unidentifiable “vegetables.” Rather, try out a vinaigrette version and think of more flavorful additions. Some of my favorites include caramelized onions, thinly shaved fennel, olives or capers for some briny goodness, and meatless bacon of any variety. It doesn’t take too much to make it shine, so keep it to 5 inclusions at the most and don’t overthink this one.

Corn, one of the only crops indigenous to North America, is another friend that must be invited to join the fun. The absolute freshest sweet corn is a joy to eat cold and raw, but if you live more than 1 hour away from the fields, toss your ears on the grill for a real treat. Take a page from elote and slather it vegan mayo, sprinkle generously with paprika and nutritional yeast, and finish it off with a squeeze of lime. Eaten straight off the cob, it will be incredibly delicious and extremely messy if done right.

Anything on a stick. (Seen here: shishito peppers.) Enough said.

As many dips as you have chips! My vote goes for hummus or guacamole, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be plain. Dress up your chickpea spreads with spinach or artichokes to recall some of that old school flavor, or go bold and douse your guac with a generous squeeze of sriracha.

Though they may be “traditional” mains, skip the hot dogs and hamburgers this year. Instead, stuff some fresh veggies and celebrate the height of growing season here in the states. Any sort of grains and beans make fine fodder here, with bell peppers or zucchini serving as prime vessels, and you can even wrap them up and toss them on the grill, too.

For dessert, all you need is fruit. Yes, really, coming from the sweet-toothed baker, take my word for it! Something light, sweet, cold, and refreshing will hit the spot after a day out in the sun. The only acceptable alternative is ice cream, because really, when is ice cream ever a bad idea?

There you have it: A plan of attack suitable for the laziest of citizens, because working hard on this weekend of rest would be downright un-American. Happy Birthday, America! You’re looking pretty fine for all your 240 years.


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The Smiling Nut

Question: What’s a food photographer’s favorite subject?

Answer: Pistachios, because they’re always smiling!

Now you know my best/worst joke. Should I attempt to tell it again in person, I wouldn’t blame you for rolling your eyes, sighing in exasperation, or both at once. Despite that, I’m certain it will still happen sooner than later because I just can’t resist a terrible pun, especially when it relates to food. The likelihood that it might become a prime interjection into standard conversations is also high because pistachios happen to be one of my very favorite nuts, if I was forced at gunpoint to pick just one.

Granted, I’m far from a discerning connoisseur. Typical choices for these edible emeralds range from raw to toasted, in shell or out. Maybe you might get some fancy seasoning sprinkled into the mix, or keep it classic with a shower of fine salt. It’s an embarrassing admission to make in the age of hyper-awareness surrounding food sourcing and the celebration of less conventional options, but it never even occurred to me that there might be different types of pistachios out there. All nuts are not created equal, though history suggests that the pistachio originated from one general region in Asia over 9,000 years ago. Notable growers today include California, which is the sort of green emerald most US consumers are likely to pick up from the grocery store, consciously or not, as well as Iran and Turkey.

Just a single farm from any of these locations might be churning out a half dozen unique varietals, too. Rarely would the average consumer be able to pick them out by name, but the distinction between nuts is striking. Some might range from a mere centimeter to a full inch long; a whole spectrum of green hues can tint the kernels; flavors can dominate with more buttery, woodsy, grassy, or savory notes; textures might be impeccably crisp, or more tender, almost like a raw pea. Just scraping the surface on the micro-mutations of the cashew’s cousin makes me realize just how little I know about this beloved nut.

Greek pistachios had never crossed my radar prior to a press release from Hellas Farms. I wondered how different they could really be from my standard economy pick, a no-name brand from a pirate who’s name rhymes with Grader Schmoe’s. It was surprising to see the warm red blush tinting these nuts, a reminder of where the antiquated practice of dying the shells once came from. A very light kiss of salt accentuated the lightly roasted flavors embedded within, highlighting the high quality nut in a very simple, unfussy way.

The ultimate takeaway from this nutty exploration, however, is not that it’s necessary to seek out pistachios with particular pedigrees; rather, what counts more than anything else is freshness. All too often, packaged nuts sit on grocery store shelves for months, or even years, before you toss them into your cart. It makes a world of difference to have them shipped directly from the source, and especially when that producer has a real passion for their pistachios. No matter from where in the world your pistachios hail, opting for a more carefully cultivated selection will certainly give you something to smile about.