BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Mathematically Impossible Pi

There are “math people,” and then there’s everyone else. Math people breeze through tabulations for group dinners, factoring in precise tip percentages and taking individual drink orders into account, while the rest of us are still fumbling to pull up the calculator app on our phones. Math people relish real-life opportunities to crunch numbers when others can only feebly chew on their finger nails. To me, those skills are a sort of magical, superhuman power that I can only admire from afar, left behind in the dust as soon as we advance beyond basic multiplication and division. Needless to say, I am NOT a math person, but for the enviable folks who are, this day is for you.

Pi Day, March 14, 3.14, is the most mathematically sound day of the year to indulge in a slice of pie. At least that’s what the experts seem to say, and with my shaky analytical understanding, who am I to question the specifics?

Anything beyond the most basic math is an impossibility in my hands, but despite the name, this pie is not. The title merely refers to the way it “impossibly” forms its own crust as it bakes, no pastry needed to support a luscious custard filling. Riffing off my favorite childhood sandwich, stacked thick with gooey marshmallow cream slathered over crunchy peanut butter, this reinterpretation skips the bland bread and gets right to the good stuff. Deceptively simple, it takes little more effort to assemble than the classic school lunch inspiration itself.

Prepare for a decadent peanut butter and marshmallow onslaught; just a small slice will satisfy the most intense cravings, and it doesn’t take a math person to figure that out.

Impossible Fluffernutter Pie

1 Cup Crunchy Peanut Butter
1/2 Cup Vegan Vanilla Yogurt
1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup all-Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt*
1/2 Bag (5 Ounces) Dandies Vegan Mini Marshmallows
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Roasted Peanuts

*If you’re using salted peanut butter to begin with, dial back the additional salt or omit entirely, to taste.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9-inch pie pan.

Whisk together the peanut butter, yogurt, non-dairy milk, vinegar, and vanilla in a small bowl, and set aside. Separately, combine the sugar, flour, arrowroot, baking powder, and salt. Mix thoroughly so that no lumps remain and all of the dry ingredients are completely incorporated. Add in the liquid mixture and stir until smooth.

Pour the batter into your prepared pie pan, and bake for 40 – 45 minutes. It should be set around the edges but quite wobbly in the center, much like a cheesecake. Pile the marshmallows on top in an even layer and return the pie to the oven. Set the broiler to high and cook for just 5 – 10 minutes, until the marshmallows are lightly toasted and golden brown.

Let cool to room temperature before garnishing with peanuts, slicing, and serving.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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Triangles and Tribulations

If ever a single holiday could rival the festivities of Halloween, it would have to be Purim. The comparisons are obvious: Fanciful costumes, parties and games, and of course, sweet treats. Where Purim has the leg up on the competition, however, is in those much celebrated edible offerings. Rather than merely candy, hamantaschen are the traditional pastry-based prize. They’ve become synonymous with the observance, almost more important to the observance than the historical significance itself. A Purim party without hamantaschen would be like underwear without elastic; uncomfortable at best, but in practical terms, truly impossible.

Previous years have seen the sugar-flecked and jam-splattered variations flying fast and furious out of my oven. Traditional or avant-garde, it’s hard to go too far wrong when you start with tender, buttery cookie dough, so rich that the best cookies threaten to flatten out into triangular puddles while baking. Flipping the script in a drastically new approach is a dangerous proposition, considering their fervent following, but I can never leave well enough alone. Perhaps they’re only hamantaschen in spirit, but since any food with three corners can stand in as a representation of Haman’s hat, I’m hoping my wild digression might still get a pass.

Savory, not sweet. Steamed, not baked. Wonton wrapper, not cookie. We can argue the disparities all day long, but when it comes down to it, there’s no question about their taste. Stuffed with gloriously green edamame filling, these dumplings are a quicker and easier alternative to the typically fussy sweet dough, and offer much needed substance after overdosing on the aforementioned pastries. General folding advice still stands as a good guideline to follow when wrapping things up, but once you get those papery thin skins to stick, you’re pretty much golden. If you’re less confident in your dumpling prowess, cut yourself a break and fold square dumplings wrappers in half instead. You’ll still get neat little triangles, and with much less full.

Short on time but long on appetite, I’m not ashamed to take a few shortcuts to get these delightful little dumplings on the table. You can go all out with homemade edamame hummus and even dumpling skins from scratch, but this quick-fix solution allows you to steam up a quick batch at the last minute, or any time the craving strikes.

Edamame Hamantaschen Dumplings

1 Cup Shelled Edamame
1/3 Cup Edamame Hummus
1 Scallion, Thinly Sliced
1 Clove Garlic, Finely Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Finely Minced Fresh Ginger
1 Teaspoon Soy Sauce
1 Teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin

Savoy Cabbage
15 (3-Inch) Round Wonton Skins or Gyoza Wrappers*
Additional Soy Sauce, to Serve

*You can typically find these either in the produce section near the tofu, or in the freezer aisle with other Asian ingredients. Double-check the labels because these sometimes include eggs.

The filling comes together in a snap so for maximum efficiency, set up your steaming apparatus first. Line a bamboo steamer or metal steam rack with leaves of savoy cabbage to prevent the dumplings from sticking to the bottom, and start the water simmering in a large pot.

Simply mix together the shelled edamame, hummus, scallion, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and cumin, stirring thoroughly. Lay out your dumpling wrappers and place about 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of each one. Run a lightly moistened finger around the entire perimeter and bring the sides together, forming three bounding walls. Tightly crimp the corners together with a firm pinch.

Place on the cabbage leaves and cover the steamer or pot. Steam for 2 – 4 minutes, until the wrappers are translucent. Serve immediately, with additional soy sauce for dipping if desired.

Makes 15 Dumplings

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Monochromatic, Never Monotonous

In such murky, turbulent times, it’s comforting to know that some things remain clearly defined in black and white. Even through the dense fog of uncertainty, it’s easy to identify a satisfying meal when you see one. Should it be clad in an attractive range of tones that never deviate too far from one scale of the color spectrum, so much the better.

Black pasta is crowning jewel of this monochromatic treasure chest, arrestingly dark spirals twisting through a sea of contrasting produce. Though the concept would traditionally suggest that squid ink was at play, the rise in popularity of charcoal has brought a new tint onto the food scene. I can’t vouch for its “detoxing” abilities, nor do I care to test out the claims; what interests me most is the dusky onyx hue it imparts to everything it touches.

In truth, you could pair absolutely anything with those obsidian twisted noodles with equal success and beauty, but the bold visuals of pale white cauliflower and tofu feta create stunning visual appeal, and an equally stellar flavor profile. Briny kalamata olives join the party to add a salty top note, accentuating the deeper roasted flavor of the cruciferous addition and lightly caramelized onions. Pine nuts add an occasional crunch to keep every bite exciting.

Plan ahead for this meal and everything will come together quite easily. Handmade pasta is definitely a labor of love, but can be prepared well in advance to save you the struggle when the dinner hour rolls around. Trofie, my shape of choice, is a Ligurian pasta that is already vegan by nature, no eggs needed. Rolled by hand into bite-sized twirls, it requires no special machinery, but can be time-consuming to complete. Feel free to go a simpler route with basic linguine or spaghetti to save yourself the hassle. The pasta will taste just as good, and look every bite as darkly handsome.

Black Trofie Pasta

3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Food-Grade Charcoal Powder
1 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 – 1 Cup Water

Place the flour, charcoal, and salt in a large bowl, whisking thoroughly to equally distribute the ingredients. Make a well in the center and pour 3/4 cup of water. Begin mixing the flour into the water, maintaining the well in the center as best you can. When the mixture gets too thick for a fork, drop the fork and get your hands in there to continue mixing. Drizzle in additional water as needed to incorporate all of the flour to form a cohesive dough. It should feel tacky but not sticky.

Knead on a lightly-floured surface for 8 – 10 minutes, until very smooth. Let the dough rest for an hour before proceeding, or cover with plastic wrap, place in the fridge, and let rest overnight.

To shape the noodles, first lightly flour a baking sheet and clean work surface.

Flatten the dough out into a disk and cut a strip about 1/2-inch wide. Don’t worry too much about the exact measurements, since you will next roll it into a rope about half that width. Slice it into 1/4-inch pieces.

Take one nugget at a time and rub it between your palms, creating a small cylinder with tapered ends. For extra flare, you can further twist the shapes to create ridges, but for an “authentic” trophie, you only need to rub the dough between your hands three or four times to create each noodle. Drop the finished shapes onto your awaiting baking sheet. Let the noodles rest and lightly air-dry, uncovered, for at least one hour before cooking.

The pasta will cook in boiling water in just 30 – 120 seconds (yes, seconds, not minutes!) depending on the thickness of your noodles. Stand by and taste-taste for when they’re perfectly al dente.

Makes About 1 Pound; 4 Servings

Black and White Pasta

1 Batch Black Trofie Pasta, Above

1 Head Cauliflower, Cut into Florets
1/2 Medium White Onion, Sliced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

1/2 Cup Kalamata Olives, Pitted and Halved
5 Ounces Tofu Feta, Roughly Crumbled
1/4 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Toss the cauliflower, onion, garlic, oil, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl until the vegetables are evenly coated. Spread everything out on your prepared baking sheet in an even layer, making sure nothing overlaps, and slide it into the hot oven. Roast for about 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is golden brown and fork-tender.

Toss the roasted vegetables together with the cooked pasta, kalamata olives, tofu feta, and pine nuts. Add in a tiny splash of the pasta cooking water if desired, to give the dish a bit more moisture. Serve immediately, while piping hot.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

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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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