BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Layered in Sweet History

Towering stacks of gossamer-thin pastry, impossibly crisp and glistening with sticky syrup gleam from within bakery cases across the globe. Though typically full to bursting with crisp walnuts and warm spices, baklava is no stranger to alternative approaches. Considering the fact that it’s been at the mercy of creative bakers for centuries, this well-loved treat has managed to maintain its core identity far better than most, thanks in no small part to its sheer simplicity.

All you need is phyllo dough and a bit of patience to bring any dessert-lover to their knees. Swapping in pistachios for the filling is my favorite twist, inspired by my dad’s equal distaste for walnuts and love for pistachios, but this is a new rendition that he can endorse as well. Toasted coconut adds tropical flare without venturing too far into the dangerous waters of “fusion” cuisine. Sweet cinnamon and floral syrup closely reminiscent of honey bring familiar flavors back into the fold, sure to satisfy traditionalist and more adventurous eaters alike.

Coconut Baklava

Syrup:

1 Cup Water
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Orange Blossom Water
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Filling:

4 Cups Shredded, Unsweetened Coconut, Toasted
3/4 Cup Raw Cashew Pieces, Roughly Chopped
1/2 Cup Coconut Sugar or Turbinado Sugar
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

For Assembly:

1 (1-Pound) Box Frozen Phyllo Dough, Thawed
1/2 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted

Make sure that your phyllo dough is completely before beginning. Keep it covered with a lightly moistened kitchen towel to prevent it from drying out.

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Prepare the syrup first so it has time to cool. This can also be made well in advance, as it will keep almost indefinitely in an air-tight container. Simply combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook just until the sugar has fully dissolved; set aside.

Moving on to the filling, briefly pulse the coconut and cashews in your blender or food processor to achieve a coarse grind while still allowing the mixture to remain very rough and chunky. Transfer to a large bowl and mix with the sugar, cinnamon, and salt.

Cut (or tear) the phyllo so that it will fit into the bottom of your prepared baking pan. It is okay if the pieces overlap a little. Begin by laying down one sheet and brushing the pastry with melted coconut oil. Add another sheet of phyllo once the first is lightly but thoroughly coated. Brush the second sheet with coconut oil. Repeat these steps up to 4 times to create a phyllo layer; the exact number is up to you. After applying the coconut oil to the last sheet in your first phyllo layer, sprinkle it evenly with the nut mixture. Repeat the entire process to create a second layer of phyllo, followed by another layer of the nuts. Continue this pattern until you run out of the dry ingredients, ending with layers of pastry on top.

Before placing the baklava in the oven, pre-cut the little triangles, or, if you are not feeling so handy with a knife, little squares are just fine. Bake for 70 to 80 minutes, until golden brown and slightly crispy-looking, but watch to make sure that the edges do not burn. Cover the pan with foil to prevent overcooking, if needed.

Pour the warm syrup all over over the baked pastry. It may look excessive, but it will all soak in over time. Allow the baklava to cool for at least an hour or two before slicing and serving.

Makes 24 Triangles

Printable Recipe

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Silent Saturday: Early Bird Gets the…

Brunch (Brussels Sprout Sandwiches, Pea Soup, Salad, and Sweet Potato Gratin) at Bio

Breakfast of Champions (Tofu Scramble, Biscuits & Gravy, Hash Brown Potatoes, Salad) at Hella Vegan Eats

Croissant from Julien & Noé

Eggless Breakfast Tacos and Salsa at Home

Power Up Plate (Scrambled V-Eggs, Bac-Un, Roasted Potatoes, and Garlic Kale) at One Veg World

Palate Cleanser: Spoonful of Fresh Berries


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Dirty Diamonds

They lurk on the fringes of civilization, just beyond the beaten trail, breeding and multiplying rapidly under the cover of darkness. Few take notice of their growing forces, and those who do rarely understand the implications. Call it a parasite, call it invasive, but I just call it dinner.

Chanterelle mushrooms are prized by umami-lovers the world over, fetching hefty prices at market due to their untamed ways. Like many of the greatest culinary treasures, chanterelles have never successfully been cultivated, demanding that the hungry hordes hunt and forage by hand for such this rarefied prize. A risky venture for the uninitiated, mushroom collection can quickly go awry with just one wrong identification. As a novice myself, the first piece of advice I would give for any fungus fanatics is to go with someone who knows. Even if I knew what I was looking for on my first expedition, I would have bypassed those bright orange caps for fear of culling something genuinely poisonous. Chanetelles succeed in making themselves look quite fearsome at first glance.

Knowing what to look for is one thing, and knowing where to look is another entirely. The best spots are just beyond the trampled woodland trails, amongst fallen trees and in soft, damp soil. In fact, these water-loving creatures are most likely to spring up after a decent rain, so brace yourself for muddy messy conditions. Poke under leaves and dig around when you find a patch; there may very well be more hidden within nearby shifting earth.

Chanterelles vary greatly in size, but rarely grow so strong that they need to be forceably cut from the ground. Slip your fingers underneath the cap to support it before gently pulling upwards. It should easily yield under pressure. Stash your treasures in a breathable cloth or compostable plastic bag.

Oh, did I mention mud? Yes, prepare yourself for some serious mud-slinging in the most literal sense possible. Wear boots, long pants, work gloves, and absolutely nothing you care about wearing again. Not only will you emerge caked in filth, but naturally, your mushrooms will as well. Knock off as much dirt as possible in the field and immediately hose them down when you get home. Take a paring knife to shave down stems and cut out any iffy pieces. Let them air dry, then wash them again. Then take a tooth brush to scrub away more of the particles stuck in the frilly caps. Dry, and then once more for good measure, wash them again before cooking. Don’t fear the water; larger caps can actually be squeezed out much like sponges to expel extra liquid.

Once you’re reasonably satisfied that you won’t get a mouthful of soil with your meal, process the mushrooms immediately. Fresh chanterelles are extremely fragile and will deteriorate rapidly. Your best bet is to chop them roughly and saute in a dry skillet to express the extra water. Once the surrounding liquid has evaporated, stash the pieces in fridge or freezer for more long term storage. Alternatively, you can then transfer them into a dehydrator to get crispy dices that can be stored at room-temperature, or ground to a powder for seasoning.

Side note: Never eat wild, foraged mushrooms raw, for obvious reasons. Just don’t risk it.

The greatest way to honor these noble spores, however, is to eat them right away. My favorite approach is to slice them thick before baking lightly in the oven merely to concentrate their inherent umami. Use these slabs to top just about anything; tofu scrambles, creamy pastas, and of course, pizzas the world over.

What follows is not actually a recipe but a guideline for my current quick-fix chanterelle indulgence. If you should ever be so lucky to uncover a trove of wild, edible mushrooms, the best thing you can do is to let them shine. In this application, their earthy flavors are accentuated by the deep, caramelized sweetness of roasted garlic, a subtle hit of rosemary, and woodsy smoked tomatoes. Any and all ingredients entirely interchangeable based on availability and personal preference. Just don’t overthink it, celebrate your wild food find, and enjoy your edible plunder to the fullest.

Chanterelle Flatbread Pizza

1/2 – 3/4 Pound Fresh Chanterelle Mushrooms, Cut into 1/4-Inch Slices
1 Head Roasted Garlic
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Flatbread or Small Par-Baked Pizza Crust
1/4 Cup Smoked Julienne Cut Sun-Dried Tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Chopped Toasted Pecans
Arugula, Pea Shoots, or Mache

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange your sliced mushrooms in a single layer on one or two baking sheets and cook gently, rotating the sheets every 20 minutes or so, for 40 – 60 minutes. At first, the sheets may appear to flood with water, but don’t panic! Allow the mushrooms to continue baking until the liquid has evaporated.

Remove the mushrooms, let cool for 10 minutes before handling, and raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Peel all the cloves of garlic and place them in a small bowl with the oil, salt, rosemary, and pepper. Rough mash with a fork until spreadable but still chunky.

Place the flatbread or crust on a clean baking sheet and smear it liberally with the garlic spread. Sprinkle the baked mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and pecans evenly on top. Transfer the whole thing to the oven and bake just until hot and crisp; 8 – 12 minutes.

Finish with a handful of your favorite greens, slice, and serve immediately.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Tapping into Maple Treats

Far from revolutionary yet uncommonly combined, the idea of sweetening a simple latte with maple syrup stopped me in my tracks. Hustling downtown from one errand to the next, I practically tripped over the sidewalk sandwich board touting the debut of a “salted maple latte,” mercifully indicating an end to Pumpkin Spice season. Trying to play off my ungraceful footwork like a premeditated pause, I took a small detour to squint into the open cafe window, as if I might catch sight of this mystical creation, to no avail. Short on time but long on tasks, I had no choice but to continue ahead as planned, latte-less.

All day and later that night, I still couldn’t shake visions of coffee and maple from my head. That final suggestion of a subtly salty finish truly sealed the deal. While undeniably appealing as a quick-fix caffeine infusion, it didn’t take long for me to realize the potential for baked good conversion.

Consider this the grown-up take on this nostalgic chewy cookie; a bit more edgy than its simple cinnamon-scented origins, occasionally salty, crisp on the outside but still soft and supple in the center. Pure maple syrup provides a comforting woodsy undercurrent, perfectly paired with the more earthy notes of strong coffee, concentrated down into powdered format. I daresay one perfectly chewy cookie easily outshines a whole round of foamy coffee shop drinks- No baristas necessary.

Salted Maple Latte Snickerdoodles

Salted Maple Latte Cookies:

1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/4 Cup Vegan Butter, Melted
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Maple-Cinnamon Sugar:

1/4 Cup Maple Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Coarse or Kosher Salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with either parchment paper or a silpat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, instant coffee, baking powder, and salt so that all of the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout the mixture. Separately, combine the sugar, maple syrup, melted vegan butter, and vanilla. Stir well, and then add the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Using a wide spatula, mix just enough to bring the batter together smoothly.

Mix together the ingredients for the maple-cinnamon sugar in a small dish. Use a medium ice cream scoop to portion out the cookie dough, and drop each ball one at a time into the sugar mixture. It’s a very soft dough so just toss lightly to coat. Once evenly covered, place them with at least 1 1/2 between each cookie on your prepared baking sheet. They spread out to become sizable cookies, so leave a generous amount of space all around.

Flatten them out slightly with lightly moistened hands, and bake for 10 – 12 minutes, until barely browned around the edges and no longer shiny on top. They may looks a bit underdone, but they will continue to bake once removed from the oven, and you want to keep them nice and chewy. Let the cookies rest on the sheets for 10 minutes before cooling completely on a wire rack.

Makes 8 – 10 Large Cookies

Printable Recipe


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Bursting with Flavor

It was a warm summer day, just like any other, when I boarded a plane in Austin with a bomb in my luggage.

No, scratch that: Dozens, if not hundreds, of tiny little bombs, all packed neatly in my carry-on bag. Rest assured that security was no slouch, pulling me aside to examine the explosive contents, but still I slid through without much incident. Before I incite mass panic here, let me clarify that these bombs were only of the edible variety, bursting with energy and flavor, rather than actual firepower.

Returning home from a food-focused convention, I still felt like I was getting away with robbery, if not a greater crime of terrorism. Enjoy Life Foods had been one of the very few vegan sponsors and at the end of the event, unloaded nearly their entire supply of uneaten samples into my hungry hands. Yes, untold numbers of the brand new ProBurst Energy Bites were now mine to savor, if only I could transport them back across state lines. Though the physical weight was considerable, there’s nothing I won’t do for good food… Even if the x-ray results looked mighty questionable, and TSA cross-examination is never a fun addition to the travel agenda.

Think of the classic Larabar composition of a blended nut-and-seed bar but considerably less chewy, chop it up into bite-sized pieces, and drench the whole thing in chocolate, and you might get a vague idea of the goodness that goes into each little nugget. Each of the four flavors straddles the thin line that separates dessert from snack, pulling in impressive nutritional numbers while handily satisfying the most demanding sweet tooth.

Adventurous flavor combinations further distinguish these treats from the wide variety of energy bars already flooding the marketplace. Mango Habanero and Cranberry Orange are slightly less conventional pairings, yet there’s not a loser between them. SunSeed Butter offers nut-free peanut butter doppelganger, and my personal favorite, Cinnamon Spice, adds a balanced warmth to the dark chocolate foundation.

Although it seemed like an absurd haul at the time, guaranteed to last a lifetime for any reasonable snacker, it was a sad day when my supply finally ran dry. Thank goodness these bites are finally available for retail purchase– Especially if it means I won’t need to secretly smuggle them back home in bulk anymore.


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Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve

January is upon us. The quietest month of all, a natural respite from the cacophony of holiday festivities, the days ahead stretch out like a lazy yawn. Mercifully unhurried and undemanding, it’s back to work as usual, but without the same frantic pace as before. Some unspoken understanding allows us to resume our activities with a greater margin for error. Retreating back into the warmth of our homes, insulated under the padding of thick sweaters and blankets, I used to see this as a very isolating time of year. Now I’ve come to realize that it’s just a matter of how we choose to find comfort. We’re actually all in this together, experiencing the very same nesting instinct; whether we choose to share our nests with one another makes all the difference.

Inevitably, much will be said about comfort food in the coming days, despite of the incessant push to “eat clean” or observe a “New Year, new you.” Join me in rejecting these silly slogans, once and for all. Changing your diet or exercise regime won’t change who you are. No matter how far you run, no matter how many green smoothies you chug, your essential core remains the same, and you know what? I think that’s pretty amazing.

Pardon the terrible segue here, but I just wanted to take that brief opportunity to wear my heart on my sleeve, inspired by the deeply soul-satisfying dish known as manicotti to us Americans, or “little shirt sleeves” to Italians. Such a labor-intensive pasta preparation could only be made with love and patience, both of which I’d like to believe are in ample supply as we stride boldly forward into 2017. Fitting the definition of comfort food to a T, the combination of noodles, cheese, and red sauce is one that can’t be beat… But perhaps, with just a bit of innovation, improved upon.

Chef Barry Horton of Sanctuary Bistro replaces the wheat-based pasta with savory sheets of yuba, naturally savory, toothsome, and somewhat lighter on the fork. Lithe and flexible, the tofu skins are wrapped up around dairy-free ricotta filling like crepes. There’s less danger of tearing apart hot pasta while fruitlessly burning your fingers during preparation, so even the cook can take it easy during this meal.

A perennial favorite on the menu, it strikes me as an especially appealing dinner now as we steep ourselves in the depths of winter. Soothing and familiar, yet exciting enough to pull us out of hibernation, it’s the kind of meal that makes it a little bit easier to share openly- of food, thoughts, and comfort.

Tofu Manicotti

By Chef Barry Horton of Sanctuary Bistro

Marinara Sauce:

1/2 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic
1/2 Cup Red Wine
1 14-Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Tofu Ricotta:

1 Pound Firm Tofu
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning
1 Teaspoon Minced Garlic
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock

To Assemble:

10 Ounces Fresh Yuba, Cut into 3×5-inch Rectangles
Olive Oil
Fresh Chives (Optional)

Begin by preparing the marinara. In a sauce pot, sauté the onions in olive oil until translucent. Add in the garlic and cook until aromatic and very lightly browned. Pour in the wine, reduce the heat to medium-low, and let simmer until reduced by half. Stir in the tomatoes and continue to simmer for an additional 10 – 15 minutes. Add the seasonings and yeast, along with salt and pepper to taste, before transferring to a blender. Blend until as smooth or as chunky as you’d prefer.

While the sauce is simmering, make the most of your time and get started on the tofu ricotta. Add all of the ingredients into your food processor and pulse to combine. Pause as needed to scrape down the sides of the container, ensuring that everything is well incorporated. Continue blending until smooth.

To assemble, spoon about 3 tablespoons of tofu ricotta across the short width of each yuba rectangle. Gently roll the strips of yuba up like a little wrap. Sauté 3 or 4 at a time in a generous amount of olive oil, cooking until crisp and lightly golden brown.  Serve on a pool of sauce and garnish with freshly chopped chives, if desired.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Beeting the Odds

To everyone who survived 2016 in more or less one piece: You deserve a drink. Each passing year seems especially intense right as we prepare for the next, the most news-worthy events still fresh, stinging wounds that have yet to heal. It’s the immediacy, the fact that we’re still so close to it all, that each lurid detail snaps to mind with painful clarity. That said, this one struck me as a particularly difficult slog, through all the losses, ugly politics, and general malaise that the entire world is still struggling to overcome.

Impossibly, inexplicably, some facets of these tragedies give me hope. The worst can also bring out the best in people, and I’ve seen some incredible acts of kindness, courage, and inspiration as a result. There’s still so much to celebrate, and I sure as hell am not going to let anyone stop me from moving forward with optimism, no matter the situation. The key here is community, supporting one another in the darkest of days, which is why my festive drink of the season is one made for a crowd.

Beets sound like a terrible idea for a cocktail, granted, but their natural sweetness and mellow earthy flavors ground the mixture in a comforting, satisfying way. Brighter citrus flavors lift up the taste buds, singing with unexpected harmony, elevated by the effervescence of champagne. The essential inspiration for the combination came from Stirrings, in the form of a challenge to use their mixers in new and innovative ways. This is my entry into the contest, and I’m looking forward to raising a glass with all of the other celebratory entries sure to come. You can keep up with them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Stirrings can be found at Bevmo, Total Wines & More, Draegers, Mollie Stones, Hi Time Liquors, Pacific Ranch Market, Daniels Market, and Bristol Farms stores.

In the face of these challenges and unresolved, unsettling cliffhangers, I turn to 2017 and say: Bring it on. Do your worst. If we could manage this past year, we can tackle anything. So join me in raising a glass to celebrate the successes and failures alike, to move forward to a brighter New Year. After all, I have faith that with such perspective underneath our belts, it can only get better from here.

Beet to the Punch

1 Cup Stirrings Lemon Drop Cocktail Mix
3/4 Cup Golden Beet Juice*
2/3 Cup Orange Liqueur
3 Cups Hard Apple Cider
3 Cups Champagne or Sparkling White Wine
Spiralized Golden Beets, to Garnish (Optional)

*To make the beet juice without a juicer, start with at least 2 cups of raw, peeled golden beets. Chop them roughly and place them in a high-speed blender with just enough water to allow the blades to spin freely. Puree completely, until entirely smooth. Pass the resulting blend through a very fine-mesh sieve or nutmilk bag and extract as much liquid as possible. Discard or reserve the pulp for another use.

Combine all the ingredients in a large punch bowl with a ladle for guests to help themselves. Serve over ice. Garnish individual glasses with spiralized beets, if desired.

Makes 10 – 14 Servings

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