BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Pearl of an Oyster Cracker

Soup season is in full swing, no matter what sort of winter has arrived to greet these early days of March. Whether the elements chose to blow in a gentle yet chilly breeze in the evenings or pound the earth, day and night, with torrents of frozen rain, a bowl of something warm and soothing is guaranteed to hit the spot. Even in the heat of summer, a generous ladleful of steamy, brothy sustenance is not an unwelcome sight, but that’s a tale for another time. Right now, let’s focus on the often overlooked, undervalued side kick to these endless rounds of piping hot stew: The oyster cracker. When dining out, does a single diner give those sterile, single-serving packages a second thought? Or even a third, or fourth? Much more commonly found ground into a fine gravel of crumbs at the bottom of one’s purse than happily floating atop of pool of sumptuous soup, it’s about time they were given their due.

Granted, while I hate to say it, the traditional oyster cracker simply doesn’t have much going for it. It’s the filler that takes the place of more exciting flavors, contributing only a fleeting crunch at best. The only fix for this cracker conundrum is to take matters into our own hands and start from scratch, with a sturdy foundation of spice to build from.

Inspired by everyone’s favorite Japanese junk food, wasabi peas, this wheat-based reincarnation incorporates a buttery bite into every tiny morsel, ideal for adding a bit of depth to the otherwise merely hot sensation. Besides getting a considerable boost in the flavor department, that alluring green hue can be attributed the power of frozen spinach, lending more nutritional value than mere white flour could ever hope to contain.

If it seems like a serious ordeal to go through just for some silly little oyster crackers, consider expanding your snack horizons and cutting your crackers larger. Flavorful enough to stand on their own or pair beautifully with creamy dips, the only limitations come from your cookie cutters. My tiny flowers struck me as more charming than the standard hexagon shape, but anything goes, as long as you keep an eye on them in the oven. Baking times do vary based on the desired sizes, so stay close by while they cook.

Wasabi Oyster Crackers

1 Cup Frozen Spinach, Thawed
1/3 Cup Rice Bran, Avocado, or Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Prepared Wasabi Paste*
1 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
2 1/2 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
2 – 4 Tablespoons Water

*Beware of unwelcome ingredients! 9.5 times out of 10, you’ll find horseradish in those tubes rather than actual wasabi root, but that’s nothing to be alarmed about. What you should keep an eye out for, however, are sweeteners and animal products. Strange but true, many brands incorporate milk derivatives to extend the spicy flavor, so be vigilant!

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line two sheet pans with silpats or parchment paper.

Pull out your food processor and puree the thawed spinach, oil, wasabi, and nutritional yeast, blending until completely smooth. You may need to pause and scrape down the sides of the bowl with your spatula to ensure that all of the greenery is fully incorporated. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt before adding the dry mixture into the food processor as well. Pulse a few times to begin incorporating the flour, again scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Slowly drizzle in just enough water to bring everything together into a pebbly sort of dough that sticks together when pressed. Be careful not to overdo it and add too much liquid, or else it will be next to impossible to handle.

Knead the resulting dough lightly, just until it forms a fairly smooth ball. Flatten it into a disk and roll it out on a well-floured surface. Try to get it out thin as possible, much like pasta dough, for the crunchiest, crispiest crackers.

Use cookie cutters of your choice to punch out the crackers, or simply use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to slice out squares or rectangles. Aim to make them no larger than an inch, or plan to lower the temperature considerably and bake for a longer time if you’d prefer larger pieces. Transfer the shapes to your prepared baking sheets and prick them once or twice with a fork to allow the steam to vent while they bake.

For crackers about an inch wide, bake for 15 – 20 minutes, although your mileage may vary. Thinner crackers and those closer to the edge of your baking sheets will cook faster. Pull crackers out once golden, and return any to the oven that are still soft. Crackers will crisp a bit more during cooling, but should be dry when removed.

Let cool completely and store in an air-tight container.

Printable Recipe


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Shake It Off

Oh sure, easy for you to say.

In lieu of a television, the quiet hum of online weather reports has begun to serve as a neutral white noise at times, filling the void of late nights when no other voices are available to keep me company. Focused on the east coast’s snowy predicament more often than not, it seems that the whole country would be talking about my hometown even if the radio’s dial had been set on frequencies emanating from thousands of miles in any direction. Most of the information goes straight through my consciousness, filtered out as just comforting, human sounds, but every now and then particular words stick in my consciousness.

Blizzards… Black ice… Power failures…

So isn’t it easy for me to implore the folks suffering out there to just “shake it off,” offering up a tropical smoothie with an insensitive veneer of enthusiasm? How could I, the traitor who skipped bail and fled my sentencing for a winter in balmy California, have anything constructive to add to this seasonal tale of misery and woe?

And yet, I can’t keep my mouth shut, or more accurately, my fingers still as they glide across the beguiling keyboard. As much as the native New Englander in me would love to grouse about the terrible and relentless snow storms with the rest of my family, I’m much more grateful that those crushing winter phenomenon are no longer a part of my personal experience. Instead, I have sunshine, relative warmth, and yes, an incredible bounty of local produce that manages to grow even now in mid February; an unheard of miracle for someone who would expect two feet of sludge to line the garden beds right about now.

What a luxury it is to have a nearby farmers market boasting an ample selection of my very favorite food in the entire world: Cherimoya. Most people scratch their heads when the fruit is mentioned, and I hesitate to bring it more attention for fear of limiting my own selfish hoard of the fruits. A pricy treat to be sure, it’s hard to justify doing anything with the creamy, custard-like flesh other than dig in with a spoon once it’s ripe. Every now and then, however, one might venture into the land of overripe, at which point the only the one can do is blend it up and drink it down instead. That’s where the idea to create a tropical shake came from, playing off the classic umbrella drink, the lava flow.

Fiery red rivulets of strawberry “lava” flow throughout the classic coconut-pineapple rendition of this refreshing island staple, finished with a kiss of light rum. The sweet, creamy richness of cherimoya transforms the drink into an exotic new experience, which is just as luscious with or without the booze.

So this is how I’m shaking off winter. I’m well aware that not everyone is, or can, but for those with the ability to greet winter under brighter skies, I would implore you to relish every last sip of it.

Cherimoya Lava Flow

Strawberry Lava Sauce:

1 Cup Strawberries, Fresh or Frozen and Thawed
2 Tablespoons Coconut Sugar or Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Tablespoons Lime Juice

Creamy Cherimoya Cocktail:

1 Medium Cherimoya*
1 Cup Diced Fresh Pineapple
1 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/4 – 1/2 Cup Light Rum**

*In lieu of fresh cherimoya, substitute either 1 medium banana or approximately 2/3 cup of young coconut meat for a different yet still delicious taste.
**For a non-alcoholic version, substitute an equal amount of pineapple juice.

Prepare the strawberry sauce first by combining the strawberries, sugar, and lime juice in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook gently for about 10 minutes, just until the berries have softened and the sugar dissolved. Transfer to your blender and thoroughly puree so that no chunks of fruit remain. Strain out the seeds if desired and set aside.

Rinse and dry your blender before returning it to its base. Slice the cherimoya in half and use a spoon to scoop out the soft white flesh, discarding the black seeds as you encounter them. Pop the cherimoya fruit into your blender, along with the pineapple, coconut milk, and 1/4 cup of rum. Blend on high speed until completely smooth. Add more rum to taste, depending on your preference.

Divide the cocktail base between two glasses and drizzle the strawberry “lava” into each one, aiming for the sides of the glass to create the greatest visual impact. Serve with a tall straw and an additional wedge of fresh pineapple for extra flare.

Makes 2 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Flipping Over Pancakes

A hallowed date with many names, there is all but one antiquated nickname that I can fully endorse, even as a nonsecular participant. Sorry, but the title of “Fat Tuesday” no longer fits the bill for modern times, especially when the moniker of “Pancake Tuesday” can be readily swapped in for a far more appealing and accurate label. Born of religious traditions that involve gorging oneself before the leaner days of lent, the celebratory aspect is the only piece I’m interested in, quite frankly. That’s to say nothing of how the so-called fat pancakes of yore bear little resemblance to the eggless, dairy-free flapjacks that grace my skillet today, which could run circles around those early butter-laden diet bombs. It’s no wonder that revelers would feel compelled to repent after such a gut-busting day of indulgence.

It’s time to leave those feelings of guilt and regret in the past. Pancakes are the star of the day and deserve to shine with fresh flavors, just like this punchy little short stack right here. Fluffy, lightly sweetened pillows that are no pushovers, equal parts flour and cornmeal contribute a heartier texture in addition to a subtly savory cornbread flavor. Juicy raspberries and crisp jalapenos dot the surface of each disk, making every bite both sweet and spicy. Although you could certainly cut one or the other out of the picture to simplify, especially if catering to a strong sweet tooth or salt tooth, the combination is positively invigorating, no matter what time of day you prefer to celebrate your pancakes.

Raspberry-Jalapeno Cornbread Pancakes

2/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Finely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2/3 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 Cup Fresh or Frozen and Thawed* Raspberries
1 Fresh Jalapeno, Seeded and Finely Diced

Additional Fresh Raspberries and Maple Syrup to Serve (Optional)

*If using frozen and thawed raspberries, just bear in mind that your pancakes will take on more of a pink hue overall, due to the excess juices. Try to drain the berries as best you can to mitigate the effects.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt, mixing thoroughly to both aerate and combine the ingredients. Separately, mix the oil, non-dairy milk, and vinegar before adding all of the liquids into the bowl of dry goods. Introduce the berries and jalapeno at the same time, stirring with a wide spatula to incorporate everything into the batter. It’s perfectly fine to leave a few lumps remaining, as it’s much better than running the risk of over-mixing and creating tough pancakes.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and very lightly grease the bottom. When hot, spoon about 1/4 cup of batter into the pan for each pancake, leaving a good amount of space in between so that there’s ample room for flipping. Lightly smooth out the tops to further round the shapes and even out any central peaks. Cook until bubbles appear all over the surface and the underside is golden brown. Flip with a spatula, and cook until equally browned on the other side.

Serve hot, topped with fresh berries and/or syrup if desired.

Makes About 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Come On, Get Happea

Incorporating vegetables into dessert has long drawn the ire and skepticism of food enthusiasts across all boundaries- And for good reason. Aside from the untouchable legacy of the carrot cake, most attempts to enter into this arena have never been about enhancing flavor, but decreasing guilt. Red flags should immediately arise anytime food is not created with the taste being of foremost importance. Largely perpetrated by health food gurus trying to “hide” a bit of added nutrition into everyday cookies and cakes, such efforts have only been to their detriment. It’s no wonder that something like Green Pea Cookies would warrant further explanation to wary Americans still haunted by childhood demands to eat their peas and carrots before getting dessert. Turns out that this concoction is far from avant-garde in Singapore, where this simple snack was born.

Despite the vibrant coloring, there isn’t the least bit of “green” or vegetative flavor to be found. Instead, each delicate if slightly crumbly dome imparts a strikingly nutty impression, not dissimilar from classic tea cookies. The difference here is that without a cloak of confectioner’s sugar shrouding the outside, a much more nuanced, balanced taste is able to come through. Plenty sweet but offset by a notable punch of salt, the overall experience is something far more impressive than the humble appearance suggests. Crunchy pieces of dried peas speckle the insides throughout, keeping the texture enjoyably varied from start to finish.

Providing celiac sufferers with a gluten-free alternative was certainly a thoughtful brand extension, but I’m afraid that this version falls a bit short of the mark set by the originals. Vastly drier, there was more powder than cookie in my sample package, and the slightly bitter cereal note of rice flour was immediately obvious. That said, they would no doubt have fared much more favorably if I didn’t have the gluten-full treats to compare them to.

Also available for the sweet pea connoisseur is a growing family of pea cookie flavors. While I didn’t have the opportunity to sample the cranberry cookie, the chocolate-dipped variation successfully brought these green nuggets up to the next level of dessert decadence. The sturdy sheath of dark chocolate coating does have a tendency to slide off like an over-sized slipper, but tailoring be darned, it’s still a perfect fit in my eyes.

If you’d like to see vegetables treated with more respect come the final course of a meal, look no further than Green Pea Cookies. Help support their mission (and get in on the pea cookie action for yourself) by contributing to their KickerStarter campaign, going on now.

Samples were provided by the Green Pea Cookie company but I was not compensated for my time. All opinions, photos, and recipes are solely my own.

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