An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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


Sophisticated Solo Snacking

Holiday season firmly behind us, the time of endless parties and merriment may have passed, but even as we enter the frigid month of January, I’m unwilling to fully surrender to that immense shift. Winter hibernation beckons invitingly, yet the inertia of both work and play pulls me forward, with little conscious decision on my part. Once the wheels start spinning, they can’t simply stop at the drop of a hat, much like my restless mind that continues to churn away. Always coming up with the perfect come-back hours or days too late, it’s the same phenomenon that provides inspiration for recipes that would have been ideal for occasions that have already come to pass.

Thankfully, a raucous celebration is not required to enjoy a slightly more sophisticated snack than the norm, and it’s probably recommended that you enjoy such a savory treat far from the maddening crowds. Bringing together the nutty, toasted notes of hazelnut with herbaceous rosemary, these simple crackers are perhaps more addictive than such a small batch should allow. Horde them if you must, because I guaranteed they’ll fly fast if served to company.

Despite the wild success of such a simple crunchy snack, it’s hard to eat many dry crackers plain. Crackers are always accompanied by dip in the best of circumstances, complimenting and contrasting the crisp texture. Inspired by the tried-and-true beet marmalade we serve at Health in a Hurry, I whipped up a golden version to serve on the side. A bit more like a chutney than a spread, the sweetness of caramelized onions and apple cider mellow the earthy flavors of gold beet in a mild but flavorful harmony. Lest that fools you into thinking this is one boring accompaniment, don’t forget about the surprising kick of cayenne that sneaks up out of the blue, rounding things out nicely.

It’s for the best that we move away from the relentless holiday demands. A few quiet nights at home with more intimate parties of one or two, with a nice, carefully assembled snack platter sound much more appealing anyhow.

Hazelnut-Rosemary Crackers

1 Cup Raw Hazelnuts
1/4 Cup Whole Flax Seeds, Ground
1/4 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
1 Tablespoon Tamari or Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Black Sesame Seeds (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees, and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

Pulse the hazelnuts in your food processor until ground down to a fine meal, with as few coarse chunks as possible. It’s helpful to start with frozen nuts for the best texture, to prevent them from warming up and turning to nut butter. If they threaten to cross that line, just pause and move the bowl of the food processor into the fridge to cool down before proceeding.

Grind the flax seeds down to a powder separately, in a coffee or spice grinder. Add the flax meal to the food processor, along with all of the remaining ingredients except for the sesame seeds. Pulse to combine. Once smooth, transfer the mixture to your prepared baking sheet, and use lightly moistened hands to flatten it out slightly. Top with a second silpat or parchment paper, and roll out to about 1/8th of an inch in thickness. This second sheet will help prevent the “dough” from sticking to your rolling pin, without the need for added flour.

Score the sheet of soft cracker dough into equal rectangles or diamonds, and lightly sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired. Press the seeds in gently with the palm of your hand to ensure that they stick. Bake for a total of 80 minutes, rotating the baking sheet every 20 minutes to ensure even browning. Let cool completely (they will continue to crisp as they cool) and then break along the scored lines. Store in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.

If you’d prefer a raw snack, simply spread the mixture on a teflex or other non-stick sheet instead, and dehydrate until crisp. Your mileage/timing may vary.

Yield varies depending on size and shape of your crackers, but makes approximately about 4 servings.

Gold Beet Marmalade

1 Pound Gold (Yellow) Beets
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Small Red Onion, Diced
1/3 Cup Apple Cider or Unfiltered Apple Juice
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
Pinch Cayenne Pepper
Salt and Black Pepper, to Taste

First things first, roast the beets: Wrap your beets in aluminum foil so that they’re completely covered in a neat little pouch, and place them on a baking sheet to catch any potential drips. Cook in an oven preheated to 450 degrees for 20 – 30 minutes, until fork tender. Let rest until they’re cool enough to peel.

Meanwhile, heat up the oil in a medium skillet on the stove, over medium-low heat. Introduce the diced onion and stir frequently, until soften, not browned, and a golden caramel color. This will take anywhere from 15 – 30 minutes, so keep a close eye on the pan. Turn off the heat and let cool.

Introduce both the peeled beets (cut down to slightly more manageable chunks if they were huge roots to begin with) and the caramelized onions in the food processor, along with the remaining ingredients. Pulse to combine, until the beets are broken down to very small, coarse pieces, but not pureed into a smooth spread. Though the marmalade is best if allowed to chill and mellow for at least an hour, it’s perfectly tasty eaten right away.

Makes 2 – 3 Cups Marmalade

Printable Recipe


Salty, Sweet, and Savory

Having made great strides in beating down long-held food prejudices, I take in no shame to confess that there are still some areas in need of work. Coming from the girl who once abhorred vegetables indiscriminately and considered instant ramen to be the staff of life, the acceptance of beets as edible substance, and even a quite delicious one at that, strikes me as great progress all by itself. However, put cilantro in my food or even sprinkle it on top as a garnish, and I’ll run for the hills. Pizza with pineapple on top? No, thank you, and don’t invite me out to dinner again! Possibly worst of all though, is the crime of mixing dried fruit into savory dishes. I know, it’s traditional in many cultures and when applied correctly, doesn’t even lend an overt sweetness, but I still gag quietly at the thought of plopping bulbous orange apricots into an otherwise lusciously rich and flavorful stew. Just leave the raisins and prunes for making granola, please!

After so many years of holding this bias dear, the time has come to challenge that whole concept. Browsing idly through Trader Joe’s one recent afternoon, I spied a new box of intriguing crackers on the shelf. Looking more like miniature slices of toasted multigrain bread than any flat cracker I had ever seen, the promise of all those textures and flavors got my attention. Here’s the kicker though: They included, of all things, raisins. Considering the herbaceous addition of rosemary, I couldn’t help but cringe momentarily. Practically flinging the offending box back on the shelf since the questionable snacks weren’t vegan in the first place, I high-tailed it out of there before anyone could ask about my overt expression of horror.

But the concept stuck with me, like a wet leaf, and followed me back home, straight into the kitchen. The nuts, seeds, rosemary, and raisins… Something about the motley crew had a slight ring to it, a latent harmony waiting to be heard. Why not give it a DIY try? Plus, this way, I could do damage control and throw in my favorite ingredients, to make it as appealing as possible. Out with the raisins and in with some dates, my favorite of all dried fruits, gave me added hope for these unusual crisps. Plus, the additions of green olives for some tangy, salty flavor got my imagination churning with excitement.

The verdict? Addictive beyond my wildest dreams. Crunchy but pleasantly chewy thanks to those moist medjool dates, every bite is a symphony of salty, sweet, and savory. Complex and full-flavored, they can easily stand alone with confidence, but are even better paired with a creamy spread, such as Melomeal’s goaty cashew cheese. Loosened to a soft consistency with a splash of water, this pungent spread rounded out a simple snack with ease and grace. Want to impress friends and family? These crackers, with or without spread, are just begging to be served at a party, and paired with a nice glass of wine.

A highly successful experiment, I’m downright baffled by how delicious the end results were, considering the controversial content. A convert to the way of savory dried fruits, however? Well, I wouldn’t immediately reject such a sweet and savory combination, but I might still carefully pick around the dried fruits included in a full main dish. Baby steps, right?

Sweet and Savory Rosemary Crisps
Adapted from Dinner with Julie

1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Packed
2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup
1 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Cup Chopped Dates
1/4 Cup Toasted, Unsalted Sunflower Seeds
1/4 Cup Toasted, Unsalted Pepitas (Pumpkin Seeds)
1/4 Cup Green Olives with Pimento, Roughly Chopped
2 Tablespoons Whole Flaxseed, Ground
1 1/2 Teaspoons Dried Rosemary Leaves, Ground
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
Pinch Ground Black Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and lightly grease an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan.

First things first, mix together your non-dairy milk of choice, vinegar, sugar, and maple syrup. Let sit for at least 5 minutes for the “milk” to curdle. Meanwhile, combine everything else that follows in a large bowl, making sure that all of the ingredients are well distributed throughout the mixture, and that the dates and olives are thoroughly coated in flour. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula, just until the batter is fully moistened and free of dry, floury pockets. Pour the batter into your prepared loaf pan, and bake for 35 minutes, until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, and then turn the loaf out onto a wire rack.

The cooler the loaf, the thinner and cleaner your slices will come out, so try to let it rest until completely cool. You may choose to let it sit overnight and resume baking in the morning, or you can speed up the process by tossing the loaf into the freezer briefly.

When you’re ready to bake the crisps, preheat or reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees, and slice the baked and cooled loaf into very thin slices with a serrated knife; Approximately 1/4 – 1/2 cm thickness. Lay them out on an ungreased sheet pan lined with aluminum foil (for easier clean up) and bake for 15 minutes. Flip the crackers over, and bake for a final 15 – 20 minutes, until golden all over. Don’t worry if they aren’t perfectly crunchy straight out of the oven, because they will continue to crisp up as they cool. Once cooled to room temperature, they can be stored in an air-tight container in a cool place for up to a week. If they last that long, that is.

Makes About 3 Dozen Crackers

Printable Recipe


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 11,684 other followers