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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Eau de Risotto

Perfume is one of the greatest public threats, especially when lavished with careless excess. Smelling good is an admirable desire, one to be encouraged for sure, but the chemical cocktails that some hapless souls feel compelled to bathe in are far more offensive than a little B.O. Sensitivity to scents is on the rise, perhaps from overexposure, but the average cologne has simply never appealed to me, always too pungent and completely unfamiliar. If I ever wanted to smell like something other than myself, it wouldn’t be an indescribable aroma defined only by a brand name, but something edible. Anyone who knows me probably saw this one coming, but food scents are a completely different story, literally adding a welcome spice to the day.

For years, vanilla extract was my perfume of choice; a dab on the wrist and behind the ears set me in the right mood for a day at school. Floor cleaner is best in lemon, that bright citrus simply screaming out “I’m clean!” far clearer than any product touting itself as ocean wave, or the equally mysterious “fresh rain.” Likewise, my hand soap smells like tomato vines and body lotion has notes of cucumber.

Call me scent-sensitive, but these omnipresent aromas affect not only my mood, but also my cravings in a big way. That fact became abundantly clear as soon as a new grapefruit facial scrub was incorporated into the daily beauty routine. Within just a few washes, I found myself yearning for a taste of that bold, sour, sprightly flavor. Never mind that it had been years since I last sampled this blushing citrus fruit- I suddenly couldn’t get enough, eating them straight and incorporating the segments into just about everything.

That’s where this highly aromatic risotto came in. Perfumed with grapefruit, juicy chunks of the flesh are sprinkled throughout, bursting with bitterness that perfectly cuts the rich, creamy base. Accented by the spice of wasabi and a topping of peppery watercress, it’s a lively savory side that may very well steal the show at dinner time. Don’t fight those strong flavors, but pair it with a more mild protein, such as tamari-baked tofu or a simple chicken-style seitan cutlet. Otherwise, feel free to turn it into a one-pot meal by adding in a can of rinsed chickpeas, or 2 cups of shelled fava beans for a real seasonal treat.

No matter how many offensive scents you may encounter in your daily trials and tribulations, the aroma of this risotto bubbling away on the stove will surely set you right.

Grapefruit and Wasabi Risotto

2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil or Olive Oil
1 Leek, Thoroughly Washed and Thinly Sliced (White and Light Green Parts Only)
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1/4 – 3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Sushi Rice
3 – 4 Cups Low-Sodium Vegetable Stock, Warmed
1/4 Cup Mirin
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
1 Large Pink Grapefruit
1/2 Cup Plain, Unsweetened Vegan Creamer or Coconut Milk
1 1/2 – 3 Teaspoons Wasabi Paste*

To Finish:

1 Medium Ripe Avocado
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
2 – 4 Ounces Watercress
Avocado or Olive Oil (Optional)

*The amount of heat that wasabi paste packs varies greatly depending both on brand and age. Most are still mixtures of horseradish and vinegar, but what’s more concerning is the occasional inclusion of milk-based additives, so read labels carefully. The longer you keep a tube in the cupboard, the less spicy it will taste, so keep that in mind as you begin to incorporate it into your cooking and adjust the quantities accordingly.

Set a large saucepan over medium heat and warm the oil before adding in the leek and garlic. Saute for 5 – 8 minutes, until softened and aromatic, before stirring in 1/4 teaspoon salt to draw out more of the vegetables’ moisture. Incorporate the rice, stirring to coat, and cook until translucent; about 3 – 4 minutes.

Pour in the first cup of warm vegetable stock, mirin, and nutritional yeast, reducing the heat to medium-low, keeping the liquid at a gentle simmer. Stir periodically, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot with your spatula to prevent the mixture from sticking and burning. Once the liquid has mostly absorbed into the grains, add in another cup of vegetable stock.

Meanwhile, zest the grapefruit and hold the zest off to the side. Supreme the fruit, lightly chopping the segments into bite-sized pieces.

After about 25 minutes of cooking, the liquid should have absorbed into the rice, and the rice will be creamy but tender. Turn off the heat and add the creamer, grapefruit zest, and 1 1/2 teaspoons wasabi paste, stirring thoroughly. Gently fold in the chopped grapefruit pieces, being careful not to smash them or break them up further. Add more salt or wasabi paste to taste.

To serve, thinly slice the avocado and toss it in the lemon juice. Spoon out the portions of risotto into bowls and top each one with a few slices of avocado and a generous handful of watercress. Drizzle with an additional drizzle of oil if desired. Enjoy immediately while piping hot!

Serves 3 – 5 as a Side Dish

Printable Recipe

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