Crispy, Crunchy, Homemade Rice Crackers

We’re at that clean-out-our-pantry time of year when we begin working through stores in earnest, cleaning out freezers and cupboards while we anticipate our annual summertime BST – Big Shopping Trip. This year? Plot Twists. First off, there’s the CoronaVirus. Here in Newhalen, if we’ve needed an additional ingredient, we’ve been able to drive over to our local general store – a small place that happens to have just about everything a person could ever need. We’re fond of saying, “If it’s not at the Iliamna Trading Company, you don’t need it.” Anchovies? They’ve got ‘em. Smoked oysters? They’ve got ‘em. Sanma, those delicious little tinned fish from Japan? No. Of course they don’t have those! I said it was a small store.

The other plot twist is an impending move. Wait. Did she just say “move?” Again? Didn’t she just move? And, like, for about the 80th time in the last 10 years?

Yep. Impeding move. We are heading back to the village where we left our hearts, back to Chignik Lake. Thankfully for everyone, enrollment appears to have stabilized at a number comfortably above the state-mandated minimum of 10. Of course, due to Shelter-in-Place orders and the wise decision among Alaska’s bush villages to prohibit people from flying in, we don’t know when the actual move will occur. It’s a good time to be staying close to home, cooking and baking through the larder.

The other day, I noticed that we still had a couple bags of dried chickpeas in our cupboard. I recalled that these bags had come with us last summer when we moved to Newhalen. “No way do these get on another plane,” I thought to myself. Fortunately, we had all the ingredients I needed to make a giant batch of hummus. Even lemons – which we hardly ever had at The Lake. Proof enough that Newhalen truly is the “Cush Bush.” (I’m smiling. It has been an easy and enjoyable year.) As soon as it the hummus was ready, we got out the last of our rice crackers and dug in.

But…

…thin, crispy, salty cracker by delectably thin, crispy, crunchy cracker…

Before I knew it, we were confronted with a problem. A big problem. I mean a Really Big Problem. All this fresh, delicious hummus and we had finished off the crackers! I sliced carrots thin and tried to substitute those. It was… well, if one must. We wanted crackers. Iliamna Trading would have them, but we’ve really been trying to honor the shelter-in-place edict.

Our dilemma got me to thinking about homemade crackers. This wouldn’t be my first rodeo in the world of crispy and crunchy. I’d made graham crackers, wheat thins, cheese-its, and more. But I’d never made rice crackers.

I found a base recipe and gave it a go. I’ll be honest, I worked and reworked this recipe before I met with success. I thought the last batch came out great. This was confirmed by Jack, “Forget about making dinner. Let’s just have crackers and hummus and watch old Suits episodes tonight!” he said as he reached for another cracker. Winner winner, hummus dinner!

They key turned out to be making the crackers really thin. After trying a rolling pin and then a pasta roller, I found the best way to make the dough thin enough was to flatten it using a tortilla press. By rolling the dough into marble-sized balls, I was able to press four crackers at a time. I know, that sounds like a lot of work for crackers. But, hey, I’m sheltering in. There’s time! And, man are they good!

Homemade Onion Rice Crackers

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp salt, non iodized will taste better
  • 1 tsp onion powder (or experiment with other spices and herbs)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
  3. Cut the sides off of a ziplock bag to use to line the tortilla press later.
  4. Place all ingredients in a bowl.
  5. Stir with a fork until dough has crumbly chunks, like pie dough.
  6. Knead together. If it doesn’t come together, add water by teaspoons until it does.
  7. Using a teaspoon, scoop out some dough.
  8. Using your hand, roll it into a ball. The ball should be the shape and size of a marble.
  9. Place the ball between the cut ziplock sheets on a tortilla press.
  10. Press the ball with the tortilla press.
  11. Peel flattened ball off the plastic and place it on prepared baking sheet.
  12. Repeat with remainder of dough. You should be able to fit 4 dough marbles on your tortilla press once you get the hang of it.
  13. Bake crackers for 15-18 minutes. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t get overdone.
  14. Crackers will be slightly brown and crispy when they are done.
  15. Store cooled crackers in an airtight container.

Sugar-free, Sweet and Satisfying Banana Custard

A brûlée crust does take this dish out of the sugar-free category. It tastes wonderful without the crust. It just doesn’t look very beautiful.

We are the consummate rescuers of nearly wasted bananas. Over this past year, we’ve collected aged very brown bananas from various places and have been enjoying them in a variety of recipes. Our favorite, as of late, is a custard made out of the overripe bananas.  It’s fantastically easy. It tastes wonderful. We’ve been regularly stocking our fridge with a batch and have guilt-free snacks for dessert on demand.

Since it’s made from overripe bananas, it has the not so lovely color of said fruit. The first batch we made, we served it with vanilla ice cream to mask the custard. On the next batch, I drizzled a chocolate ganache to pretty it up. Then I tried a brûlée top. If you are having a fancy dinner party, any of these options beautify the custard. But honestly, none of that is necessary. It tastes great just as it is. And, of course, it’s healthier au natural.

Banana Custard Au Natural

Ingredients

  • 4 overripe bananas
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tbsp coconut milk powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. Put all ingredients in a bowl.
  3. Use a stick blender to blend until smooth.
  4. Pour custard into 4 ramekins.
  5. Put ramekins in a glass baking dish.
  6. Fill baking dish with hot water. Water should surround ramekins as best you can (without spilling, of course)
  7. Bake for 45 minutes.
  8. Remove ramekins from water bath and allow to cool a bit before serving. Serve warm. Or store in refrigerator and eat chilled.

Add a Little Zip to Your Morning – Ginger Crumbled Rhubarb Muffins

Spiked with a warm hit of ginger, rhubarb jam muffins quickly turn the feeling in our home from a dreary shelter in place to cozy and safely tucked-in.

A friend asked to trade some freshly laid eggs for some baked goods. With no dietary restrictions and no allergies I had a blank slate in front of me. I flipped through my mental recipe book of favorites. What a fun task! I visualized braided bread, focaccia, soft pretzels. Then I switched to sweets – mocha bars, monster cookies, blueberry pie. Last summer’s many warm and sunny harvesting days yielded gallons of berries and stalks upon stalks of rhubarb. I had made rhubarb sauce that went so well dolloped on warm brie cheese. I still have a few jars left of this concoction. With the snow falling outside, I thought the ideal baked good should conjure summer days. It was decided – rhubarb muffins. I thought a crumble crown would jazz up a potentially plain looking muffin. A bit of ginger and cinnamon added to the crumble finished out the flavor ensemble. The finished product came out moist and flavorful. A fresh cup of french roast, a rhubarb muffin and a fried egg – now that’s a warm and cozy breakfast!

Ginger Crumbled Rhubarb Muffins

Ingredients

For the crumble

  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • pinch salt
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour

For the muffins

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 cup rhubarb sauce, or substitute your favorite jam

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Grease a 12-muffin pan. Set aside.
  3. Mix together all crumble ingredients.
  4. Break apart large chunks into pea-sized pieces. Set aside.
  5. For the muffins, in a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, and salt.
  6. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, milk, oil, sugar and honey.
  7. Stir egg mixture into flour mixture. Don’t overmix.
  8. Stir in rhubarb sauce.
  9. Evenly divide batter into muffin pan.
  10. Top each muffin with crumble mixture.
  11. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Muffins should be browned and an inserted wooden pick will come out clean when finished.
  12. Let cool on wire rack for about 10 minutes before removing from pan.

Spending Time Baking Tiny Yummy Things – Mini Maple Pumpkin Donuts

Bite-sized foods are irresistible. These mini beauties are packed with flavor and powered with protein. Enjoy one (a couple) (a few) today!

In short order, our COVID-19 status in the small village of Newhalen went from “mindfully wash your hands” and “don’t touch your face” to a full-on “shelter in place.” We could take this mandate like pouty kids who are grounded. Or we can view it as a golden opportunity. Outside, it’s slick, icy, and chilly: -10° F (-23° C) this morning. So going out for runs or hikes isn’t very appealing. Lately, our preferred together activity has been spending time cuddling up with a bowl of popcorn and watching favorite movies and new documentaries. Moving on to independent activities, Jack has been mastering more tunes on his guitar, while my solo fun, as you might have guessed, has been getting creative in my personal home bakery.

Most recently, several containers of puréed pumpkin and a cute mini donut pan was my “shut in” entertainment. There is something appealing about making diminutive treats. It reminds me of tea parties and Easy Bake ovens in an imagined perfect childhood. Really, the ingredients are pretty healthy. If you’re like me, it’s hard to stop at one, so, eating four of these is not a terrible thing. So go ahead and eat a few – they are a great protein-packed snack to power up for a long run, to refuel after a hard run, or just to get up from the sofa and start a new movie.

How are you keeping yourself occupied these day? What are you baking? Stay healthy everyone!

Mini Maple Pumpkin Donuts

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour, or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch ground ginger
  • pinch nutmeg, or mace
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp pumpkin purée
  • splash vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tbsp pecans, chopped

Glaze

  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • drizzle of water if glaze needs to be thinned

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together sugars, egg, pumpkin, vanilla, and oil.
  4. Stir wet ingredients into dry.
  5. Fold in chopped pecans.
  6. Spoon mixture into donut pans. Fill them about 3/4 full.
  7. Bake 10 minutes. A wooden pick inserted into thickest part of donut should come out clean.
  8. Invert donuts onto a wire rack to cool.
  9. Mix glaze ingredients together.
  10. Drizzle glaze over cooled donuts.
  11. Serve immediately with a piping hot cup of French roast.

Delightfully Sweet and Delightfully Sour – Lingonberry Chess Pie

While baking, tangy lingonberries, also known as lowbush cranberries, rise to the top of a custard-like pie filling. The combination of the tart berries and the sweet, creamy filling all in a crispy pie shell is possibly the best reward for shoveling out a driveway’s worth of fresh snow.

It’s been endlessly snowing for the past day. Our Alaskan home now resembles the Alaska home I imagined before we moved to this famously frozen state. As I left home this morning for my very short walk to school, I was surrounded by blinding white. The trees were covered. Rooftops were blanketed and fringed with shimmering icicles. A splash of bright red peeked through two feet of snow where our ATVs are parked. My first-floor classroom windows have shoulder-high drifts piled a quarter of the way up. The plow crews can barely keep up, and Jack has become the John Henry of snow shovelers. Sitting on her trailer, Gillie is up to her gunwales in a sea of white. We’re socked in with snow like we have never before been socked in. I love it!

With only two months of school remaining (unbelievable!), we are at that time of year where we challenge ourselves to empty out our freezer and pantry. There is one lonely gallon-sized bag left from one of our treasured fall harvests – lingonberries. Most of the lingonberries we picked have been baked into muffins, upside down cake, and fruit breads or pressed into juice for hot lingonberry tea. The snow outside spurred me to action last night. Baking is not only entertaining but also has three wonderful outcomes – a warm house, a delightful aroma, and of course, the delicious results. This recipe was slightly adapted from my favorite baking book, The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book. According to the recipe book, chess pies may be named such because they keep well in traditional storage cabinets, otherwise known as pie chests. Another explanation is that “chess” is a corruption of the word cheese, derived from a chess pie’s cheese-like filling. Whatever the etymological origins may be, the way the folded in lingonberries all rise to the top of the pie during baking is magical – and visually quite appealing. The effect when you eat the pie is interesting as well: The sweet and the sour are notably separate and in so become complementary flavors.

As to the shelf life of chess pie… It’s unlikely one has ever lasted long enough to tell!

Lingonberry Chess Pie

Ingredients

  • dough for a single crust pie
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • pinch salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup all purpose four
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp orange zest, finely chopped
  • 2 cups frozen or fresh lingonberries

Directions

  1. Roll out pie dough to cover a 9-inch pie dish.
  2. Trim off excess. Leave plain or pinch edge to decorate.
  3. Chill dough-covered pie dish in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  4. Place oven rack in lower third of oven. Preheat to 375° F.
  5. Blind bake pie by covering it with foil, weighting down the foil with rice or pie beads and baking for about 20 minutes. Crust should be very lightly browned and no longer look wet.
  6. Leave oven on and slightly cool crust on a wire rack while making the filling.
  7. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, butter, salt, eggs, flour, yogurt and vinegar.
  8. Stir in orange zest.
  9. Fold in lingonberries.
  10. Pour the filling into the pie shell.
  11. Bake pie until top is golden brown and filling is firm, about 50 – 60 minutes.
  12. Cool on wire rack completely before serving.

Alaska Moose Wonton Soup

Hot, spicy, hearty – a perfect meal for this frigid Alaska weather.

Nothing beats hot soup on a cold day. What about after a hike on a cold day? Yup. Hot, hearty soup. Jack upped the ante on this soup by floating my homemade moose wontons in his hot and sour soup – beef broth, lots of hot spices paired with freshly squeezed lime juice and a dash of sesame oil. “Ooooh, Andy!” (Calm yourself Aunt Bee.) This spicy fusion warmed the heart, then the soul, and then traveled from the top of my head to the tips of my chilled toes.

A couple of weeks ago, I experimented with making my own wonton wrappers. The egg noodle recipe I used for my pasta worked extraordinarily well for the little dumplings. Instead of slicing the noodles into strands, I left them in three inch sheets which I cut into squares. Having already made the seasoned ground moose, I did nothing more than gather the dough around portions of meat and voila! – wontons. A big batch kept in the freezer allows us to throw a few into simmering soups. After a few minutes of cooking, wonton soup’s on!

Alaska Moose Wonton Soup

Ingredients

  • 2/3 lb ground moose (any ground meat will work)
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp chives, chopped small
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp corn starch
  • 1 tsp dried ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped fine
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes or 1/2 tsp of your favorite spice mix like Jack’s
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 package wonton wrappers or homemade pasta cut into 3” squares

Directions

  1. Quickly sauté ground meat, careful to just cook through
  2. Place meat in a bowl
  3. Mix next eight ingredients into cooked meat
  4. Place about a tablespoon of the meat mixture onto the center of a wonton wrapper
  5. Gather all the edges up to make a bag shape
  6. Gently squeeze together the closure or the neck of the wonton
  7. Place on a baking sheet if you are planning to freeze the wontons and place the baking sheet in the freezer until the wontons are frozen solid. Then store the frozen product in a zip top bag in the freezer until you want to use them.
  8. To cook, place wontons in simmering soup for 3 minutes. If frozen, cook for 4 minutes.

Adzuki Bean Truffles – Something to Celebrate

Happy New Year! Happy Birthday! Happy Whatever! Creamy sweet chocolate adzuki bean truffles invite celebration any day.

Ever since my first bite of sweet adzuki bean paste, I was hooked. After tossing away the store-bought can and creating my own homemade paste, I knew this love had turned into a lifelong relationship. Adzuki beans have brought me endless fascination and innumerable streams of culinary consciousness. If you search “adzuki beans” on Cutterlight, you will see there is quite a history. The red bean paste is smooth, sweet, and delicious. It is unusual enough to be interesting and easily fits into so many recipes. Forget about the healthful aspects of adding beans to your diet. I mean it. Forget it. The sweet paste texture reminds me of nut pastes – like marzipan or chestnut paste. This texture and flavor inspired me to create Twisted Adzuki bean rolls, Matcha Adzuki Bean glazed rolls, and Adzuki Maple bars with Matcha Frosting to name a few. If you want to tiptoe into this world, try a good quality canned product to experiment with. If you want to go all in, I have directions on how to make your own paste here.

Years ago, a nutritionist visited my classroom to present ways my 6th graders could “sneak” healthy ingredients into their diets. They were very impressed with the smoothies created from only frozen fruit. They were blown away with the deep chocolate cakey brownies that were made with fiber-rich black beans instead of bleached white flour. With a surfeit of dried black beans left in our pantry and a desire to make our sweets more healthful, I began my own experiments with this ingredient. Of course, I was able to create delicious and nutritious treats that fueled our active lifestyle.

But black beans can have an ever-so-slight mealy texture. So what about adzuki beans? When they are cooked down into a paste, they definitely have a more pleasant texture. Armed with free time over my winter break and a few pounds of dried adzuki beans, I got to work in the kitchen with the excitement of a mad scientist ready to solve an insolvable, albeit with my hair tied back into a neat bun. The first success was a lovely little bite-sized confection that I called a truffle. The beans are slightly sweetened with maple syrup. The cooled bean balls are dipped in chocolate. Then, let your imagination go. They can be rolled in sprinkles, coffee powder, candied fruit pieces, toffee bits, nuts, cocoa powder, or whatever you desire.

I could imagine adding additional flavors to the beans, such as a bit of Grand Marnier or bourbon for a boozy twist. Or maybe almond extract or orange extract for a non-boozy twist. The possibilities seem endless.

Adzuki Bean Truffles

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked adzuki beans
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 5 tablespoons Dutch processed cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
  • your choice of topping

Directions

  1. With a stick blender or in a food processor, combine the black beans, maple syrup, and cocoa powder. Pulse and process for a couple minutes, until the mixture is well combined and doughy. I used a potato masher to manually process the beans. If the dough seems too dry, add a bit more maple syrup until you are happy with the texture. The dough should not be sticky, just gooey and fudgy.
  2. Roll the dough into 24 balls (approximately 1 tablespoon each) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place baking sheet in refrigerator while you prepare the topping.
  3. Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler.
  4. Drop a ball into melted chocolate. Roll it around with a fork. Use a second fork to pick up the coated balls like a claw machine. Place the coated ball back on the parchment-covered baking sheet.
  5. Sprinkle truffle ball with your toppings.
  6. Repeat with remaining balls.
  7. Place back in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to set. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator to keep fresh.