Friday, December 14, 2012

Seeded Whole Grain Crackers

Last year I made crackers and I vowed to never, ever make them again...

After spending a couple hours in the kitchen making and rolling dough only to be left with crackers that were either burned or chewy, I became a firm believer that some things are just more convenient to buy. 

Whenever possible I try to make most of my food from scratch.  It's usually cheaper, healthier and fresher than what you would purchase at the supermarket and I enjoy the satisfaction of turning ordinary ingredients into something nourishing and delicious.

Some shredded cabbage and salt will yield a nutrient dense crock of saurkraut. Some oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and sweetner will give you a hearty bowl of granola to enjoy every morning.  Flour, yeast and some salt will give you a loaf of delicious bread. Throw some dried beans, vegetables and spices into a pot and you've got a steaming bowl of soup.  Once you get the hang of making most of your food from whole, unprocessed ingredients, it becomes second nature. 

I've replaced almost all pre-packaged food with healthier counterparts with the exception of a few items, crackers being one of them.  From time to time I make these delicious, raw buckwheat flax crackers, but since they require time for soaking and dehydrating they take a couple days from start to finish.  After finishing my last box of crack- a- lackas, I decided to give cracker making another go.  This time around I would find a different recipe from a reputable source and have a glass of wine while I made them so if they didn't turn out perfect I would be less likely to fling the entire batch across the kitchen in a bout of frustration.

Months ago I ran across a recipe for whole grain gluten free crackers from one of my favorite blogs, My New Roots.  I added the recipe to my favorites, but since I was still in the "homemade crackers are too much damn work" mode I didn't have any intentions in making them anytime soon. 
I happened to have some leftover cooked quinoa and brown rice in my fridge and was looking through my saved recipes for some inspiration. I pulled up the cracker recipe and was pleased to find that it called for quinoa and brown rice AND i had everything else on hand, so I figured I would give it a try one more time.

I'm not gonna lie... these were still a time consuming project, but the end result made it so worth it.  The "dough' came together in no time, throw everything in a food processor and you're done.  Attempting to roll out the dough evenly was the most difficult part.  Roll the dough too thin and you're left with burned crackers, but when it's too thick the crackers take forever to cook.  Don't be discouraged if you face this problem.  Just keep your eye on them.  If you notice some of them start to crisp up (usually the ones along the edges), simply break them off and remove from the oven.  The rest of the crackers will eventually crisp up it just might take alot more time than the recipe calls for. The original recipe said they should take 25-35 minutes, but mine took anywhere from 35 minutes to an hour.  In the end your patience is rewarded when you are left with delicious, unprocessed crackers that put anything you would buy in a box to shame.

The bulk of these crackers is cooked brown rice and quinoa.  Soaked flax seed helps bind the mixture together and toasted sesame seeds are thrown in for crunch.  After creating a base dough, you can pretty much add in whatever you like.  I chose a mixture of poppyseeds, pumpkinseeds and sunflower seeds because that's what I had on hand.  I added some fresh chopped thyme and rosemary to one batch and they came out awesome!  Although I really loved this combination, I could see myself making these again with a couple variations, like adding some finely chopped black olives or garlic or topping the crackers with some fleur de sel, or adding some caraway seeds. 

Seeded Whole Grain Crackers (aka Happy Crackers)
From My New Roots

2 cups cooked brown rice
2 cups cooked quinoa
2/3 cup unhulled sesame seeds
½ cup flax seeds

2 Tbsp. tamari
1 tsp. sea salt
3 Tbsp. olive oil

1/2 c. Add in's:
Choose any variation of the following:
Nuts/Seeds: sunflower, pumpkin seed, almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, poppyseeds, etc..
Spices/Herbs: thyme, rosemary, garlic, oregano, smoked salt, black pepper, chipotle, etc..

Place flax seeds in a bowl and cover with 1/2 c. water. Let soak for at least 20 minutes. 
In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast seseame seeds until fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.
Blend the cooled rice, quinoa, soaked flax, salt, tamari and olive oil in a food processor until a dough is created- it should form a ball in the food processor (add water if too dry, one tablespoon at a time). Then add the toasted sesame seeds and pulse to incorporate. The dough will be very sticky.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
Take out the desired amount of dough you want to work with and place it on top of parchment paper.  Add the desired nuts/herbs/spices  (I used poppyseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seedsand fresh chopped thyme) and knead to incorporate.  Season to taste.  Place another piece of parchment on top and use a rolling pin to flatten into a very thin even slab.  Remove the top layer of parchment and using a knife or pizza cutter, score the top of the dough into desired shapes. Slide the parchment on to a cookie sheet and place in the oven.  Bake 25-35 minutes until crispy and golden (cooking time will depend on thickness of dough)
When the crackers are done, remove from oven and let cool five minutes.  Break crackers along score lines, let cool completely and store in an airtight container.  If the crackers have baked unevenly (some are crispy and others are not) place the uncooked ones back on the baking sheet and in the oven until completely dry.  
Crackers keep one week stored in an airtight container.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Herbal Profile: Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis)

Lemon Balm is a perennial herb in the mint family native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean. In North America, the herb has escaped cultivation and has spread into the wild... literally, this stuff spreads like wildfire! 

All of the parts of the plant can be used (flowers, stems and leaves) for medicinal purposes. It's role in medicinal treatments dates as far back as the time of the Roman Renaissance man, Pliny the Elder (A.D. 27-39).  The plant has a very pleasant scent and can be made into a tea, salve (topical ointment) or used in aromatherapy.

Due to the polyphenol tannins in lemon balm, it is regarded as an effective anti-viral treatment, especially the herpes simplex virus. The high selenium content in the herb assists with it's ability to regulate thyroid function and helps raise antioxidant levels, promoting immune system health.

Lemon balm is a calming herb for those who suffer from stress and anxiety. It is believed that the essential oil in lemon acts upon the part of the brain that controls the autonomic nervous system and can protect the brain from excess external stimuli. In addition to reducing stress it has been proven to improve mood, including mental preformance and memory.

The herb can also be beneficial for the gastrointestinal system. It can help to relieve flatulence, bloating, nausea, vomiting and cramps due to colitis. Sipping on a cup after dinner can alleviate the uncomfortable feeling you get after eating a large meal. Lemon balm also contains a pain reliever called eugenol.  Consumption of the herb may help to relieve headaches and muscle spasms including menstrual cramps.

Lemon balm is one of the few herbs that I will make into a tea for the taste alone (most others are used strictly for their medicinal value).  It has a very mild lemon flavor with a hint of mint.  I haven't had much sucess with it relieving menstrual cramps, but it definately helps calm me down when I'm feeling a bit stressed!
For a soothing cup of tea, bring one cup of water to a boil.  Pour water over 1-2 tsp. lemonbalm (in a teabag or tea ball).  Cover and let sit 10-15 minutes. Sip and feel the stress melt away...

Monday, December 3, 2012


There have been periods in my life where cereal was my go to breakfast and nothing could break me out of my rut.  At any given time I would have five boxes of the stuff in my cupboard.  There would always be something sugary like peanut butter panda puffs and something uber healthy, like sprouted seven grains for those mornings after I drank several beers and somehow managed to eat an entire pizza and felt the need for some redemption.  Raisin bran, cornflakes, shredded wheat.. I loved it all!

For anyone that eats cereal, you know that the stuff is EXPENSIVE! These days, I just can't fathom paying six dollars for a box of that will be gone in no time, because we all know that serving sizes for cereal are straight up whack.  Who eats 3/4 c. of crispy rice cereal?  I mean, really...

I thought that buying granola in bulk would be cheaper than cereal because it's alot more filling and I would eat less, but that stuff is even more pricey, especially when it contains high quality organic ingredients. I stopped buying cereal and granola and decided to eat other things like muffins, quickbreads and oatmeal.  I was doing great for awhile and then my cravings for the stuff came back.  I refused to buy boxed cereal and decided to be all DIY and start making my own granola. 

Most homemade stuff is way cheaper and more delicious (and nutritious) than anything you would buy at the store.  I experimented with lots of different granola recipes and got hooked on this one made with olive oil.  I ate in for weeks straight and then fell into a rut.  I needed something different. 

Years ago I worked in a raw food restaurant that had the BEST granola.  It was filling, super healthy and tasted amazing.  Luckily I had the recipe stowed away and decided to try making it at home now that I had a fancy shmancy food dehydrator.  Grated apples make up a bulk of this granola instead of oats.  Raw almonds, sunflower seeds and buckwheat groats are soaked and mixed together with the apples, along with some date paste and agave nectar.  The end result was a crunchy not too sweet granola that was relatively inexpensive and oh soooo good for you. 

gRAWnola (makes 8 c.)
Barely adapted from I Am Grateful

1 1/2 cups soaked almonds
1/2 cup soaked sunflower seeds
1/2 cup soaked whole buckwheat
5 cups grated apple
1/2 cup pureed dates (about 7 large dates)
1/2 cup raisins (or other dried fruit)
1/2 cup dried coconut
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon salt

Rinse and drain the seeds. Place in food processor and quickly chop to reduce size of seeds only. Place mixture into large bowl. Grate apples, add to nut mixture. Puree dates in food process with the "S" blade attachment, if the dates are a little dry, add a little apple while pureeing. Add all the ingredients to the nut mixture and stir.

Prepare three dehydrator trays with Teflex sheets. Spread the mixture out on each sheet in a single layer. Dehydrate at 145 for 1 hour and then reduce temperature to 115. When your granola is dry enough to peel off the Teflex sheets, do so and place onto the grid sheets. Continue to dehydrate until dry (48-60 hours total).