As winter draws to a close, the hours of light are much longer than they were deep in winter and the temperatures a bit more moderate, so it seems appropriate to begin lightening up our food as well, with less heavy cream in favour of low sodium broth and healthier home made crackers instead of store bought.
It’s also fun to try something you’ve never done before, like making your own crackers instead of buying them at the store. It’s not that difficult and the result is very good.
You can also add whatever good-for-you ingredients you want, from chia to oat bran. And, they’ll cost you less.
I’m lucky to have a rosemary tree in my kitchen, which I’ll plant outside for the summer again in the coming weeks, but you may use dried rosemary in many recipes that call for fresh, because it’s one of the herbs that dries well and keeps its distinctive flavour.
However, I must admit I’m getting a little tired of dried, frozen and canned food and ready to have some that’s fresh right from the garden.
So check the chive patch and see if any have sprouted yet. They’re usually one of the first herbs to emerge in spring and with their fresh, delicate onion-y flavour, they perk up all sorts of dishes.
If you’re interested in more lower-fat options to put on your family’s table, have a look through my book, Jude’s Kitchen, and see if there aren’t a few of the 200 or so recipes in there that you’d like to try. It’s available wherever books are sold.
Sesame Crackers with Rosemary & Black Pepper
These can be made ahead of time and kept in an airtight container until ready to serve the soup or present with a spread as an appetizer. They’re yummy with last summer’s antipasto or a spread.
1/2 c. (125 ml) whole wheat flour
1 1/4 c. (310 ml) white flour
1/2 c. (125 ml) cornmeal
2 tbsp. (30 ml) brown sugar
1 tsp. (5 ml) minced fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp. (2 ml) coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp. (2 ml) coarsely-ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. (2 ml) baking soda
1/4 c. (60 ml) butter
1/2 c. (125 ml) water
1 tbsp. (15 ml) lemon juice
1 tbsp. (15 ml) vinegar
2 tbsp. (30 ml) toasted sesame seeds
Pre-heat oven to 375 F.
Blend the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl with a whisk.
Use a pastry blender or two knives to cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Stir in water, lemon juice and vinegar and knead until everything is well-blended.
Use a melon baller to form balls with the dough and lightly flour a work surface and rolling pin. Roll out each ball until it’s very thin, a 3-4-inch ragged circle.
Transfer to a baking sheet, leaving a little space between each. Lightly spray each with a little olive oil and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds, pressing them down lightly into the dough.
Bake 8-10 minutes or until browned slightly.
Remove to a rack to cool.
Makes 40 or 50.
Mushroom Soup with (a little) Cream
This is a lighter version of what is generally a very rich soup, but this is so full of flavour, you’d never know it isn’t full of rich cream too. Obviously, the better chicken stock you use, the more flavour you end up with, but use a low salt version if purchasing it. This was a meal for us, with a cracker on the side. The use of a few wild, dried mushrooms really ramps up the flavour, and they’re available wherever vegetables are sold now, as well as specialty shops.
2 tbsp. (30 ml) dried, wild mushrooms
2 celery stalks
1/2 lb. (227 g) mushrooms
1 tbsp. (15 ml) fresh rosemary
2 tbsp. (30 ml) fresh chopped parsley
1 tbsp. (15 ml) olive oil
1 tbsp. (15 ml) butter
1 large garlic clove
1 tsp. (5 ml) dried tarragon
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp. (30 ml) flour
2 c. (500 ml) chicken stock
2 tbsp. (30 ml) dry sherry
1/4 c. (60 ml) 33 per cent cream
dollop of sour cream, to garnish
sprig of rosemary
fresh chopped parsley, to garnish
Finely chop the dried wild mushrooms and soak them in warm water for a half hour or so. Chop the onions in small dice and thinly slice the carrot, celery and mushrooms and set aside.
Mince fresh rosemary and parsley, and the garlic.
In a deep saute pan, melt the butter in the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute for 10 minutes or so, until nice and limp.
Season with fresh-cracked black pepper and sea salt, and add the wild mushrooms and garlic and stir for a couple of minutes.
Add the mushrooms. After cooking for a couple of minutes, turn over gently so they don’t break up too much and cook for another minute or two.
Add the fresh rosemary and crumble in the dried tarragon and stir. Then, sprinkle it all with the flour and turn over. Let it cook for a minute or two and stir in a little of the hot chicken stock until it begins to thicken; then gradually pour in the entire amount and stir it in well, until it’s thickened.
Reduce the heat and cover, simmering on the lowest heat for a half hour or so.
Add the chopped fresh parsley, holding back a sprinkle for the top, then the sherry and cream and bring the soup to bubbling.
Remove from the heat to a serving dish or soup bowls and add a dollop of sour cream to each, along with a sprig of rosemary and a few bits of chopped parsley.