One of my favorite mantras–stolen from my friend Gil–is “progress, not perfection.” It’s a handy little proverb for people like me, who are perfectionists about everything, and it’s especially helpful to share with clients who are trying to improve their dietary habits. Most of my clients are perfectionists too, and they tend to envision the journey toward healthy living as a one-hundred-meter dash toward a spotless finish line.
The reality is that improved eating habits take time and practice, and that living well doesn’t mean living like a saint.
I’d also apply the “progress, not perfection” mantra to culinary skill. Six years ago, when I graduated college, I knew nothing about cooking. I could make sandwiches, salads, and pasta, and that was about it. I gazed at Chloe–who has always had a knack in the kitchen, an effortless talent for composing meals in her head–with envy and awe.
Now I’m hardly a Deb Madison or Matthew Kenney, but I like to think that I’ve accumulated some talent in the kitchen in recent years. The single most important lesson I’ve learned is that there’s no magical talent that good cooks have and other people don’t (though I do think that professional chefs have extraordinarily fine-tuned palates, and they’re better at conceptualizing dishes than most people). Cooking well, like most life skills, is simply a matter of practice, persistence, and fearlessness about making mistakes. The more kitchen disasters you allow yourself to have, the better: it means you’re learning something. I’ve had no shortage of catastrophic recipe flops, and each one has made me a more able cook in the longrun.
The buckwheat and almond crackers I made this week certainly don’t belong in the “kitchen calamity” category. But I can’t say that I would put them in the “resounding success” category, either. They were a first try, and they were respectable as far as first tries go. With a little fine-tuning (and some sea salt), I expect that they’ll soon be better.
Each time I mention a new nut milk recipe, a get about five emails asking me what I do with the leftover almond pulp that comes from straining the nut milk. My response is usually “get thee to Google.” If you google “almond pulp recipe” you’ll quickly see that there are plenty of suggestions floating around the ether, from cookies to nut burgers. I haven’t yet tried these myself (though I have experimented widely with uses for juice pulp), but I know they’re out there.
Last week, I decided to give almond crackers a try, using the pulp from one batch of almond milk. In order to add texture to the recipe, I added some buckwheat flour (which I make by grinding soaked and dehydrated buckwheat finely in my food processor). The texture of the crackers was just right: I wanted them to be thick and crunchy, and they were.
The flavor? Comme ci, comme ca. These crackers were seriously in need of salt, and next time I’m going to increase the amount I used (I’ve already increased it in the recipe). I also think that some Herbamare would have come in handy, or perhaps some sundried tomatoes. With that said, I finished them all and enjoyed them plenty: I don’t like heavily salted food, so the lack of it didn’t really offend me. More importantly, the crackers were a great way to use up what I otherwise would have thrown away. They’re cheaper than storebought raw crackers, and they’re pretty dense, so they add a lot to a meal. Here’s how you make them:
Almond Pulp Crackers (yields about 30 crackers)
1 cup almond pulp (well strained)
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/3-1/2 tsp salt (I used 1/4 tsp, but that isn’t enough)
2 tbsp ground flax meal
1/4 cup water (and more as needed)
Blend all ingredients in a food processor and process till smooth. Add water as needed: you may need more than 1/4 cup to get the right dough texture. The dough should be firm and hold its shape, but it shouldn’t be too dry to spread on a dehydrator tray.
Divide the dough in half, and spread till it’s about 1/4 inch thick on two teflex lined dehydrator trays. Score the dough into generous squares.
Dehydrate at 115 degrees for 5-6 hours. Flip the dough over and dehydrate for another 5-6 hours, or until the crackers are totally dry. Break them into crackers and serve.
These guys hover someplace in between “simple” and “bland.” I like bland food. If you don’t, then add some oregano, some sundried tomato, some cayenne, some nori — well, you get the idea. Experiment with flavors. And if you get a great combo, come back and let me know about it!
As with all dehydrator recipes, you can make these in the oven by baking them at 300 or 350 for 20-30 minutes (that, by the way, is a total guesstimate, so if you do this I suggest you keep an eye on the crackers to make sure they cook right).
If these crackers embodied the notion of “progress” (or at least, the potential for future progress), then the side dish I served them with was, I’m proud to say, a little whisper of “perfection.”
My pizza cheese, which I first made last spring, is one of my easiest and most foolproof recipes, and there’s nothing I would add or subtract to make it better. I love it just as it is. In fact, I was glad that the crackers were sort of bland, because they were a transparant vehicle for its flavor.
If you’re a new cook, and you’re just starting to get your kitchen legs, remember that the education of a home chef is lifelong. I’m a better cook than I was six years ago, when I didn’t know how to flip a pancake or chop an onion (gross, but a necessary kitchen skill), let alone make fermented nut cheese or raw falafel. I’ve come a long way, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t frequently make recipes that are, well, nasty, or that I don’t sometimes mess up recipes I’ve made perfectly in the past. At the risk of echoing the same tired cooking/life metaphors that we’ve all read in every intro to every cookbook we own: cooking, like life, is a journey.
And if you happen to make something perfect along the way, so much the better.
Speaking of really good cooks, my friend Ani is in NYC right now, and she’s got some fun events planned. If you’re a local reader and you want to hear more about her awesome new book, I suggest you check them out!
Happy Friday guys!