Thursday, August 30, 2012

Back To Basics

With an eye toward encouraging more dialogue at The Provident Table (after all, dinner without conversation is a bit dull no matter how interesting the food) I am drawing back the reins a bit and returning to the thrust of this blog, which is menu planning. While I will continue to post some of my own recipes from time to time I will focus more of my energy on teaching interested parties how to plan their menus, adapt recipes to unique dietary restrictions, and explore the vast reaches of culinaria. In doing so I will branch out and include links to some recommended recipes from blogs and cooking websites the Internet over to supplement (and perhaps even supplant--I am no ultimate authority on food after all. I've never been to Le Cordon Bleu nor do I hail from some exotic clime.) my own offerings.

So where does the dialogue come in? This is my plan and I am hoping for success: I will announce my menu plan at the beginning of the week. On subsequent days I will include recipes of my own or links to outside sites. I invite you to weigh in with your favorites in recipe or link form. My posts will also continue to include Vegan Notes and Gluten Notes for adaptation of the highlighted recipes. I hope that many will join the dialogue and that we will all enrich one another's experience with these delectable comestibles (delightful word--I learned it from Rudyard Kippling's "How the Whale Got His Throat" this weekend--if you are as unfamiliar with it as was I you will be happy to know that it means an item of food).

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Risotto with Summer Squash and Tomatoes

I have loved risotto ever since I waited for it for a full half-hour as a teenager at a little Italian restaurant. It is relatively easy and can be quite elegant. Generally my kids even really like it, particularly if I top it with a separately cooked accent vegetable or legume, which I serve on the side for them. I served this risotto with a quick saute (1 Tbsp oil, medium-high heat, stirring occasionally) of fresh picked summer squash and tomato, which I added right at the end of the squash cooking time to just warm the tomato through and evaporate excessive moisture. I seasoned the vegetables with salt, pepper, and a taste of brown sugar. A chiffonade of fresh basil would have crowned the dish nicely had I taken a moment to do it.

2 Tbsp fat (butter, margarine, or olive oil)
1 medium onion, chopped small
2 cups medium grain (Arborio) rice
8 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
1 cup finely grated hard cheese (such as Parmesan)
2 Tbsp butter, softened (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the fat in a large saucepan that has been placed over medium-high heat. Place the stock in a second saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the onions to the fat and sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent but not brown. Add the rice and sauté, stirring frequently, until little white dots appear on the outside of the rice at the center of the grain. Add a ladle full of hot stock to the rice and stir to incorporate. Reduce the heat to medium so that the liquid does not boil off too quickly to be absorbed into the rice. Although it may seem counterintuitive, this is critical to making risotto in under thirty minutes. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan while stirring. Continue to add stock and stir frequently as the stock evaporates and is absorbed into the rice. Once the rice is creamy and tender stop adding the stock and remove from the heat. Stir in the cheese and butter, if desired. The grains will be distinct from one another and will be suspended in a creamy sauce. If you need additional liquid, add water to the stock pot and bring to simmer, then use the water in place of the stock. Season with salt (use ¼ tsp increments and taste to test savoryness) and pepper and serve as soon as possible.

VEGAN NOTES: To make this vegan use olive oil for the fat, vegetable stock, and a tablespoon of truffle oil or other nicely flavored oil for the flavor accent. Omit the cheese and butter.

GLUTEN NOTES: This recipe is gluten free.

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, August 2012

The Complete Protein

When I was a senior in high school I attended a school conference at which we ate in a cafeteria for the week of the conference. One of the girls in my group was a vegan. I was as suspicious and incredulous as an overconfident 17-year old who knows everything can possibly be and felt that her dietary restrictions were pretty ridiculous. When she became ill during the week because she ate only rice I felt that my opinions were unreservedly validated and sallied forth with a fairly confident and ignorant view of veganism for the next decade and a half. My opinion began to change, however, as I learned more about diet, both vegan and omnivorous, and I reconsidered my views.

One hears a great deal of complete proteins, particularly when she makes it known that she is paring down the amount of dietary meat she consumes. This is a legitimate concern but I have found that it is generally not problematic to achieve complete protein consumption without touching meat. My acquaintance's problem at the conference was that she did not pair her grains with enough other legumes, seeds, and nuts. She was missing some of the amino acids that her body could not produce, but which she needed to make the proteins that would keep her body going.  

It is fascinating that many traditional food combinations in cultures throughout the world feature these vegetable, grain, and legume pairings. This is particularly relevant when one considers the dramatic increase over the course of the last several decades in the amount of meat generally consumed by our society. Certainly it is shortsighted if not almost ludicrous to assume that thousand-year-old culinary traditions are lacking in essential nutrients simply because they did not rely on meat as the source of complete protein.

So, the gist of this is that one can eat a more vegetable-oriented diet very healthfully without unduly worrying about the lack of protein. True vegans (those who do not consume any animal product, including eggs or dairy products) do need to do some vitamin supplementation to replace the B12 they miss; but, so far as I have discovered, this is the extent of critical supplementation.

Just remember to vary your diet and consume grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts in concert and obtaining essential amino acids should not be a problem.

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, June 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Stir-fry From The Farmer's Market

Farmer's Market Vegetables
This time of year you find a great selection at the farmer's market regardless of your latitude. A little touch of fresh herbs added with the sauce (or, in the case of basil, upon serving) is nice, too. Here are some nice potential vegetable combinations:

Summer squash, carrots, new potatoes, kale (1-inch strips of the leaves only, no stems)

Beets (these will take longer to cook so add them first), zucchini, green beans

Shucked corn, new potatoes (these will take longer to cook so add them first), garlic scapes OR green beans

Broccoli, carrots, shucked corn, peppers


Basic Stir-fry
1 cup water
2 Tbsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp soy sauce
¼ tsp Chinese five spice (optional)
1 tsp miso paste or bullion granules
2 Tbsp sesame oil
1 medium onion, halved and sliced thin
2-3 cloves garlic, pressed
3-4 cups vegetables, cut up into approximately 1-inch pieces
8-12 oz protein of choice, marinated in 2 Tbsp brown sugar/honey and 2 Tbsp soy sauce

Whisk together the water, cornstarch, soy sauce, spices, and miso/bullion. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add one tablespoon of the oil to the pan and tilt to coat evenly. Add the protein and cook for one minute without stirring or otherwise agitating the pan. Stir and continue to brown on all sides. Remove when just cooked and set aside. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add the onion and stir fry until it just begins to wilt. Add the garlic and vegetables and fry, scraping the pan and turning the vegetables frequently but not constantly because you do want your vegetables to get a little caramelized. If you are using a combination of hard and soft produce, such as carrots and summer squash, add the hard produce before the soft produce. Return the protein to the pan and pour the sauce over all. Cook, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens. Sprinkle sesame seeds or peanuts on top if desired. Serve with hot rice.

An over easy fried egg over all might be really nice, but I have yet to actually try this so it remains merely something I have read about.

VEGAN NOTES: Tofu is fabulous in stir-fry but it is best if it has some time to marinade so think about starting it in the morning before you plan on stir-frying. Cut the block of firm or extra firm (super firm is too firm as far as I'm concerned) in half so you have two 1-inch thick squares and press between towels for 10 to 15 minutes to remove some of the excess water. Combine 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 2 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger, 1 clove pressed garlic, and 1 Tbsp corn starch in a shallow dish. Place the pressed tofu into the dish and rub with the marinade. Allow the tofu to sit in the marinade for 30 minutes to several hours. Cut the tofu into 1-inch squares and use in the recipe as outlined. Use miso for the stir fry sauce.

GLUTEN NOTES: Be sure to use gluten free soy sauce. 

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, August 2012

Monday, August 20, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Who would have guessed that one could cut out half of the butter in the standard Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe and replace it with some vegetable oil? I'm not sure how long I've been making these cookies, but I expect that it has been at least fifteen to twenty years, and it occured to me to make this little change only recently. My dad, who has a real affinity for chocolate chip cookies, enjoyed these very much. The numbers?

Standard cup-of-butter recipe: 176 grams fat, 128 grams saturated fat (total, not individual serving)
This recipe: 130 grams fat, 67 grams saturated fat (again, this is the total, not individual serving)

1/2 cup butter, softened
3 Tbsp vegetable oil (not olive oil)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups/11 1/4 oz flour (use up to 1/2 cup whole wheat if desired)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Cream the butter and oil together and beat in the sugars until they are fully incorporated. Beat in the eggs and continue to beat until the mixture begins to lighten. Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the flour mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. Drop the cookies by tablespoons onto a baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the cookie begins to brown slightly around the edges. Remove cookies to a cooling rack and cool completely, or at least as completely as you can stand them to get.

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, August 2012

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Camping We Did Go (Chili and Fritos!)

We just returned from a very quick camping trip to Kokanee Creek Provincial Park outside of Nelson, BC. The driving portion of the journey took over three hours each way and we did only stay overnight, but we were richly rewarded with lots of great time at the beach, awesome views of the brilliantly red spawning Kokanee salmon, and children who, for the most part, slept for the night! Actually, as far as I am concerned, an overnight camping trip is just about right for little ones (and their parents!).

For dinner last night we decided to have an easy dinner with minimal clean-up. We had the camping classic of chili and Fritos with a little twist. I added avocado, cheese, sour cream, and salsa as one would with a taco salad. It was quite good, particularly with the avocado. The salsa was kind of a non-entity as it was absorbed into the chili and did not retain its individal character.

The chili itself was yummy and very easy. In fact, I made it Thursday night after cleaning up the dinner dishes, which is some indication of its degree of difficulty. At that time of night I do not have patience for a lot of time in the kitchen. I made it with ground bison, which was very good, but you could make it with other meats or even with roasted tempeh. I used canned pre-cooked beans but you could cook your own beans. If you do that you will have to add additional liquid with the tomato paste mixture. Mole is the secret ingredient that makes it taste as if it has been simmering for hours.

I served refrigerator pickles on the side and they were a nice compliment. Here are the recipes:

Chili & Fritos, Taco-style
1/2 to 1 cup Fritos/person
1/2 to 1 cup chili/person
2 Tbsp shredded cheese or crumbled queso fresco/person
1 Tbsp sour cream/person
1 Tbsp salsa/person
1/4 cup cut up avocado/person

Make a layer of Fritos on the plate. Pour the chili over the top of the Fritos. Top with cheese, sour cream, salsa, and avocado. That is all.

VEGAN NOTES: Use vegan chili and omit the cheese and sour cream. Use additional avocado and possibly even olives in lieu of the cream and cheese. Vegan sour creams exist but I have not tried them. Here is a link to a recipe for homemade vegan sour cream. Regular Fritos are vegan but stay away from the flavored varieties.

GLUTEN NOTES: Regular Fritos are gluten free.

Easy, Fabulous Chili
1 lb ground meat or 1 package tempeh, steamed, marinaded, & roasted (see note below)
1 onion, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 cloves garlic, pressed
3 cans cooked beans with liquid (white & red look nice together)
1/4 to 1/3 cup mole paste
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup brown sugar

Brown the meat in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Drain the fat if there is more than a teaspoon or two. Add the onion, garlic, and salt and cook until the aromatics (garlic and onion) are very fragrant, the excess liquid has evaporated, and the meat is starting to brown even more. Avoid burning by reducing the heat. This will take 10 to 15 minutes. Add the beans and their liquid and reduce temperature to medium. Smash the mole, tomato paste, and brown sugar together until combined and stir this into the beans. Continue to simmer the beans until the sauce is evenly distributed and the chili is uniformly hot.

VEGAN NOTES: Use marinaded, roasted tempeh in place of the sausage. Simmer a block of tempeh in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove and crumble when it is just cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, make a marinade of 2 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 tsp liquid smoke, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp crushed fennel seeds, and 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes. Toss this with the warm crumbled tempeh and allow it to marinade for at least 15-30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400-degrees and spread the tempeh crumbles on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Roast until the tempeh is crispy.

GLUTEN NOTES: My prepared mole (Dona Maria brand) contains crackers. My google search for gluten free mole produced a number of recipes for moles, but this begins to get into not so easy territory. Amazon carries a gluten-free mole (Barcelona brand). The Dona Maria mole is really quite solid out of the container and I do not know what the consistency of Barcelona is but if it is runny you may need to simmer the chili a little longer.

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, August 2012

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Anniversary Picnic

My husband and I recently celebrated seven years of bliss and growth with a summer evening picnic with our children. We enjoyed ourselves and ate far too much cheese and butter. We even invited our children and everyone had a great time. I did not do too much individual preparation because I decided to give myself a little break on my anniversary. It was a good choice.

Mushroom Turnovers (I purchased these from Trader Joe's and they were great!)
Multigrain Crackers OR Oatmeal Biscuits (see recipe below--easy if you have time)
Champignon Cheese (think brie with lovely bits of mushroom OR other soft cheese)
Comte Cheese OR other mature French cheese
Strawberries or Grapes
Marcona-style Almonds
Green Pea Salad OR Radishes with butter and salt
Coconut Cake (a nod to our wedding cake)

Oatmeal Biscuits
Rather like a sweet cracker, these biscuits pair well with creamy savory cheeses and fruit.

1 ½ cup flour
½ cup cornmeal
2 cup rolled oats
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
½ cup butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1/3 cup maple syrup
3 Tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 425-degrees. Combine the flour, cornmeal, oats, salt, and baking powder in a food processor or mixing bowl. Cut the butter in using a pastry blender or the pulse function on the food processor until the mixture is uniformly damp. Combine the maple syrup and milk and fold into the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Divide the dough in half and roll one half out approximately ¼-inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut with a cookie cutter or a plain knife and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden and slightly puffed. Remove the cookies to a rack to cool completely.

Marcona-style Almonds
Marcona almonds originated in Spain and are distinct in their shape, which is rather squat and flat when compared with the elongated and rather round almonds one typically encounters. They are often prepared by blanching and frying them in olive oil before sprinkling them with salt and herbs. This preparation streamlines this traditional presentation.

1 1/2 cups blanched almonds
2 Tbsp good olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed slightly

Preheat the oven to 250-degrees and place the almonds in the oven on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for ten minutes and stir the almonds after five minutes. Check the almonds after ten minutes to ensure that they are golden. If they are not then return them to the oven for an additional five minutes but stay close and remove them from the oven if they begin to smell burned.

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the hot almonds, salt and rosemary and toss to combine. Remove the almonds to a shallow dish to cool completely. Store any extras almonds in an airtight container.

Green Pea Salad
2 cups frozen peas
1 can water chestnuts, chopped medium
3 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp plain yogurt or sour cream
1 Tbsp mustard
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp sugar

Thaw the peas under cool running water. Combine the peas and water chestnuts in a large bowl. Combine the cheese and bacon and set aside. Stir together the mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and sugar until the sugar dissolves (salt, vinegar?). Toss the pea and mayonnaise mixtures together. Immediately before serving stir in the cheese and bacon mixture.

Coconut Cake
This was a cake reminescent of our wedding cake. I love wedding cakes. They are my favorite aspect of the wedding experience (besides the typically infectious good will that permeates the party) and I have fewer more well developed peeves than the peeve of the unserved or sawdusty wedding cake.

2 2/3 cups/13 3/8 oz all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
12 Tbsp/6 oz butter, softened so that it is easily impressed with your fingertip but not really soft and oily
2 cups/14 oz sugar
2 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
1 cup buttermilk OR 1/2 cup plain yogurt plus 1/2 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Grease AND line the bottoms with greased waxed paper rounds AND flour: two 9-inch cake pans or three 6-inch cake pans. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Place the butter in a mixing bowl and beat until it looks smooth. Pour the sugar into the butter while beating and continue to beat until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Add the eggs and yolks one at a time. Be sure to beat each one into the batter completely before adding the next egg. Continue to beat the eggs until the mixture lightens and increases in volume. This takes approximately five minutes at a medium-high speed. Reduce beater speed to low and stir in 1/3 of the flour. Add 1/2 of the liquid when the flour is almost entirely encorporated. Continue with the next 1/3 of flour and the remaining liquid. Add the final 1/3 of flour and stir until no streaks of flour remain. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans and spread the batter to the edges of the pans. Place the pans in the preheated oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes for the 6-inch pans and 20-25 minutes for the 9-inch pans. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for approximately 10 minutes before running a knife around the edge and turning them out onto cooling racks to cool completely.

Coconut Frosting

12 Tbsp very soft butter
4 cups confectioner's sugar
pinch salt
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp coconut extract
2-3 Tbsp milk

Place the butter in a mixing bowl and beat until it is smooth. Add the sugar and salt at low speed and continue to beat until it is fully incorporated. Increase the speed to medium high and beat in the extracts and enough milk so that the mixture comes together. Continue to beat until the frosting becomes lighter and loftier. Place the bottom cake layer on the serving plate. Cover this with preserves or jam of some sort. I used sour cherry jam and it was really lovely. Lemon curd or raspberry jam would be wonderful as well as just about anything else. Place the second layer on top of the first and adjust to make sure it is square on the top. Cover the cake with frosting. Start with a thin lower coat and place the cake in the refrigerater to allow the frosting to harden if you have the time. Place dollops of frosting on the top of the cake and spread this down onto the sides before smoothing the sides. An offset spatula is a fantastic tool for this. Press coconut (toasted if you like) into the frosting. Chill but serve at room temperature.

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, August 2012