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

Carbonara Photo

I finally took a photo of the yummy spaghetti alla carbonara. Ephemeral and lovely.

Here's the link to the recipe:

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, August 2012

I (heart) Cookbooks

As a young girl I remember perusing my mother's copy of The Silver Palate New Basics Cookbook by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso. I poured over the fun illustrations and contemplated ingredients that I knew very little about. I absorbed the concepts of roasting, sauteing, and baking. I dreamed of someday opening up a little shop like The Silver Palate. Later I began enjoying novels that included recipes for the dishes that were profiled in the book, the first of which was Fried Green Tomatoes At the Whistle Stop Cafe. I loved the way that the recipes succeeded in capturing their place of origin and found them interesting even if I never actually cooked from them (I have yet to make a fried green tomato).

I have a lovely collection of cookbooks myself; however, one of my favorite pastimes is to check out cookbooks at my local library. My library has a great collection of cookbooks and the library curators frequently add new titles. I have added a few new titles to my own collection after checking them out with enough frequency that I realized that it would be prudent to purchase my own copy. This was the case with Baking With Julia. I have found a great selection of cookbooks that use alternative ingredients, such as vegan cookbooks and gluten-free cookbooks, and have been able to experiment without any extra expense. If you find yourself at all interested in cookbooks and have not yet availed yourself of this pleasure, please consider doing so as it is well worth the effort to get to the library.

Currently my favorite cookbooks are those that fall into the technical cooking genre. I would include the America's Test Kitchen cookbooks in this category, as well as Alton Brown's trilogy (I'm currently enjoying the third in the series curtosy of Spokane Public Library), Harold McGee's cooking guides (recommendations for success with recipes you know rather than recipes), and any other book that helps the cook understand why ingredients act as they do and how to get them to do what you, as the cook, want them to do.

The best cookbooks are inspiring and, when followed, produce consistently successful results. Many cookbooks fall short of this and get relegated to the bottom shelf. Sometimes they are worth keeping just for the pictures.

Current Favorites:
Keys to Good Cooking A Guide to Making The Best of Foods and Recipes by Harold McGee
Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan
The Gourmet Cookbook and Gourmet Today edited by Ruth Reichl
Good Eats 3: The Later Years by Alton Brown
The Best Lost Recipes by America's Test Kitchen
Julia's Kitchen Wisdom by Julia Child
At Home In Provence by Patrica Wells
The Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, August 2012

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Happy Birthday, Julia!

Julia Child would have been 100 this week! I grew up watching her shows on PBS on occasional weekend visits to my grandparent's house. I loved her charasmatic approach to cooking and, as I later learned after reading her biography, My Life In France, her life. She was absolutely inspiring.

PBS is celebrating with making new episodes of Cooking With Master Chefs available at Here is the link:

Bon appetit!

Dinner Rolls

The well crafted dinner roll has the power to elevate its baker to a sort of celebrity status within the community in which it is enjoyed. I have an aunt whose reputation for her rolls is epic. Nearly as epic is the attempt to make a successful recipe that really captures my memories of Aunt Julianne's rolls time after time. I believe that this recipe is fairly close. These rolls, known as Parker House rolls because of their genesis at the Parker House (a hotel) in Boston, are folded over before baking and are quite rich.

2 cups milk (not skim)
1/4 cup butter
1 Tbsp oil
1/3 cup honey
2 eggs
4 cups/1 lb 9 oz flour
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup butter, melted

Heat the milk until bubbles begin to form on the perimeter of the sauce pan. Pour the milk over the butter, oil, and honey in a bowl (preferrably with a pouring spout). Once the milk has cooled so that it is no longer hot to the touch, whisk several tablespoons of the milk mixture into the eggs to temper them. I find that it is easier for me to whisk with my dominant hand and pour with my less-dominant hand when tempering eggs. This is a necessary step because it prevents the eggs from curdling. Whisk the tempered eggs into the milk mixture. Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. When the milk mixture is no longer hot to the touch (I use a thermometer to ensure that it is between 100 and 110 degrees), pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir for five minutes. Pour the dough into a greased bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place the bowl in the refrigerator. Allow the dough to rise for several hours (I like to prepare the dough in the morning so that it is ready for me when I need it). Sprinkle a workspace with 1/4 cup flour and turn the chilled, risen dough out onto it. Scatter 1/4 cup additional flour over the top of the dough and roll the dough out to a 1/2-inch thickness. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a half-sheet baking pan with a rim. Use a biscuit cutter to cut the rolls into rounds. Dab a bit of melted butter in the center of the roll and fold over so that the top of the roll is slightly underlapping. Place four rolls across the baking sheet. When the baking sheet is full brush the remaining rolls with the remaining butter. Allow the rolls to rise for approximately 1/2 hour to 45 minutes. Bake the rolls for approximately 18-20 minutes or until they are golden brown. Cool and serve warm.

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, August 2012

Chowder (corn in this case)

Chowder is something I often envision on a chilly night; however, it works really well in the summer because it requires relatively little heat. Fresh corn is lovely. Leftover roasted vegetables work well. I like this served with Fritos (yes, the snacky corn chips) on top.

3-4 slices/4-5 oz thick cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 onion, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp paprika
3 Tbsp reserved bacon fat
3 cups milk
4 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (place in cool water to prevent browning)
2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2-3 celery stalks, cut into 1-inch pieces

For corn chowder:
4 ears corn, shucked OR 1 1/2 cups frozen corn
1 cup leftover shredded chicken

For clam chowder:
2 6.5 oz cans chopped clams, juice reserved

For smoked salmon chowder:
1 cup smoked salmon, crumbled

Place the bacon in a Dutch oven and turn the stove to medium. Allow the fat to render and the bacon to crisp. Remove the bacon to a paper towel lined plate to drain and remove all but a teaspoon or so of the fat to a small bowl. Place the onion, salt, and paprika in the pot and increase the heat slightly. Saute the onion until it becomes translucent and begins to turn golden. Return 3 tablespoons of the reserved fat and the flour to the pan. Whisk to combine thoroughly and cook for a couple of minutes to encourage browning. Whisk the milk into the onion mixture and increase the heat slightly. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens. Do not allow the chowder to boil. If it shows signs not doing so reduce the heat. Meanwhile cover the potatoes, carrots, and celery with water and bring to a simmer. Simmer just until the vegetables are easily pierced with a fork.

(Alternatively, the vegetables can be rubbed with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, sprinkled with a bit of salt, and roasted; however, this introduces the heat-producing oven in potentially undesirable ways. Perhaps when cooler weather returns because I expect it would be very tasty.)

Add the vegetables to the thickened milk soup and add the corn, the clams and liquid, or the smoked salmon, or really anything else that sounds appetizing. Cook until it is just heated through (if frozen or canned) or until it is just cooked (if fresh). Keep it warm and covered if you are not serving the chowder immediately. Serve with a few fritos scattered on top.

VEGAN NOTES: Omit the bacon and use vegetable oil in place of the bacon fat. Add 1/2 tsp liquid smoke with the liquid. Use unsweetened soy milk in lieu of regular milk. Consider adding baked tofu if you would like more protein. Serve with fritos (be careful to use regular, not chili cheese, which are not vegan).

GLUTEN NOTES: Use 2 Tbsp corn starch in lieu of the flour. Regular fritos are ok but chili cheese fritos contain wheat.

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, August 2012

Second Batch of August Menus

It is now officially hot summer where I live. The oven is on my short list of things to avoid too much of right now, although I have found that I do not live without it entirely. This time of year I like to rely a little more than usual on foods from my grocery store's deli (such as their more responsibly grown chicken), and bakery (such as their "French" bread). This is also a great time of year to employ quickly cooking soups, such as chowder that is made with really fresh corn, slow cooker meals, and, on occasion, prepared items from the grocer's freezer case.

1) Mezze--Rotisserie Chicken (from the deli), Cheesy French Bread, Corn-on-the-Cob, Apples and Peanut Butter
2) Cassarole--1950's Goulash, revisited; Marinaded Cucumbers and Onions
3) Anniversary Picnic!--Purchased Frozen Mushroom Turnovers (heated), Green Pea Salad, British Oatmeal Biscuits (or whole grain crackers), Soft rind cheese (such as Champignon, Cambozola, or Brie), Grapes or Strawberries, Marcona-style Almonds, Coconut Cake
4) Soup & Stew--Fresh Corn Chowder, Dinner Rolls, Sliced Tomatoes with Salt & Pepper
5) Saute, etc.--Farmers' Market Stir-fry with Jasmine Rice
6) Sandwich, etc.--Dutch Baby with Berries, Zucchini Muffins, Frittata, Roasted Green Beans

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pizza, including a vegan suggestion

Pizza is a great option for nights when you have about 1/2 hour earlier in the day and then will be away until it is nearly time to serve dinner. The pizza cooks in minutes and assembly can be just as fast if you have the toppings ready.

Traditional Pizza Dough
2 ½ cups/12.5 oz flour (may use up to 1 cup whole wheat)
1 ½ tsp yeast
2 tsp salt
1 cup warm water

Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a mixing bowl. Pour the water over the top and stir until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Cover the bowl with plastic and allow it to sit for 20 minutes. Uncover the bowl and kneed the dough for 8-10 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic. If it is necessary to prevent the dough from coming off on your hands or failing to gather around the dough hook add flour 1 Tbsp at a time as necessary but try not to add more than ¼ to 1/3 cup. For round pizza, shape the dough into two balls and place them on lightly greased plates cover and allow them to rise in the refrigerator if you have time. For one large pizza, shape the dough into one large ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise until doubled in bulk in the refrigerator if possible.

For my tomato sauce I like to use diluted tomato paste because it does not require so much reducing to get to the desired consistency. Place about 1/2 cup of water in a saucepan over medium heat and add tomato paste by tablespoon until the desired consistency is reached. A freshly pressed garlic clove and salt to taste are nice additions.

Pesto is a great addition to just about any pizza, either as the primary sauce or as a compliment to the traditional tomato sauce.

I often bake my pizza for about 5-7 minutes before adding the toppings. For this first stage of baking spread the top of the pizza with garlic-infused olive oil. To make said oil, press a couple of cloves of garlic into about 1/4 cup olive oil.

I like to try different cheeses with my pizza. It is good to make sure you pair stronger flavored cheeses with mild cheeses so that the pizza is not overpowering. I once had a gorgonzola pizza in Salzburg, Austria that was too heavily laden with the rich cheese. The first couple of bites were heavenly but subsequent bites began to be torturous. I did not finish it.

A little drizzle of olive oil and grind of salt and pepper over the cheese can inch it up just a notch.

I love sweet-savory combinations, such as the classic pineapple-Canadian bacon combination. Pizzas with thinly sliced fennel and apple have been good experiences for me.

For a nice vegan pizza, use nut cheese (see below), crumbled over the base sauce of choice. Add sundried tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil. Shave zucchini (just the peeled flesh, skip the seeds) over the pizza. It's really quite good.

For pizza with a crispy crust, use a pizza stone and preheat the oven to 500-degrees for at least 30 minutes. Form the pizza on a liberally floured pizza peel or rimless cookie sheet and slide it directly onto the stone.

For pizza with a softer crust (more favored by most children) fit the dough into a jelly roll pan or two pizza pans. Preheat the oven to 425-degrees.

For any pizza, liberally poke the dough with a fork and bake the crust for 10-12 minutes before adding the toppings.

Nut Cheese
2 cups blanched nuts (I like Brazils, cashews, and macadamias best)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
3 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp paprika

Chop the nuts to a medium chop and pour the water and lemon juice over them. Mix to combine and allow the nuts to soak for 3-6 hours. Place the nuts in the bowl of a food processor and process, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides, until the nuts are finely ground. Drizzle the olive oil into the nuts and add the nutritional yeast, salt and paprika. Continue to process until a smooth paste is formed. Refrigerate unused portion.

GLUTEN NOTES: I expect that pizza dough would work just fine with gluten-free flour substitute, but I have not tried to do it yet.

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, August 2012

Pan-fried Tofu, Corn-on-the-cob, Biscuits, Salad

Pan-Fried Tofu
Pan-fried tofu is an excellent option for those moments when you are running late and need to come up with a plan-B dinner. Although it does benefit from an extended opportunity to take on the flavors of a good rub, the tofu will be ready after about 15 minutes. For those who can't quite stomach the idea of tofu, a bscb (boneless, skinless chicken breast) would probably work just fine. It will be better if it is butterflied (cut partially through the thicker part so that it is the same thickness as the thin part and turn this out so that the whole thing will lay flat). But you really should try the tofu. You may surprise yourself by liking it.

1 14-15 oz package tofu/3-4 people (I usually wish that I had made more)
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp cornstarch

Combine the brown sugar, salt, paprika, garlic powder, and cornstarch in a small bowl. Cut the tofu in half to form two approximately 1-inch thick pieces. Press the tofu with a towel to remove some of the excess water. Rub the tofu with the seasoning and place on a plate. Return to the refrigerator while you do other things.

Preheat a frying or saute pan over medium heat. When the pan is radiating heat that you can feel an inch or so above the bottom of the pan, pour 2 Tbsp oil into the pan. When the oil ripples add the tofu. Allow the tofu to cook, undisturbed, for a couple of minutes. It will release easily when it is ready to flip. Pay attention to the temperature. If the tofu is not browning the temperature needs to be increased. If it is browning to quickly, remove the pan from the heat for a minute or so and reduce the heat a little bit. Flip the tofu and repeat the frying process on the opposite side. Remove to a plate and cut in half. Serve as immediately as possible.

Corn on the cob is very straightforward but perhaps there are people who have never made it. This is a place where I think of my dad when I am cooking. As I mentioned before, he owned a vegetable freezing plant and one of the vegetables processed therein was corn. He was adament that the corn must be absolutely free of silk when we had it at home, presumably because this was the standard required of his products at the plant. It's funny but I learned soon after marrying my husband that he actually likes the silk--he eats it plain--and did not mind if some of it clung to the corn! He obviously never had to worry about quality control at a vegetable processing plant. Anyway, it's easier to husk the corn now. I do this by pulling the whole husk off at once on each side and then breaking off the residual stalk by using the husk as a sort of leaver/handle. Then I remove as much silk as easily comes off. Place the corn in a large Dutch oven or stock pot halfway full of simmering water. Return the water to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes or so. Serve with butter, salt, and pepper. Really fresh corn is the best. This is a good farmers' market/local grower item.

3 cups/15 oz flour (up to 1/2 cup whole wheat)
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup/1 1/8 oz shortning (preferrably chilled)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk OR 3/4 cup milk and 1/2 cup plain yogurt, whisked

Preheat the oven to 450-degrees. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Cut or rub the shortning into the flour until the visible pieces of shortning are about the size of a small pea. Pour the buttermilk into the flour mixture and stir briefly to moisten the flour. Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured surface. Using a bench scraper if necessary fold the dough over itself and press down for five or six turns. Pat the dough into a 1-inch thick rectangle and use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut it into 12 equal squares. Place these squares on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden. Spread a little butter on the tops if desired. Cool on a rack. For sweet biscuits (such as for shortcake) add 1/2 cup sugar to the dry ingredients.

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, August 2012

Spaghetti Carbonara

Here's the link to my post on spaghetti carbonara. I still love it!

More On Farmers' Markets

I just read this great article in the paper the other day. The number of farmers markets in the US has increased dramatically in recent years and this is helping make locally grown food more readily available. Great news! Here's the link.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Lasagna and Green Peas

As a little girl I looked forward to lasagna night. This usually occurred on a night when my dad was in charge of making dinner because mom was out. The lasagna of choice was Stouffers and we always had green peas to go with it. My dad's businss was frozen vegetables and he was adament that the peas be just warmed until they were hot, not over-cooked, because, said he, they had already been subjected to heat in the processing and peas are very tender things. One of his pet peeves, yes, but I am glad that he passed on his expertise to me. For great, tender, fresh-tasting peas, empty the frozen peas in a saucepan and barely cover with water. Cook over high heat until the peas are just hot and remove immediately from the heat. This takes mere minutes. I love the sweetness of the peas with lasagna's savory nature.

I tried this recipe in the slow cooker today because I did not want to use the oven in this heat. The slow cooker retained too much water in the finished lasagna. I should have tried to skim the liquid off of the red sauce and perhaps even strain the cheese a little. Or maybe it would have worked better to have used traditional lasagna noodles rather than the thinner no-boil variety. At any rate the slow cooker is promising but I have bugs to work out before making a confident recommendation.

1 lb Italian sausage
1 large or 2 small/medium onions, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, pressed
1 shallot, minced (nice but optional)
½ cup water
1 Tbsp grape juice concentrate
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 tsp fennel, crushed
½ tsp red pepper flakes, crushed
1 bay leaf
2 tsp Italian herb seasoning
1 tsp salt
16 oz (?) shredded mozzarella or Italian cheese blend
32 oz ricotta or cottage cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup grated parmasean cheese
1 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
½ tsp garlic salt
2 9 oz packages of no-boil lasagna noodles

Brown the sausage in a Dutch oven that has been lightly coated with cooking spray over medium heat, stirring often to prevent sticking. Remove the sausage and add the onions, garlic, and shallot if using. Increase the heat to medium high and cook until the onion is translucent and fragrant. While the onion is cooking combine the water, grape juice concentrate, and vinegar. Once the onion is finished pour the liquid into the hot pan over the heat and scrape the bottom to deglaze. Return the sausage to the pan and add the tomatoes, fennel, pepper, bay leaf, Italian seasoning, and salt. Allow this mixture to simmer for 45 minutes to one hour.

Preheat the oven to 425-degrees. Combine the ricotta, eggs, parmasean, parsley, and garlic salt and set aside. Lightly spray two 8-inch square baking dishes with cooking spray. Place approximately ½ cup of sauce in the bottom of each baking dish and layer two noodles on the top of this. Spread ½ cup of ricotta mixture on top of the noodles and top with a cup of sauce and a sprinkling of cheese. Repeat this process four more times and end with a layer of noodles, sauce, and cheese. Cover the baking dishes with foil and place on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes and allow to cool before freezing or serve after the lasagna sets for about ten minutes.

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 1 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 tsp liquid smoke, 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce, 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. Make your own ricotta with soy milk in lieu of the ricotta called for above. Use 1 gallon of soy milk and bring to a simmer over moderate heat with 1 tsp salt. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the juice of two small lemons. Continue to stir until curds separate from the whey, which looks clear and liquidy. Strain through a cheesecloth or muslin dishtowel lined sieve and allow the milk to drain for an hour. Discard the whey. Use 2 tsp corn starch in lieu of the eggs. Omit the parmesan and mozzarella cheeses rather than using icky cheese substitutes. Consider topping with oiled breadcrumbs, or breadcrumbs mixed with some nut cheese, and broiling them to approximate the toastiness of the cheese.

GLUTEN NOTES: Use alternative flour based lasagna noodles.

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, June 2012

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

On Pickiness and Similar Flavors Chart

I have such  little tolerance for picky eaters that I ensured that this was one of the topics of conversation on my first date with my future husband. I really liked the fellow but could not abide a life with a picky eater. Happily, he answered that he was an adventurous eater due to his mother's cooking style, and we were married nine months later.

Of course, life with three little kiddos has presented many opportunities for me to address pickiness. One day a certain food is acceptable and the next day it is despised (not hyperbole in this case!). Or, suddenly anything with chunks in it is horrendous. And why is it that toddlers are incapable of picking out of a dish the things that they do not like? These are my frequent frustrations with pickiness.

Cooking for my children has been such an emotional roller coaster that I must include my own thoughts on the subject for anyone who is struggling with this issue. Children’s palates are naturally finicky. Perhaps this is so that they can avoid consuming potentially dangerous substances (although my children seem to love dirt and turn up their noses at the fresh tomatoes that grow in it). Perhaps it is just to help their parents develop patience. Whatever the reason, most children seem to regard at least fifty percent of the food they encounter with a great deal of trepidation.

While cooking for children can be unbelievably frustrating and sometimes unpredictable, you must persevere and have a backbone when it comes to encouraging your children to try new foods. Catering to pickiness simply encourages pickiness. Holding your ground and consistently presenting your children with the very food that they find so objectionable is an important step toward developing a more tolerant eater.

I find that my children’s willingness to try new things negatively correlates with their consumption of the food they refer to as “snacks” (i.e. sweets, pretzels, crackers, etc.). When I provide fruit and vegetable or whole-grain snacks, my children seem more willing to try a broader spectrum of foods. When I cave and give them the "snacks" that are less nourishing but more stimulating due to high salt and sugar content, my childrens' willingness to try new things seems to fade. In my own unproven, unscientific opinion, the difference lies in the fact that “snacks” somehow change the palate’s sensitivity.

So, try, try, try again. Eventually your children will likely try the foods that you offer. They may even surprise themselves by liking them. Here are some tactics that I have found helpful.

Try to keep meals relatively familiar to your children. Limit totally new recipes to once a week or so.

Ferret out the issues your child has with food. For example, once I realized that my daughter’s extremely frustrating aversion to “sauce,” by which she meant red sauce, stemmed from the chunks in many tomato based sauces, I was able to tailor the food to her preferences without fundamentally changing the dish itself.

Channel your high school literature teacher and describe what the food tastes like. My children are often more willing to try new things if they have an idea of what to expect. My son, who loves strawberries, discovered that kiwis were very satisfactory because I was able to describe to him that, although they look very different from the strawberry, kiwis share many similarities in taste and texture.

Be willing to try new things yourself and model responsible eating behaviors. Children’s eating techniques are directly learned from observations of those with whom they break their bread. If you express dislike when faced with vegetables, it is likely that your children’s natural aversions will be heightened and they will assume that they share your dislikes. Common sense argues that a child who sees an adult snacking in the half-hour before dinner is more likely to ask for snacks and spoil his appetite.

If your family likes...                                            You should try...
Scrambled eggs and toast                                         Quiche
Hamburgers                                                            Meatloaf and baked potatoes/oven fries
Spaghetti with tomato sauce                                     Lasagne
Chicken nuggets                                                     Chicken parmesan
Chicken noodle soup                                               Chicken tortilla soup
Chicken and rice/Hawaiian haystacks                        Risotto
Pancakes with sausage/bacon                                   Crepes with savory filling
Blue-box macaroni & cheese                                    Baked macaroni and cheese
Bacon                                                                    Proscuitto
Tacos                                                                    Enchiladas
Breakfast foods                                                      Hot Breakfast for dinner

Monday, August 6, 2012

Southeast Asian-Style Curry

The curries of southeast Asia are diverse so it seems a bit disingenuous to claim that this is the curry of southeast Asia. I do not claim particular authenticity or experience in actually cooking with the real thing in the actual place; however, I have read several books that address the subject and I feel fairly confident with my pre-made curry paste and fish sauce. Perhaps, someday, when I no longer have a young family, including a self-asserting three-year-old who may make his mommy certifiable before he reaches age four, I will attempt my own curry paste in an authentic mortar and pestle. At this juncture I am happy to rely on the mass produced paste even if it does lack an element of authenticity. It is the coconut milk, fish sauce, tamarind paste/lime juice, curry paste, and sugar that marry to form a lovely salty-sweet-spicy-sour sauce that never fails to lift my spirits.

Unless a curry calls for braising meat to a point of tenderness it is generally best to cook the vegetables separately and then add them to the assembled sauce. Cooking lean meat, such as chicken, pork, or fish in the sauce can add a nice flavor element. Vegetables cooked in the sauce release too much moisture and muddy the flavors and gum up the texture of the sauce. I like roasting the vegetables best but you could saute them.

My curry sauce above is a lovely magenta because I included beets among the vegetables. Beets are very common in the Spokane farmers' markets right now so they have been frequently part of my menus recently. I also added other root vegetables, including onion, garlic, sweet potato, and carrot, as well as a nice summer squash from my garden. Any array of vegetables would be delicious.

4 cups 1-inch cut vegetables, including onion and garlic (roast whole cloves then squeeze out)
2 Tbsp oil

Preheat the oven to 375-degrees. Rub the vegetables with the oil and spread them on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the vegetables and turn them over after about 15 minutes. Remove them from the oven when they are tender and beginning to caramelize.

1 can coconut milk
3 Tbsp fish sauce
2-3 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp tamarind paste OR 1 lime, juiced and zested
1/2-1 tsp curry paste
12-14 oz protein (I used one can of drained and rinsed chickpeas), sliced thin if meat

Whisk together these ingredints in a large saucepan. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add the protein and allow this to simmer for about five to ten minutes. Add the vegetables and any caramelized bits you can scrape off the pan to the saucepan. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of the cloves and into the curry. Adjust seasonings (if you want it to be a little more salty, add fish sauce; a little sweeter, add sugar; a little more tart, add a bit of tamarind; and, a little more spicy, add more curry paste. Serve with rice or flatbread.

VEGAN NOTES: This recipe is vegan as long as you use vegan protein.
GLUTEN NOTES: This recipe is gluten free.

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, August 2012

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Middle Eastern/Mediterranean Mezze

Middle Eastern flavors are so rich in the essence of the place. I have never been there but have enjoyed many of the foods from that part of the world. I love the deeply steeped tradition of the food. The Mediterranean has similar mystique to me and I can even boast one trip to Italy! Here elements of these cultural cuisines come together for interesting mezze.

 Grapes--this is a good time for domestic grapes

Goat Cheese--find a good one from the market (try the farmers' market)

Olives--from your market olive bar, these ought to be the briny olives

Caponata (kind of like Italian salsa)
1 large or 2 medium eggplants, cut into 1-inch to 1 1/2-inch thick lengthwise slices
Olive oil & salt
1 sweet pepper, roasted
1/2 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, pressed
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup capers
1 lemon, juiced and zested

Preheat the broiler in your oven. Place the eggplant on a baking sheet. Rub 1/2 tsp olive oil into each slice of eggplant and sprinkle with salt. Place the pepper on the baking sheet as well. Broil the eggplant and pepper until the pepper is uniformly charred and the eggplant is beginning to blister. Remove the pepper to an enclosed space (I use a recycled yogurt container with a lid). Cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes. Peel the cooled pepper and cut it into 1/2 inch pieces. Place 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large saute pan and place it over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot add the onion and 1/4 tsp salt and saute until the onion is translucent and a little brown. Add the eggplant, pepper, garlic, and tomatoes and stir to thoroughly combine and heat through. Stir in the vinegar, capers and lemon juice and zest. This may be made ahead of time and served at room temperature.

VEGAN NOTES: This dish is vegan.
GLUTEN NOTES: This dish is gluten-free.

14.5 oz can chickpeas (drain, place in bowl of water, rub to release skins)
1 Tbsp olive oil
7-8 olives
1 small lemon, juiced and zested
2 large cloves garlic, pressed
1/4 tsp cumin
Scant 1/2 tsp salt

Place the chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to break up. Add the remaining ingredients and process until the hummus is smooth. Scrape the sides down a couple of times during the processing. Chill before serving. If possible, make the hummus well ahead of time so that the flavors have a chance to marry. Adjust seasonings prior to serving.

VEGAN NOTES: This dish is vegan.
GLUTEN NOTES: This dish is gluten-free.

Lemon Roasted Almonds
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup roasted almonds
1 lemon, juiced and zested
Sea salt

Place a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and swirl to evenly distribute it on the bottom of the pan. Add the almonds and saute, stirring frequently, until the almonds are warm throughout. Add the lemon juice and zest and saute until the pan is dry. Remove the almonds from the heat and toss with the sea salt. Remove to a plate to cool completely.

VEGAN NOTES: This dish is vegan.
GLUTEN NOTES: This dish is gluten-free.

Lebanese Grilled Flatbread

Funny--I posted this recipe a couple of weeks ago and then made it again yesterday with a slightly different variation of the recipe. I am not sure but I think that I like this one better. It is crispier, uses less flour, and has a higher ratio of oil to flour and water.

2 cups/10 oz all purpose flour
1 cup/5 oz whole wheat flour (you could use all all purpose, but whole wheat adds a nice flavor)
2 Tbsp sugar/honey
2 tsp salt
2 tsp yeast
½ cup warm water
½ cup oil
1 egg, beaten

Stir the yeast, flours, sugar, and salt together or proof yeast in the water if necessary. Beat the wet ingredients together to emulsify and then stir into the flour mixture to form a rough dough. Kneed the dough for a couple of minutes. There is enough oil in the dough that it has never stuck to the kneeding surface in my experience. Form dough into a circle and cut it into six pieces. Allow the dough to rest, covered, for about ten minutes. Roll out each ball into a 1/8-inch thick round. Cook on a griddle pan or frying pan, which has been preheated over medium heat, until the dough blisters and begins to bubble. Keep cooked breads in a clean dishtowel until you are ready to serve them.

It was interesting to me to learn that in many parts of the world people cook their everyday bread without the oven concept that is so familiar to us in the States. Grilling bread does not produce the lift or “oven pop” that an oven brings, but does produce a lovely, and relatively quick, flatbread that pairs nicely with just about anything. Leftovers make great lunch pizzas the next day.

VEGAN NOTES: Use egg substitute of choice or make your own by combining 1 cup potato starch, 1/2 cup corn starch, 1/3 cup soy flour, 2 Tbsp baking powder, and 1 Tbsp xanthan gum. To reconstitute an "egg" measure 1 Tbsp + 2 tsp of this mix into a saute pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it smells toasty. Combine with 1 Tbsp water and 1 tsp soy lecithin (a little extra element I learned from Crescent Dragonwagon's "The Cornbread Gospels"). Mix into the recipe as you would an egg.

GLUTEN NOTES: Use all-purpose flour substitute (you can make your own by combining 2 parts rice flour, 2 parts potato starch, 1 part millet flour, and 1/2 part tapioca flour) and be sure to weigh this because it is denser than the all purpose flour--you will probably need only 3 1/4 cups or so but I have not weighed this for precision. Add 4 tsp xanthan gum with the flour. Be sure to use gluten-free baking powder.
© Katherine C. Otterstrom, August 2012

Friday, August 3, 2012

Update on Vegan Rice Crispy Treats

I posted a couple of weeks ago about very yummy dulce de leche rice crispy treats. I mentioned that a vegan version could be probably be made with brown rice syrup and vegan margarine. I finally tried it and it works just fine. Here is the recipe. Unfortunately Earth Balance vegan margarine has a strange soy aftertaste. This did not much deter my kiddos, who loved the treats right out of the pan, but it did kind of irritate me. I am not sure why vegan food makers seem so often to lose touch with the reality of taste. I guess that this bodes well for people who eat vegan foods exclusively because the flavor must just become a background note to which one becomes accustomed. As an occasional vegan I still find the soy taste an interruption in my enjoyment of the food. Nucoa makes a margarine that is vegan from all I can tell (it does not contain whey or casin as many do) but it has apparently experienced some difficulties with the transition to a new trans-fat free recipe. Sometimes thorough cooking helps with the soy flavor, so perhaps cooking the margarine further might help. I'm not sure. At any rate, here is the recipe.

1 cup brown rice syrup
4 Tbsp vegan margarine
6 cups/7.5 oz rice crispies
1/2 tsp kosher salt (optional)

Bring the syrup and margarine to a full boil and boil for five minutes. Stir in the rice crispies. Spread into a greased 9-inch by 13-inch pan and sprinkle with salt.

Menus--First of August

August is here and the Pacific Northwest is still so green. It's amazing, but I'm not sure when (or if!) my tomatoes will come into their red glory before the frost comes. I have hordes of green tomatoes but just a few reddening ones. Still, I'm optimistic. One simply has to be with tomatoes. The related angst is well compensated for in just-harvested, sweet-tangy fruits, and I find myself planting the plants with renewed optimism and anticipation each year regardless of how jaded I may have become following the previous first frost. I am hoping for the best with this batch of menus.

Direct-heat--Pan-fried tofu (you should try it), corn on the cob, biscuits, lettuce & tomato salad
Braise--Braised vegetables and beans, Parker House rolls, garlic roasted kale (my kids love this)
Cassarole--Lasagne and green salad
Pizza, etc.--Pizza with nut cheese, sundried tomatoes, and shaved zucchini, apples and peanut butter
Soup & Stew--Roasted vegetable & chickpea curry, jasmine rice
Noodle--Spaghetti Carbonara, green salad

This set of menus offers several opportunities for trying alternative proteins. The pan-fried tofu is really great, but you could pan-fry a chicken breast or pork cutlet as well. You could make a regular cheese and pepperoni pizza, but the nut cheese is suprisingly delicious and the shaved zucchini offers a surprisingly creamy, fresh element. My husband said that we ought to serve it for company sometime when I made it for him. In the curry I call for chickpeas. You could use prawns or some sort of other meat, but with the carbonara (a carnivorous treat!) the next day I decided to go for the plant in the curry.

Why the emphasis on plant-based foods? For general health and environmental responsibility, primarily. I and my family seem to feel better when we eat fewer animal proteins and fats. However, I do not feel that it is necessary to cut them out entirely. I try to live by a scriptural dietary recommendation that is known as the Word of Wisdom. This is the same scripture that is the basis of the lifestyle decisions of any teetotaling Mormons you may know. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a Mormon) I recognize the Word of Wisdom as inspired scripture; however, anyone can probably agree that adherence to its tenets would make him healthier. I feel that animal proteins and fats have their place in my whole diet; however, I try to ensure that they are not the primary focus of said diet. One side benefit of reducing my animal protein intake is that I can afford to purchase pastured, humanely raised meats, eggs, and milk products. They taste better, are often more nutritous, and I feel good knowing that my dietary choices did not require an animal to live an unnatural, restricted life. As Toad (of Frog & Toad by Arnold Lobel) said, "That is why!"

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Phad Thai, etc. Again + Photos

This is a perennial favorite of mine and my husband's. My children are suspicious of the noodles; however, my five-year-old is enamored over the sticky rice dipped in peanut sauce. This, at least, is something. I posted these dishes recently but now I have photographs to go with them so I am re-posting. Also, I found that I had not remembered rice noodles at the store (even though they were on my list!) so I substituted fettuccine. It was not authentic, but it was still tasty. We used rubbed tofu for our proten and this is now my new favorite way to infuse tofu with flavor, so that portion of the recipe is new.
The measurements for fish sauce, sugar, lime (today I used tamarind concentrate--it is good but potent--a tablespoon will do to start), and spice should be tweeked to suit your liking. I like a fairly strong fish sauce presence. Reduce the amount slightly if you dislike fish. But do use fish sauce. It is critical to obtaining that Thai flavor you want.

Phad Thai
3 limes, juiced OR 1 Tbsp tamarind concentrate
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
½-2 tsp curry paste (I like red or massaman curry pastes for Phad Thai--I used green today-hot!)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
8-10 oz thin rice stick noodles (flat, not thread noodles)
1 pound prawns OR beef sirloin OR chicken OR 8 oz extra firm tofu
1 Tbsp white sugar
3 Tbsp soy sauce
(FOR TOFU: omit previous two ingredients--combine 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp curry powder and rub into drained tofu. Sit, uncovered, in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Cut into cubes before proceeding with recipe)
3 eggs, beaten lightly with a bit of salt
1 medium shallot or onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, pressed
2 Tbsp dried shrimp, minced (worth visiting your favorite Asian grocery to find, these are also sometimes available in the Mexican spice section of the grocery store)
Garnish options:
1 handful dry-roasted peanuts, chopped coarse
1 cucumber, peeled and julienned OR 1 cup bean sprouts
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped coarse
Lime wedges

Cover the noodles with lukewarm water and set aside for 20-30 minutes or until pliable. Combine lime juice/tamarind concentrate, fish sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, curry paste, and 1 Tbsp oil and set aside.  Combine beef or chicken, soy sauce, and sugar and marinate at least 10 minutes. Drain noodles and set aside.

Heat wok or large frying pan over high heat and add 1 Tbsp oil to pan. Add steak, chicken, or tofu in batches so that the pieces do not touch one another.  Cook without stirring for approximately one minute.  Turn the protein and cook other side for around 30 seconds.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Turn down heat to medium. Remove pan from heat and add another Tbsp of oil and the shallots or onion. Stir fry until shallots become translucent and very fragrant and then add the garlic. Add eggs to pan and stir fry until the eggs are set. Remove the eggs to the plate with the protein.

Increase the temperature to medium-high. Add the noodles, the sauce, and the dried shrimp, and toss to coat evenly. Kitchen tongs are a really helpful tool for tossing noodles. Spread the noodles evenly across the pan to allow them to absorb the lime sauce, tossing frequently, until the noodles are soft and the sauce begins to caramelize on the bottom of the pan. Return the protein and eggs to the pan and toss to combine. Top with garnishes and serve immediately with a wedge of lime.

VEGAN NOTES: This is a great option for individuals who are following a vegan diet. Simply omit the dried shrimp and egg, substitute vegetarian fish sauce (available in Asian markets or on the internet) for the regular fish sauce, and use tofu for the protein.

GLUTEN NOTES: This recipe is gluten free.

Cucumber Pickle
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
2-3 Tbsp finely chopped onion or shallot
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 large OR 2 medium cucumbers, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick

Combine the water, rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring these to a simmer. Simmer for three minutes to allow the mixture to thicken slightly. Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl and pour the sugar syrup over all. Cool and serve with Phad Thai. This is probably not an authentic pairing, but it is very tasty.

VEGAN NOTES: This recipe is vegan.
GLUTEN NOTES: This recipe is gluten free.
Sticky Rice
2-3 cups (I always make extra) Thai glutinous (long grain sticky) rice

Cover the rice with water in a bowl and allow it to sit overnight or at least 8 hours. Place water in the bottom of your multi pot and place the steamer insert over this. Line the steamer with a muslin dish cloth. Drain the rice and pour the rice into the steaming basket. Cover with the lid and the cloth (make sure the cloth is well away from the burner). Bring to simmer and steam the rice for 1/2-hour or until tender. Serve with peanut sauce. The cool thing about this rice is that you can actually form it into little balls with your fingers.

VEGAN NOTES: This recipe is vegan.
GLUTEN NOTES: This recipe is gluten free.

Thai Peanut Sauce
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon red curry paste
1 lime, juiced
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons fish sauce 

Place coconut milk in a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high heat.  Whisk in curry paste and cook until red oil separates and rises.  Add lime juice, sugar, peanut butter, and fish sauce and stir until smooth.

VEGAN NOTES: Substitute vegetarian fish sauce (available in Asian markets or on the internet) for the regular fish sauce.

GLUTEN NOTES: This recipe is gluten free.
© Katherine C. Otterstrom, August 2012