A Weekly Menu, Purple Rice, and the Secret to Lump-Free Gravy

Last week might not have gone exactly as planned (two nights of take-out, oops!) but for a first week back after vacation, it went as well as it could have!

OTP 11-16-11-22

Monday: Chicken & Egg Breakfast Pie with Caesar Salad
We hadn’t had quiche in a while and this recipe from Jody Wagstaff sounded like a good one to try. I had a pie crust cooling its heels in the freezer and picked up some fried chicken (what I thought would be the last of our vacation indulgences) at the grocery store for lunch and used the rest in the pie. Not being big edamame fans, I used green peas instead and used some herbed cream cheese we had in the fridge. The cruise reminded me just how much I missed a good Caesar salad, so I grabbed a salad kit and added some tomatoes and bacon to it.

Tuesday: Taco Salads
A perfect use for leftovers, we still had a ton of tortilla chips and cheddar cheese from the Halloween party, so I whipped up these taco salads to with seasoned ground beef, my sweet potato refried bean substitute, and some homemade guacamole. I could almost eat this every night, except that sushi holds that honor.

Wednesday: Chinese Buffet
There’s just something about my annual check-up that makes me want to do absolutely nothing afterwards. So dinner plans got scrapped for a nap and then a trip to the local Chinese buffet when Todd finally made it home from work. I regret nothing!

Thursday: Garlic Shrimp & Orzo with Roasted Acorn Squash
This was supposed to be Garlic Shrimp and Quinoa from As Easy As Apple Pie but something icky happened inside the quinoa bag (it just didn’t look right) and I pulled a last-minute switch to avoid another take-out night. It all turned out okay but I might give this one another shot when I’ve restocked.

Friday: Slow-Cooker Lasagna Soup
Tomato-based soups are often hit-or-miss with me, but this one from Culinary Hill sounded worth the try and we really liked it. I think I used too mild of a sausage, though, because it was a little on the tame side, not quite lasagna-y enough. But it was a good soup for a chilly night, and Todd asked for seconds, so there ya go!

Saturday: Sonic 
We’d spend the day running errands and I was already a little tired when I went into the kitchen. But when the kitchen light wouldn’t come on (it’s temperamental when it’s cold) and one of the pots I needed was still soaking in the sink, I took it as a sign to not cook. Todd had been craving Sonic so we went and picked up supper and caught up on more television we missed while on the cruise.

Sunday: Pork Chops with Roasted Butternut Squash, Purple Rice, and Greens Salad
But we finished the week strong! The pork chops were roasted alongside the butternut squash and then topped with a Peach Barbecue Sauce we picked up on Saturday. I based the side dish on the Roasted Sweet Potato, Wild Rice, and Arugula Salad from Pinch of Yum with lots of substitutions. It sounded like a perfect use for the purple rice (see below), and we had the butternut squash in the freezer. My arugula went bad between buying it on Monday and serving it on Sunday, so I used the green leaf lettuce Todd picked up earlier in the day and I’ll be headed to the store after work tonight to replace it. Dinner can always be saved, except on the nights I don’t want it to be 😉

Purple Rice?

After leaving the ship last weekend we headed over to Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) so I could get a mini-Disney fix while we were in the area. One of the new (at least I think it’s new) shops is the Tea and Spice Exchange, where I picked up a couple of teas (bringing the total count of chais in this house to 5, I may have a bit of a problem…) and a bag of Thai Purple Sticky Rice. It was just so different, I had to give it a try.

No-Buy November wasn't such a great idea, with a vacation in the middle!

No-Buy November wasn’t such a great idea, with a vacation in the middle!

The label says it’s often used in desserts, but I didn’t notice a lot of inherent sweetness. It’s definitely purple and stays purple after being cooked (could possible stain, so beware), but has a nutty flavor that makes it a good substitute for wild rice, like in the recipe above. I have about half a cup left after last night’s dinner, so I’ll have to dry something sweet with it to really see how it shines.

And, finally, with Thanksgiving on the horizon for those of us in the US, I’d like to offer a tip to avoid a persistent, annoying problem around the holidays: lumpy gravy. This trick also works on any hot liquid that needs thickening, be it a soup, stew, sauce, or the ubiquitous gravy.

Introducing: The Slurry

Sounds kinda icky on the surface, but a slurry is simply a mixture of starch and cold water. The cold water is the key. Chances are you’ve followed a recipe in the past that included “thicken with cornstarch” or something to that effect. Only, when you add cornstarch (or any other starch) to a hot liquid, the starch clumps up and refuses to play nice. Why? Because starches, when wet, gelatinize. Or, in other words, they absorb water and swell up, which is how their thickening power works. The application of heat accelerates, or in some cases, activates this reaction, which is how you get lumps in your gravy. So if you first dissolve he starch in a bit of cold water you can safely add it to your hot soup or gravy without causing clumps!

Our go-to slurry solution.

Our go-to slurry solution.

We keep a small mustard jar in the drainboard for whenever a slurry is required. Add a little water, the required starch, screw on the lid and shake it up. That’s all there is to it!

A word about starch selection.

Cornstarch is probably the most common starch called for in thickening situations. It’s readily available in most pantries and pretty cheap. It also takes about 5 minutes of cooking, on average, to both thicken the liquid in question and lose that raw starch taste. Other starches that can be used include potato starch, tapioca starch, and arrowroot. You might need to look in the organic or special diets section of your grocery store to find them, but they all work quite well if you or someone you’re feeding is allergic to corn. Another benefit to using arrowroot, and this is something I learned when I was getting into wheat-free cooking a few years back, is that arrowroot thickens quicker than cornstarch (and can do so without heat), does not cloud your soup or gravy, and is the most easily digested starch out there.

So go forth and eat well, and save yourself some lumpy gravy!

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