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!

52 thoughts on “A Weekly Menu, Purple Rice, and the Secret to Lump-Free Gravy

  1. Heather says:

    I think that purple rice would be great in a rice pudding – I think my kids would get a kick out of it! They love anything purple. We end up growing purple peppers, purple carrots, and purple green beans in the summer 🙂 I didn’t know Downtown Disney changed the name, either. I haven’t been since my oldest turned one (6 years ago), but with two other littles now, I think we will have to plan a trip soon!

    1. Scraps says:

      That was one of the recommendations. I may have to make a small batch to try. Even with the construction still going on I think Disney Springs is still worth a visit. The new shops are really interesting and I’m sure it’s going to be amazing when it’s complete!

    1. Scraps says:

      They also had red rice (I’ve seen that in other shops before) and a green rice that was flavored with bamboo that looked interesting!

    1. Scraps says:

      Gravy is one of those so simple it’s tough things. When you go to cook your turkey (or chicken, etc.), take the neck and giblets and put them in a pot with enough water to cover by an inch or so, some salt, pepper, onion if you want, and a bay leaf. Maybe some savory if you have it on hand. Let it simmer while you work on the rest of dinner. Remove the neck and giblets once they’re cooked through (you can chop up the organ meats and put them back into the gravy as intentional “lumps” later, or not) and the bay leaf and onion, add some of the drippings from the roasting pan, then thicken.

    1. Scraps says:

      As long as it works for you, sometimes planning can be stressful instead of helpful. Still, I couldn’t function without a meal plan–I’d never know what to shop for!

  2. tarametblog says:

    You can never have enough tea! I actually have three shelves in my pantry to tea, so definitely an addiction. I actually spotted the Tea and Spice Exchange when I was at Disney Springs the other week, but couldn’t go in since I had my tired twins with me. I’m heading to Epcot with just my husband for my birthday in December though so hopefully I can go there then.

  3. Laura O'Neill (@LauraOinAK) says:

    I don’t think I have eaten purple rice before. I’ll have to check it out soon as I love experimenting in the kitchen.

    And, the slurry is the ONLY way to make a gravy. Even then, you have to watch out for lumps.

  4. Winifred Jac says:

    I have been wanting to go to my fav restaurant for tacos for a while now… just reading the word taco is torture. Lol. I love quiches or breakfast pie, like you called it, with lots of cheese and veggies.

    1. Scraps says:

      I hope you get your taco fix soon! Our favorite Mexican place downtown has been closed for renovations since the beginning of summer and I’m impatient for them to reopen.

  5. ohnikkashae says:

    Yummy purple rice?!?! I would to try this!!! My girls would get a kick out of this!! We are always looking for new recipes!!

  6. Kirsten Maxwell (@kidsareatrip) says:

    Great tip about the slurry. I never make gravy, but I have always heard complaints about lumpy gravy. This would certainly help. The purple rice sounds delicious too. I’m going to look for that the next time I head to the store.

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