All Aboard the Gravy Train

If I’ve learned anything over the course of 30+ Thanksgivings, it’s that you can never have too much gravy. While battles could be fought over canned or fresh cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts or green beans, everyone agrees that the standard serving size for gravy is about a pint per person. No matter what’s on the menu, it’s always much more palatable when swimming in a pool of this savory sauce.

In my early years as a newly minted vegan, I distinctly remember my first tentative meals with the extended family. It was a classic situation where misunderstandings meant there was chicken stock in the rice, butter in the roasted vegetables, and of course not a scrap of plant-based protein to be seen. Prepared to fend for myself, I did come armed with the one thing I knew would enhance any meal: gravy.

Though simple, made from sauteed onions and blended chickpeas, it was a golden elixir that brightened everything on the plate. My only mistake was offering to share because as soon as it hit the table, the pitcher was dry as a bone. Even my picky, omnivorous family who would never dream of forsaking the traditional spread drank down every drop. After that, I learned to at least double, if not triple, my gravy contribution.

My cooking has evolved considerably since then, resulting in a much more complex gravy that’s even easier to whip up. Adding in volumes of umami flavor with a little pinch, Sugimoto shiitake mushroom powder is the ace up my sleeve. Like whole dried shiitake mushroom caps, this miraculous seasoning gains even greater depth when allowed to soak overnight, which makes it an ideal candidate for including in my greatest make-ahead gravy.

Becoming more flavorful the longer it sits, this gravy is your new best friend for Thanksgiving. Prepare it well in advance of the main meal so you don’t need to worry about such a critical component when the day of the big feast arrives. It can scale up almost infinitely, as leftovers keep like a dream. Since there is genuinely no such thing as too much gravy, you won’t regret making this investment in culinary currency.

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How Does Your Garden Glow?

Bursting with unlimited culinary potential, the hardest part of cooking with fresh produce is to simply let it shine. Don’t over-think it! Good taste comes naturally, fresh from the garden, in colors as bold as the flavors within. That’s the premise behind Garden of Flavor, cold-pressed juices from down-to-earth folks that stubbornly believe in quality over unnecessary complexity.

That approach makes a real difference you can taste with just one sip. Certified organic, nothing comes from concentrates, there’s no added sugar, and not a hint of preservatives to be found.

Of course, keeping it simple doesn’t have to mean you’re getting a raw deal. After drinking down a bottle of the Twisted Roots blend for the umpteenth time, it struck me as the ideal base for an unconventional pasta sauce that still bears all the nostalgic comfort of simple Sunday sauce.

Believe it or not, this bolognese has neither meat nor tomatoes, yet it’s not missing a thing in terms of taste. No nightshades needed with this rich sauce, singing of highly aromatic herbs and savory seasonings. Beets and carrots build a solid foundation that can support any noodle in need, be it wheat, bean-based, zucchini, or more.

Omit the nuts for a simple marinara, puree to slather it on pizza, layer it in for lasagnas, add extra juice to soup it up, or add a splash of coconut milk for a creamier concoction.

From garden to table, naturally, it doesn’t get any better.

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Awesome Sauce

This is not an industrial experiment in food science, jealously guarded mystery ingredients bubbling right below the surface, but there is an extraordinary story in the mix.

Hudson Green, named for the fertile Hudson Valley region, is truly a homegrown operation. Founded by chef Marie Rama and her son, Will Reiter, two Italian classics take shape from some unexpected sources. The heart and soul that goes into every bottle is every bit as important as the vegetables and herbs.

After a lifetime in the food industry, Marie draws from experience as a pastry chef, a cookbook author, and a spokesperson for national food companies, to bring the boldest, truest flavors to the table, but there’s more to it than that. After her husband nearly suffered a heart attack, the whole family was forced to reevaluate their plates. Plant-based, nutrient-rich, and flavorful, the invention of a Meatless Bolognese that could rival that of any loving Nonna’s was nothing short of a personal revelation. Recognizing the unmet need for rich flavors without compromise, all it took was a carefully calibrated formula of caramelized onions, cauliflower, mushrooms, and walnuts to satisfy the craving for comestible comfort.

From that resounding success, a vegan version of luscious Velvet Vodka sauce was a natural sequel hit. Coconut milk, rather than butter or cream, creates that silky, sumptuous texture, with a measured dose of nutritional yeast for irresistible umami taste.

With every bottle, chef Rama reasserts her commitment to making plant-based sauces without adding sugar, chemicals, or preservatives. She explains: “We use only real food, and we source the finest ingredients, regardless of price. Those deliberate choices make us a premium sauce. We don’t compare or compete with common, watery marinaras. There are plenty of those!”

You’d know from the first bite that this is no mere red sauce with a pretty label. Long-simmered tomatoes, concentrated down to their pure sweet, savory essence are just the start. Easily rivaling anything on the menu at a high-end trattoria or osteria, it’s a recipe that even your grandmother would approve of. Just twirl your fork around another undulating tangle of noodles, nod your head, and savor the moment.

Locally produced, universally beloved. You can get your fix nationwide through Amazon.com, too.

This review was made possible as a collaboration with Hudson Green. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice

One week into autumn, and I already feel like I’ve overdosed on pumpkin spice lattes. Granted, my tolerance for the intensely sweet, largely over-hyped drink is far lower than the average enthusiast, but it doesn’t help that it’s already been perking up coffee shop menus while summer was still in full swing. Is it just me, or has the #PSL craze died down a bit this time around? Fewer rants, fewer raves; love it or hate it, I fear we may have collectively reached peak pumpkin spice.

I tease about the fervor every year, but I do still enjoy a strong cuppa myself. The trouble comes when it transforms into other foods and products that should never bear the orange hue. Please, just keep it out of my lip balm, cough drops, and… pet shampoo, at least! Is that really so much to ask?

Still, the overall attraction is undeniable. It’s hard to beat the comfortingly familiar, creamy espresso eye-opener adored worldwide to begin with. Add in an extra dose of sweetness, a touch of nostalgic spice, and the health halo associated with pumpkin itself, to say nothing of the beautiful latte art possibilities, and you’ve got yourself a viral social media hit. When the hype starts to wear a bit thin, though, I have a small tweak that will revive your enthusiasm over the usual brew.

Chai spice, bearing a brighter, bolder palate emphasizing ginger, cardamom, and a pinch of black pepper, makes a strong argument for skipping the one-note cinnamon seasoning typically on standard order. While the most popular (and some would argue original) purveyor of pumpkin spice lattes doesn’t even offer a dairy free option, it’s effortless to whip up a big batch of this spicy pumpkin sauce to flavor not only coffee, but drizzle over ice cream, swirl into cheesecake, and dip into with crisp apples all season long.

Happily, you’ll have plenty to play with, as this recipe does make a big batch indeed. Halve quantities if you must, but once you take your first sweet, invigorating sip, you’ll end up just going back in the kitchen to make more later.

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Plum the Depths

Growing up in New England, with its characteristically rocky soil, temperamental weather, and a deeply shaded backyard, I envied those who could grow their own fruits. Even mundane produce selections like lemons or apples seemed like an exotic rarity when they could be pulled straight from the tree. To bemoan such abundance was unthinkable, but mild complaints became inevitably woven into every conversation with such lucky gardeners. Irrepressibly messy, dropping fruit and attracting all manner of vermin, the problem sounded like one of laziness to me. Just don’t let the precious harvest fall in the first place!

Oh, how naive I was.

Now that I have a plum tree in my own backyard, that tiny square plot of land has turned into a battlefield overnight. Blood-red splatters stain the concrete while sticky pits cling to the tall grasses. Swarms of flies delight in the detritus, although they’re just as happy to follow me inside at the slightest provocation. Short of putting a net across the entire property, catching this downpour of plums would be impossible. While this was a mild irritation in summers past, the situation is considerably more exasperating now that Luka patrols the grounds.

Pouncing on these treats as soon as they’re within reach, he’ll happily eat himself sick, and then just keep on eating once again. He devours them whole, pits and all; a choking hazard that gives me regular panic attacks. The growing season has only just begun and I’m already dreading peak plum production.

Out of fear and frustration, I viciously pruned back the offending branches, ripping off every last plum I could get my hands on. Almost all of the fruit was still immature; bright green, hard, and unbearably sour. Though unpleasant to eat out of hand, I nonetheless struggled to simply pitch them into the compost bin. Sure, they could be pickled, but then what do you do with them? A bit of Google sleuthing pulled up a new flavor sensation I had never encountered before, hailing from the Eurasian country of Georgia.

Tart, tangy, warmly spiced, and herbaceous, tkemali can be found in both red and green varieties, depending on the plums themselves, but is always an assertive staple for both cooking and seasoning. Some use it at the table like ketchup, but I found it best as a marinade and sauce for cooking. Slather some seitan in this vibrant elixir, saute, and serve alongside rice pilaf for an effortless meal. Stir into soups and stew to instantly brighten up the flavor, no matter how long it’s been simmering. My favorite use so far has been with simple roasted potatoes, baked until crisp, bursting with the brightness of this distinctive sour blend.

Desperate measures never tasted so good.

Yield: 3 Cups

Green Tkemali (Georgian Sour Plum Sauce)

Green Tkemali (Georgian Sour Plum Sauce)

Tart, tangy, warmly spiced, and herbaceous, tkemali can be used at the table like ketchup, but truly excels as a marinade and sauce for cooking. Slather some seitan in this vibrant elixir, saute, and serve alongside rice pilaf for an effortless meal.

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 2 seconds
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes 2 seconds

Ingredients

  • 2 Pounds Unripe Green Plums
  • 1 Whole Meyer Lemon, Seeded
  • 1/3 Cup Fresh Cilantro
  • 1/4 Cup Fresh Dill
  • 8 Cloves Garlic
  • 2 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 3/4 Teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin

Instructions

  1. Place the plums in a large stock pot and cover with cold water. Set over medium heat on the stove, cover with a lid, and bring to a boil. Cook for just about a minute before turning off the heat and uncovering. Let sit until cool enough to handle; about 30 minutes. Drain out the water and prepare to get messy.
  2. The plums will be very soft, so simply use your hands to squeeze out the pits and stems, removing the skin as well if it comes off easily. Transfer the flesh to your blender, along with all of the remaining ingredients. (Yes, you’re blending that lemon, skin, pith, and all!) Puree until smooth.
  3. Pour the mixture back into the stock pot and set over low heat. Simmer gently for 45 – 60 minutes, until thickened to the consistency of loose ketchup. Cool completely before storing in glass jars in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

3

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 167Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 709mgCarbohydrates: 41gFiber: 6gSugar: 31gProtein: 3g

Planting the Seed to Sweet Success

Milk candy, milk jam, dulce de leche, or just plain caramel: Comparisons are easily made, but thick and creamy cajeta is truly a step above all the other simple burnt sugar toppings out there.

Inspired by Brian Huston, my take on this classic milk confection is a modern departure from the typical goat milk base. He is a BlueStar All-Star chef, so I knew this basic formula would be the best place to start my recipe experiment. (In case you don’t know about BlueStar, they are makers of restaurant-quality kitchen appliances for the home chef. They are based in the U.S. and can offer lots of great customization options! Click here for more information.)

Rather than just swap out the milk for a standard non-dairy alternative, I wanted to start from scratch with whole sunflower seeds. Why sunflower, of all things? I’ve found them to be fairly neutral in flavor when raw, and by using the whole seed, the resulting blend would be plenty rich from those natural fats- No need to add any oils to compensate for a leaner dairy-free drink.

Cajeta takes a bit of patience to perfect, but very little actual work. It’s kitchen alchemy at its best, seeing that pale, unexciting liquid transform into a thick, decadent, caramelized topping. In fact, mine became substantial enough to even use as a spread once fully cooled. Although it was highly tempting to use this golden milk jam as an indulgent new peanut butter sandwich filling, I took Mr. Huston’s suggestion in making a sweet cajeta sundae instead.

Of course, I substituted additional sunflower seeds for the recommended peanuts, since it only seemed right to match. It may be tough to see the pool of cajeta at the bottom of the glass here, but the beauty of this caramel accompaniment is that a little bit really does go a long way! No matter how you drizzle or slather it on, it’s hard to go wrong with such a versatile dessert topping.

Girasol Cajeta (Sunflower Caramel Sauce)

4 Cups Warm Water
1 Cup Raw Sunflower Seeds
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Combine the water and sunflower seeds well in advance, and allow the seeds to soak for about 4 hours. This will soften them and allow them to blend much more easily than if they were simply raw. Transfer the mixture to your blender, and thoroughly puree until perfectly smooth. If you’re using a lower-powered machine, pass the resulting sunflower milk through a sieve to catch any remaining grit, discarding the solids.

Pour the fresh sunflower seed milk into a large stock pot and introduce the sugar, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Whisk thoroughly to incorporate before setting the pot over medium heat on the stove. Slowly bring the mixture up to a boil, whisking periodically. Keep a close eye on the mixture at this point, because it can go from inactive to an overflowing bubbly mess in two seconds flat!

Reduce the heat to medium low and continue cooking at a gentle simmer, whisking frequently, as the milk cooks down and gradually darkens in color. After about 30 minutes, it will be especially important to keep stirring so the milk doesn’t burn on the bottom. Be sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan to prevent anything from sticking. Add in the vanilla extract at this point.

After another 30 – 40 minutes, the mixture should be a deep amber brown and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove the pan from the heat and cool for at least 5 minutes before serving, or let cool completely before storing in an air-tight container. Stashed in the fridge, the cajeta will keep for up to 2 weeks.

Makes About 1 Cup

Printable Recipe

This post was sponsored by BlueStar. All opinions, photos, and recipes are completely my own.