Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Groovy Gravy

My son, Adam's, girlfriend (Katie) is a vegetarian...and he's had other vegetarian girlfriends, so I'm used to this. Actually, I am quite excited because I LOVE making vegetarian meals! My other guys are definitely carnivores and think that MEAT HAS TO BE part of every meal. But I do love the occasional meatless fare. I would eat 2-3 meatless meals a week if I were truly in charge. But I'm not. So I have to content  myself with sharing meatless meals with Katie. Now, Katie doesn't ask for Tofurkey for Thanksgiving - thank goodness - because I'm not quite sure how I would do that. So I make extra veggies, I use vegetable broth in the dressing (but don't tell the others!), and I do make her some vegetarian gravy to pour over the mashed potatoes.

How do you make vegetarian gravy? Well, it's easy-peasy!

While I definitely make gravy from the turkey drippings, for the carnivores, I've kinda made up this recipe for NON-TURKEY gravy over the past few years...and I think it's delicious! Here's what I do!

Vegetarian Gravy

1/2 cup finely diced onions
1/2 cup finely diced mushrooms (I usually use the white button, but you can experiment)
2-3 Tablespoons butter
2 cups (or 1 can) vegetable broth
1 cube vegetarian boullion (available at any grocery store!)
1/2 Teaspoon onion powder
1/2 Teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 Teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Approximately 3 Tablespoons lightly-browned flour *

* First, make the browned flour: put 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour into a small heavy skillet on medium-low heat. Stir constantly. Note - no oil, butter or anything - this is a DRY skillet. You will find it starts to turn after several minutes. You want a nice LIGHT caramel color - if you get past light caramel, it will turn bitter so err on the side of too light. It will continue to brown after you turn the burner off. Set aside.

In a medium skillet, melt the butter and add the onions and mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are opaque. Add the browned flour, stirring constantly. SLOWLY add the vegetable broth, a little at a time, until each addition is incorporated. Add the vegetarian boullion, onion powder, garlic powder, and pepper. Continue to stir about 5 minutes until the gravy is nice and thick.

This gravy is delicious whether you are a vegetarian or not. Give it a try!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Crockpot Thanksgiving Dressing

Want a fuss-free Thanksgiving Dressing recipe? This makes a moist, fluffy dressing that is neither baked in the turkey nor in a casserole in the oven. Using a crockpot means freeing up precious oven space as well as not having to scoop dressing out of the turkey after dinner (and is also safer than putting the dressing in the turkey). This recipe was in the little booklet that came with my Rival 5-qt. crockpot many years ago. Since trying it, it's the only dressing I've made ever since - my family won't let me try anything else on the theory that if the dressing ain't broke, don't mess with the dressing :-)

I wish I had a photo for you - I'll try to remember to take some pics this year and add them later.

This recipe fits in either a 3-4 qt. or 5 qt. crockpot - I always use the 5 qt. If I make it for a "regular" family dinner, I use the amounts listed below; if I make it for Thanksgiving or a potluck, or want leftovers, I double the recipe HOWEVER I use the same amount of butter and broth (not double it).

I do have one caveat: I've given this recipe to many people, particularly where I used to work. They all loved my dressing and recognized that "the green crockpot" at our work Thanksgiving potluck was THE dressing to aim for, and get in line early! But most of the people I gave the recipe to have not been able to successfully replicate it. I think I've troubleshooted most of their problems and included them in the recipe.

Crockpot Dressing

Double this recipe to completely fill a 5 qt. crockpot, but note the instructions for the butter and broth.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margaine (but really...butter....I don't even have margarine in my house! IF YOU DOUBLE THE RECIPE, DO NOT DOUBLE THE BUTTER - use just 1 cup)
2 cups chopped celery (about 1/4" dice)
2 cups chopped onion (about 1/4" dice)
1/4 cup chopped parsley (I have used dried in a pinch, but fresh is best)
2 4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, drained (I wasn't sure I would like this the first time, but it's delicious!)
12-13 cups bread cubes (I use a combination of breads depending on what I have on hand. Cheap bread is ok, but I always use a combination of white and wheat. Stack 2-3 slices and cut with a serrated bread knife OR use an electric knife. Try not to squish/crush the bread. DO NOT USE BAGGED, DRIED BREAD CUBES! And do not dry the bread first, although "old" bread can be used as long as it's not all dried out)
1 slightly heaping teaspoon pountry seasoning
1/2 level teaspoon each salt and pepper (If I double the recipe, I use 1 teaspoon pepper but only about 3/4 teaspoon salt)
1 1/2 slightly heaping teaspoons dried sage
1  teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 slightly heaping teaspoon dried marjoram
2 eggs, beaten
About 2 cups chicken or turkey broth (IF YOU DOUBLE THE RECIPE, DO NOT DOUBLE THE BROTH)

Note: if you want to get some of the preparation out of the way ahead of time, you can cube the bread and store in a plastic bag, and chop the onion and celery and store in the fridge.

Melt butter in skillet and saute onion, celery, and parsley until onions are opaque. Add the mushrooms and seasonings and stir well. Put the bread cubes in a very large bowl. Pour the sauteed mixture over the bread cubes. Pour the beaten eggs over. Add about 1 cup broth. Stir GENTLY - sliding a large spoon or rubber scraper down the sides of the bowl and lifting (folding) the ingredients just until mixed. Add more broth if it seems dry. Carefully turn the mixture into the crockpot and sprinkle any remaining broth over the top - DO NOT PACK DOWN - DO NOT STIR. Cover and cook on High for 45 minutes; then turn to Low and cook 4-6 hours. The dressing will rise up (the eggs act as a leavening agent). DO NOT STIR while it's cooking! If you go the full 6 hours, it may develop a crust on the sides, but some people like the crusty part.

I think the problems people I've given the recipe to have had are mostly because they tried to shortcut by using bagged, dried bread (even though I told them NOT to!), they mixed it too much, and/or they stirred it while it cooked. Made according to my instructions, this dressing is beautiful - you can identify all the separate ingredients (in other words, it's not just a brown mush). And it's fluffy, moist, and yummy!

I've also made this dressing for roast beef dinners by using beef broth and changing up the seasonings a bit to better go with beef. Happy Thanksgiving!