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Your Soon-to-be Famous Mushroom Gravy

Growing up, my Mom made a divine mushroom gravy but once a year. That day was usually Rosh Hashanah, when our house ran wild with rambunctious children who, quite literally, climbed the walls. (My cousin had an unusual talent for doorway climbing.) For a few brief moments we kids were seated for dinner at a card table added to the end of the heftier legitimate table. I was seated only between frequent trips to the buffet for more of that unforgettable mushroom gravy.

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By the time I had graduated from the kids’ table I was vegetarian, and suddenly that gravy was even more integral to my holiday repast. I ladled gobs of the stuff over chewy barley noodles and sundry side dishes while the rest of the family spooned it upon the “roast.”

I had no veg roast at those family dinners as I came late to many vegan staples like Tofurky. Somehow I lived 30 years without even laying eyes on one! When that day finally arrived, I immediately took notice of the mushroom gravy recipe on the side of the box (originally from The Tofu Cookery by Louise Hagler.) It had been years since Mom had made her famous gravy, so my nostalgic palate was ready._MG_1019

Over the last ten years I’ve worked hard to find the perfect amalgamation of Mom’s gravy and that of the Tofu Cookery. Many a gathering from New York to Cleveland has sampled these attempts, and fortunately every rendition has been a resounding hit. One midwest Thanksgiving I received the props every vegan covets- the gravy was ranked as best dish (at a very impressive table) by an omnivore. I think my aspiring chef ex-mother in law was vaguely annoyed.

My mom’s gravy was a brothy one. That was her intention, but I do recall my plate taking on the appearance of soup. On the other hand, I’ve never liked thick, creamy gravies, so the one you find here is a  compromise- thick enough to stick to your Tofurky/Field Roast etc but not so thick that a fork will stand up in it. In my opinion, that’s what your mashed potatoes are for. Which, by the way, are the perfect vehicle for this gravy. But if you like super thick gravies, no problem,  just use more flour in the roux.

Before roux & nooch

Before roux & nutritional yeast

After adding roux. Just the right thickness.

After adding roux and nooch. Just the right thickness.

This past weekend I brought a batch of our recipe along with cranberry sauce to my friends’ annual pre-Thanksgiving feast. All of which, is vegan, of course. The hosts are fabulous cooks- the hostess is famous for killer mashed potatoes, the host for an unbelievable all-from-scratch un-turkey. The event truly yields a cornucopia of delicacies. In addition our hosts’ talents, the rest of the group really brings it when it comes to potlucks. (Scroll below the recipe for some more snapshots from the evening)

Because the un-turkey was running a bit late, we began our feast with the dishes guests brought- pumpkin breads, mashed potatoes, several versions of mac & cheese, brussels sprouts, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, garlicky kale, baked tofu, cranberries, salads, etc…

Just a small section of the buffet.

Just a small section of one of the buffet tables.

Nick's famous un-Turkey from scratch: Homemade seitan & yuba skin, delicious stuffing.

The famous un-turkey from scratch: Homemade seitan & yuba skin, delicious stuffing. See the steam rising? It was delectable.

So when the gorgeous un-turkey emerged from the kitchen, every drop of gravy had already been consumed. It was no tragedy, however, the un-turkey was so succulent it needed no adornments. But bottom line, the gravy was once again a smash. As will you be when you make it. So get cooking!

When possible, I cook gluten-free for crowds because I know a lot of gluten-intolerant or sensitive folks, thus I’ve used brown rice flour for the roux. And I find it doesn’t lump.

I generally use all fresh herbs in this recipe, but if you can’t find fresh rosmary, thyme and sage, (sorry, no parsley here!) you can definitely get away with 1 fresh, the other 2 dried. It’s more complex with all 3 fresh, but it will still be phenomenal with just fresh rosemary.

You’ll need two pans here. I tend to make the roux in a small pan and do the rest in a huge one.

Giant pan works best for this.

Giant pan works best for this.

A note on cleaning all those mushrooms: some people are under the false impression that you can’t clean mushrooms with water. They’re wrong! You won’t want to wet them in advance, but right before using them, it’s no problem. Here’s a good method. Get a large bowl, dump the shrooms in, then pour water over them. Submerge them a few times, rinse, repeat. You get the vast majority of dirt off in one fell swoop, then touch up with a towel as you’re cutting. Easy.

My method of mushroom cleaning. To the chagrin of my ex-mother in law.

My method of mushroom cleaning. To the chagrin of my ex-mother in law.

Mushroom Gravy
Adapted from Tofu Cookery, Louise Hagler
Enough to feed a large group (10-25, depending on how much they like gravy!)

Ingredients:
2 pkgs. mushrooms, sliced (together, 16-20 oz) : I suggest 1 white button, 1 crimini
1/2 Cup sliced onions
3 Tbsp Olive oil, divided
1/4 Cup brown rice flour
4 cups vegetable stock
2 Tbsp soy sauce
4 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
About 5 fresh sage leaves, chopped (more if you really dig sage)
2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
2 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast
1/4 tsp black pepper

Method:

Lightly sauté the onions in 1 Tbsp olive oil for about a minute in a large pan. Add the sliced mushrooms and incorporate. Add the stock, along with the soy sauce, herbs and black pepper. Lower the flame while you make your roux.

In a small pan, make the roux. Combine and bubble the flour and 2 Tbsp olive oil over low heat for one minute. Scrape the roux into the larger pan, I generally use some stock to thin it toward the end, then pour the thinned roux in. Whisk into the stock, then add your nutritional yeast. Cook (on low-medium flame) until thickened and mushrooms are tender.

For all of you in the US, I hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving! And now some snaps from yet another fantastic Harvest Feast.

Seriously, we vegans have nothing to eat.

Seriously, we vegans have nothing to eat. This was just one of the tables full of food!

The eagerly anticipated arrival of the un-turkey

The eagerly anticipated arrival of the un-turkey

It's an exciting moment, obviously!

It’s an exciting moment, obviously!

Check out that steam!

Check out that steam!

Eleanor's colorful plate of goodies

Eleanor’s colorful plate of goodies

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Demetrius at the other buffet- his amazing kale and Mac n cheeze, and a fabulous sweet potato casserole with candied pecan topping. Yum!

Demetrius at the other buffet- his amazing kale and Mac n cheeze, and a fabulous sweet potato casserole with candied pecan topping. Yum!

David guards a plate for late arrival Cathy.

David guards a plate for late arrival Cathy.

Lovely Robyn.

Robyn, one of the beautiful Moms at the soiree.

Annie and her beautiful daughters Seneca and Rae

Annie and her beautiful daughters Seneca and Rae

Sorry Rae,, I was never very good with that thing.

Sorry Rae, I was never very good with that thing.

Grace's amazing and gorgeous apple pie!

Grace’s amazing and gorgeous apple pie!

Always fashionable Rachel!

Rachel, another vegan babe.

If you can believe it, this is only a sampling of the desserts. Two more pies and cashew cream soon took up residence on the table.

If you can believe it, this is only a sampling of the desserts. Two more pies and cashew cream soon took up residence on the table.

Our lovely hostess, Susanne, and LiLi. Everyone has someone/thing to hold here. Always something to do chez Susanne/Nick!

Many a set of full arms!

Susan spearheads the activities committee

Susan spearheads the activities committee

In her green dress I thought Jen resembled the girl in the painting. Only Jen's prettier and not at all spooky.

In her green dress I thought Jen resembled the girl in the groovy painting. Only Jen’s prettier and not at all spooky.

Health by Chocolate

Chocolate and I are old friends. But before I became vegan, chocolate was somewhat of a toxic friend. We loved hanging out, but I tended to call on her when I was bummed out, or bored, or angry, or, well, insert any adjective really.  And while I relied on her for help in countless situations, she would invariably make me feel bad about myself. Yet I went back to her at my most vulnerable times, again and again.

It wasn’t until I went vegan that Chocolate and I developed a much healthier friendship. At first I was skeptical about the new trajectory of our relationship, now that Chocolate was breaking up with dairy. I had known them as a couple for so long! But their breakup helped to magnify so many of her own magnificent qualities.

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And so I learned to appreciate chocolate in an entirely new context. No longer did I feel the need to categorize it as my vice, I started to look at the beneficial qualities and discovered ways to both enjoy and profit from the little bean. And because I was eating so many more nutrient- dense, satisfying foods, I didn’t automatically think about that something sweet after every meal. Or worse, in lieu of meals.

While I don’t get the daily chocolate pangs I once did, now and again a minor chocolate craving gnaws at me. Those are the times I incorporate chocolate into healthy concoctions or easy recipes. Cacao nibs or chocolate chips melted in my oatmeal. My new favorite nutella-esque nut butter, for which I shall soon post a review. Nibs and/or cacao powder in coconut yogurt. Hot cocoa. Raw desserts, like a chocolate pecan tart I brought to last Thanksgiving (a big hit.)smchoclayout_0572

Last week, while buried under many a nutrition textbook, the words “chocolate shake” began to echo in my brain. I suppose a hundred pages of the words protein, carbohydrate and fat just manifested themselves into a glass. And since I didn’t feel like a heavy dessert, I set upon creating a divinely chocolatey yet marvelously healthful shake.

The results? Super rich on the chocolate and just the right density- not too heavy, but not obviously light. And while it tastes unbelievably decadent, this shake is brimming with nutrients your body will love.

As you may know, cocoa itself is incredibly healthful. (it’s the stuff that’s sometimes mixed in with it, like dairy and refined sugar, that makes a lot of chocolate less so)  The cacao bean is packed with antioxidants- I mean, packed. Cacao boasts the highest concentration of flavonoids (a powerful class of phytochemicals) of any food! Loads of flavonoids means loads of antioxidant activity when you eat cacao. But not when that cacao is mixed with cow’s milk, as dairy inhibits antioxidant function.

Antioxidants are ridiculously important- they help reduce the risk of a panoply of common diseases, and simply help our cells carry on everyday functions. So get your daily dose of phytochemicals (from a variety of sources) and if you want them to actually do their job, don’t dump animal secretions on top of them.

Love  those nibs.

Love those nibs.

Another reason to avoid those milky chocolate bars- pretty much all of the major commercial brands source their cocoa from middlemen, who buy from slave plantations in Africa. Tens of thousands of child slaves work on cocoa farms in Guyana and the Ivory Coast to satiate our appetite. (not to mention the millions of cows also enslaved right here.) There is an alternative! Buy fair trade cocoa & chocolate bars- there is no dearth of delicious, vegan candy to go around. And don’t worry if you don’t like dark chocolate. There are loads that mix the cocoa with rice milk or nut milks.  A pretty comprehensive list of fair trade, vegan chocolates is here.

Back to the shake! This decadent drink doesn’t stop at the antioxidant love. You’ll also get a good dose of protein, fiber, B12, calcium, iron, and plenty of other important micronutrients.

Yes my friends, you can have your shake and drink it too. (or have your shake and keep your shape?)  So get out your blenders, and prepare for a divine chocolate experience.

Ingredients:

1 cup Nut or Soy milk (I used 3/4 unsweetened almond milk, 1/4 cup Unsweetened Vanilla Soy)
1 Medjool date (or 2, if not using stevia)
1/3 container vanilla coconut yogurt
1/4 cup vanilla coconut ice cream (or soy, or almond if you prefer.)
2 Tbsp (high quality organic) cacao powder
2 ice cubes
1/8 teaspoon stevia (about 2 of the teeny spoons in the stevia container) Note: If using sweetened milks, you may not need/want the stevia.

Optional: 1 Tbsp dried coconut
Cacao nibs for topping

Method:

Throw all your ingredients into your blender- one that can handle ice cubes, like the mighty Vitamix. Blend on high for 60 seconds, or until the ice cubes have stopped making noise. (but not more than 60 seconds!) Pour into a tall glass and top with Cacao nibs. Float skyward.

Note: the nutrient values will vary depending on the milk you use- for a similar profile, use an enriched unsweetened almond or soy milk. (or other nut milk)

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Grown Up Antioxidant Slushie

vvpLOGO*A big welcome to you, virtual vegan potluck attendee! Thanks for stopping by. This recipe, an ode to beets and sweets, fit in with the potluck’s featured ingredient. But please do have a look around my blog if you like what you see here!*

I had a ridiculous sweet tooth as a kid- so bad that I recall most of my juvenile activities in the context of the garbage I put into my mouth. I can still feel my feet on the warm concrete as I stood in line at the Scarsdale Pool snack bar. French fries and ketchup wafted around me in the queue as I tried to decide- Fun Dip or those greasy fries?  Fun Dip invariably won out- I mean, it’s an activity as well as “food!” I didn’t love Sugarbush ski school, but I did look forward to a break in the toasty lodge, a mammoth chocolate chip cookie and a cup of hot chocolate in my icy hands. And after weekly figure skating lessons, I recall teetering off the ice to inexplicably consume some sugary ice. I was a sucker for a Slush Puppie.

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For those unfamiliar- Slush Puppies are like Slurpees (and I had my fill of those too, once I got to high school)- the ingredient list likely reads: high fructose corn syrup, red dye # 3 and/or  Blue #2, water. Freeze that up, swirl it around in a machine, throw in a cute doggie mascot and the kids start tugging at mom for the cash.

Many slurps later I am decidedly more conscious as to what goes in my mouth. It’s been a long haul, but since I’ve been vegan, new and healthy foods  become part of my repertoire frequently- my last hurdle was to accept veggie juices & smoothies. I spent two years talking myself out of a Vitamix, but finally ran out of convincing excuses a few weeks ago. One charge later, I am the proud mama of that gorgeous invention.

Lovely organic beets from the Union Square farmer's market.

Lovely organic beets from the Union Square farmer’s market.

Back to those Slush Puppies. I’ve been fine-tuning my juiceblend procedure over the last couple of weeks since the Vitamix has resided on my counter. Let me tell you, there is a serious learning curve here people! On first attempt my beet-carrot- pineapple juice was reminiscent of borscht. Drinkable, and certainly tasty, but more food than drink. With the addition of ice, several successive attempts yielded what might be described as pink- tinged carrot dressing. (I consumed it, sans salad.)

But today, I am in juice heaven. Doubling up on ice and extra process time yielded the perfect texture and flavor. The happy surprise was that lovely icey nostalgia of what could be called a grown up Slush Puppie. (Slush Dog?) With a glass of this slushy juice in hand, I can hear the comical tunes of the skaterink organist in 1982. Gone is the syrupy sweetness of youth’s slush, but the dayglo color is still here! (Even more beautiful, I think.) I mean, just look at that gorgeous pink. That’s the phenomenal phytochemical power in the beets.

Did you know that beets rank highest of all veggies in antioxidant concentration? At least as far as we know- in the most recent study, beets won out over the previous ruling champion, spinach, in antioxidant content. Beets get their color from betacyanins, powerful phytonutrients that protect plants from UV exposure and disease. And guess what? Those same phytonutrients protect us from disease. Diseases like cancer.

 Just as yummy slightly melted. Love the layers of concentrated, pulpy and icey.

Just as yummy slightly melted. Love the layers of concentrated, pulpy and icey.

Beetroots are a stellar source of folic acid, fiber, manganese and potassium. But don’t forget about the greens attached to those roots! Both the greens and roots are great source of magnesium, phosphorus, some iron and vitamin B6. (However not all of the iron can be absorbed due to the high concentration of oxalates in beets, so you don’t want to count on this plant exclusively for iron.) The greens are even higher in nutritional value than beetroots – they’re richer in calcium, iron and vitamins A & C. So eat both the root and the greens- a quick steam or a toss in a pan with olive oil and garlic is all you need.

The sweetness and tang of the pineapple is a lovely compliment to the beet’s earthiness. And you can just feel your body taking in those anti-cancer nutrients, thanking you with every sip.
The first glass is full on slushy, but as it melts the texture and flavor becomes even more complex, yielding layers of frozen, semi-frozen and melted- it’s almost a slushy parfait. I just loved seeing the layers of vibrant pink.
It feels kind of decadent, but it’s just so good for you. And in a way taking care of yourself is decadent experience too. So indulge away!

Had to show you that beautiful texture close up.
Had to show you that beautiful texture close up.

A note on the (very simple) ingredient list. Go organic with your beets. This gorgeous magenta root will be pulverized raw, giving you a huge boost of nutrients, but if he’s commercial, you’ll also get a nice dose of neurotoxins. Organic beets are cheap anyway- here in price engorged New York City, I get a ridiculous bunch of 12 beets for a mere $3.50 at the farmer’s market, with so many greens they won’t fit in the crisper. That’s enough juice for more than a week plus 2 or more servings of greens! Don’t skimp on your body, people.
The pineapple is theoretically ok to buy conventional, as they have tough skins and are less desirable to insects, thus fewer pesticides are needed. But if you can find organic, that’s always ideal.

So here we go.
Yields 1 1/2 pints- enough for two, but certainly drinkable by one!

Ingredients:
1 large beetroot (preferably organic)
1/4 pineapple
1 1/2 to 2 cups ice

variation: use 1 cup ice and 1 cup frozen coconut water. It will be slightly sweeter, so if you enjoy the sweetness level as is, use less pineapple or more beets!

Remove the greens from your beetroot- if you like (and you should!) reserve the greens for dinner. No need to peel your beetroots. When cutting your pineapple, keep the core in there. (fiber!the crowning glory of blended juice) Cut the beet in a few chunks- same for the pineapple. Throw beets, then pineapple, then ice into a Vitamix.
Squish down ingredients with the tamper- the beets and ice will take a little pushing just to get them going. Process on high for about 60 seconds- not much longer or you’ll just have juice.

Pour into glasses and drink immediately! Yum. Pink mustache removal is optional.

ps. While I call this “grown up,” I’m certain kids will love this juice too! What kid doesn’t love a sweet, icy treat? A perfect way to trick them into super healthy veggies.

What’s your favorite juice? Would love to hear.

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