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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
Ask Aunt Nettie

We're delighted to share our Aunt Nettie with you. She's agreed to answer any questions you might ask about food, its preparation, and even clean-up tips. But we have to prepare you. She just might want to come right over to your house and help you fix dinner.

To send any questions to Ask Aunt Nettie, .

Cathy from Minnesota calls on Aunt Nettie to offer alternatives for a common kitchen dilemma.

Dear Aunt Nettie,

I'm working on eliminating the use of white flour in my cooking, but now I've run into a little challenge. I hope you can help me solve a problem. I've always used white flour as a thickener for sauces and gravies. What can I use instead?

Here's what Aunt Nettie writes:

Land sakes, Cathy! In this ole head o' mine there's a heap o' choices fer thickenin' a sauce other than usin' white flour. Nowadays I consider white flour ole fashioned an' if there's one thing I ain't, it's ole fashioned even tho I'm lots older than most folks.

Well, fer starters, cornstarch is a handy thickener. You kin buy it in any ole market in the bakin' section. Dependin' on how much sauce ya got, start by puttin' 'bout two tablespoons o' cornstarch in a cup er a juice size glass. Then ya stir in two tablespoons o' cold water. If it feels kinda tight when yer a-stirrin' jes add a tad more water and stir 'til ya have a watery sorta paste. Have this little mixture ready a-fore cookin yer sauce. When yer sauce gits up to a zippy boil, stir in yer cornstarch mixture a little bit at a time, an' keep a-stirrin' fer 'bout a whole minute an' you'll see the sauce takin' on a nice shiny glaze an' gittin' kinda thick. It's easy ta mix up more cornstarch 'n water if the thickness is not to yer likin'. One thing I jes love 'bout cornstarch is if ya don't need all that ya mixed up, jes let it sit on the shelf an' it'll dry out. Then, when ya need it fer another sauce, jes add a tad o' water, stir it up an' it's good as new.

Brown rice flour makes a nice, almost instant thickener. You'll probably need ta take yerself ta the health food market ta buy it, but it don't cost ya much an' if ya keep it in the fridge, it won't git buggy on ya. Use slightly less of the rice flour than the cornstarch, 'bout 1 2/3 teaspoons to one-half cup liquid. Mix it with a bit o' water 'n stir it inta yer bubblin' sauce. Just you watch it thicken right up nice 'n smooth-like.

Ever try arrowroot? Arrowroot is a sauce thickener with a different kinda personality. It turns yer sauce into a clear glaze sorta mixture an' that's real nice fer a dessert with a fruit sauce. It costs a mighty penny but a little bit goes a long stretch. It takes 'bout the same measures as cornstarch, 'bout 2 tablespoons ta thicken up a cup and a half o' sauce.

If that's not to yer likin', a tad more arrowroot won't hurt none 'cause it don't have much flavor and won't affect yer taste buds none. Ya might want ta know a bit about arrowroot 'cause it's a stranger in most kitchens, so here what I kin tellya. It comes from a root of a starchy plant that grows in far away places I never been ta, like the West Indies 'n South America. This here plant has a fancy name, Maranta arundinacea. Some folks boil it up an' eat it kinda like 'taters. Some Chinese restaurants even use it fer thickenin' soups instead o' cornstarch.

Potato starch is some folks' favorite thickener an' sometimes they calls it potato flour. It makes a good thickener fer soups 'n gravies. It don't take much 'n it's cheap, too. Try 'bout 2/3 of a teaspoon fer a half cup o' liquid. Sometimes I jes use plain ole 'taters ta thicken up a soup, too, 'bout one er two does the trick. Potato starch er potato flour is easy ta find in the grocery store. If ya cain't find it easy, look in the aisle with the kosher food.

Now tapioca flour works 'bout same as cornstarch, too. That's probably another one o' them items you'll find in the health food market. If ya cain't find tapioca flour, buy regular tapioca and put them little pearls in yer electric coffee grinder a couple o' spoonsful at a time 'n grind it into a nice powder. Then, mix 2 tablespoons in 2 er 3 tablespoons o' cold water. Git it nice 'n dissolved, then stir it into a bubblin' sauce.

Nuts make a dandy thickener. Now, don't that jes surprise ya? Cashews are my very favorite. I measure up a cup o' raw cashew pieces an' grind 'em to a powder in my trusty little electric coffee grinder. Then, when I'm a-ready ta thicken up my sauce er my soup, I gets it ta bubblin' an' jes add in a little bit at a time 'till it hollers "uncle." If there's some ground up cashews left over, jes save it in a plastic baggie an' put it in the fridge fer next time 'round.

Now raw almonds are nice too, but it's hard ta git 'em ground up as fine as the cashews an' it seems ta take more of 'em ta thicken yer sauce. I grind 'em up in the food processor, an' jes wait 'til you hear the racket them nuts make. I use the almonds when my sauce is a-hankerin' fer a little character. I calls it character, but the fancy cookin' folks use the word "texture." Since the almonds don't grind up to a powder in my food processor, them little tiny pieces add character.

Peanuts grind up nice an' fine in the electric coffee grinder an suit me jes fine as a thickener when I'm a-lookin' fer a peanut flavor ta my sauce.

Peanut butter, almond butter, er cashew butter are purty swell in my book. Watch out fer the peanut butter, though. It jes up an' takes over the flavor of yer sauce. Now, that don't happen with the cashew er almond butter so much, 'cause they're milder. You might start out with two, maybe three tablespoons, stir it in, an' wait a minute ta see if the thickness is ta yer likin'. Then add one tablespoon at a time 'til it's a-singin' Turkey in the Straw nice 'n loud.

Well, Cathy, darlin' that's it in a nutshell.

If You Haven't Met Aunt Nettie. . .

Our Aunt Nettie has a head like a hard disk. It's filled with megabytes of information about food and cooking. And she's just itchin' to share her learnin' with city folk who live in mortal fear of the stovetop.

Aunt Nettie grew up on the farm. She did not eat out of a can or reach into the freezer. There was no microwave to pop her food into. Everything she made was from scratch. All the food she ate was natural, without pesticides. It was grown right there on the family farm, and she had to cook to survive. At eighty-three years young she still leaps and bounds around the kitchen and can shake, rattle, and roll those pots and pans with the best of them.

Nowadays, Aunt Nettie just shakes her head and complains, "Nobody cooks anymore. They have no idea about puttin' a meal together." She's on a mission. She wants to help those younguns eat better so they can grow up healthy like her own eight kids.

Click here for past Ask Aunt Nettie Columns

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