The Art of Winging it (and Creamed Corn)

I swore this wouldn’t work out. But something (well, my boyfriend, really) told me to take photos anyway. I shrugged and said “what the heck.” A couple of nights ago, I looked at three ears of perfectly cooked corn on the cob and knew I had to do something with it. I’d been slathering butter and garlic all over those perfect ears for days now, and I (Don’t even think I’m going to say that I got sick of it, because that could never happen.) felt compelled to try something different. I didn’t want to mess with perfection, but, against my better judgement…

“Creamed corn,” he said. I’d never made it before. The concept was simple enough, and if being a southerner has taught me anything (I’m barely a southerner. I’m from Ft. Lauderdale.), it’s that I know how to do corn. And, I’ll tell you, I’d save a couple of ears again to make this easy peasy creamed corn…with garlic. (I had to work the garlic in there. I had to.) That business came out soooooooo gooooooooood.

Ingredients: 

  • 3 ears cooked ears of corn, cut off the cob
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • pinch of cornstarch
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Melt butter in your favorite skillet over low-medium and add the minced garlic to the pan before it starts to bubble.

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Add the corn to the pan and toss. Keep the heat at low-medium. Meanwhile, make a slurry by adding the pinch of cornstarch to a small amount of the milk and whisking. The goal is to just get the clumps out.

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Add the milk, half and half, and slurry to the pan with the corn and bring to a slight simmer.

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 In a food processor or blender, take out about half of the corn mixture and blend. It’s up to you how pulverized you like your corn to be. (I’d actually blend less next time because I’d like more texture.) Add the blended bits back to the pan. Simmer over low-medium heat for about five minutes until it thickens. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

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 There. Creamed corn. With garlic. Yum.

20140730-112513-41113028.jpg And, yes, I’m eating it out of a ramekin. I’m eating it as I type. Don’t judge me. 😉

 Happy creamy corn, everyone!

Jenna

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Homemade Local Blueberry Jam

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What does one do with a massive bag of freshly picked summer blueberries? Sorbet? Sure. Frozen and dropped into a glass of Champagne? Absolutely. Blended into a fancy schmancy BBQ sauce? Sign me up. Cooked into  the perfect jam? YES. Today, I vote for jam!

This is the second post in the “It’s UnCANny…” series, and making homemade fruit jams are a fantastic and simple way to break free from the store-bought stuff.

To make this summery-sweet blueberry jam, you’ll need:

  • 6 cups of fresh blueberries, washed and picked of stems
  • 3 cups sugar

I realize I use a lot less sugar than a lot of jam recipes out there, but perfectly ripe berries are sweet enough on their own. Feel free to up the sugar ante if you’d like.

Method:

Using your favorite heavy saucepan or enameled cast iron pot (my personal preference), place the berries first and then the sugar. 

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Over a low heat and while stirring, cook the mixture until the sugar dissolves.

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In about five minutes, it should look like this.

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Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil.

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Boil until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. This batch took about 10 minutes.

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Enjoy the taste of summer.

Until next time…

Jenna

 

Angel Hair with Lemony Kale, Caramelized Onions, & Ricotta Salata

Kale is the new little black dress. Sautéed, baked, raw, braised, or fried, it all works. And I’m so fortunate to have oodles of the stuff from my favorite local farm. We’re always coming up with new ways to infuse the leafy lovelies into our meals, and this pasta dish may be my new favorite.

For this dish, you’ll need…

  • approximately 50 leaves of curly kale, stripped from the spines, washed and dried (use your salad spinner)
  • four tablespoons of EVOO
  • two yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • five cloves of garlic, minced
  • half fresh lemon, juice and zest
  • Sea Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 12 ounces Angel hair cooked al dente

Optional:

  • Balsamic vinegar reduction
  • Ricotta Salata cheese, crumbled

To begin, heat two tablespoons of EVOO in your favorite, very large, skillet over medium heat.

Add the sliced onions to the pan and a small pinch of sea salt.

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Keep the onions moving so they don’t burn until they start to soften. Reduce the heat to low-medium and let them caramelize. This should take about five minutes. Once they’re done, transfer them to a separate vessel.

Add one more tablespoon of EVOO to the pan and add the kale.

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Using tongs, toss the kale a lot as this will help it wilt. You’ll want it all in the pan, but it takes patience. Cooked kale, like any other green, cooks down to a minuscule portion of its original size once the water content is gone. The result is concentrated, amazing flavor.

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Add the lemon juice and a large pinch of sea salt. Give it another good toss. Put the lid on the pan. The kale will really start to break down because of the steam. After about a minute, remove the lid and check the progress. If it’s not soft, put the lid back on and wait another minute.

Remove the lid and make a well in the center of the kale. Add the minced garlic and give it a good stir. Add a bit of olive oil to help the sautéing if you desire.

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Add the lemon zest and stir again. Have cute boy help in the kitchen.

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Add the caramelized onions back to the pan and toss.

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Add the cooked pasta, drizzle in the remaining tablespoon of EVOO, and add salt and pepper to taste. There, you’re done!

photo 4But, if you’re like me, you’ll want to garnish this dish with crumbled ricotta salata cheese and a hefty balsamic reduction drizzle (yes, we always have this on hand). If you don’t have ricotta salata, feta cheese would be a great substitute.

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Until next time, my friends, happy eating!

 

Fresh Jalapeños: We can pickle that!

I’ve never looked at a basket of garden-fresh organic jalapeños and thought “Mmmm…I’d love to gnaw on those!” So when I was gifted with some uber-spicy jalapeños from my friend at the farmers market, there was only one option: pickling. These are great for perking up a sandwich, sprinkling on nachos, or serving on top of a steaming bowl of chili.

This is such a simple process as this isn’t a proper canning. But it’s great and so very quick!

You’ll need:

  • 1 pound fresh jalapeño peppers
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled

Cut one pound of fresh, washed jalapeños in rings.

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Soak the rings in a bowl of cold water. Swish around with a long-handled utensil every now and then as this will help some of the seeds fall to the bottom. Please don’t do this with your hands and then touch your eyes! Gently scoop out the pepper rings without getting the seeds that have fallen to the bottom and transfer to another vessel.

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In a non-reactive saucepan, combine the water, vinegar, garlic cloves, salt, and sugar together and bring to a boil. Add the drained jalapeños to the pot.

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Cover with a lid and let sit for 15 minutes off the heat.

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Transfer to your favorite jar and keep in the refrigerator. They’ll last for quite some time even though they’re not properly canned.

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The Crabbiest Cakes

20140402-203407.jpgWhat’s not to love about crab cakes? Barring any food allergies or other dietary restrictions, there’s nothing about this little piece of decadence that the tastebuds of the world shouldn’t fully appreciate. The more crab, the better.

I’ve had some of the tastiest Alaskan King crab leg meat frozen and just waiting for the right opportunity. Crab bisque happened. And now this. I painstakingly bashed those shells myself; I need this. I’m so happy, I could cry.

One of the best things about a top notch crab cake is the simplicity. They’re easy to put together and easy to make. They’re puuuuuurfect.

Ingredients:

  • 10 ounces of crab meat (you don’t have to use Alaskan king crab legs)
  • 4 ounces of saltines or other plain Jane cracker, processed or crushed (for my gluten-free friends, go with your favorite gluten-free cracker)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Cornmeal (optional)
  • Butter or canola oil for frying

Method:

Make sure all of the crab is free of shell pieces and coarsely shredded or chopped.

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Combine all ingredients in the list except for the cornmeal and butter or oil.

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Form into patties, and choose any size you like. I prefer them on the smaller side. Then let them rest in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. This will help the patties set and stay together during cooking.

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One by one, coat in cornmeal. Just lightly press in the cornmeal and brush off the excess. A light coating is perfect. I love the added texture of this step, but you can omit it if you prefer.

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In your favorite skillet, add about a tablespoon of oil or butter and set the burner to medium-high heat. Gently add the crab cakes one by one to the hot skillet.

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In about two minutes, flip them over.

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See how easy that was?

No smoke and mirrors here…just delicious crab cakes. Oh, by the way, they freeze perfectly in an air tight container. Serve with a squeeze of lemon, a citrus aioli, or your favorite tartar sauce.

Crabby eating, everyone. Enjoy!

 

 

Garlicky and Lemony No-Fail Kale

This stuff isn’t just a garnish, people. (…although I admittedly used to think so.) If Popeye only knew about this super veggie, he’d be singing a different song…one that rhymes with kale. I understand why kale recipes are everywhere. This leafy relative of broccoli and cauliflower is easy to prepare, can be eaten raw or cooked, is very versatile, and is loaded with oodles of vitamins and minerals. And did I mention it’s delicious?

Last night, I was tuckered out. I spent five hours gardening (not the casual, flower-picking, clean fingernail kind of gardening either). I hauled bags of soil, turned compost, pulled impossible weeds, planted flowers, sewed seeds, potted up, and then had to put all the stuff away. Dinner was the last thing I wanted to do, but we gotta eat, right?

I ended up making seared tiger prawns with Israeli couscous and (drumroll, please) kale. But ignore the first two parts of this meal; the kale stole the show. Fresh lemon, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, red pepper flakes, and sea salt turned this sturdy green veggie into a robust, bright, melt-in-your-mouth, amazing side dish. What’s more is that it took less than five minutes to make.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound organic kale, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (click here for a time saving tip)
  • juice from half a lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 cup water

Method:

Place olive oil and garlic in a large skillet. Bring heat to medium.

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Add the chopped kale to pan and give a good stir.

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Add the water and place the lid on the pan. This will help steam and soften the kale.

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Cut a fresh lemon and enjoy the smell.

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Remove the lid after about a minute and squeeze the lemon juice into the pan (avoiding the seeds). Also add the red pepper flakes and sea salt. Stir again.

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Once the majority of the water has evaporated, the kale is done. Magical, isn’t it?

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Taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary.

That’s it. That’s really all. I promise.

Happy and healthful eating, everyone!

Pickled Organic Heirloom Tomatoes

My tomato season is nearing its end in sunny coastal Florida, and I’m finding myself with lots of little tomatoes that just won’t have a chance to ripen. I’m not sad, though, because this Jewish girl knows exactly what to do. Pickled tomatoes with garlic and dill was a staple in my grandparents’ refrigerator as well as in every kosher delicatessen from here to Timbuktu. For me, it’s the no-brainer way to preserve my beautiful heirlooms that had to be plucked before their time.

For this recipe, I used a combination of Thai Pink Egg, Healani, and Chadwick Cherry tomatoes, but you could use whatever variety or varieties you like.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 pound organic green tomatoes, washed and cut into halves or quarters
  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 5  garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons dried dill (use fresh if you have it on hand)
  • 1/2 tablespoon whole black or multi-colored peppercorns

Method:

Make sure to have a spotlessly clean lid and jar. I love to use my mason jars for this, but any good jar will do.

Place the tomatoes in the jar leaving about 1/2 of room at the top.

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Put the garlic, dill, and peppercorns in the jar.

Make the brine. Combine vinegar, water, and salt in a non-reactive pot. Bring the contents to a boil and stir until all the salt is dissolved.

Carefully pour the hot brine over the tomatoes being sure to leave room at the top. Wipe the top, put on the lid on and tighten.

Some recipes say to wait just a day or two before the pickled goodies will be ready for eating, but I disagree. I think they need between two and three weeks to achieve pickled perfection. And, of course, I think they’ll taste better if you serve them from a little metal bowl with tongs. It’s the kosher deli way.

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Happy noshing, everyone,

Jenna

NOTE: This recipe was partially adapted from a Huffington Post article. I consulted with my pickle-loving family for the adjustments.

Easy, Breezy, Eggplant Parmesan Casserole

I do this thing where I go to the farmer’s market, buy the most perfect, tender organic eggplant, and then they go bad and end up in my compost bin before I get to use them. Well, not this time, my friends. Oh no. I present to you the whole reason I buy these babies: Eggplant Parmesan Casserole.

I’m almost ashamed to show how easy this is. Seriously, it’s a piece of pie (pumpkin, of course)! And one of the greatest things about this recipe is you can make it with just about any amount of eggplant, sauce, or cheese you have on hand. It’s very forgiving.

Regardless, there are some ingredients you’ll need:

  • Fresh, firm organic eggplants (I used white, but you could go with any you like)
  • Bread crumbs (seasoned with granulated garlic, salt, and pepper)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • All-purpose flour
  • Your favorite organic tomato sauce (marinara, pomodoro, or whatever you like)
  • Mozzarella or provolone cheese
  • Fresh grated parmesan cheese

First things first, get your breading station ready. In three different bowls, put the beaten egg, about a cup of flour, and a cup of seasoned bread crumbs.

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Preheat your oil to 375 degrees in a heavy skillet or pot. Fill the vessel just a couple of inches; it’ll be more than enough.

Next, slice your eggplant in nice, even slices. I used six small eggplants for this because my boyfriend is crazy and doesn’t like eggplant. It’s an offense punishable by breaking up. (Kidding…or am I?)

Some people like to salt them and let them drain for few minutes to draw out the bitterness, but the white ones are so sweet. I  honestly don’t even do this with the purple ones. I just skip it altogether. They’ll start browning a smidge, but it’s OK; they’ll be fine. The taste isn’t affected whatsoever.

To fry the eggplant, dredge first in flour (shake off excess), next dip in the egg, and coat in bread crumbs. This is sort of messy, I admit, but it’s well worth it. One by one, place in the oil. Do this in small batches as to not bring down the temperature of the oil by overcrowding. You want things to get nicely browned and crispy. And, for the love of all that’s good, don’t put the eggplant on paper towels to drain. Use a wire cooling rack to allow the oil to drip down. Paper towels only make things soggy. That’s not good eats. (Alton Brown’s so smart.)

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Then, in your favorite casserole dish, start layering. Think lasagna. I place a layer of fried and drained eggplant, some sauce (by the way, here is the link for my favorite sauce recipe), some grated parmesan, some shredded mozzarella, and repeat until you’re all out of ingredients. Make sure, though, whatever you do to top with sauce and cheese. Because, let’s face it, that bubbly layer of cheese is why you’re all here.

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Bake in a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes or until the top is all brown, bubbly, and perfect.

Let cool for a few minutes (resist the urge to pick all the cheese off the top), slice, and eat. Finally, thank God for creating the eggplant.

Happy eating, everyone!

Oh, by the way, sorry about not having a final photo. Melted cheese is my siren song, and I forgot. I’m so weak.

Waste Not, Want Not: Making Organic Chicken Stock

One of the best reasons for roasting a whole chicken is the carcass. Why, you ask? Well, homemade, honest-to-goodness, gluten-free, organic chicken stock is the correct answer. So many recipes benefit from stock: from rice pilaf to gravy to soup, it’s a necessary and versatile flavor booster for your culinary repertoire. And there’s nearly no reason to purchase stock or broth when it’s a cinch to make at home. First, high-quality, organic products are expensive! Second, if you’re a foodie control freak like me, you can adjust it to your liking. Parsley here, garlic there, whatever you want; it’s all up to you. Third, see reasons one and two.

To make easy, breezy, organic chicken stock at home, you’ll need:

  • Carcass from 5-pound roasted organic chicken
  • 1-2 organic carrots
  • 1 organic onion
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1-2 stalks of organic celery (optional)
  • Handful of fresh organic parsley (optional)

Put all ingredients in a large stock pot or dutch oven.

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Add enough water to cover.

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Bring the contents to a boil, give it a good stir, and then bring down to a simmer for 3-4 hours. The color will go from this:

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…to this:

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Once it’s done, strain it. I use a large colander over a huge glass bowl because I honestly don’t care that much if it’s got tiny bits of chicken or veg. Use a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth if you’e really concerned. Once it’s strained, this’ll be what you’re left with:

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Isn’t it beautiful? Portion it out in whatever size freezer-safe containers work best for you. I like to use a mixture of pint and quart sizes. Don’t forget to label them with the contents and the date!

This recipe makes about 4 quarts of organic chicken stock. By the way, if you were to purchase quantity in a grocery store, you’d pay about $15-$20! And all you did was use what remained from your delicious, wholesome, organic roasted chicken. (See the recipe here for my gluten-free Heavenly Roasted Chicken.) Doesn’t that make you happy?

So, everyone, I bid you happiness and good-for-you, frugal, wonderful, sensible cooking endeavors. Have a fantastic Friday night…and don’t throw away that carcass!

Heavenly Roasted Chicken with Crimini Mushroom Gravy

I go gaga for perfectly roasted poultry. Making a chicken is my Thanksgiving practice because it’s just too early in the year to cook a massive bird. Also, it’s way too hot out to heat up the whole house in the process. Roasting a smallish chicken is my Florida compromise. Besides, I still get gravy out of the deal. And, let’s be honest, that’s why we’re all here.

Last night, I smelled up the whole neighborhood with the aromas wafting from my kitchen. It was glorious. If only I could have eaten the air…

Now don’t click off this page when I tell you that after I rub down the chicken with kosher salt, rinse it, and pat it dry, I rub it with full-fat, glorious, mayonnaise. A lot of people use butter or olive oil, but year after year of every happy eater asking me how I keep the bird so moist with such a crisp skin, I’m willing to give credit to mayo. Not that I’m ashamed, because I’m not. I absolutely love the stuff. What’s more is that giving the bird a mayo rub removes the need for basting! What more do you need? Try it. I’m not pulling your leg. (No turkey pun intended.)

So, to make this chicken (or whatever poultry you like), regardless of size, you’ll need:

  • Bird of some sort
  • Full-fat mayonnaise
  • Sea salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Thyme
  • Granulated garlic
  • Onion powder
  • Two carrots, broken or cut into chunks
  • 1/2 onion
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf

Method:

First things, first, clean the bird. Discard any of the stuff that may be inside. If the neck is present, I roast it alongside the bird. You don’t have to do this. Rub it down, inside and out, with kosher salt and then rinse it. Then pat it dry.
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Rub the entire outside with mayo. I used three tablespoons for my 4.5 lb chicken. It doesn’t have to be goopy, but you should have enough to make the spices stick.
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Stuff the inside with the onion, carrot, garlic, and bay leaf.
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Now get out your favorite lidded roasting pan with rack. Place the bird on the rack and put the lid on. Put the entire shebang in a 350 degree oven, and follow appropriate cooking times for the size of your bird. For my 4.5 pound untrussed chicken, I roasted it for one and a half hours. As you can see, it’s already starting to brown.
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Once it’s nearly done, remove the lid, and crank up the heat to 450 degrees. Cook for an additional ten to fifteen minutes. The skin should crisp up and perfectly brown. Stay close by for this part as you don’t want it to burn. Yum. Yum. Yum.
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While the roasting is happening, you can sauté the crimini mushrooms. Feel free to use button mushrooms if you can’t find the baby bellas (a.k.a crimini). I just quarter them and saute them with a bit of salt and pepper. Set them aside for gravy making.
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Once it’s done and you’ve checked the internal temperature with a meat thermometer, let it rest for a couple of minutes. Then transfer it to a large cutting board (that you use for poultry) or platter.
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Whatever you do, don’t discard the natural juice in the bottom of the pan! That’s pure gold and will become the best gravy you’ve ever had. I got about 1.5 cups of drippings from my size chicken. Once the pan is cool enough to touch, transfer the drippings to a sauce pan or large skillet. I poured mine through a mesh strainer to get the big chunks out.
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Bring the liquid to a simmer. I added a cup of water to mine because I wanted to stretch it, but adding chicken stock or broth would work perfectly.
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Prepare a cornstarch and water slurry. I used three tablespoons of cornstarch to 1/4 cup water. Mix it up and incorporate it into the simmering liquid. Give it a good stir and let it simmer for a couple of minutes on low.
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The best thing about a cornstarch slurry is that it doesn’t clump when added to hot liquids. It also thickens without adding gluten. Now add the sautéed mushrooms, a few cracks of black pepper and a bit of salt if desired. I like to finish mine with a splash of milk or cream and a tablespoon of butter. You could skip the dairy if you want, but I really like the sheen and body that comes with the addition.
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The one skill I’m really working on is cutting up poultry for serving. I cut mine into the eight standard pieces, but it wasn’t that pretty, so I forgot to photo it. 🙂 Prepare some wide egg noodles or gluten-free alternative, and serve this bird up with the gravy. You’ll have some happy people on your hands. Enjoy, everybody!