Tip #1: Relax and trust yourself

I was having coffee with a friend (Hi, Beth!) and we were discussing the benefit of a presence on the internet. She casually said, “You know, if you posted a tip a day in your field of expertise, you would have 365 tips at the end of the year. That sounds like a book-in-progress to me.” The hamsters got those wheels spinning upstairs, and I thought, “A tip a day! Who has time for that?”  Then I thought, “I bet I could do a tip a week, though…”

Welcome to tip number one!

Our food obsessed culture has pros and cons. On the positive side, it is helping to make many of us much more aware of what we eat and how we want to eat. On the not-so-positive side, all of the television chefs and beautiful blogs that are cranking out incredible food can make the home cook feel some performance anxiety.

Relax. Unless you are Mario Batali, no one expects you to be Mario Batali. Cooking does not have to be complicated.

Case in point: biscuits with sausage gravy. Can’t bring yourself to make both from scratch? Buy the biscuits and make the gravy. Tell the haters to bring their own scratch-made biscuits next time. And the gravy brings me to the second part of our tip.

Trust yourself.  I stumbled upon a recipe for sausage gravy when I was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of an open can of evaporated milk. I cannot stress enough how much I love biscuits and sausage gravy, so when I saw that title, I jumped on it. I didn’t have the maple breakfast sausage called for, but I had ground pork, maple syrup, sage and crushed red pepper so I knew I could bring in the usual flavors.

Once the sausage was browned, it was time to make the gravy. The recipe called for adding the flour to the sausage and drippings in the pan, and two things gave me pause: the amount of flour called for did not seem like enough to thicken the amount of liquid called for, and the later suggestion to add more flour if the mixture was not thick enough seemed like a recipe for lumpy gravy. But I followed directions, because blog commenters who mention all the things they changed in a recipe and then complain that it did not work make me roll my eyes so hard I may hurt myself one day.

There was not enough flour.

Adding more to the gravy made it lumpy.

I whiskedandwhiskedandwhisked and eventually got most of the lumps out. Next time, I’ll trust what I know: when making a roux, or the thickening base for a sauce or gravy, the ratio of fat to flour is one to one (1:1). And it is better to whisk additional flour into a small amount of cold liquid until a paste forms, and then add that to the gravy you are trying to thicken; it helps smooth the way for incorporation.

Sausage Gravy (with a gluten-free option)
(serves 4-6)

1 lb loose maple breakfast sausage (if you can only find links, remove the casings and crumble)

1/4 cup all purpose flour*

butter, oil, or bacon fat to make the oil in the pan equal 1/4 cup OR spoon off sausage drippings until you’re left with a quarter cup

12 oz evaporated milk, well-shaken

1 1/2 cups milk

1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste)

1/4 tsp pepper (we like a little more, but start here)

  1. Place the sausage in a large skillet and heat over medium-low until the sausage is cooked through and has rendered its fat, about 6-7 minutes. Spoon off drippings or add butter/oil/bacon fat so that you have 1/4 cup of fat in the pan (tilt the pan and let the fat pool so you can eyeball it).
  2. Sprinkle the flour in the pan and cook, stirring or whisking, until the raw flour taste is gone, about 3-4 minutes. Except for the sausage bits, the roux should be a smooth mixture of fat and flour.
  3. Combine the evaporated and regular milk. Increase the heat to medium-high and whisking gently but constantly, slowly add the milk mixture to the sausage mixture. Once combined, switch back to a spoon and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken, anywhere from 3-5 minutes depending on heat level.
  4. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the salt and pepper. Taste and add more seasoning, if desired. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Sausage gravy can be reheated in the microwave or on the stove in a saucepan. Reheat gently, and add a little milk or water if it is too thick.

*Gluten-free? Skip the flour and use 2 tbsp of cornstarch or 2 1/2 tbsp potato starch. Instead of adding the thickening agent to the grease to make the roux, whisk the starch into the cold milk mixture. Follow the directions from there.

3 thoughts on “Tip #1: Relax and trust yourself

  1. I love your blog Chris. A tip a week is something I will look forward too. I know the recipes will be delicious since everything you’ve made for me has been great ( even if I am a little biased) LOL


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