Virgil on October 18, 2014

See part 1 – Charcuterie – Bacon and Pancetta

See part 2 – Bacon and pancetta finished curing – part 2

The pancetta looks lovely after a day of hanging, it has a nice fat sheen on it and smells heavenly. Thirteen or so days to go.

On to the bacon. I let it sit in the fridge for maybe 19 hours. The book, Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, says 12 – 24 hours. Then, it is to be hot smoked at 200 degrees F until the internal temperature is 150 degrees F. Unless you have a proper smoker, this is not as easy as it may seem. I have an old gas grill, so I figured I would fire up half of it on low and see it I could get the temperature stable at 200 degrees F.

Very difficult to control the temperature in a very old gas grill. Adding to that is the thermometer probe setting, which moves regardless of if it is stuck through the hole or just laid so the lid will not crush it. It is not going to be where you really want it. I also realized pretty quickly that every spot is going to have a different temperature. Not exact science, here, folks.

I finally got to a little over 200 degrees F and figured I had to put the damn bacon in. I put a square metal pan on the grill and laid the bacon slab on top of it. This kept the slab off the grill and father from the heat source. I had previously soaked some hickory chips in water and put a few on the lava stones above the flame source. I had it on a very low setting. I was quite cautious with the wood chips, as I have ruined steaks before with too much smoke from mesquite chips.

The smoking arrangement - heat on the left with soaked wood chips, bacon slab on an inside-down metal pan

The smoking arrangement – heat on the right with soaked wood chips, bacon slab on an inside-down metal pan. The temperature probe may be seen in the forefront.

It was essentially impossible to truly regulate the temperature. I just went with it, varied the flame and moved the temperature probe around. I was pretty close. Finally, I inserted the probe into the meat to monitor internal temperature, the bacon must come to an internal temperature of 150 degrees F. I got it up to 140 degrees F after about 2 1/2 hours. I had added more wood chips a couple of times and there was smoke coming out of the enclosed grill. The bacon slab had colored up nicely and was looking very good. I decided to finish it up in the oven.

I set the oven to 200 degrees F and inserted the temperature probe into the thickest part of the slab and waited until it hit 150 degrees F. I checked a few other places to make sure the temperature was good. I waited until the slab had cooled. I was worried about skinning it, as skinning the raw pancetta slab was difficult. In this case, the smoked and still warm slab was much easier to gracefully skin. A good sharp knife helps. I pulled the skin up with one hand and sliced as close to the skin as possible, to keep the fat.

The bacon after smoking has a beautiful sheen, color and smell

The bacon after smoking has a beautiful sheen, color and smell

Hold the skin with one hand while cutting with a very sharp knife to get the skin off

Hold the skin with one hand while cutting with a very sharp knife to get the skin off

I cut it into three smaller slabs, two for freezing and one for the fridge. I couldn’t resist two thick slices to cook and try out. It smelled so good, I had to try it. The bacon will last three weeks in a fridge and a few months in the freezer. I cooked the two thick slices in the oven at 350 degrees F for about 25 minutes to try it out.

Three slabs for the freezer and fridge and two thick slices to cook now. It rocks!

Three slabs for the freezer and fridge and two thick slices to cook now. It rocks!

This bacon is without a doubt the best I have ever had. It is hard to describe. It is nothing like American grocery store bacon, but just as wonderfully fatty (much better, actually). I should note that I love American grocery store bacon, although it will never be the same. I can’t compare it to Canadian or English bacon as it had more fat and was, therefore more tasty and moist. The maple flavor was definitely there, very nice sweet hint. And the salt came through, but not too salty like country ham. The smoke was not as pronounced, I will use more wood chips in the future. But, this was a glorious bacon.

Lynn said we will have the best breakfast possible this weekend, homemade slow cooked stone ground grits, homemade Southern biscuits, eggs from our chickens, and this bacon.

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Virgil on October 17, 2014

The bacon and pancetta have completed their seven day curing process. If you want to see part 1 of this series, please check out Charcuterie – Bacon and Pancetta. The first article explains how to prepare a pork belly for bacon and pancetta and getting them into their cures.

The key with the curing is that the pork belly is somewhat firm, indicating that it has released some moisture in the curing process. The bacon cure was much more liquid (like a brine) than the pancetta cure was, as expected based on the ingredients used in each. Both pieces were firm, yet soft. The bacon was easiest as it has a day to dry in the refrigerator before I smoke it. I took it out of the cure, washed it off in cold water and patted it dry with paper towels. Then, it goes on a rack over a pan in the fridge for 12 – 24 hours.

Bacon after being washed and dried. It goes in the fridge uncovered for 12 - 24 hours

Bacon after being washed and dried. It goes in the fridge uncovered for 12 – 24 hours, then will be smoked

Tonight’s task was the pancetta. Same deal, remove from the cure, wash with cold water and pat dry. Next, sprinkle cracked black pepper over the meat side. I grind peppercorns in a spice grinder. Vary the grinding time to get your desired fineness (or lack thereof). I like my pepper a bit finer than standard cracked pepper.

Now, for the fun part. Rolling the damn thing up tightly and tying butcher’s twine around it using butcher’s knots. The butcher’s knot is fairly easy, but rolling the meat up and getting the knots tight is a learned skill, especially with everything slipping through the fat on your hands that can’t be avoided (gloves might help). I laid the twine sections under the pork belly slab, rolled it with both hands, pulled up the twine and tied the knots, then tightened them as I was trying to keep the meat in a tight roll. I doubt I looked very elegant. I am sure an experienced chef can do this in a heartbeat.

Pancetta with pepper on meat side, ready for rolling and tying with twine

Pancetta with pepper on meat side, ready for rolling and tying with twine

Finally got the thing rolled and tied decently. This one was not perfectly rectangular or square, but it will do. I hung it in the kitchen. It will hang for around two weeks unless it dries out too quickly. My humidity in the kitchen is pretty good, the temperature is more than I would like. Pancetta is not eaten without being cooked, so this is not as critical as other cured meats like salami. I am dying to try some cured meats like salami, but need to build a container where I can control temperature and humidity.

Pancetta hanging, it will hang for around two weeks

Pancetta hanging, it will hang for around two weeks

I can’t wait to try it. I am sure it will make a hell of a spaghetti carbonara. The pancetta smells great, mainly from the juniper berries. The bacon is more neutral in smell at this point. I am sure smoking will change that. Stay tuned.

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Virgil on October 10, 2014

Last Christmas, my brother-in-law gave me the book, Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. This book teaches how to prepare all manner of cured meats. I have made duck breast prosciutto and beef bresaola so far. Now, I am foraying into luscious pork belly with bacon and pancetta.

I started out with a 7.5 pound lovely skin-on pork belly from Savannah River Farms, in Sylvania, Georgia. The pigs are a cross of  Duroc, Hampshire, Berkshire, and Landrace breeds. Many consider the Berkshire to be the holy grail of hogs. The animals are pasture raised and humanely treated and slaughtered. Their prices are very reasonable.

7.5 pounds is a good sized pork belly. I decided to try both bacon and pancetta, using half the belly for each. Bacon is cured with skin on and pancetta with skin off, so I cut the belly in half and skinned the piece I was going to use for the pancetta. Skinning was not easy and I am sure I did not do the best possible job, wasting too much fat, probably.

The pig belly cut in half with skin side down

The pig belly cut in half with skin side down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pork belly cut in half, skin side up

Pork belly cut in half, skin side up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First up, the maple cured smoked bacon. Please see the book mentioned above for specific amounts of ingredients, the measurements can be critical, especially for the pink curing salt. The first step is curing the belly slab for seven days. For this bacon, the cure is kosher salt, pink curing salt (not to be confused with Himalayan pink salt), dark brown sugar, and maple syrup (real maple syrup). Dry ingredients are mixed thoroughly to ensure the pink salt is well distributed. Then the maple syrup is added and mixed in to make a damp rub. Apply this rub all over all sides of the belly. Place the belly in a 2-gallon freezer bag, skin side down, and put in the refrigerator. Every other day, rerub the belly without opening the bag. After seven days, it will be ready for smoking and I will cover that later.

Belly with skin side up and the cure

Belly with skin side up and the cure in the bowl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cure on belly and in freezer bag for fridge

Cure on belly and in freezer bag for fridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the pancetta, the cure has different ingredients and the skin must be removed. Skinning the piece for the pancetta was the hardest thing to do, that skin is attached, even with a good, sharp knife. I didn’t do the best job of it, but it will do. The cure for the pancetta has minced garlic, pink curing salt, kosher salt, dark brown sugar, coarsely ground black pepper, crushed juniper berries, bay leaves, nutmeg, and fresh thyme. This is a dryer rub than for the bacon. Completely cover the belly with the rub and place in a 2-gallon freezer bag and place in the fridge. Every other day, rerub the belly without opening the bag. After seven days, it will be ready for rolling and hanging and I will cover that later.

Skinned belly and pancetta cure in bowl

Skinned belly and pancetta cure in bowl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pancetta with cure and in freezer bag ready for fridge

Pancetta with cure and in freezer bag ready for fridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a week, we can move on to the finishing touches. My mouth is watering already.

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Bobby’s Bar-B-Q Buffet & Catering, Warrenville, SC

1-star-rating

 

 

One Maudie – run away

Not the worst BBQ I’ve ever had, but pretty close.

I went to Bobby’s back in the 2000 timeframe a few times because a group I was a member of met there. I recall not being impressed. I am a huge BBQ fan, this was not it.

I went back today, again with a group. If anything, it was worse than I remember. I had pulled pork, green beans, hash and rice, potato salad, and a couple of hush puppies. None of it was really worth eating and certainly not worth spending money on. I would not eat here if it were the only BBQ in a 200 mile radius.

Pulled pork: not sure how they cook it, but it was not on wood unless it was heavily subsidized with gas or electric and it was not cooked as long  or at a low enough temperature as it should have been (and you can make decent pulled pork with gas or electric at the right temp). It was pulled poorly, not really a big deal, but pulled pork should not require a knife for anything. Actually, not enough fat, either. But, the killer was the sauce, a sickly sweet mustard sauce. Now, mustard sauce is a midlands South Carolina thing from German settlers. Not my favorite BBQ sauce, but I don’t mind it at all if done well. This was far too sweet, I mean buckets of sugar. Mustard sauce can vary like vinegar and ketchup based sauces, but this was the mustard equivalent of sickly sweet Kansas City BBQ sauce. Try some vinegar for goodness sake. It is prepared with the sauce, so no option for opting out (the best pulled pork requires no sauce).

Rice and hash: Pretty standard stuff, not horrible and not terrible. Rice sticky enough for me. Hash did not have liver (I don’t like liver in hash, but it is traditional and I will never hold that against a restaurant in a review. The hash could have been two or three star, but it was just meh.

Green beans: out of a can and cooked with fatback. I love fatback, but not canned beans. I can do this at home in a few minutes.

Potato salad: Really bad, institutional quality bulk potato salad, maybe even canned. I can buy better at the grocery store deli.

Hush puppies: Not bad, standard, but cooked decently

I will never go back unless circumstances dictate. I hate it when I have to give a bad review to a local place, but they were doing a great business, so they are doing fine.

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Do not penalize organic farms for living near GMO farms

Do not penalize organic farms for living near GMO farms

USDA is once again trying to blame organic and non-GE farmers for being victims of GE contamination. Tell USDA that “co-existence” isn’t protection; it is forced GE contamination.

Right now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has opened a comment period on the so called “co-existence” of organic, conventional and genetically engineered crops, but the problem is that misses the point.   It calls for “farmer education” to prevent GE contamination rather than the need for USDA to establish-mandatory GE contamination prevention measures.  As usual, the agency’s proposal reads like it was written by the biotech industry. Despite acknowledging the very real threat to organic and non-GE farmers of contamination by genetically engineered crops, USDA’s recommendations would make a bad situation even worse.

Tell USDA that its “co-existence” proposal isn’t protection; it is forced GE contamination.

USDA’s so-called “co-existence” plan fails to offer any protection for organic farmers and would institutionalize transgenic contamination in crops across the U.S. If implemented, the proposal would require the victims of contamination to buy insurance or pay into a fund to compensate themselves for unwanted contamination, lost markets and other damages. This is simply unacceptable.

It is high time that USDA address the root causes of contamination by stopping gene flow and putting the burden for preventing contamination squarely on Monsanto and the other biotech companies. An immediate moratorium on the planting of any new GE crops must be established until tried and true mandatory contamination prevention measures are in place to protect organic and non-GE farmers.

Tell USDA this ill-conceived solution of penalizing the victim is fundamentally unjust and fails to address the root cause of the problem – transgenic contamination.

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Virgil on February 12, 2014
Mexico honey production

Mexico honey production

I didn’t know that Mexico was one of the top exporters of honey in the world. Much of their honey goes to European Union countries that, unlike the United States, ban or heavily regulate anything with GMO content. At least the EU knows that GMOs are a problem, I think the US also knows, but just doesn’t care. Politicians and USDA are both paid off by the big agribusiness firms.

I have often said that GMOs pose many threats, some we know about already and some that we have no clue about. All will eventually catch up to us in a very bad way. Mexico is just now learning that allowing farmers to grow GMO crops, soybeans in this case, may hurt Mexican beekeepers, often smallholders who can not afford to lose sales, in a big way. Germany has recently rejected a shipment of Mexican honey that contains GMO soybean pollen.

This particular honey came from a region where GMO soybeans is grown, but at a much lower rate than in some larger honey producing areas. The beekeepers had no idea that their bees were visiting GMO soybean fields to gather pollen. And, unless they live right next to a GMO field, would have no way of knowing. I didn’t know it, but, according to Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute scientists, bees from a single colony can travel as much as 200 square kilometers to collect pollen. Makes you wonder about US honey, where it isn’t even tested for GMOs. Either is any Mexican honey imported to the US and I would expect the rejected honey to end up in the US.

This is scary stuff. According to the Organic Consumers Association, “The US National Organic Program rules prohibit GMOs inmexican honey organics but don’t require methods to prohibit GMO contamination or establish thresholds for adventitious GM presence.” And,

“Companies don’t want to test because there is no pressure for them to do so.”They don’t want to take on an expense when it isn’t mandated by consumer or regulatory pressure,” he says. As a result, no one knows the extent of GMO contamination of organics.”

That means, in reality, that much ‘organic’ honey and other products are not actually organic.

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Virgil on February 7, 2014

DowDow Chemical, the company that brought us Napalm and Agent Orange, is now in the food business and is pushing for approval of genetically engineered (GE) versions of corn and soybeans that are designed to survive repeated dousing with 2,4-D, half of the highly toxic chemical mixture Agent Orange.

USDA is on-board with Dow and needs to be told to actually look out for US consumers rather than be the enablers for the continuing decline of food quality. The following is from the Center for Food Safety, just one of many groups pushing USDA to do the right thing. Many GMO crops are “sold” to us as reducing the need for toxic pesticides, yet they are often directly responsible for the opposite. And the scientific evidence is there to support these claims that GMOs cause more pesticide use, not less. Every day, a new study adds to the growing concerns that USDA ignores.

Center for Food Safety has launched a new national campaign focusing the food movement’s growing power on stopping the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) approval of the next generation of genetically engineered (GE), pesticide-promoting crops: corn and soybeans engineered to be repeatedly doused in 2,4-D, a powerful herbicide that formed one half of Agent Orange. The campaign features a petition to the USDA and President Obama to reject Dow Chemical’s new GE crops, a campaign website and an animated video examining Dow Chemical’s sordid history.



Why Dow Chemical? Dow Chemical has a long and troubling history of selling dangerous chemicals and poisons, and now they are targeting our food supply. We are launching this campaign to give people the chance to fight back, to speak with one voice and stop Dow Chemical’s “Agent Orange” crops.


2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid), produced by Dow Chemical, was a component of Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used in Vietnam. 2,4-D and other herbicides of its class have been independently associated with deadly immune system cancers, Parkinson’s disease, endocrine disruption, and reproductive problems. 

Dow Chemical’s crops are the worst possible application of biotechnology. They offer zero consumer benefit while doubling down on the most devastating aspects of industrial agriculture. Instead of feeding the world, Dow Chemical’s new genetically engineered crops will poison it. Unless we stop them.



Check out our new animated video and campaign website, and join the campaign!

Go and tell the USDA to say NO to Agent Orange corn and soybeans. And remember, if you want to make sure you do not buy GMOs, be very careful with any product with US or Canadian grown, non-organic, corn or soybeans. That includes corn syrup that is in tons of processed foods. Conventional meat that is fed corn or soybeans is also suspect.

Last year was the first year, in my opinion, where consumers really started having an impact on the food industry. We have a very long way to go, but America is finally starting to wake up to the dangers of our conventional agriculture system, from both a health and environmental perspective. We are killing ourselves with the modern food production system and USDA is pushing it down our throats, no pun intended.

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Virgil on January 19, 2014

CheeriosThe United States is one of the only developed countries in the world to either not ban foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or at least require labeling of said foods. Very sad commentary on the US and the power that agribusiness and their allies in the USDA and FDA have on Congress at the federal and state level. Even Al Franken (D-MN) (the liberal’s liberal senator) voted against GMO labeling.

Luckily, consumer concerns over GMOs are finally getting the attention of some huge companies, like General Mills. Since our politicians and government agencies are owned by Monsanto and other food industry giants who don’t care about the health and environmental risks GMOs present, it is encouraging to see that the little people who eat the horrible food coming out of the US food production system are starting to be heard.

Some anti-GMO groups are poo pooing this move by General Mills, saying that it doesn’t mean anything and that General Mills is still evil. Maybe. But, I see this as a victory for anti-GMO advocates and consumers who only want the right to know what is in their food. Basically, virtually all commercial boxed cereals, unless organic or labeled as non-GMO, have GMOs in them. Especially if they include sugar, as, even if the grain base is not available in a GMO crop (like oats in Cheerios), the sweetener is almost always corn syrup. And almost all corn grown in the US is GMO.

This is a start folks, hopefully more to follow by General Mills and other huge food processing firms. 70% of processed foods have GMOs. It is one reason I eat very few processed foods.

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from our friends at Food Democracy Now!

Don't betray America on GMO labeling

Don’t betray America on GMO labeling

Last week, Maine’s Republican Governor, Paul LePage, signed a GMO labeling bill passed last spring, making Maine the 2nd state to pass and sign a GMO labeling bill into law. LePage’s signature on the bill was preceded by Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, who signed the nation’s first GMO labeling bill into law in December 2013.

Now that Democrat and Republican governors have signed the nation’s first 2 GMO labeling bills into lawMonsanto and Big Food corporations are freaking out! Noting that bipartisan agreement reaches more than 90% among both Democrats and Republican voters, elected officials are beginning to take notice. So now, biotech and Big Food lobbyists are scrambling in DC to stop GMO labeling before we can win!

Stop Monsanto and the GMA’s secret plant to kill GMO labeling! Every voice counts!

While both Connecticut and Maine’s bills require 4 other states to pass bills before they go into effect, now that the movement to label GMOs has spread to more than 25 others states, Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) have introduced a secret plan to try to sneak in a piece of legislation that would eliminate federal mandatory GMO labeling, usurp states’ rights to pass similar bills and replace mandatory labeling with a “voluntary” labeling standard.

With votes on GMO labeling bills coming up soon in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York, biotech and Big Food lobbyists are trying to kill these efforts behind the scenes in DC.

This plan is so devious that it radically speeds up the approval process for new GMO crops, limits the FDA and USDA’s ability to extend premarket safety reviews, declares GMO foods “safe” and redefines genetically engineered foods as “bioengineered” in order to sanitize this deeply flawed technology to the American public. Make no mistake about it, this is an outrageous powergrab to deny Americans their basic right to GMO labeling and protect flawed GMO products – and we can’t allow them to get away with it.

Tell Congress and FDA: Don’t betray the American public on GMO labeling. Demand mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods and don’t let Congress destroy our only hope of protecting our families, our farms and our food from untested and unlabeled GMO food! Every voice counts.

http://action.fooddemocracynow.org/go/1185?t=7&akid=1143.430698.66TnHs

This proposal is much more dangerous to our basic rights to know what’s in our food than the Monsanto Protection Act and will enshrine the false idea that GMOs are proven safe in federal legislation.

Will Congress and the FDA Succeed in Killing GMO Labeling? Only if we let them!

If allowed to pass, the current proposal “would create a uniform, national program” to outlaw any state labeling bill and render federal legislation on GMO labeling meaningless.

According to an outline of the proposal, published in Politico earlier this week, this proposed bill only requires a federal GMO “label on any products” from GMO plants “if those ingredients present a health or safety risk.” Something the U.S. government has refused to admit for more than 20 years! Think they’re going to start telling the truth about GMOs now?

At the same time, the proposal calls for the creation of a “national standard for voluntary labels” and would allow the FDA to define “natural” as containing genetically engineered ingredients (GMOs).  Monsanto’s and the GMA’s new secret plan would also create a federal voluntary label to say “GMO-Free”, something no individuals are asking for, but some companies want to be able to use it to deceive the American public.

Right now is the critical window where we need to stand together to stop Monsanto and these corrupt corporations from trying to betray our basic democratic rights once again.

Tell Congress it’s time for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods! We can’t allow Monsanto and Big Food companies to continue to hide GMO ingredients from the American public. Take action now!

http://action.fooddemocracynow.org/go/1185?t=10&akid=1143.430698.66TnHs

Remember, democracy is like a muscle, either you use it or you lose it!

Thanks for participating in food democracy,

Dave, Lisa and the Food Democracy Now! team

Sources:

1. “Food industry to fire preemptive GMO strike”, Politico, January 4, 2013

http://action.fooddemocracynow.org/go/1183?t=12&akid=1143.430698.66TnHs

2. “Monsanto and GMA’s Secret Plan to Preempt State’s Rights and Kill GMO Labeling”

http://action.fooddemocracynow.org/go/1181?t=14&akid=1143.430698.66TnHs

3. “Industry’s Secret Plan to Get the Feds to Kill GMO Labeling in Every State”, November 7, 2013

http://action.fooddemocracynow.org/go/1184?t=16&akid=1143.430698.66TnHs

4. “Will a Federal Compromise on GMO Labeling Trump State Law, Forever?”, Huffington Post, February 6, 2013

http://action.fooddemocracynow.org/go/1182?t=18&akid=1143.430698.66TnHs

 

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Virgil on January 10, 2014
Sausage with milk added

Sausage with milk added

This is my mother’s recipe and one that was always super popular in our house growing up or as adults when visiting. Sometimes my dad made the sausage. This is the ultimate “white gravy on biscuits” gravy, but we just as often had it over toast. You can buy my mother’s recipe book, by the way (hint, hint) for $17.00 at this link.

For this batch, I used homemade sausage from our neighbor who raises hogs and, I have to say, it is probably the best sausage I’ve ever had. Just the right amount of heat.

Creamed Sausage – Sawmill Gravy

Ingredients

  • 10 oz. ground country sausage
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon butter only if your sausage is very lean)
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • salt, pepper to taste

Crumble sausage in heavy skillet on medium-high heat. Stir until the pink is gone and the sausage is nicely browned. Add

You can't even see the the toast or biscuits, that's how it is supposed to be!

You can’t even see the the toast or biscuits, that’s how it is supposed to be!

butter if needed (it probably won’t be) and stir in to add some fat to lean sausage.

Sprinkle in the flour slowly and stir until slightly cooked. Lower heat to medium and add the milk. Stir constantly, scraping the bottom of the pan, until it begins to thicken. It will be ready in around 10 minutes. Add any desired spices to taste and stir until well mixed.

Serve over toast or biscuits and enjoy!

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