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coconut-creme-brulee1

Toronto, and I’d feel safe saying the rest of Canada, is waiting for the Spring.  We’ve reached that point in the year where we all start looking expectantly at the empty flowerbeds, strewn still with the remains of last autumn’s debris, hoping for that first glimmer of life; that tiny speck of brilliant, fresh green amidst the somber grey-browns.   We’re all needing some colour to freshen our senses and I’m drawn like a mouse to cheese by the buckets of bright, optimistic tulips lining the outsides of corner stores along the high streets.  At this time of year I find my palate also yearning for something fresh and bright and exciting.  All those gorgeous, comfy stews and thick, hearty soups are starting to seem old and overused and while I’ve no doubt I’ve a few left to make before the sweet peas bloom I needed a little something with attitude on the tongue this past weekend.  A vibrant, exotic Red Curry was dished up with plenty of fresh Cilantro, chili and coconut and to finish this little gem, which is cool and creamy and oh, so delicately flavoured with star anise, lime and cardamom.

*note: I served these little yummers with a good dollop of home made Meyer Lemon curd on the side.  Deeeelish.

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Lime and Coconut Creme Brulee

1 cup whipping cream (35% fat)
1 cup coconut milk
1 tsp finely grated lime zest
2 whole star anise
2 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 egg
3 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar

about 2 Tbsp sugar extra

– Preheat the oven to 320˚F. Put a full kettle of water on to boil. Have a deep oven dish ready (a lasagna dish or a roasting tin for example).

– put the cream, coconut milk, lime zest, star anise and cardamom in a saucepan and scald (heat until just before boiling, when little bubbles and a bit of steam come off the surface).  Cover and set aside to infuse for 20 minutes.

– In a separate bowl beat the egg, yolks and sugar until well mixed but no longer than necessary.

– When the cream mixture has infused, stir in the egg mixture then strain the whole lot to get rid of the spices.

– Pour the custard into 6 small, individual oven proof dishes (ramekins are traditional, but I used oven proof glasses).  Put the dishes in the large oven proof dish and fill the dish with hot water to come half way up the side of the ramekins.

– Bake for 20 – 25 mins until the custard is almost, but not quite, set. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room tempurature

– Refridgerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

-Just before serving, remove from fridge and sprinkle each little creme with about a teaspoon of sugar.  Caramalise the sugar using either a blow torch or by placing the creme’s under a very hot grill for a few seconds.

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apple-pie-phylo

I love a bit of pastry, this is true.  There’s not much I’m not willing to either pile on top of, wrap up in or top with a bit of flaky, buttery pastry.  Surprisingly, I haven’t been making pastries all that long.  In fact, up until a few years ago the thought of making my own pastry left me feeling somewhat the way I do when I’m staring at my tax return and trying to do judicial judgement to the hard work my accountant has done filling in the forms by pretending to try and understand what’s what.  My first real encounter with a pastry-maker (person not machine) that I can remember was in the late 90’s here in Canada, at the home of the inspirational Mrs R, who would send us off into the Canadian Summer to pick raspberries, strawberries and the like and then make the most delicious pies from the buckets of sweet, sticky fruit we’d brought home.  She made it all look so simple, the way my accountant makes such simple sense of all those numbers floating on the page in front of him.  And yet, when I finally built up the courage to give it a go myself (the pastry, not the accounts) I was almost horrified to discover that (a) it was easy and (b) it was fun.  Horrified, that is, that I’d spent so many years in shy awe at anyone who claimed to make their own pastry.  Perhaps I’ll find the same one day with my taxes, though I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Most the pastries I’ve made over the years have been of a similar variety: shortcrust.  I’ve not yet managed to confront the lurking monster that is puff pastry and continue to buy mine frozen, knowing full well that I’m compromising somewhat in flavour and quality but not willing to perform what Ms Glaze makes look like fabulous theatre.  However, there is one pastry that I really don’t think I will ever bother to learn the knack of making because, let’s be honest, why would you? Filo pastry is that one pastry that I really think is absolutely essential to buy, freeze and have at hand just in case. In case of what, you might ask?  In case of Apple Pie, that’s what:

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The process for this was really simple, although the slices would have held their shape better if I’d let the pie cool properly before slicing.  But sometimes one is completely overwhelmed by a sheer lack of Pie-Patience and one Must Eat Pie Now.

Start with a box of thawed Filo pastry, unwrapped on a board and covered with a damp tea towel to stop it from drying out.

Peel, core and thinly slice a couple crisp, green apples like granny smith. Put them in a bowl with the juice of half a lemon. Mix this with a couple tablespoons of sugar, a good sprinkle of cinnamon and a pinch of cloves.

Measure out a cup of walnuts, slightly chopped up.

Melt some butter, probably around 50g or so, in a small saucepan.

Grease a small springform pan (I used a 20cm one).

Line the pan with a layer of Filo, brush with butter and repeat with 3 more layers of filo and butter.  Now place a layer of apple, then walnuts then filo and butter again and repeat until the pan is full and the ingredients used up, finishing with a pretty layer of apple and some nuts.

Dot with a bit more butter and bake in at 375 for 30 – 35 mins until the pie is bubbling and browned.  I burned the apple on the top of mine, so keep and eye and if the apples start to get too crisp, put a layer of foil over the top for protection.

Allow the pie to cool for about 10 mins before loosening the tin.  And maybe a good bit longer than I did before slicing.

winter-trees

Just so you know that I haven’t yet succumbed to martyrdom with my runny nose and blocked sinuses (how is that even possible at the same time?) I thought I’d write a line about breakfast.

Occasionally, far, far too occasionally in my mind, my dearly beloved friend, the sparklingly gorgeous Ms K stays overnight at our house on a visit from her new home town of NYC. While I always love the easy, breezy time we always spend on either side of the couch chatting and sipping tea/hot choc/cocktails as if no time at all has passed since our last gathering, and I especially love the thought of her snuggled up in the big white duvet on the sleeper couch downstairs, I particularly, selfishly even, love the thought of getting to make her breakfast in the morning.  Partly because it’s what I do for those I love, partly because I know that not many of her other friends would do that and partly because, Ms K being one of the slightly fussier eaters I know, I always get to make pancakes for her.  An opportunity to make pancakes for breakfast is an opportunity for a good day, if you ask me.  Have you ever made pancakes for breakfast and gone on to have a bad day?  That, unlike my runny nose/blocked sinuses, just I has to be impossible, non?

La vie, c’est bon.

And while the batter, for reasons I’m going to just go ahead and blame on my cold, simply did not perform but insisted instead on being too runny and made pancakes altogether too squishy and crepe-like to be Real American Pancakes, the whole affair still undertook to hold together and be fabulous.  We managed to wolf an impressive quantity down, complimented by a blueberry and raspberry compote and covered in a caramelised white chocolate crem.

Sorry there aren’t any pictures.  Well.  That I’ll just blame on my cold as well.  Why not?

*cough

Sick days

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There are people I know who, through out their school and work careers so far, have never taken a day of sick leave.  I can remember being awed and slightly mystified in primary school by a couple of my friends who had, at that point, had never stayed home in bed reading books or watching movies due to an upset tummy or a sore throat for even one single day.  And it’s not, it simply can’t be, that these young folks were born with immune systems made of iron and had never, in fact, been ill.  I’d be willing to bet that these brave souls are the type of people who, even at the tender age of 6, would tenaciously blow their noses, do up their shoe laces and hunker down for the day, ignoring the throbbing head or the faint nausea in the quest for higher learning.  Take the ever diligent and steadfast Mr P, for instance.  For starters, nine times out of ten, if he succumbs to a malady, which is rare in any event, the lad waits until the onset of a weekend, preferably a long one, to do so, so as not to inconvenience any of his colleagues at work who would have to shoulder his load should he be absent from the office.  And having done so he retires quietly and without much fuss to the comforts of the bed, asking for nothing and sleeping much.  Having  done this for a maximum of one day he most often runs a hot shower, dons a clean shirt and carries himself back off into the world as if none of this had ever occurred. (Naturally, I find this a little unnerving, especially in light of the fact that I try so hard to play the good nurse maid, offering glasses of cold juice, hot tea and comforting soups as I would think need be; most being graciously declined with a small sigh.)

I am very definitely not one of those people.

Perhaps it’s the 1930’s starlet in me. Perhaps I’m just too weak for this world.  At the slightest and earliest indication of the onset of the wee common cold I bewail my fate loudly to any who would listen (or who are withing a 50m circle of my voice), clutch desperately at a bottle of cold-n-flu and take to my bed in a flurry of discarded garments and extra blankets for at least 3 days.  After which I retire, my face a tabloid of stoic bravery, to the couch for a further day or so while insisting on constant care in the form of cold juice, hot tea and comforting soups, all the while coughing loudly into a large, white hanky.

Such has been my fate this week.  A parting gift from one of the 416 passengers aboard either of two flights from O.R. Thambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Schipol International in Amsterdam and from there back here to chilly Toronto.  Not quite the perfect end to a three week long holiday back to my homeland, but there you have it. *cough *splutter.

Thank you to everyone who’s continued to bother reading this spot while I’ve been gone and I do hope not to keep you waiting for fresh meat, as it were, too much longer.  Right now, however, I have to get back to my stoic position on the couch before it gets cold.

*sneeze

stella

Welcome to 2009, everyone.  I know, it’s the 10th already.  And already everyone is saying Already.  As in, “Wow, it’s already the 10th!  How did that happen?”  In any event, I hope you all had a fabulous holiday season and are back at it, breaking New Years Resolutions and trying to get rid of that extra bit of “you” that seems to have somehow applied itself, as if by magic, to your bottom/hips/tummy.  Thank you, Christmas Pudding. We had a marvelous time here at lick your own bowl.  We toasted and roasted our way through a disproportionately pleasant number of feasts. We had the kitchen candles burning at both ends and by the end of it all we sat fat and happy, and looked back with gluttonous grins at the piles and piles of dishes waiting to be cleaned.  This was our third Christmas here in Toronto and we finally found ourselves feeling a lot more in the swing of it all.  It’s not easy getting used to Christmas time in a foreign country with no family.  Back in my home country I could picture everybody lounging around the pool, toasting with frosty drinks and organising an impromptu game of cricket with a tennis ball and a couple party hats to mark the boundaries.  This year, however, we found ourselves truely reveling in the season and all it has to offer in a cold climate.  Christmas, and any holiday/celebration comes down to tradition, to doing the same thing, to the fun of looking forward to a particular way of doing things.  Chez Mr P and I we’re in our third year of our own Christmas traditions and it all starts to feel a lot more familiar and, well, traditional.  After a magnificent and decadent Christmas Eve dinner hosted by our fabulous and flamboyant friend Mr W we woke up late, had a cozy coffee and eggy muffins on the couch opening gifts and feeling smug.  Our Christmas dinner with friends was another drawn out affair with the accomplished Mr P whipping up his usual, and fabulous, beef wellington.

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After 5 Christmas puddings and a plethora of other indulgences we’ll probably be laying a little low on the calories here at Lick Your Own Bowl.  I get the feeling, though, that we won’t be alone.  Just to taunt you all a little, however, here’s a wee dish the Iridescent Mr P and I had before the real feasting began.

I grew up largely a vegetarian, but occasionally my dear Dad would rub his hands together at dinner time and his eyes would twinkle with anticipation as he whistled and sang his way through frying up a batch of bangers for our mash.  With this being very nearly the only meat we ever cooked at home you can bet they became synonymous with good times and Treat!  Back in my kitchen it’s a bit of an occasion too.  Ivan made a point of wooing me, when the wooing was still new for us, with a plate of very masculine and entirely smitt-able bangers and mash.  Mostly, they remain his domain in kitchen, but now and again I like to surprise him with a dish that I just know will bring out the child inside him a little.  Such a dish is this.  Be warned!

*Note: Obviously I didn’t make the sausages myself.  And obviously, they being such an integral part of the dish, the better the sausages the better the meal.  No one can buy industrial pork sausages and get gourmet bangers.

**Note: some people prefer to boil the potatoes whole, cool them, peel them then mash them.  Help yourself, if that ‘s your method.  I find it too time consuming to wait for the potatoes to cool enough to handle them so I peel and chop them before boiling.

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Super Duper Bangers and Mash

For the Mash:
2 large potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
Olive Oil (about ¼ cup)
¼ cup milk
3 Tbsp Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

For the “Kraut”
Olive oil for frying
300g or so green cabbage, sliced thinly
1 large red onion, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic
juice of ½ lime
1 tsp brown sugar
½ Tbsp Worcester sauce
salt to taste

4 best pork bangers (I used organic hand made ones from the Healthy Butcher)

– Start with the Kraut.  Heat some olive oil in a large pan and gently saute the onions, garlic and cabbage, stirring often, until soft.  Add the lime juice, sugar and Worcester sauce and continue cooking over a medium heat until caramelised, about 15 – 20 minutes.

– In the meantime, boil the potatoes in a large pot of water until tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

– While the potatoes are boiling, heat up a thick based frying pan and fry the sausages until cooked through, turning often.  The time here will depend on the thickness of your sausage.

– Check the seasoning of the cabbage mix.  It should be somewhat sweet/sour.  Adjust with more lime/sugar/salt to taste.

– Mash the potatoes with the oil, milk and mustard.  Season with salt and pepper.

– Heap a plate full of mash, top with bangers and cabbage.

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Well, one can deny it no longer: the season is upon us.  The season of snowdrifts and blizzards and brilliant blue skies.  The season of children throwing snowballs at each other and throwing themselves down hills on toboggans and sleighs.  The season of hot, mulled apple cider; of long, lazy evenings spent adrift on the couch in front of the blazing fire and the season of baking to beat all baking.  The kitchen here at lick your own bowl has been a beautiful scene of domestic industry the last few weeks.  I find that even people who don’t usually do any baking will pop a batch off cookies in the oven at this time of year.  I love the baking, even after a week in the kitchen mixing and rolling and washing, when my shoulders are tender and my back is aching.  Last year I stuck to fairly traditional Christmas cookies: gingerbread men, peanut butter cookies, molasses drops and choc orange harlequins.  This year I decided to mix it up a little and add a bit of Grown-up to the mix.  I made Italian Amaretti, Spiced chocolate sandwiches with cinnamon and chili and Pepparkakors.  I also whipped up a batch of mice pies from Nigella Lawson’s ‘Domestic Goddess’ and a batch of mini apple tarts in a cheddar pastry for our Christmas party.

I do love the Christmas/Holiday/Winter season.  Whatever your roots and however you like to celebrate it you have to admit that if you take advantage of all the season has to offer you can not help but love it.  Living in a foreign country with no family near by has brought me to the conclusion that this season is very much what you make of it.  Am I going to let a silly thing like being far from home stop me from Christmassing myself and those around me ’till the cows come home?  I think not. And part of that is either creating your own new traditions, or continuing on those that have been with you since childhood.

When I was a little girl my grandmother used to live with us.  Aren’t I lucky?  Well, more than you know!  While the granny-flat my grandparents lived in didn’t have a big old kitchen, and granny didn’t do an awful lot of baking in it, at Christmas time there would be cookies galore and most important of all, a few, big Christmas Puddings hanging above the window waiting for the day we each got a bowl of the warm, sticky, sweet pud and tucked through it to find the hidden coins somewhere in there.  Some of us children (and there was an entire gang of us on Christmas day) didn’t really like the more adult flavours of the pudding, but boy, that didn’t stop any of us if there was money to be found!  Now, I haven’t resurrected that particular little gem of a tradition before, but by golly a Christmas dinner is just not a Christmas dinner without a pudding.

I asked my Mom if she still had the original recipe for the pudding, but life being what it is, it has gotten lost in the drift of various house moves and general life.  After much research and a kind gift of a recipe from a honest-to-goodness British family friend, I concocted a new recipe that I’m hoping will be made for many years to come.

So, a few things about Christmas pudding: I’ve found that the Canadians I’ve encountered so far don’t really know what to do with a Christmas pud.  I gave a bunch of little ones away last year as gifts, with illustrated instructions, and you can imagine my horror when I discovered that all were thrown away because (a) nobody knew just what to do with the pud (b) the instructions seemed too foreign and (c) they all figured that after a week/month of the pud sitting in the cupboard it would surely no longer be any good.  Oh my.  I still have one small pudding in my cupboard that I saved from last year, religiously sprinkling with brandy every now and again, that I intend to eat with the gleeful Mr P on boxing day.  Le sigh.

Now, you can pop off to your local deli/gourmande and pic up a ready made little plastic tub of pud, which you could nook on the day.  And take all the joy out of it while you’re about it.  Look, it really isn’t that difficult a thing to make and once you’ve done it once you’ll wonder why you ever thought it a chore.  So, in the hope that it will encourage a few  folks out there to make their own this year, I set out a little photo essay on making Christmas Pud.

I’m not going to give you the recipe this year, just the basic technique. There are plenty of good recipes out there.  I like the ones that use Guinness, or some other dark stout, and I like to use a lot of different types of dried fruit, not just raisins, currants and dates.  I particularly like dried cherries, blueberries, apricots, cranberries and lots of dried figs.  The hardest part is the mixing of the pud, which does take a little elbow grease, but traditionally a family lets everyone have a stir, making a wish while doing so, to impart all the joy and hopes of each family member onto the pud (sweet, huh?) so it can be a lot less work, and more fun that way.

Once the batter is all mixed up, you divvy it out into pudding basins (I prefer the cream ceramic ones, but glass or plastic will do if that’s what you have), seal the bowls with a layer of foil and parchment, and steam for 6 – 8 hours.  Once the puds are steamed, you uncover them, prick holes all the way through with a skewer and tipple a little brandy or rum over the top, reseal the puds and put in the cupboard.  Once a week you can open them up and check, tipple a little more brandy/rum and reseal.  You can (in fact, you should) make these babies well in advance to let the flavours develop.  I use these as my introduction to Christmas baking, making them up towards the mid/end of November, but you can make them as early as October if you like.  They last as long as you can bear to not eat them, just keep checking them once in a while (about once a month or so is fine) and keep adding a little alcohol to the top.

The easiest way to steam a pud is in a pot with an upside down saucer on the bottom, with water coming half way up the pudding basin sides.  With the stove on a low setting, a and a very, very gentle simmer going on, you can happily leave the puds steaming merrily away for the 6 – 8 hours while you carry on with life en general.  On the day you want to eat them, they do require a further steaming of around 2 hours before serving.

I unmould the pudding onto the serving plate, top with a sprig of holly and flambe with some brandy/vodka at the table.  Traditionally one would serve it with brandy butter, but I personally find this too rich and prefer plain, whipped cream.

Fill your pudding basin, leaving about an inch to the rim:

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Layer a piece of foil over a piece of baking parchment, large enough to cover the top of the pudding basin with a good two inch over hang.  Fold a pleat down the middle so there’s space for steam and pudding to expand while steaming:

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Cover the basin firmly:

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Cut a piece of kitchen string long enough to wrap around the top of the basin four times.  Now wrap the string around the basin, under the rim, twice and secure with a knot, leaving a long piece of string, like a tail:

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Pull the ‘tail’ back over the top of the basin, giving a little slack:

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Tie the tail firmly to the string wrapped under the rim, to create a handle:

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Now you ca safely lift the pudding into and out of the pot for steaming.  Trim the overhanging foil/parchment to a bit less than an inch.

When you’ve steamed the pudding, remove the cover, skewer and tipple with your choice of booze and allow to cool.  When cool, recover (you may want to cut new seals, with the pleat and all, if the first ones were ruined in the steaming) and retie the string.  I leave the handle tieing until the day I want to steam them again, so that I can more easily unseal them to add some brandy.

Here’s wishing you all a very merry, safe and warm holiday season wherever you may be.  May you be well fed and a little plumper at the end of it all.

Love!

chicken-roast-dijon-comb

There’s something special, to me, about a whole roast chicken.  Well, any bird in the oven, really.  I roasted my first turkey last year for Thanksgiving, in a snug little cottage on a windswept and storm battered peninsula in Newfoundland and it was just wonderful.  I mean, the dinner was lovely and all, but the moment, the coup de grace, was bringing that bird, golden brown and steaming hot, to the table.  It’s hard not to smile in anticipation when the bird is brought to the table.  Whole roast birds say Holiday and Celebration to me in a way a frosted martini never could.  A golden bird on the table tells tales of friends and family gathered together to share a meal and be satisfied.  So, every now and then the ever epicurean Mr P and I throw a bird in the oven, regardless of occasion or lack thereof, and have ourselves a little feast for two.  A chicken, I’ve found, is just about the right size for the two of us to have an impressive dinner and leave enough left over meat for at least two pasta sauces and a chicken mayo sandwich or two.

Also, quite frankly, I love a roast because it’s just so easy and so little fuss.  Great for entertaining, one can prep the bird and veg in advance pop it in the oven at the right time and then not only does your house smell simply divine by the time the guests arrive but you don’t have to spend the evening stirring pots and checking the sauce on the stove while missing out on the juicy chit chat over cocktails with the company.

When buying a bird I always buy organic, free range if possible.  I do the same with my eggs.  I don’t want to go into the politics of industrially reared animals and the inhumane conditions they’re kept in.  Other than it being the socially responsible thing to do, organic free range chickens just taste better.  An animal carries it’s lifestyle in it’s flavour at the end of the day, not to mention it’s nutrition.

I only recently started doing a roast with a thermometer (instead of the juice-runs-clear method) and, for me, there’s no other way to go.  It’s not let me down yet!

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Roast Chicken with Garlic and Dijon
and a Sun Dried Tomato Stuffing

1 large, organic chicken
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp prepared Dijon mustard
salt and pepper (about a teaspoon of each)

10 cloves garlic, just peeled

for the stuffing:
¼ cup bread crumbs
6 – 8 sun dried tomatoes, drained (if in oil) and chopped
1 large onion, chopped coarsely
2 large cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
¼ cup white wine
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp salt
black pepper

– take the bird out of the fridge an hour before cooking it, to let it warm up to room temperature.

– preheat your oven to 400˚ F, with the rack in the middle.

– rinse the bird, inside and out, and pat dry.

– mix all the ingredients for the stuffing in a bowl.

– whisk together the Dijon, oil and salt and pepper.  They won’t want to mix very well, that’s okay.

– with your fingers, gently separate the skin on the breast from the meat.  I find it quite easy to start at the neck end and carefully work a couple fingers between the skin and meat.

– stuff 3 of the garlic cloves down each breast, between the skin and the meat.

– at the thickest part of the tight, make a deep slice with a sharp knife, cross ways to the length.  Push 2 garlic cloves into each gash.

– now stuff the cavity of the chicken with the sun dried tomato mix.

Tie the chicken up with kitchen string. instructions here if you need them.

– rub the oil/Dijon mix evenly over the skin of the chicken.

– place the chicken, breast side down, on a rack in a roasting pan.  I put my potatoes, if we’re having, in with the chicken, but  I usually roast other veg (like carrots, onions, sweet potatoes and parsnips) in a separate dish.

– roast the chicken this way for 10 or 15 minutes, then take it out the oven, turn it breast side up and roast again for about 30 minutes, checking often, until the juices run clear or a thermometer inserted between the body and thigh is at 165˚ F.

– if you notice that the skin is getting too brown before the bird is cooked, put a loose piece of tin foil over the top of the bird to protect it.

– when the bird is done, remove from oven, place a piece of foil and a tea towl on top of it and let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.


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