PERU – Chef Curtiss Hemm likes to keep things simple in the kitchen, especially during the holiday season.

Instead of conventional gravy, he serves his turkey with a mushroom sauce.

“I like things with mushrooms,” said Hemm, owner of the Carriage House Cooking School in Peru.

“We have a really nice mushroom soup that we did in a class last night. I tend to use that as my sauce for my turkey. I'm a big fan of mushrooms. I forage here on the farm, and I've been cooking with mushrooms. They are one of my favorite, favorite things.”

GRAVY ALTERNATIVE

Hemm doesn't like gravy as much as most people do.

“I tend to not do a traditional gravy,” he said.

“Part of this is really thinking about how you prepare a meal, and in my world we do things that are in advance. We have components. I actually break my turkey down ahead of time.

“I roast the legs differently, then I take care of the turkey breast. I like to have my sauce ready to go, and I like to have it very stable. Since I had my gall bladder taken out, gravy just makes me not so happy.”

The chef likes classic veloutés, and this mushroom soup is a classic velouté.

“It's similar to a milk sauce, roux,” he said.

“That's called a béchamel. If you use stock instead of milk, it's called a velouté. So this is in the style of a velouté, and it's flavored with baby bella mushrooms and sherry.”

Hemm uses an Oloroso sherry, which is on the drier side of things.

“And quite honestly, the quality of the sherry doesn't matter,” he said.

“It just gives this kind of nuttiness to it. So, I start off with a some butter and some shallots and a little bit of garlic, and I cook that up. Then, I add the mushrooms. I cook that up and get a little carmelization. I add the flour. I make a roux, and I cook that until it's a little bit nutty. Then I add some stock and some sherry and bay leaves and thyme and heavy cream.”

Hemm cooks that for a good amount of time, probably 30 minutes or so.

“Then, I puree it,” he said.

“I finish adding the cream, and I thicken it with butter as it's blending. The butter forms an emulsion that gives it this very rich texture. It's great cold. It makes a great presentation on the plate. Turkey has very mild to savory kind of profiles. This just pairs naturally with it.”

'KEEP IT SIMPLE'

Hemm tries not to freak out over holiday meals and strives to be very neutral.

“I do pickles and things like that,” he said.

“I try very hard to just keep it simple. You can spend all day long, and this is what a lot of people do, they spend all day long cooking and the meal lasts 15 to 20 minutes. There are so many dishes to clean up. I try very hard not to do that.”

Hemm limits his entrees to five items, and adds an array of condiments such as celery, cream cheese and raisins, his son's favorite.

“I like bread and butter pickles, so we make bread and butter pickles,” he said.

“Plus, I will buy pickles, and put out a little pickle tray with some olives and candied things like that.”

MAPLE SPICED WALNUTS

Hemm cracks a batch of maple spiced walnuts every holiday.

“I entered a competition for maple syrup,” he said.

“It's a simple recipe I created as a cocktail hors d'oeuvres. It's walnuts tossed with a little bit of local maple syrup. I almost always use Brenda Wood's maple syrup from Wood's Maple Products in Chateaugay.”

Hemm tosses the walnuts with salt, pepper, fresh thyme.

“You can use dry thyme or rosemary if you wanted to, but I like the way thyme plays off of this,” he said.

“You bake it at a decent temperature. It comes out as a brittle. You have to get the maple syrup to what we call the 'hard crack' stage.

“I do call these maple crack. You cannot stop eating them. You bake it, and you let them cool off, and you crack them into a bowl.

“It's candied like a brittle, and the walnuts are just perfectly coated.”

Email Robin Caudell:

rcaudell@pressrepublican.com

Twitter:@RobinCaudell

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