Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dressed to Kill...

At our Thanksgiving table, we serve Mom's turkey dressing with a side of baby aspirin and a glass of red wine.

Laden with butter-drenched croutons and three kinds of sausage, her killer concoction could damn up even the mightiest of arteries...just by looking at it. But, every year, we look danger square in it's beady little eye and snuggle that stuffing up to the turkey and mashed potatoes on our plate then drench the whole lot in golden gravy.

Last year, and I don't really remember why, the dressing duties fell upon me. Determined to make my own mark (and convinced I could not duplicate Mom's signature sausage surprise) I dug through my ripped up magazine archives looking for a perfect dish that I could call my own. Not to worry, tradition would be upheld featuring all of the other usual suspects (green beans with bacon, mashed potatoes, fresh cranberry sauce...), but this was my chance to see if a bird of a different feather, so to speak, would fly.

Scattered among my tattered tear sheets were many recipe options from which to choose...all touting to be the best: some with cornbread, others with oysters, some with sausage, some without. But, as I went round and round, I just kept coming back to the one with pancetta, prunes and chestnuts...just the departure from tradition I was looking for without completely risking a mealtime mutiny.

I just can't throw away a November issue!

I'd substitute bacon for the pancetta ($6 vs. $30 per pound, you do the math) and no one would be the wiser. The prunes were a little risky but I just wouldn't advertise they were in there until someone asked what the delightfully sweet surprise inside was.

Chestnuts...hum...never cooked with them but I think Grampa put them in his stuffing one year. Not that I paid much attention to those things back then, but the "kids table" was in the kitchen and I have a foggy memory of him leaning over the turkey, stuffing a chestnut studded concoction mercilessly into its cavity. I think that was the year my cousin Ricky laughed so hard at the dinner table that spaghetti shot out of his nose...but that's another story.

Does he or does he not look like the kind of kid who would shoot spaghetti out of his nose?

Speaking of stuffing, it begs the question: is it "stuffing" or is it "dressing?" To that I say, you say "toe-may-toe", I say "toe-mah-toe." In other words, it's all the same. Technically speaking, I think it's stuffing if it cooks within the nether regions of your formerly feathered friend. Dressing is baked in a casserole separate from the bird. That said, we call it stuffing in our family, even though we haven't actually stuffed it for years...go figure (too many scary salmonella stories on the news).

Anyway, my new-fangled recipe was a big hit last year so I'd like to share it with you today...just in time for Thanksgiving...if you dare.

Me? Well, Mom said she's doing the stuffing this year and actually, I can't wait. There's a lot to be said for tradition and knowing that the only ingredient she uses with more abandon than butter, is love, makes hers some of the healthiest dishes I know.

I'm bringing the pie (for the perfect crust, check out the recipe under "Recipes You've Requested" to the right of this post) or click on this link: http://makemudpies.blogspot.com/p/basic-flaky-pie-crust.html.

I made this pie last night...threw some peeled and sliced Golden Delicious apples tossed with sugar and cinnamon into the crust and topped with streusel...I think I'll have some now.

A big juicy hug to you and yours during this season of thanks. I am so grateful that you sit with me at my virtual table and indulge me in my ramblings and recipes. Like we do at our family table, pass it on...

Now, let's get that bird stuffed or dressed or whatever!

Start with the bread. I used Bordenaves Extra Sourdough bread which is one of our local favorites. For this recipe, I used 3/4 of a 1# loaf.

Preheat oven to 400°. Dice the bread into 1/3 inch cubes and spread the cubes out onto a shallow baking sheet. Toast until the bread is golden and dry and looks like this. Then place in a big bowl.

Dice your veggies.

Set aside.

Then quarter your chestnuts and prunes (the original recipe said to cut them in half but we all decided the flavors were more subtle with smaller pieces). Set aside.

Chestnuts (not water chestnuts) aren't the easiest ingredient to come by, I've found. I think it must be more of an east coast thing. Anyway, I found these at Trader Joe's and this one 6.5 ounce package seemed about right for the recipe (although the original recipe called for more). I saw some canned ones at Andronicos yesterday (a local market) but none at Safeway. Last year I actually roasted and peeled whole chestnuts in the shell because that was all I could find. It was a pain. Moral of the story...don't assume your market will have them...be prepared to make a call or two.

Cook the bacon until it is crispy, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Pour all of the fat into a clean, heat proof bowl, wipe any burnt bits up from the pan then pour two tablespoons of fat back in the pan with 1/2 stick of butter! Saute the onions and celery until softened (about 10 minutes) then add fresh sage, the cooked bacon and salt and pepper. Cook for a minute or so more.

This sage is all that's left of my pitiful little garden!

Whisk together the stock and eggs and mix everything in the big bowl with the bread. Bake in a buttered 9x13 Pyrex, loosely covered with buttered foil, for about 30 minutes, then uncovered for about 10 more or so until it reaches the brown-ness you love. Charlie likes his stuffing really wet, I like mine crispy on top and this recipe seemed to please us both.

When I made this last week to see if it was as good as I remembered, I served it to the hubby and kids with brined grilled pork chops and homemade apple sauce (I knew we'd be turkey-ed out this week). It was yum!

Chestnut, Prune and Bacon Stuffing

Preheat oven to 400°. Cube, place on a baking sheet, toast until browned an place in a large bowlt:
  • 3/4# sourdough bread
Cook until browned:
  • 1/2# bacon, cut into bite-size pieces
Drain the bacon, set aside, pour off the fat into a bowl, wipe out the skillet, put two tablespoons back into the skillet and melt:
  • 1/2 cube of butter (4 Tbs)
Saute until soft:
  • 2 cups celery, diced
  • 2 1/2 cups onion, diced
Add the cooked bacon to the skillet plus these ingredients and cook for a minute then add to the big bowl:
  • 1 Tbs chopped fresh sage
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 3/4-1 cup pitted prunes, quartered
  • 6.5 ounces (or about) peeled, cooked whole chestnuts, quartered
Whisk together then gently mix with other ingredients:
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups turkey stock or store-bought chicken broth
Empty the mixture into a well-buttered 9 x 13 Pyrex, loosely cover with a buttered foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes or so until it has reached your desired crunchy-top-ness.

Serves: 6-8 (I'd say closer to 8)