Saturday, November 15, 2014

Don't You Dare Buy Ready-made Stuffing for Thanksgiving!


Homemade Dressing
for the Holidays

If You Can Sing "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme," You Can Make Stuffing (dressing) from Scratch. Stuffing. Ahhhh. Maybe my favorite part of my favorite holiday. Growing up with four siblings, stuffing disappeared the fastest and was the most worth fighting over when it came to leftovers (if there were any). Who doesn't love stuffing? When I lived in Japan, where no one had a big enough oven to roast a turkey, even if they knew what one was or could afford to procure one—what I missed the most about American food was, not surprisingly, turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce. Simple, yes, if you live in the states. Exotic and impossible if you life overseas. Now that I am back home, I serve my family a turkey-stuffing-cranberry meal about once a month—I cannot get enough of it.


Growing up in a large household, my parents wisely took some shortcuts when it came to cooking. And stuffing was one of them. I never had honest-to-goodness homemade stuffing until I was all grown up and discovered how to make it myself. What a thrill to realize how easy it is. And the rewards are GREAT—when you serve it, be sure to mention you made it from scratch. You will hear oohs and ahhs. No store-bought stuffing mix can compare in any dimension. You too can do this—have confidence. Stuffing is so simple to prepare, you will wonder why you never thought of doing it yourself before now.

One last note: I dined at a friend's house for a holiday party recently. He was so excited to have made stuffing from scratch, but it was the most gosh-awful stuff you ever tasted. He had just tossed in the celery and tossed in the other ingredients--with NO sautéing, no herbs, no butter, and no chicken stock. The stuff he called stuffing was dreadful, pasty bread bits with hard chunks of celery. Don't let this happen to you.

Basically, stuffing is comprised of two steps: “Creating the Croutons” and “Sautéing the Savories.” And you hardly need a recipe. Once you know how to do it, you can whip stuffing up easily with no props. Are you ready? YOU CAN DO THIS!

Creating the Croutons
The croutons you just made
Take a loaf of bread that you find delicious—ones loaded with nuts and whole grains are wonderful for stuffing. Sourdough works great too. Anything but white bread (too fluffy—needs to be a bit sturdier). I'm a fanatic—I make loaves of "stuffing" bread to use (chock full of fresh herbs). But pick a bread you already like. Day-old bread is fine too. You will need about eight cups worth of croutons. If the loaf of bread is large, you may not need the whole loaf.

Cut sliced bread into strips and then again crosswise into ½ inch (1 cm) cubes. Place the croutons on a baking sheet without overlapping, if possible. Toast lightly in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Scoop all the croutons into a large bowl.

Sautéing the Savories

Celery, onions, butter, and chicken stock
The savories, sauteed and ready to roll
Chop up one large onion (sweet ones like Walla-walla or Vidalia are especially yummy for this) and about 6~8 stalks of celery (slice each stalk lengthwise first and then crosswise to make smaller pieces). Sauté the onions and celery in 6~8 tablespoons butter (use butter unabashedly, but start with the lesser amount and see if it needs more later, depending on the quantity of croutons you have), along with the following herbs (fresh if you can get them, and chopped coarsely): Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme. Does that sound familiar? It's part of the refrain from a Simon and Garfunkle song, Scarborough Fair. Yup. It's the herbal code for stuffing (and poultry seasoning). If you have a choice of parsley, use Italian flat leaf instead of the curly kind—but fresh is always preferable to dried. How much of each herb to use? Fresh, maybe 3 tablespoons each. Dried, maybe 1 tablespoon each. It's important to sauté the herbs so that the fragrance and flavor get infused. Add in about 1/2 cup of dried cranberries if you have them (makes it irresistible—sautéing plumps them). Once the onions are slightly translucent and no longer crunchy, remove from the stove.


Stir this sautéed herb mixture into the croutons. Add about 1 cup of chicken broth—slowly—so that you can gauge when to stop adding. (Keep jars of all-natural chicken stock concentrate in the fridge for uses such as these. I recommend “Better Than Bouillon” brand, by Superior Touch. You can get it at Trader Joe’s or other high-end grocers. Cubed bouillon is too salty and has too much artificial stuff, along with MSG. Chicken stock that comes in cans and cartons is good but too pricey.) This is the trickiest part—if you add too much broth, the stuffing becomes mushy. Too little and it's chokingly dry. Just right is slightly moist, with mouth “give.” Just right is not too crumbly and holds up on the plate. Add salt to taste (I especially recommend Vege-sal vegetable salt). And more melted butter, if needed. Toss lightly and serve as is or use about half to stuff bird. Keeps well for several days.


Notes:
— You can add variations for fun: toasted chopped nuts (pine nuts are fabulous, macadamias are decadent, chestnuts if you can get them, almonds if they are slivered thinly), chopped dried fruit such as apricots (go easy on the fruit and cut it small), other herbs such as marjoram or tarragon, etc.
— Some folks love cornbread stuffing. To make it, add chopped pork sausage to the sauté and use crumbled homemade cornbread (not that sweet kind like they serve at Boston Market—eyuck!) instead of wheat bread.
—To bake or not to bake? This dressing recipe is complete right here--but if you like baked dressing, cover loosely with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350. Then remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes or so until browned on top.
— Be sure NOT to use Pyrex when toasting your croutons in the oven (a baking sheet is perfect). Like a doofus, I used a Pyrex pan as an overflow and voila! It exploded. I'm not the first person to have this experience, lest you laugh at me. I did a quick search and found an entire page on ConsumerAffairs.com dedicated to people who've had exploding Pyrex experiences. Just use a standard baking pan and you will be fine.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

So glad I saw this today! I will be making my stuffing from scratch this year. Yumm!

Cathy K. Asheville

lovemyphilly said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tumerica said...

Once you do make stuffing from scratch, you will never go back. It's not really much more effort than making store-bought--with all the icky additives. And the taste of homemade stuffing is so ravishingly good, I think people who eat it will fall in love with you. It's worth every speck of work and then some!

Analise said...

i made this last year and it turned out GREAT, and i was so sad when i realised that the bookmark got deleted somehow.. thank you google for reuniting us! will be making it again this thanksgiving =)

Carolyn Blount Brodersen said...

Thank you, Analise--you are awesomeness! I love love love to hear one of my recipes turns out well--total rapture! Thanks so much!

aj said...

I went by total looks, and am glad I did. Even Google Images can bring you to bliss...
THANKS!! I'll be doing this Gluten Free, this being my first holiday without, I am glad to have found such a classic and mouthwatering recipe;)
AJ, Colorado

Carolyn Blount Brodersen said...

aj--I am thrilled that you will be doing this gluten-free--sounds perfect! I'd like to hear more--do you buy your gluten-free bread or make it? I've made some gluten-free using Pamela's gluten-free bread mix. It's tasty but a bit gluey. I'd like to make my own from scratch--you know, with rice flour and potato flour and tapioca starch--and all that. Do you have a good recipe, by chance? Anyway, let me know how this goes with GF bread--I think it'll be smashing!

Karen said...

Sounds amazing...can't wait to try it! Would you recommend adding some toasted pecans or chopped Granny Smith apples to the mix?

Carolyn Blount Brodersen said...

Sounds great, Karen! Whatever you have on hand that is savory or sweet and not too liquidy. Mushy stuffing wouldn't be as good. With the apples, as long as it's a small amount and in small bits--should be fantastic. Any nut will do--macadamias, hazelnuts? Why not? Let me know how it goes!

zoktoberfest said...

What always concerns me is the ratio of liquid to bread croutons. I make my own stock from 8-10 large turkey necks, crocked all night. Putting that much meat into the stuffing, along with all the other additions everybody wants makes predicting moisture level, post baking, a bit of a challenge. Better a touch dry than wet, but if the stuffing comes out a little too wet, emergency measures are needed. Lightly dust with seasoned bread crumbs, and if needed, a little instant mash potatoes, and mix thoroughly until excess moisture is absorbed. More time in a hot oven, uncovered, will also help drive out excess moisture :-)

Carolyn Blount Brodersen said...

Beautiful! Thanks for your contribution, Zoktoberfest!

Karen said...

This stuffing is PERFECTION! I had a feeling it would be. Last year I became a vegetarian. Before then, when hosting Thanksgiving I always made my stuffing with packaged bread cubes and sausage, etc. I am not hosting this year, but was asked to bring a vegetarian stuffing to accommodate me and anyone who may not want meat stuffing. I did a trial run with your recipe...to the letter except for using vegetable stock. It is everything I hoped for. Plan to make it tomorrow for Thanksgiving. Thank you!!

Carolyn Blount Brodersen said...

Karen--I am SO excited to hear that! Yeah! I love vegetarian stuffing. I went to an even recently and had quinoa-gluten-free-vegetarian stuffing--and it was fabulish!