Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Menu 2010, Round Two: Stuffing vs. Dressing

Stuffing vs. Pan Dressing
There’s always been a debate between aficionados of stuffing and dressing. Stuffing is more or less self-explanatory, while dressing seems to have a more varied definition based upon regional influences. One would tend to think that there’s not much in the way of comparison, as the only thing stuffing and dressing have in common is bread, but my ears have been burned by the vehement opinions of friends and family. My take on the matter is that stuffing can be prepared either stovetop or baked inside the bird whereas dressing is baked in a pan separate from the main entrée. Here are a couple of recipes that you can add to your Thanksgiving Day table, to quell the strident opinion that may arise should one or the other be left out of the day’s offerings.

Mrs. Pat’s Pan Dressing
When I was growing up my Mom always made pan dressing with Thanksgiving dinner, many times her mother- Grandma Ruby- would also show up with a slightly different but still-substantial pan of dressing. It was dark and savory, more like a casserole or bread pie with cornbread and chicken. It was actually a meal in itself, and Mom always makes an extra pan for late-night leftovers when the munchies set in. I find pan dressing to be the perfect complement to the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special we always watch later in the evening. It’s my comfort food of choice, and I will eat an entire pan of this stuff if I’m not prevented from doing so. As an entrée-type offering I’ve added instructions for the extra step of adding chicken to the recipe, but as listed below it is offered as a competitor or alternative to the side of stuffing. This is best prepared the day before and left to chill in the refrigerator overnight to let the flavors mingle. Just take it out and let it return to room temperature before baking so it won’t go soggy.

4 cups Cornbread, Crumbled
2 Cups White or other Loaf Bread, Torn
1 Large Onion, Diced
4 Stalks Celery, Diced
2 Tbsp Fresh Chopped or Rubbed Sage (fresh for a stronger flavor)
2 Tbsp Butter or Olive Oil
2 Tsp Poultry Seasoning
2 Large Eggs, Beaten

Put the bread into a large mixing bowl. Heat the butter or olive oil at medium heat, then sautee the celery and onion until translucent. Add the broth, sage and poultry seasoning and stir for 2 minutes. Add the broth and vegetable mix to the bread, stir and allow to cool a bit. Then mix in the eggs until the mixture is lumpy and pourable but not soupy. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight) to allow the flavors to mix, then allow to return to room temperature. Pour into a greased (or sprayed) 9 x 12 baking or casserole dish. Preheat your oven to 350F and bake until crisp on the edges and a toothpick comes out clean. Cut into squares in the dish and serve.

Entrée Option: Bake whole small chicken, cut meat from breast, legs and thighs into strips and boil the bones and carcass for broth.  Add the chicken meat to the mixture and bake as usual.

Mister C’s Fruited Nut Stuffing

Some of you who have been fans of Cookin’ With Mister C for a while will recognize the stuffing recipe I’m reproducing here as the Fruited Nut Stuffing I use for Cornish Hens. Stuffing generally takes two forms: Stuffing made in a pan and stuffing that’s actually stuffed into the bird. They are very different dishes: one is fluffy and kind of crisp and the other is dense and very complex with the juices of the bird cooked into the bread mix.

4 Cups Stale Bread, cut into small cubes (whole grain or multigrain is good because it’s very firm)
1 Cup Chopped Celery
1 Cup Chopped Onion
2 Tbsp Butter (just enough to moisten the bread)
1/4 Cup Chopped Walnuts, Almonds or Pistachios
1/4 Cup Dried Apricots, finely chopped
1/4 Cup Dried Cranberries, finely chopped
2 Tbsp Olive Oil and Butter, combined equal parts (1 Tbsp each, warmed and mixed)

In a large sautee pan or cast iron skillet heat the olive oil/butter mixture and add the onions and celery, sauteeing until just soft then remove it to a bowl. In the skillet add the remaining butter and bread chunks, moving the bread until it is moistened then stir until the bread is very slightly browned. Then add the onions, celery, nuts and fruit to the bread and stir on medium-low heat until it’s thoroughly mixed, steamy and soft. Then increase the heat to medium-high or high and toss until the bread is lightly browned and just barely toasty. Remove the stuffing from the heat and cover it to keep it moist until time to move it to a bowl for serving. If you are making this to stuff the bird, triple the ingredients (dividing the portions as needed to accommodate pan size)- trust me, you’ll be surprised how much stuffing it takes to stuff a turkey! If you make more than you need, just plate the rest and use it as garnish when the bird comes from the oven.

Tomorrow: Soups, Cheeses and Other Hors D’Oeuvres

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