17 November 2009


With Thanksgiving Day quickly closing in on us, it's time to start planning the menu, especially if you'll be asking guests to bring a dish of their own.

No matter how creative we want to get on the holiday, it seems there are a few dishes that always make it on to the table. Stuffing, or dressing as it's also called, it seems, is one of those. It seldom makes an appearance any other time of year, and yet it seems pivotal to the T-Day dining. If you want to stray from the traditional, read this piece in the New York Times.

If, however, you like tradition, there's nothing wrong with sticking to a simple, straightforward stuffing recipe. This one comes from my Grandma Pat, a woman who, despite passing away just about six years ago, I really didn't know that well. In fact, I can't recall ever spending Thanksgiving with her since she and her second husband were snowbirds who felt most comfortable just this side of the Mexican-American border for all but the hottest months.

But recipes have a beautiful way of connecting generations. This is the stuffing my mother makes, which she, of course, learned from her mother. And that teacher-student relationship spans back at least one more generation, if not more.

Stuffing is actually very easy to make, and it's somewhat forgiving and adaptable. This recipe calls for half cornbread and half dried bread cubes, a nod to our Oklahoma roots. If you pick up the store-bought stuffing, just make sure it's naked, dried bread cubes. Seasoning yourself will allow you to better control the flavors. You could easily make your own dried bread cubes by simply slicing up some bread. For this recipe, I'd suggest cubing a plain French baguette. Just leave the cubes out, uncovered over night to dry out.

If you want to mix it up a bit, you could bake stuffing in muffin tins for individual servings. Reduce baking time as needed. If you're thinking of stuffing the cavity, read this.

I've adapted the recipe a little, perhaps back to its original form, calling for a pan-sweating of the onions and celery instead of a microwave cooking. Not everything from the '80s is coming back.

Grandma Pat's Thanksgiving Dressing

Dried corn bread (see recipe below)
Approx. 4 cups bread cubes/plain stuffing mix (the mixture should be roughly 1/2 corn bread, 1/2 cubed bread)
1 cup celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning (or substitute dried sage, rosemary, thyme and parsley)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
Approx. 2 cups of chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the onions and celery in melted butter over medium heat until translucent. Set aside to cool. In a large mixing bowl, combine the two breads. In a smaller mixing bowl, combine eggs and a few tablespoons of broth and whisk just until they come together. Add onions and celery to bread cubes and then pour egg mixture on top. Using your hands, turn over bread cubes to combine. Add 1/4 cup broth and sprinkle 1/4 of the poultry seasoning and salt and pepper over bread cubes, and then use your hands to mix bread again. Repeat, adding broth until all bread cubes are saturated but not dripping with liquid. Pour into a 9-by-13-inch pan. Bake at 350 degree for about 45 minutes.

Do ahead: Bake cornbread up to 3 days ahead. Cool completely. Once cool, using a fork, break up cornbread into small pieces. Tent with foil to keep other crumbs out, but do not seal or put on an air-tight lid. Allow to set out on your counter top at least overnight and up to a few days.

This is a basic cornbread recipe adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book, but any cornbread recipe could be used. To make the cornbread for stuffing, use only 2 tablespoons of sugar, and my mom says you may want to use a larger pan, such as a 13-x-9-inch, to bake it. That would result in a thinner cornbread that would dry out quicker. Note that in a larger pan, the cooking time may need to be reduced slightly.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
2 to 4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 beaten eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter

Grease the bottoms and sides of a 9-x-9-inch pan and set aside. In a medium bowl stir together dry ingredients. Set aside. In another bowl, combine eggs, milk and melted butter. Add egg mixture to dry mixture all at once and stir just until combined. Spoon batter into pan and bake in a 425-degree oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

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