November 30, 2013

My Grandmother's Stuffing (and in Praise of a Realistic Thanksgiving)

La Dolce Duchessa's Thanksgiving

What does that subtitle mean?  In praise of a realistic Thanksgiving?  It means that before the meal even started, a bottle of red wine was spilled on the white linen table cloth.  It was because my husband was desperately trying to feed mashed potatoes to the starving almost 19 month old- and some of the wine landed in the mashed potato serving bowl- he said, 'It's on the outside, though, so if we just serve the potatoes from the center, that shouldn't be an issue...'  Then, my son's mango juice cup's lid (one of the only varieties of fruit juice he will consume, but hey, we like mango) went flying and out sploshed the mango juice onto the table cloth in a different area, to which I responded 'hey, now it's a party!'  because, really, what else are you going to say?  Then I spilled red wine on the bottom of my wine glass- 'oh hey, you've ruined the tablecloth!' came the shouts- you know what?  No big deal.  Any of it.  Because my little family was together, happy and healthy, and we even had my wonderful Mom visiting to make her signature stuffing (which is really her Mom's recipe).  So, a roaring success!  Even if the pictures say otherwise!

American Gothic tribute- and our red wine covered table!

Don't sweat the small stuff.  See the big picture.  Enjoy what can be enjoyed- affirm what can be affirmed!  Yes, I love things done well, and elegant food and beautiful tables.  But, that can't be every day.  It just can't.  And that is just fine.  Really.

My Grandmother's stuffing
What does Thanksgiving mean to you?  For me, it always meant stuffing.  Partially because I was a picky eater and for a while, stuffing was the only thing served on Thanksgiving that I liked.  Let me be more specific, I only liked my Mom's stuffing.  Which, was really her Mom's stuffing.  Her Mom, who I haven't talked to you about much before, was from Ireland.  She was very mischievous- I remember clearly when we were visiting her, she secretly placed a five dollar bill in my hand when no one else was looking, and whispered to me not to tell anyone.  I must have been 7 years old, and I thought this was so exciting- and I'm sure no one cared that she gave it to me- her making it our secret made it special.  When she came to visit us at our house, she'd braid my long hair before I went to bed at night, which made it beautifully wavy in the morning.  She was the kind of person who could have fun in a paper bag.  I have always truly envied those people- I've had several friends like that- and I think sometimes my children are like that- it's a quality that is really wonderful, happy wherever you are.  She has passed away now.  When she got older and was in a nursing home, my Mom and I would visit her.  Once, we'd taken her out to eat, and we'd invited a young man that worked at the nursing home.  There was some question about what 'dish' was being considered, and my Grandmother joked that the young man was eyeing one of the beautiful waitresses as his 'dish.'  She was that kind of prankster all the time.  I was in high school during this time, and glitter nail polish was a big part of my life, and I remember bringing glitter nail polish and painting her nails (and her friends in the nursing home, too).  Did I mention she won the nursing home beauty pageant?  And her acceptance speech began, 'I'd like to thank all the little people,' with a royal wave.  I think I'm starting to see where my irreverent streak comes from...  And for that matter my children...

Plain old white sandwich bread is best for stuffing
This stuffing is very simple- but deviations from its simplicity make it worse- take it from me- for years I tried to elevate it by using what I considered to be superior bread, freshly baked, toasted in the oven, hand cut- a complete waste of time.  That all yielded stuffing that was far too crusty.  What you need is some nice, plain white sandwich bread.  And don't cut it.  Tear it into pieces on the couch while watching TV.  If that's good enough for two generations ahead of me, it is good enough for me, too.  And, don't use this horrible new fangled stuff that is poultry seasoning that is salt free (unless it is Bell's).  What!!  No.  It is Thanksgiving.  Embrace the salt!  (We very much embraced the salt this Thanksgiving- instead of turkey, we had a salt crusted roasted chicken and it was soooooooooooooo good...)

Grandma's Thanksgiving Stuffing
(enough for 6-8 people, or 4 people plus leftovers)
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 bunches celery, chopped
1 to 1 1/4 loaves white sandwich bread, a few days old, torn into pieces
2 sticks unsalted butter
poultry seasoning (although salt free, we like Bell's) Bell's Turkey Seasoning
chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

Beginning your stuffing with butter and onion
You may prepare your onion, celery and tear your bread ahead of time.  You may even make this the day before and then heat it in the oven in a deep casserole pan.  This stuffing works with you!  Let's begin!  Start melting one of the sticks of butter in a wide skillet (or whatever you want to use to cook the onion and celery).  The wider the surface, the faster this will go.  Once the butter is almost melted, add the onion and cook over low to medium heat.  Once translucent, add the celery.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion and celery are softened.  You don't want browning, or caramelizing.  That's not what we're going for here.  We're going for cooked, not raw, but still recognizable.  Begin to add a little poultry seasoning.  And, the second stick of butter.

You'll need a large stock pot for the next phase of cooking.  Once the onion and celery are sufficiently softened in the melted butter, transfer to the stock pot.  Continue to heat over low to medium heat, and begin to add the bread pieces.  You'll want to do it a little at a time, and mix, so the butter gets absorbed into the bread.  Begin to add some chicken broth (we used about 2 to 2 1/2 cups for this amount of stuffing, but this will vary based on your bread, so you'll need to eyeball this).  And, some more poultry seasoning.  The adding of the poultry seasoning is to your taste, so continue to taste as you go along.  Remember, white bread is pretty tasteless, so be bold, you want your stuffing to be able to stand on its own.  Keep mixing the bread in, and once you've added in all the bread, see where you are in terms of moistness and flavor.  You don't want it to be too wet, if it is, add more bread, or too dry, if it is, add more chicken broth.  Taste it, and season with salt and pepper.

Before you are ready to put it on the table, spoon it into a deep casserole dish and let it heat and dry out a little in the oven at about 200-225.  Cover loosely with foil- not tight- because you want some drying.  Especially the top, so you can have a nice mix of firm and soft in the final stuffing.

Once its firm and dry enough on top to your liking, remove from the oven and serve.  You may serve it in the warm casserole pan or spoon it into another serving dish, trying to keep the dry portions on the top.  Enjoy!

La Dolce Duchessa's Apple Pie

We also enjoyed a lovely apple pie, for the recipe, click here: La Dolce Duchessa's Apple Pie, why not whip one up for Christmas dinner?  Or a lovely raspberry pie? La Dolce Duchessa's Raspberry Pie

To clean the table cloth, which is a white linen tablecloth, I put it into the washing machine with OxiClean powder and used a hot cycle.  I stopped the machine at the soak step and left it overnight.  I finished the cycle the next morning, and it came out, no problem.  I didn't have to treat the individual stains at all.  Wasn't that easy?  OxiClean