Tuesday, November 23, 2004

MOTHER'S STUFFING FOR THE BIRD

Cooking can be a joyous and creative activity, allowing us to extend our love to others from our hearts and hearths.  Whenever we prepare food,however, we must remember safety. Work hard not to cross-contaminate work-surfaces and utensils.  Wash everything with warm soapy water before re-using, and spray flat surfaces with a bleach spray or other anti-bacterial! Do you use the same sponge or cloth for everything? Using a fresh paper towel can help prevent this, as well as discourage the growth of bacteria found on sponges and used cloth towels.  Today's strong (and yes, more expensive, but I really believe this is one product which is worth the extra cost) paper towels can be used for many cleanups and other kitchen chores (including washing the dishes and pans) before they fall apart.  Make sure that pets and children are not underfoot to get splashed, burned or scalded, and keep pothandles turned inward (so as not to catch on a sleeve and spill.)  Make sure fire safety equipment is available and that you are comfortable with the proper procedures for handling kitchen emergencies such as different kinds of fires,cuts and burns. Do not leave food out in the open for too long when it should be chilled, and commit to "err on the side of caution" when you question whether or not it is safe to consume. Check out this FDA website about food and kitchen safety and here for the Shriner's kitchen safety and burn prevention tips and the Tempe (Arizona) Fire Department had a quick-to-read page on kitchen safety (accident and fire prevention, including for grilling.) All of these precautions will help insure a safe and happy Holiday for you and yours!

For a 12-pound turkey (which would feed 6 adults and 4 children), this recipe will yield approximately 9 cups of stuffing:

-1/4 cup minced onion
-1-1/2 cups chopped celery (stalks and leaves included)
-1/2 cup butter or margarine
-1/2 cup olive oil
-1 can chicken broth
-9 cups soft (fresh) bread cubes (any flavor, including cornbread)---or--- a 14 oz. (large) bag of purchased dry bread stuffing

The dry purchased stuffing bread cubes or crumbs are usually already seasoned with spices, so add the below only if you are using your "own" or "fresh" bread.

-2 teaspoons salt
-1-1/2 teaspoons crushed dry sage
-1 teaspoon thyme
-1/2 teaspoon pepper

The chopped onion and celery may be sautee'd in the butter on top of the stove at medium heat until they are clear
OR MICROWAVE THEM
Microwave the onions and celery separately with no butter or oil in a covered casserole dish, on high power for 1-1/2 minutes at a time, until transparent. Rotate and stir them after each round to ensure even cooking. This method obviously saves on time and can provide a way to cut back on fat calories if less fat is used later in the recipe. The celery and onion can be done ahead and frozen if the meal is days away.

In a large bowl (or several, just divide the ingredients evenly) mix the bread crumbs, spices (if you are using them) and the cooked onions and celery.
At this point, you may decide to de-fatten your stuffing considerably.
You may use all of the olive oil and butter, or just add enough of each in equal amounts to flavor the stuffing...Maybe totaling 1/2 cup of fat overall, or even down to 1/4 cup?  You may even choose to use only the olive oil if cholesterol is a big concern.  (Do not skip using all of the oil or butter, but remember that this will be soaking up juices from the turkey, too!) In a large bowl or pan, mix the chicken broth and enough melted butter, olive oil or more chicken broth to equal 1-1/2 cups.
Pour the chicken broth and oil/butter mixture over the breadcrumbs, stirring well to moisten the stuffing.  If the stuffing is still not evenly moist (sticks together loosely, but not soaked), then add more chicken broth (or bullion.)

Prepare the turkey for stuffing by rinsing the inside cavities (abdominal and neck), and proceed to stuff the bird only right before it goes into the oven, because otherwise it becomes a food-poisoning opportunity (Remember, it is not just the in-laws who are sharing the meal!).  Do not pack the stuffing in hard. Again, I suggest referring to the Butterball site for "lessons" on stuffing!

If there is any leftover stuffing, (I never could get that much into the bird), you may put it in a greased casserole dish to pop it (covered) into the oven after the turkey has come out for about 1/2 hour , or MICROWAVE it on MEDIUM for 10 minutes. It could probably use some more chicken broth (since it will not be basting in turkey juices), and I like to scoop some of the turkey drippings up and pour them (mixed with some broth) over the stuffing before I cook it.

CHESTNUTS ROASTING

Chestnut dressing is a tradition in my family, and it is easy to make, as long as the chestnuts are available.  Blights have really affected the crops, and one never knows what size chestnuts wait at the grocers-if any are available at all.  I have not seen them yet, this year, but I am going to the store today. The dark brown, smooth nuts are almost heart-shaped and these days seem to range from the diameter of a quarter to that of a silver-dollar in size. The cooked meat (roasted) is somewhat sweet in taste, and soft in texture.

We have always roasted our chestnuts on a baking sheet, in the oven. To keep them from exploding, cut an "x" on the flat top with a paring knife.  (Be very careful that you do not cut an "x" on the tip of your thumb...But actually, that can be a special Thanksgiving tradition of its own!) If you wrap the blade of the knife with electrician's or duct tape, (leaving about 1/2 inch of the tip exposed), that will lessen your chances to cut yourself when preparing the nuts!

Preheat your oven to 425 F, and lay the nuts out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 15-25 minutes (according to how big they are.) After the nuts have cooled use the paring knife to peel the outer shell and the inner membrane from the meat. Chop the nutmeats coarsely and mix in with the above stuffing recipe made with white bread (as opposed to corn bread.)   These nuts are often fairly expensive, but I have found that a little flavor goes a long way. A half-pound of chestnuts would be fine for the above amount of the recipe, although the more, the better!

Enjoy!

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