Project Wonderful

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hearty Herbed Holiday Stuffing

When it comes to holiday food - especially the side dishes - I grew up the way many Americans did, with generic, easy-to-fix stuff that's been made the same way year-after-year. You know what I'm talking about: green bean/ mushroom soup casserole with those fried onion strings on top, sickeningly-sweet sweet potatoes with brown sugar and marshmallows, cranberry sauce in a gelatinous blob that retains the shape of the can, and good old Stove-top stuffing.  These side dishes have become culinary staples of our childhood; holiday comfort food, and you can't think of Thanksgiving or a Christmas dinner without them.

I'm still a fan of "can-berry sauce" but I'm here to tell you that there are more things that can be done with these side dishes than are dreamt of in our childhood philosophy. For example, I never knew how good REAL stuffing could be until very recently. And now that I do know, I look at a box of stove-top and think that the cardboard box has better flavor.
It is not known when stuffings were first used. The earliest documentary evidence is the Roman cookbook, Apicius '"De Re Coquinaria", which contains recipes for stuffed chicken, hare, pig, and dormouse. Most of the stuffings described consist of vegetables, herbs and spices, nuts, and spelt (an old cereal), and frequently contain chopped liver, brains, and other organ meat. 
Names for stuffing include 'farce' (~1390), 'stuffing' (1538), 'forcemeat' (1688), and 'dressing'. After about 1880, the term stuffing was replaced by dressing in Victorian English.

This year, my girlfriend made her recipe for hearty herbed bread stuffing. Let me tell you: my mind was sufficiently blown to bits. Delicious, sweet and savory bits.

For this batch, we acquired day old bread from County Line BBQ.  If you've been to County Line, you know that one of their more notable features is the fresh bread they serve. They bring a basket of this warm, awesome, molasses-y bread to the table when you're waiting for the food. And they serve it with honey butter.

Here's how to make stuffing that people will remember and crave next year:

First, acquire good bread. Find the nicest stuff you can find.
Day old bread is better than fresh bread. (you're going to dry it out anyway)
We used both a brown molasses bread and a nice wheat bread, courtesy of the County Line BBQ.
Cut the bread into small cubes.
These should be the same size so that they toast up evenly.
You need about 8-10 cups of cubes.

Here's some wheat bread being cut up as well.
This batch came out with a great sweet flavor.
You could switch the recipe up and use sourdough for a totally different taste, if you prefer.  

Mmmmm, little squares of glutenous nirvana!

In a large pot, start the aromatics with a good amount (half a stick) of butter.
This is 4 carrots, 1 medium onion and 2 celery stalks (plus leaves) chopped fairly thin. 
(The carrots need to be thin so it cooks a little quicker)

To sound like you know what you're doing, this mixture is known as "mirepoix
(pronounced meer-PWAH)  
and it's the base for a variety of soups, stocks, and sauces.
Here, it's being used as the foundation for the dressing.  

While the mirepoix is sauteing, start toasting up the bread cubes by placing them in a single layer on a baking sheet and slide them into a 300º oven for about 10-15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.
You aren't really trying to toast them, so much as just dry them out to a semi-dry texture. 

Once the onions have started to turn translucent, chop up one medium green apple and add this to the mix.
The apple should be pretty firm (otherwise it turns to mush),
so use a Granny Smith, Rome, or some other baking apple variety.

Remember to cut the apple into small bits as well. If you want a 

Now come the herbs:
2 tsp dried parsley
1 tbsp powdered sage
1 tbsp dried rosemary
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp nutmeg
and 5 or 6 cloves of minced garlic

Stir everything slightly and let the aroma of all those wonderful herbs fill the house.

Who needs scented candles? My place smells like great food.

Fold the toasted bread cubes into the mixture.
Mixing too aggressively will break down the bread too quickly and you want some texture, not mush. 

Once the bread is mixed in, pour in about 2 cups of vegetable stock.
For a more pronounced flavor, try vegetable bullion.

Let everything incorporate slightly (the bread will start soaking up the broth)
season with salt and pepper and then spread everything out onto a baking dish or pan.
Stick this back in a 350º oven for aprox. 45 minutes to crisp up the top.
Make this ahead of time and when ready to serve,
you can just pop it in the oven to warm it up.


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