Thursday, December 1, 2011

I'm edging up on 40 pretty quickly, and it occurred to me that while my mom has been cooking gourmet meals since she was a teenager, I usually cook for one and don't really know any of the classic family recipes and am not adept at cooking for any sized group. At grandma's house for thanksgiving, I tried to remedy that. It helped that grandma was sidelined by arterial blockage - significantly remediated by the first stent as of this Tuesday. My mom and I cooked the dinner.

I still don't know for sure what she puts in the mashed potatoes. It's a butter and milk mix of some sort. The turkey is easy-ish. Thaw it in a tub of water, clean out the cavity and double check it- this one had a bag of gibblets, a bag with the neck in it on the other end, AND a bag of gravy helper. Next year, it might come with free wi-fi. Put it in a floured baking bag after dumping garlic salt and pepper on it, tie closed, and bake per directions on the turkey wrapper. We stuffed celery and onions in on the bottom this year, and that added good flavors so I recommend that too. This method makes a solid B to B+ turkey. If you want an A to A+ turkey, brine, smoke, fry, or magic your bird however you like, but if you want easy and forgiving, garlic salt and baking bag.

I made the cranberry relish. Having made it almost annually since college, it went smoothly, if sloppily. Sloppy because we used a manual grinder that dripped juice all over (we caught it and it was delicious). The grinder gives the relish a really delightful texture I prefer to a food-processed version, but it's really the taste of the cranberry-orange-celery-pecan mix bound in orange jell-o that's the star. For a really close flavor analog, get the Trader Joe's Cranberry Orange Relish and mince up some celery and pecans to mix into it. Or just eat it plain. Or over ice cream. It cost's more but it's easier and delicious.

Which rather leaves the stuffing. My mom makes GREAT stuffing. If you've eaten it and somehow thought it was vegetarian, you should stop reading now. If you've eaten it and want to know the general gist of how it's done, here 'tis, after the jump.

Mom's Sage Stuffing

supplies: Medium saucepan, Large pan with high sides, sharp knife, cutting surface, spoon.  (Gigantic mixing bowl is optional.)

1 loaf of cheap white bread, dried
2-4 large stalks of celery, preferably darker green
1 medium-big onion
1 package gibblets (about a pound of gizzards, hearts, whathaveyou)
about 1 pound of raw sausage.
4 eggs
4-6 multi-leaved stalks of fresh sage (or one pack from the grocery store if you don't grow it in the yard - mine says 0.66 oz) a rough handful, or a third of that if dried.
8 oz mushrooms (optional) either a can or a small box worth.

All of these amounts are somewhat flexible. The gibblets can be a half pound to a pound and a half - whatever size package your store sells that isn't meant for cafeteria sizing. If you have sausage on hand, use that. Sage isn't even my favorite thing, but do make sure you use it. Fresh is nicer, if you have access.

Stuffing is essentially "leftovers casserole", which is why my instructions are a little loosey-goosey. I actually used some bread crumbs because I didn't use as much bread in my smallish pan, and I had some old bread crumbs that needed using. To make it even more of a one-dish-meal, I suppose you could add carrots or some other hearty veggie. I intended to add some jicama because I got a huge one at the mexican grocery, but forgot. It's just as well, but mom says water chestnuts are good for adding crunch, if you prefer. 

Stage 1: Dry the bread.
You can leave it out overnight for a couple days. (I have childhood memories of my mom laying it out on paper over the washer and dryer.) You can dry it in the oven on very low. You can also microwave it. (Try 6 slices for 2:22 - I'm lazy like that - turn the bread over, wipe down the condensation, and do it again.)

Stage 2: Make the broth
This can be done ahead of time and refrigerated.

Dump the gizzard-heart mix, including any bits from the turkey, into a saucepan and cover with water. Add 1/3 to 1/2 the onion, roughly chopped. Add the two ugliest celery stalks, cut only enough to make them fit. (Put in a touch of salt if you don't like celery.)

Boil this mix, skim the froth off the top (spoon!), and keep boiling until the meat is cooked, the room smells delicious, and the liquid level reduces some.

Reserving the broth, scoop out the meat (and onions, if you like - discard any other solids) and trim off any grizzly bits, and dice as finely as you have the patience for - minced to rough cut, you decide, just don't leave them whole.

Stage3: Assemble
Start preheating the oven to 350F.

Chop or crumble the bread into half inch dice, or thereabouts. If you're starting with a big bowl, put it in there, otherwise just move it right to the baking pan.

Crumble the raw sausage over the bread. We had uncased sausage that just came in a pack like hamburger this year, but mom has used cased sausage links as well. If you favor a particular sausage, it's fine to use that flavor if it won't fight with sage, but any ol' sausage will do.

Chop the remaining onion and celery stalks. If your celery stalks were puny (from the "bag o hearts", say) add a couple more. These should be in smallish, bite sized pieces. Chop the sage leaves. If you didn't buy the mushrooms pre-sliced and want to use them, slice or quarter those. Spread the onion, celery, sage, (mushrooms), and giblets over the bread and sausage. Sprinkle salt and pepper to lightly cover the surface.

Crack in the eggs, and add a little broth. Get your hands down in there and mix it thoroughly. Or be prissy and use a big spoon. I'm not totally certain how much broth to add here, but start with a half cup. (I'm pretty sure my mom mixed and layered without much broth, then poured the bulk of the broth in afterward to avoid making the mess goopy and dense.) If you've been mixing it in the gigantic bowl, transfer it to the gigantic pan.

Step 4: Bake
Level the stuffing mixture in the baking pan. If you forgot the salt and pepper earlier, add that. Pour on maybe another cup of broth - about half to all of what you made with the gizzards, strained. Bake at 350F until done, about an hour. More, if like me, you put in too much broth while mixing and got the bread all soggy. At any rate, when the place smells delicious, and the surface starts to brown, and the sausage in the center is cooked, it's done. Hopefully mom will read this and give me some insight into the broth mixing and timing, but it appears to be very fault tolerant. That's a good quality in a dish when you're juggling others where the timing is more critical.

We don't put stuffing in the turkey for many reasons, so I can't say how this would turn out if you tried that. But it's plenty delicious without turkey guts dripping on it, and easier to deal with.

Step 5: Eat!
I'm not a particular fan of onion or sage, but this is delicious stuff with not too much of either.  Mom claims this isn't "gourmet", but I think otherwise.  Chances are, it won't last long, and make sure to share freely.

1 comment:

farmwifetwo said...

Mashed potatoes are simply a couple of tablespoons of butter followed by just enough milk to make it creamy. So I add, and then add or not any more. If you want garlic potatoes add the garlic while boiling and mash. Usually a clove or 2 for 4 people.

If you decide to hide turnip in your potatoes they need to be cut up a lot smaller or started earlier. They take longer to cook.