Monday, April 16, 2012

Homemade Stuffing

We all remember the smell of homemade stuffing/dressing on Thanksgiving day. That smell of carrots, onions, celery cooking in a pan of butter. It always made my tummy growl, long before the smell of the turkey started up.  I used to think my Mom and Gramma slaved away for hours over the stuffing, it always tasted so perfect, how could it not take ages?

Yeah, well, it's pretty darn easy and I kick myself for not realizing it before now.  Homemade stuffing is not just for special occasions and a simple stuffing is so much easier than you might think.

There is nothing wrong, at all, with a boxed stuffing like Stove Top or something similar to that, nothing at all, but there is just something about the smell of the veggies cooking, the feeling of making something from scratch, that when I have the time, makes the little bit of work this takes, more than worth it.

You'll need:

-1 cup chopped celery
-1 cup chopped carrots (I used baby carrots so I didn't have to peel and chop as much)
-1 cup chopped onions
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1/2 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp pepper
-1 tsp thyme
-1/4 tsp garlic salt
-Butter to saute in along with a bit of olive or vegetable oil
-1 pkg bread crumbs (about 7 cups or so) You can use seasoned ones or unseasoned one, cubes or just   crushed bread crumbs, it's all personal preference.  I would suggest however, using either white or wheat crumbs with this combination of herbs.  A cornbread stuffing needs other flavors.
-2 to 3 cups chicken broth or stock - you can make your own, but I always buy the broth/stock, it's just easier.

Now sage is more traditional or even a poultry season mix, but I was out of sage and didn't feel like making a trip to the store so I used thyme and left out the sage.  You could use a different combination of herbs if you like, just go with what you enjoy and take the portions in moderation so you don't over power the taste of the carrots, celery and onions.

In a hot skillet or saute pan, add a splash of olive or vegetable oil along with about 1/2 stick of butter.  Make sure the pan you're using is large enough to get everything in without overcrowding things too much.  This weekend, I was making double this recipe for a series of leftovers I'm doing this week and used two good sized skillets and just spread things between the two.

Once the butter is melted and the oil is hot, start adding your vegetables and herbs and garlic.  You can either chop everything up ahead of time or chop and add as you go.  If you go this route, start with the carrots as they'll take the longest time to get tender, then onion, then celery.

Saute over medium to high heat for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on your pan, some pans cook hotter and quicker than others, stirring things around every few minutes to keep things cooking evenly.  You want to end up with a nice caramelized look to your veg, those little brown edges give the stuffing much more dimension.

While this is cooking, in a large mixing bowl, pour in your bread crumbs.  Once the carrots and things are done, pour this over, butter and oil included and stir into the bread crumbs.  While your pan is still on the heat, pour about 3/4 cup or so broth into the pan and de-glaze the pan.  This is basically just letting the broth get hot and picking up all the nice brown sticky bits that otherwise stick to the pan.  This gives you even more of the caramelized flavors from the vegetables, but also makes the pan easier to clean.  Can't complain about that!

Pour this hot broth over the bread crumbs and then add the remainder of the broth about 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring after each addition.  You want to make sure that the stuffing comes together, but isn't soggy. If it's too dry you can always drizzle more broth over the top, but if you've added too much broth, the stuffing is going to be a bit mushy.  That won't kill it, in fact for some recipes, a mushier stuffing will let you re-heat in the oven without it drying out too much.

Spoon all into a casserole dish and cook at 350º for 30 to 35 minutes.  Everything is cooked already, you're just making it all come together.  If you leave uncovered, the top will get a nice slightly crispy texture that is wonderful.

You could also stuff a chicken or turkey with this instead of putting into a casserole dish, you just want to make sure the temperature on the stuffing is at least 165º.

The stuffing can be made ahead and cooked the next day, just prepare as above, but leave in a covered casserole dish in the fridge until you're ready to cook.  Do not stuff your bird the night before though, if you're going to stuff a chicken or turkey, prepare the stuffing the night before, but wait until you're ready to go into the oven before stuffing into the bird.

The left over stuffing is great, easy to reheat and holds up well for a few days. The flavor is remarkable and the thing that takes the longest is chopping the veggies.

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