Who doesn’t have memories of making Thanksgiving dinner? Some people dread the day-long cooking event—planning for it a week in advance. Personally, I love an excuse to be in the kitchen all day.
Of course, having worked as a baker for many years, I have endured the dark side of the holidays—rising at 3 or 4 in the morning to bake 200 pumpkin pies and 300 dozen dinner rolls. My long-time boyfriend is a chef at a local market and for him the holidays always mean the misery of long and busy days. That said, when time comes for our family’s holiday feasts, I like to go all out and remind everyone of the true spirit of the holidays: Home and family.
My favorite dish at a Thanksgiving table is always the stuffing (or dressing). When I was a child, my mother used a recipe given to her (from a woman who couldn’t cook) that called for 2 sticks of butter, dried herbs, an onion and a loaf of Wonderbread. By the time the stuffing was pulled from the Turkey is was more likened to a wad-o-stuffing than anything else. As a children, I loved the taste and didn’t care about the health side of matters; as an adult however, I soon found my childhood favorite to be rather revolting. So I thought I was time for a change in the tradition.
The first thing to go was the Wonderbread; exchanged for a homemade wheat loaf from our kitchen. Second thing to go was the half-pound of butter. (Paula Deen forgive my blasphemy but sometimes the last thing you need is another stick of butter!). Onions were replaced by leeks and the dried herbs were upgraded to fresh herbs from our windowsill herb garden. The final result is a well-balanced recipe that can be stuffed into your turkey or chicken, or baked in a casserole dish as dressing should you be one of those stuffing-phobic people who fear death by salmonella. Enjoy!
Leek and Rosemary Stuffing (or Dressing)
Serves: 6-8 People
- 2 or 3 Leeks – Chopped
- ¼ Cup of Stock
- 1 Stick Butter
- 5 Stalks of Celery – Med. Chopped
- ½ Teaspoon Salt (I prefer kosher salt or sea salt.)
- ½ Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- ½ Teaspoon Fresh Thyme – Finely Chopped (You can use dried herbs.)
- ¹ Teaspoon Fresh Rosemary – Finely Chopped
- 1 loaf Wheat Bread – Cubed
Step 1: Preparing the Vegetables
On a low-medium heat, melt the butter in a skillet. (I prefer cast-iron pans whenever possible). Clean and chop your celery and add it to the pan along with your chopped herbs, salt and pepper.
While the celery and herb cook down you must clean your leeks. Split the leek down the center length-wise and run it under cool water, careful to remove all the grit from the various layers. Clean off any ragged ends and chop the entire leek a medium dice. Some cooks only use the white bulb but I use the green tops as well; however, I do chop the tops a little finer than the bulb.
Cook the vegetables until tender.
Step 2: Preparing the Bread
Using a bread knife (or a sharp serrated knife) cube the loaf. I find the easiest way to do this is to cut the loaf in thick slices and then cut the slices into cubes. You can also tear the loaves into mouth-size pieces if you prefer.
Put all the cut pieces into a large bowl. This is the bowl you will be mixing your stuffing in so you will need a little room to work in. I actually don’t have a bowl large enough so I use a stock pot to mix in.
Pour the cooked vegetable/butter mix over the bread and mix. Pour stock or broth into the stuffing and mix again. Don’t over-mix the bread; we don’t want mush.
Step 3: Paths Diverge – Stuffing or Dressing?
What is the difference between stuffing and dressing? Stuffing is cooking inside of the bird; while dressing is cook in a pan.
Stuffing: If you decide to go the stuffing route, the next step is pretty much self-explanatory. Clean the cavity of your chicken or turkey and then gently stuff the bread mixture inside. Be careful not to pack the stuffing in too tight or you will end up with the old wad-o-stuffing. If you have leftover stuffing you can throw it in a small pan and cook it off in the oven.
Dressing: If you decide on dressing, pour the bread mix into a shallow ungreased baking dish. Bake in a 325° oven, uncovered for 15-20 mins (or until the top is lightly golden.)
Note on Stock: You can use chicken stock, turkey stock or even vegetable stock, (should you like to keep it a vegetarian dish and cook it as dressing).
Note on Herbs: If you don’t like rosemary, use 3 sage leaves finely chopped instead.
Note on Bread: We make our bread at home 2 days before we make the stuffing so it has time to stale a little. (A stale bread makes for a better stuffing). If you don’t want to make homemade bread my suggestion is bypass the bread isle and go to the bakery at your market and pick up an UNCUT loaf of a hearty bread. You can use white, wheat, sourdough—whichever you prefer. I find that wheat bread adds a nutty flavor to the stuffing and also has the added health benefits of a higher fiber and protein count.
Note on Vegetable Cut Offs: I save the unused tops and ends of the vegetables that I cook with for use in my stock preparation. Save the leeks tops, celery tops, onions peels, garlic peels, carrot peels. I wash the cut offs and freeze them in a ziplock bag. When I make my stock I take out a handful and put it in the stock pot.