As you may have noticed, things have been pretty quiet around Too Many Chefs for the last few days. If you are American, you won't be surprised as we are all Americans ourselves and Thanksgiving, officially last Thursday, is probably the busiest holiday of the year for cooks. I was extremely happy this year to welcome friends to a feast, as it's our first big celebration in our new home. Yes, we have been here over a year now, but for various reasons missed out on home celebrations for Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. So this was the year to pull out all the stops (and all the leaves for the dining table) and see exactly HOW big a turkey I could fit in my specially chosen oven. Because we wanted our guests to enjoy themselves fully without worrying about work the next day, we moved our celebration to Saturday night. And it ended some time around three this morning. It was a good celebration. We have much to be thankful for...
Firstly, I am SO thankful that the new oven can fit a large turkey with no problems at all. I ordered an 8-9 kilo bird from the local butcher and they came through with a beautiful fresh 8.4 kilo turkey (18.5 pounds). For once in my life, I did NOT have to place the roasting pan on the floor of the oven in order to fit the bird in it. Hurrah!
Secondly, I am thankful to have so many good friends who were willing to make the trek to our apartment to celebrate with us. I based the invitation list mostly on nationality (American) and so most of them only knew us and the partner they brought. Despite this, we all had a great time, lots of laughs and - as mentioned - stayed up late enjoying ourselves.
Thirdly, I'm thankful that the meal went so well. For once, I had the leisure time to do a lot of the preparation in the days before the feast (to the detriment of this site!) and so was able to spend most of my time enjoying myself with the guests instead of chasing them out of the kitchen while feverishly peeling potatoes. At the age of thirty-seven, I have finally, thankfully, mastered the trick of preparing well in advance and making a decent gravy. What more could a cook aspire to??
And so as a closing, I'll leave you with the stuffing recipe I concocted yesterday for our bird. One last item that makes me thankful is that we have a turkey on Thanksgiving and on Christmas. This means that we have his and hers versions of stuffing and accompaniments and I get to experiment once a year. (The Christmas dinner is sacrosanct - the Critic's way all the way from the four meat dishes to the stodgy stuffing to the vegetables that Must Be Served With Turkey.) This was a slightly modified version of the Critic's stuffing, a little lighter and with a few "weird" elements. I'm working him into this innovation concept slowly...we've only been married four years after all!
2004 Turkey Day Stuffing
6 onions, roughly chopped
4 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped (about half a head)
300 grams mushrooms, sliced
6-8 cooked breakfast sausages, crumbled in in a food processor
300 grams chestnuts
3 cups dried bread crumbs
1/2 cup dried raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 Tbs poultry seasoning
3 Tbs dried sage
1 Tbs fresh/frozen thyme
1/2 cup sherry
1/2 cup hot chicken stock
lots of butter
salt and pepper to taste
Melt a lump of butter in your largest, deepest frying pan and add the onions and garlic. Cook over a low heat until the onions are soft and golden and everything smells good. Add the mushrooms and more butter if necessary. When the mushrooms have also gone limp and started giving up their juice, add the half of each of the spices. Add the sausage meat and cook until it is hot. Stir for a bit and when the mix starts looking a bit dry, add the sherry. Raise the heat and use the sherry to deglaze the bottom of the pan of any odd bits of onion or garlic that might be sticking. Empty the pan into your largest bowl and return the pan to the stove.
Put another lump of butter in the pan and when it has melted add the bread crumbs and the rest of the spices. Stir and then add the stock all at once and quickly cover the pan to trap the steam inside. Turn up the heat slightly. This is a trick of my Austrian grandmother's and it gives the bread or bread crumbs loads of flavour. If you are nervous (like me) you might want to open the pan once to give the bread crumbs another quick stir. Remove the pan from the heat and your bread crumbs should be nice and fluffy and full of spice and poultry flavour.
Chop the chestnuts in large lumps (halves or quarters) and mix them with the onion/garlic/mushroom/sausage mixture. Add the raisins and pine nuts and mix well. Fold in the bread crumbs, trying not to make the mixture too dense. Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper, sage as necessary. (Notice that all these ingredients have been thoroughly cooked so you are perfectly safe!)
If you want to be controversial, like me, you will now rinse the cavity of the turkey with boiling water and stuff it. This was exactly enough stuffing for an 18.5 pound bird. Otherwise, you can put it in a greased pan in the oven. I would cover it with tin foil initially in order to keep it moist and remove the foil 15 minutes before removing the dressing to brown the top.
It makes a very savoury stuffing, full of good surprises like the odd raisin or bit of sausage meat. Next time I might sneak in some chopped celery too, but I thought it best to start out gradually with the introduction of "weird" ingredients like raisins and mushrooms. I'm not sure he noticed the pine nuts...
A note on the ingredients:
It looks like a lot of work when you read this recipe (cooked sausages? home made bread crumbs?) but actually these are things it is easy to keep around if you know you are going to use them in stuffing. Whenever I make breakfast sausages I cook up the full package of six and freeze whatever we don't eat at that meal. Then they only need to be defrosted before making the stuffing. As for the breadcrumbs, I save up old baguettes and then once every few months zap them in the food processor until the largest pieces are about the size of small peas. I use a colandar to separate the fine crumbs from the large ones and use the former for breaded cutlets, etc., and the latter for stuffing. These seem to keep indefinitely in a tin cookie container or a jar until you are ready to use them.
Below is a photo of our dinner table just before we began eating. I also have to thank the guests who brought such delicious dishes and saved me some of the work - another BIG reason to be thankful!