Friday, November 21, 2008

To Stuff or Not to Stuff

... that is the question. And frankly, I think the answer's an obvious ... yes! Stuff your turkey!

Seems like the chorus of stuffing nay-sayers grows louder every year. "Stuffed turkeys cook unevenly. A stuffed turkey is a dry turkey because it takes too long to cook! Stuffing breeds bacteria!" Doom! ... Gloom! ... Disaster! ... Peril! ... whatever. I come from a long and proud line of turkey-stuffers and no one's died yet. I'm not at all belittling the real and serious health concerns here - but I'm not about to forgo the stuffing either. You can have both a properly cooked turkey and stuffing. Like many things, all it takes is a bit of care and common sense. I can give no better words of wisdom than those contained in this page from Epicurious. Its a wonderful primer on the safe way to stuff. Check it out!

In Divaworld, the larger question by far is the contents of that stuffing. Alas, we are a family divided! Having grown up delighting in Gram Pam's traditional bread stuffing, you can imagine my shock - neigh horror - when I learned that the husband's family stuffs its turkey with meat ... and only meat. What the ...?! (Seriously, these people are the most dedicated carnivores on the planet.)

But here's the thing - many years ago, in a stunning display of courage, I took a bite of that stuffing ... and ~swoon~ I've been hooked ever since! Not so much so that I abandoned our traditional bread stuffing, but enough that I now honestly crave both. When the husband and I began hosting both sides of the family for Thanksgiving, sometime back in the late 90's, the major stumbling block was the stuffing. Would we use his family's pork stuffing, or my family's bread? Knowing that neither side could live without their preference, we went with both. His mom made the pork stuffing and my mom made the bread. I put the pork stuffing in the bird and baked my mom's stuffing off on the side. Win/win. (And an even bigger win for me, because I didn't have to make either.)

Thus it was for a few years, two families united around the table - each content with the stuffing of their choice, yet blessed with the option of adding a scoop of the unfamiliar to liven up the plate. And thus it remains today - only now I'm the one making the pork stuffing. My mother in law passed away in November of 2001, just a few days before Thanksgiving. Needless to say, it was an awful time for all of us. Betty, was an *amazing* cook and that pork stuffing was one of her signature dishes. Though we were grief-struck and dazed that year, I was bound and determined to honor her memory - and comfort my family - by making her stuffing. We cobbled together a Thanksgiving dinner, because she would have wanted us to, and I somehow managed to recreate her stuffing without a recipe.

I made an exhaustive search of her extensive recipe collection and her kitchen, and the stuffing recipe was nowhere to be found. It never did turn up. I did my best to remember all the wonderful flavors contained in that stuffing, went with my gut and my formidable palate, and just started cooking. I don't think it was exactly right back then, but I've been honing the recipe ever since and by now I know I've got it. To this day I wonder where she kept that recipe? Perhaps it was in her head; I know it was in her heart. Betty was never happier than when her family was at her table - and our table is incomplete without her.

This is my version of her pork stuffing - written with no amounts, because there is no recipe. It is the epitome of my "pinch and dash" style of cooking. As such, it may be of little use to you - yet I offer it in tribute to Betty and because I hope you'll find it interesting.
Pork Stuffing:

Get the biggest skillet you can find, and in it, saute 4 pounds of very lean ground pork in a bit of butter and olive oil, along with one large minced onion and two large ribs of minced celery over medium-high heat. Once the meat has cooked, pour off most of the fat and add: lots of Bell's Poultry Seasoning, some ground sage, a few shakes of fennel seeds, a healthy dose of pumpkin pie spice, some fresh thyme, a tiny bit of ground cloves, a shake or two of celery salt, a grating of fresh nutmeg, and some kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. To the pan, add two Yukon Gold potatoes that have been peeled, par-boiled and cut into small dice. The potatoes will cook down and give the stuffing a nice texture. Add some chicken broth to the pan, reduce the heat to low, and simmer the the mixture, covered, for about an hour, stirring occasionally and adding a bit of broth as needed to keep it moist. After an hour, taste and re-season with any and all of the above spices - adding more until it tastes like "mom's." Once the proper taste has been achieved, add a tablespoon or two of seasoned breadcrumbs to bring it all together. Remove from heat, transfer to a large bowl, cover and refrigerate.

As it turns out, today is the anniversary of her passing. Though I hadn't intended it that way, it seems fitting that our discussion of stuffing should take place on this day. I wish I knew the real recipe. And more than that, I wish I had taken the opportunity to watch her make the stuffing when I had the chance. How many treasured family recipes have been lost to the ages for lack of them being written down? The husband is thrilled with my recreation efforts - and so am I. I can't imagine Thanksgiving without both stuffings and, happily, I don't have to. Though let this be a warning to you - write down those secret family recipes! Future generations will thank you and present ones will not have to spend seven years recreating them.

So, what's inside your turkey? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!


HektikLyfe said...

I like stuffing on the side. Digging it out of the butt just weirds me out. I know by definition it is meant to be in the bird but...butt.

That table decoration looks incredible! Great job!

Deb said...

As I had posted in a previous blog of yours, mine is a meat and breas stuffing - your two worlds combined. It was a variation on what I cna remember my grandparents making with my Mom and then me making with my Mom and now me. Hopefully, one day my own daughter and daughter in law will make it for their children and extended families. Right now they have not been interested in learning how but I trust that one day they will. In the meantime, you've inspired me to start trying to write down some of the recipes I carry around in my head so they will not be lost.


pixelgal said...

Here's to Betty's memory. Such a great lady...funny, friendly and talented. I was always envious of her cooking skills. She left us with such fond memories and wonderful recipes. We miss her still.

As for our holiday, a Diva is coming to spoil me and cook in my oven. Just our side of the family and a few pugs for good measure...if they behave themselves. Can't wait.

Astra Libris said...

Your post is such a lovely tribute to your mother in law... You honor her so beautifully with your words and your loving recreation of her recipe... I am so touched by your post.

I confess that every year I fix a different stuffing, because I am absolutely in the "stuff away!" camp, but hands down the best is always Zach's Mom's rice and pork stuffing! There must be some special magic associated with mother-in-laws and stuffing... :-)

The Vintage Kitten said...

Hi Diva, Im definately a meat stuffing kinda girl and whether its in the bird or made as a loaf and served alongside I dont mind. Great table, it looks fab! X

The Diva on a Diet said...

Hektik - I like the stuffing on the side too ... because I don't want the extra fat.

Deb - Its good to start writing your favorite recipes down. I really regret that I didn't write some of my Gram Pam's recipes down. Like you, now I just need someone in the family to come and watch me make the pork stuffing. It would be a shame to loose it again!

Pixelgal - can't wait to make the magic happen in your kitchen. My mouth's watering already! :)

Astra - Aw, thank you so much for your lovely comment and affirming words. That means a lot to me. Your MIL's rice and pork stuffing sounds awesome too! :)

Vintage Kitten - Stuffing is really the best part of the holidays, isn't it? Thanks for the compliments on my table ... that's only half of it!

And, I should mention that the pic is probably from two years ago. My dining room is now a pale mocha color - no more blue and gold!