Dandy dressings: Time to pull out the cookbooks and decide on the dressing

November 6, 2013 9:39:57 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Remembering the Thanksgivings of my childhood conjures warm memories. I can clearly see gleaming china, sparkling crystal, the turkey-shaped gravy bowl and a large cornucopia my mother often used as a centerpiece. It overflowed with artificial apples, oranges and grapes that, to a kid, looked good enough to eat. In fact, I daresay there were some tiny teeth marks on the underside of a couple.  


As years passed, I came to realize the most wonderful part of Thanksgiving was the gathering, the convergence of extended family and guests, the laughter, the lingering after the meal. There was a lot of connecting going on around that big dining table. And a lot of work that went on beforehand to get the exalted bird and all the trimmings ready for the feast. 


Without fail, my sister-in-law's mother, Mary Fleming (lovingly called Mimi), always brought the oyster dressing. (Yes, dressing, not stuffing; we're below the Mason-Dixon line, after all.) The adults raved about it. The kid that left toothy imprints in the centerpiece, however, was convinced oysters were ucky and always opted for the good ole "regular" dressing.  


Now all grown up, I can appreciate that the culinary world boasts a bounty of dressing recipes. Some adventurous cooks enjoy trying a new one every November, while others see no reason to mess with success. 


Kathy Howell of Columbus likes the family recipe handed down from her grandmother to her mother, and then to her. "It's an old-fashioned dressing that we just love because it's moist, made with eggs, cream of mushroom soup, onions, celery ..." began the avid cook. "My mother always said the whole key is to boil your hen and use that broth to mix with your dressing." 


Another Columbus cook, Toni Caldwell, likes to experiment.  


"I try a different dressing recipe almost every year," she said. "I think one of my favorites is the one in the Grand Heritage cookbook." "Grand Heritage: A Culinary Legacy of Columbus, Mississippi" was compiled by Heritage Academy and first published in 2002 by Wimmer Cookbooks. Another of Caldwell's top picks comes from "Somebody Stole the Cornbread from My Dressing: A Hilarious Comparison Between the North and South Through Recipes and Recollections," by Elizabeth Gourlay Heiskell and Susanne Young Reed (Overmountain Press, 2010).  




Out there 


There is no shortage of dressings to try, both traditional and, well, bold. The Internet yields recipes that call for some imagination, with ingredients ranging from mofongo (a Puerto Rican specialty of fried green plaintains), sofrito and blue cheese to popcorn, tortilla chips, alligator and even White Castle sliders.  


Recipes in today's food section avoid the extremes. But we do offer a few options you may want to try out before the big day later this month, including Howell's family recipe.  


So, welcome to November, a time of umber, reds and golds, of cookbooks, planning and shopping lists. Most of all, a time of thankfulness. 








For the cornbread: 


1 cup flour 


2 teaspoons baking powder 


1 teaspoon salt 


1 cup white cornmeal 


2 large fresh eggs 


1 cup milk 


1/4 cup vegetable oil 


1 teaspoon butter, melted 




For the dressing: 


1 small hen, to be boiled and shredded 


1 cup chopped onion 


1 cup celery 


1/2 cup bell pepper (red or green) 


2 pieces of toasted bread, shredded 


1 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning 


1 teaspoon sage 


1 teaspoon salt 


1/2 teaspoon garlic salt 


1/2 teaspoon ground thyme 


2 cups chicken broth from hen (more may be used if too dry looking) 


1 can cream of chicken soup (Campbell's preferred) 


2 large eggs slightly beaten 


4 large hard-boiled eggs 


Salt and pepper, to taste 




  • To make the cornbread, first heat oven to 425 degrees 


  • In a large mixing bowl sift flour, salt and baking powder. Stir in the cornmeal slowly; make sure it's mixed well. 


  • In another bowl, beat the eggs lightly and gradually add the milk and oil until well-blended. Add this to your cornmeal mixture and stir until moistened. (Don't over-mix, you'll ruin it.) 


  • Pour batter into a 9-by-9-inch baking pan or black iron skillet and bake for about 20-25 minutes. After cornbread is completed, remove from oven and let it cool, then crumble into a large bowl. (Cornbread can be made a day ahead to speed up preparation.) 


  • Bring hen to a boil then reduce heat and boil, uncovered, until meat is tender and falling off the bone, about 20-30 minutes.  


  • Combine chicken broth, onion powder, garlic salt and soup and bring to a simmer. 


  • Chop hard-boiled eggs and set aside. 


  • Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat and saute onions, celery and bell pepper until all vegetables are softened or 10-12 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. 


  • Remove from heat and stir in sage, salt, pepper, poultry seasoning and thyme. Shred the meat from the hen and add to mixture. (This adds so much flavor to the dressing.) 


  • Combine cornbread with broth mixture, vegetables and eggs (all 6) and pour into a lightly greased 2-quart casserole dish. Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 35-40 minutes. 


    (Source: Kathy Howell) 










    1 loaf day-old rustic bread, dark, hard crusts removed and bread cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 12 cups) 


    1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for baking dish 


    1 1/2 large onions, chopped (about 3 cups) 


    2 small leeks, trimmed, thinly sliced into half-moons, and rinsed well (about 3 cups) 


    3 stalks celery, chopped (about 1 1/4 cups) 


    1 large fennel bulb, chopped (about 2 cups) 


    12-14 ounces firm-ripe Bosc or Anjou pears (about 3), chopped (about 3 cups) 


    Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper 


    2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves 


    2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves 


    1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings 


    2 cups turkey stock 


    2 large eggs, lightly beaten 


    3/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves 




  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread bread cubes on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until crisped but not golden, about 10 minutes. Let cool. In a 14-inch straight-sided skillet (or 2 large skillets), melt butter over medium-high heat.  


  • Add onions, leeks, celery, fennel, and pears; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables and pears are softened and start to turn golden, about 15 minutes. Stir in rosemary and sage. 


  • Meanwhile, cook sausage in a skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally and breaking into large crumbles, until browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Stir into vegetable mixture, then transfer to a large bowl. Add bread cubes and toss well.  


  • Drizzle stock over mixture, add eggs and parsley, and toss to combine well. Season with 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Use 10 cups stuffing to fill bird; place remainder in a buttered 8-inch-square baking dish. After turkey is out of oven, bake at 350 degrees until heated through and top is browned, 40 to 45 minutes. 


    (Source: marthastewart.com) 










    2 sleeves saltine crackers (about 66) 


    1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted 


    2 pints shucked fresh oysters in their liquor, drained and 1/4 cup liquor reserved 


    1/3 cup heavy cream 


    2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves 


    2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves 


    Lemon wedges, for serving 




  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in top third. Pulse saltines in a food processor until coarsely ground. Add butter and pulse just to combine. Spread a thin layer of crumbs in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Top with half the oysters. 


  • Stir together reserved oyster liquor and cream. Drizzle half the cream mixture over oysters. Sprinkle with half the remaining crumbs and all the thyme. Repeat layering with remaining oysters and cream mixture. 


  • Stir parsley into remaining crumbs and sprinkle evenly over top. Bake dressing until bubbling and top is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Serve hot, with lemon wedges for squeezing. 


    (Source: marthastewart.com) 




    Strategies to stuff by 


    When preparing your poultry with dressing, keep these tips in mind: 


  • Thaw poultry to between 35 and 40 degrees F. before adding dressing. 


  • To prevent harmful bacteria from growing, wait to stuff the bird until just before it goes in the oven. Never add dressing to a turkey after it's begun roasting. 


  • For food safety reasons, only cooked ingredients, such as sauteed veggies or an egg substitute, should be included in a dressing when it's put in poultry. 


  • Stuff both the neck and body cavities of the bird, then close and secure with skewers. 


  • Do not tightly pack dressing into the bird. As a general rule, use 3/4 cup dressing per pound of poultry. Extra dressing can be cooked in a separate baking dish. 


  • Dressing is done when a meat thermometer inserted near the center of the dressing in the turkey cavity reads 165 degrees F. 


  • When estimating how much to make, plan on 3/4 cup dressing per person. 


    (Source: tasteofhome.com)

    Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.