There are foods that remind us of our childhood, foods that when tasted, make you feel instantly like a little girl or boy again. As I write this I am reminded of the scene from the animated film Ratatouille ( you have to see this, or, if you have, you need to see it again!).
The food critic is being a “food critic” in that he is using his power to either shoot an unknown chef to stardom, or plummet a known chef to the status of “has been”
So, he is presented with the rustic dish, Ratatouille, and is surprised that the restaurant owner would try to impress him with such a lowly entrée, that is, until he tastes it. Hmmmm, when it hits his mouth, he is immediately transported to his grandmother’s house, and he is a seven-year old boy again, and life is good, and he is happy. He becomes sublimely happy, sublimely.
I think of my childhood whenever I attempt to make my mother’s christmas stuffing. She threw it together in a blue basin in our kitchen with such deftness, one would have presumed it was a hum-drum affair. Not so, it was special.
I have never been able to reproduce it, and it is because of this I know that each cook has his or her own special gift, something that comes to them because of how they lived their lives.
She had a touch only she possessed, and I can never capture that taste, no matter how I try.
This Christmas I decided to work with her to make something that involved both of our personalities and experiences. Sadly, she is not here to guide me, but I felt her, every step of the way.
I made her bread stuffing so that my Christmas table would feel familiar to me. I added new ingredients of my own to make something new, something that she would like and approve of, but something that still retained the essence of her recipe.
It was a lovely collaboration, and my kitchen smelled of both of us, the old and the new.
I can see my children puzzling over this recipe in years to come, and perhaps deciding to also add something of themselves to it, something to hand down to their children. I think that would be nice.
You will need: 6 cups bread crumbs, 2 medium potatoes, 3 tbs unsalted butter, t tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 2 cups milk, 1 cup chicken broth, 1 rib celery, small dice, 1 onion, finely diced, 1 tsp ground allspice, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp Herbes de Provence (this is a mixture of dried thyme, marjoram, rosemary, basil, lavender, & fennel. It can be found in the spice section of most supermarkets), 1/3 cup dried cherries, 1/2 lb bacon, cut into smaller pieces, 1 tsp sea-salt, freshly cracked black pepper.
Preheat oven 375*
1 – Peel and boil the potatoes until soft. Drain the water and mash with 1 tbs butter, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 tsp sea-salt, several grinds of black pepper. Set aside.
2 – Fry bacon and set aside.
3 – Put saute pan on medium heat and add 1 tbs butter, and 1 tbs olive oil. Add onions and celery and cook for about 15 minutes, until very soft. Add another tbs of butter, the rest of the milk (1 1/2 cups), chicken broth, herbs and spices, and heat until everything is warm. Add cherries and turn off heat. Set aside.
4 – Put breadcrumbs into big bowl and add the cooked potatoes, bacon, and milk mixture. stir it all together (or use your hand, like I did). It should come together into a loose ball. If it is very sticky, add more bread crumbs until you are happy with the consistency. Taste for addition of salt and pepper.
5 – Butter an over proof casserole or pan and add the stuffing. Cover with foil, and bake in oven for 30 minutes.
Take out and cool before cutting into triangles or squares. You can also do what I did, and turn the cooked stuffing into a nice dish and set on the table for everyone to help themselves.
*This dish can be made ahead and reheated at 350* for 15 minutes (or until warm). It is also great fried on the pan, and served with eggs or anything else you fancy*