My mother has appeared many times in my blog over the past 2 years, and here again I find it impossible to think about Christmas without thinking about her. She would laugh and disagree if I told her she was a great cook and that the main reason I love food and love to cook is because of her, but it is all true.
She was of the generation in Ireland where all women knew how to cook. Granted some cooks were better than others but dinners in Ireland in the 60’s and 70’s were most definitely eaten at home. People only went to restaurants for very special occasions, and in fact there were no real restaurants. It was either a cafeteria style coffee shop for lunch and if you wanted dinner, you had to go to a hotel. All in all the food scene was non-existent, and where it did exist the majority of the food was anything but delicious or exciting.
That is not to say that there was no good food to be had in the country, quite the opposite. I remember nothing but wonderful food, but it all came from the kitchen at our house, as did all great food in Ireland at that time. Despite the general ignorance about what healthy food was, we were eating it unknowingly every single day: local meat, organic dairy products and vegetables. Nothing came from far away. Talk about the slow Food Movement – it was thriving!
I could get really side-tracked right now and talk about all the great food changes in Ireland since then, as well as make mention of another fact: the introduction of FAST FOOD, leading to a rant about the rise of obesity etc, but that’s a whole other topic.
Right now I am remembering the Ireland of my childhood and my mother’s wonderful bread stuffing. She only made this a couple of times a year (Christmas & Easter) but it was the highlight of the meal and a recipe I have tried in vain to perfect.
My mother would instruct me over the phone each Christmas to get me through her recipe, and I followed her directions so trustingly, and so blindly, that I never really paid attention to what I was actually doing. Since her death, each year I strain and grapple to remember what to do, but it is never the same, not really even close, save for the aroma of cooking onions mixed with the scent of allspice after I have everything mixed together.
This year instead of getting sad about this I decided to make a stuffing with her recipe in mind, but not try to replicate it. I came up with this one a few weeks ago and think I will stick to it for this year. It was very good, and the addition of mushrooms was one I know she would approve of.
You will need:
5 medium potatoes, peel and cubed
2 tbs unsalted butter
1/2 cup milk (any %) – (for potatoes)
1/2 tsp salt
several grinds black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium sweet onions, small dice
2 very large white mushrooms, diced
3 inner celery ribs including leaves – diced
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 tsp chopped fresh oregano leaves
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 tsp allspice
7 1/2 cups fine bread crumbs (can be made in food processor – use slices of ordinary white bread)
1 cup milk (for stuffing mix)
1 tbs unsalted butter (firm)
Preheat oven 375* (do this 10 minutes before it is ready for the oven)
1 – Prep all veggies as instructed above. Some pictures below to help with any chopping confusion!
2 – Cover potatoes in cold water and boil until soft. Mash and cream with the 2 tbs butter, 1/2 cup milk, salt, and pepper. Cover with a cloth and set aside.
3 – While potatoes are cooking put large saute pan on medium heat and add oil. Add the onions and celery and cook for about 10 minutes.
4 – Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until everything is very soft (another 10 minutes or so). Add the herbs and stir. Cook for another minute.
5 – Add the milk and allspice and let the whole mixture warm up. Turn off heat and set aside.
6 – Put the breads crumbs and potatoes into a big bowl and add the milk mixture from the pan. Mix everything together until it is one solid ball (I use my hands for the job).
7 – Butter a loaf pan and add the stuffing. Dot with the last tablespoon of butter and cover with foil. Bake in oven for about 40 minutes, removing the foil 15 minutes before the end of cooking (helps the top to brown).
This can be turned out onto a board and sliced, giving each person a piece, or sliced and placed on the middle of the table for everyone to help themselves. I like it sliced, then fried in the pan with butter until it is crispy on both sides. It’s also great with a fried egg in the morning or on a sandwich with turkey and sweet relish.
It can also be cooked and then reheated in the oven before serving or even eaten cold.
So many possibilities!