Tag Archives: christmas stuffing

A Winning Irreverent Bread Stuffing (serves 12)

Here we go again! This Christmas was no different from any other in that the house was crowded with family and friends, there was mountains of delicious food and there was yet again another stab at reinventing my mother Maureen’s stuffing!

bread stuffing

Irreverent bread stuffing

It has to be reinvented because as I have said before, I have come to the very sad conclusion I will never replicate the taste she seemed to magically create with what I always hope are the exact same ingredients she used. It has proved to be true time and time again that everyone who cooks puts their own mark on the end result – watch the movie Like Water for Chocolate if you don’t believe me! Alright, I am certainly not saying that my mother’s stuffing had the effect that Tita’s Rose Petal Sauce had on Pedro, but it most definitely had a taste that makes my siblings swoon every time we mention “Ma’s stuffing”

The bread stuffing was plain looking on the Christmas tble but was not short on flavor

The bread stuffing was just one of the many dishes piled down the center of my Christmas table!

 When my mother was alive and well, I would call her to guide me through the steps, but even then, with her voice in my ear, I couldn’t get it right.  It probably had something to do with the fact that when she made it, she didn’t think at all. She just threw it together as if guided by the cooking god inside her, and stopping to think about it and tell me what to do felt unnatural. My sister June makes a “Chicken Dinner” that my kids beg me to cook, but I cannot seem to manage that one either. I have watched her make it several times, but like all wonderful recipes, this one also comes from the heart and will only reach sublimity if she is the one at the helm, not me.

My trifle and pudding standing by in the kitchen for desserrt (two more dishes i have had to come to terms with)

My trifle and Christmas Pudding standing by in the kitchen for dessert (two more dishes that my mother made but this “me” version will be the ones my children will struggle to recreate one day)

On important annual occasions like Christmas there is a yearning inside of all of us to get a taste or whiff of the past. We want to experience the joy of being a child again, and eating a dish our mother’s made for us is a huge part of that feeling of comfort. (Remember Ratatouille!). My Christmas dinners are different from the ones of my childhood in that I like all sorts of people around the table, not just blood relatives. I like a big loud-gathered mishmosh of people. The food is always festive but varies from year to year depending my whims and whose around the table. However there is ALWAYS a version of Maureen’s stuffing gracing the table. The meal would not feel like Christmas without it!

Famous Chicken Dinner

My sister June’s “Famous” Chicken Dinner

This year I did something completely unorthodox and instead of using my mother’s mashed creamed potatoes as a binder I used white sweet potatoes; positively sinful! In every other way I did my best to conjure up her flavor but I decided on the sweet potato substitute out of curiosity, and also because I knew I was going to mess up the recipe anyway. It turned out pretty fantastic and was a big hit with everyone. I figure my new mission is to make a “version’ of my mother’s stuffing every year, that way, in years to come, my children will feel that got it right every time!

Time for seconds!

Time for seconds!

You will need:

2 to 3 tbs olive oil

1 Large sweet onion –  small dice

3 celery ribs with leaves – finely sliced

2 large garlic cloves – finely chopped

1 lb white mushrooms – diced

3 or 4 sprigs fresh thyme

2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves – finely chopped

1 cup chicken broth (or 1 good quality stock cube and 1 cup water)

2 tsp herbs de Provence

1 1/2 tsp allspice

10 cups bread crumbs (make in food processor with blade using regular plain old slices of white bread – works best!)

3 small/medium sweet white potatoes – large dice

1 cup milk

2 tbs unsalted butter

1 1/2 tsp med/coarse sea salt

several grinds black pepper

Method:

Preheat oven 400

1 – Put large saute pan on low/medium and add two tablespoons of the oil. Add the onions, garlic and celery. Cook for about 5 minutes before adding the thyme springs and rosemary. Add the diced mushrooms and turn up heat to full medium and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

saute onions, garlic and celrery. add mushrooms and herbs

Saute onions, garlic and celery. Add mushrooms and herbs

2 – Add the cup of broth and turn heat down to low. Cover and cook for another 5-8 or so minutes, until everything is nice and soft. turn off when done and set aside.

Add broth

Add broth

3 – In the meantime put the sweet potatoes into a pot and cover with cold water. Cover and boil until they are very soft (but not falling apart). Drain the water and add the butter, salt, several grinds of pepper and milk. Mash until very smooth and lump-free. Taste and adjust seasoning according to your taste if necessary.

Mash and cream sweet potatoes

Mash and cream sweet potatoes

4 – Put the bread crumbs in a very large bowl and whisk in the allspice. Add the veggies and mix with the crumbs (I use my hands!)

Add cooked veggies to bread crumbs

Add cooked veggies to bread crumbs

5 – Add the mashed sweet potatoes and mix until everything is well combined. Taste the mixture and add whatever you think it needs more of: salt, pepper, allspice etc

Add potatoes and mix together

Add potatoes and mix together

6 – Turn the mixture into two buttered loaf pan (or 1 larger loaf pan) and a couple of knobs of butter to the top. Cook in preheated oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes before turning out onto a board or work surface.

Place in loaf pan, add knob of butter and place in oven

Place in loaf pan, add knob of butter and place in oven

7 – At this point you can slice and serve or slice and place in foil and reheat before you are ready to serve.

Before reheating, slice and place in foil

Before re-heating, slice and place in foil

It keeps very well in the fridge for a week. It is great fried in the morning with an egg if you are lucky to have any leftovers, or as part of a sandwich.

Barly remenbered to take this picture before it dissapeared!

Barely remembered to take this picture before it disappeared!

Another Take On My Mother’s Stuffing (8 -10 as side-dish)

 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.

This stuffing is great sliced and fried

This stuffing is great sliced and fried

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!

Sake & sake cups chilling in ice - yum

Sake & sake cups chilling in ice – this is nice to sip on while holed up in the kitchen at this time of year – hint, hint

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.

Time for Christmas

Time for Christmas

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.

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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)

Method

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!

peel, then dice potatoes

Peel, then cut potatoes into chunks

diced mushrooms

Diced mushrooms

dicing celery 101

dicing celery 101

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.

cream potatoes

Cream potatoes

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.

saute onions and celery

saute onions and celery

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.

add mushrooms, then herbs

add mushrooms, then herbs

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!

Bread Stuffing with Cherries & Bacon; Maureen & Tess Collaborative (serves 8)

 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.

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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.

fry bacon

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.

add milk, herbs & spices

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.

I presented the stuffing in a beautiful wood-fired bowl by Shawn Ireland

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*