October 23, 2014

"Practice Thanksgiving": Cranberry-Cornbread Stuffing, and Cherry Pie!

My dinner plate, a little of everything! 

First, let me just say... I love Thanksgiving!!! It's my favorite. Pumpkin, cranberries, green bean casserole, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and turkey of course. But really, I love the idea behind it. You get together with your family and sometimes close friends, and you say thanks. You watch a great parade, say thanks, eat delicious food, then relax. How much better can a holiday get?!?

My family and I started the tradition of celebrating holidays en masse when I went away to college. Since I moved 1,000+ miles away to school, and started working in healthcare, I didn't always get to come home on time for holidays. So, when I could make the trip home, we started celebrating the holidays closest to make sure that we would get to spend them together. When we were planning our vacation to Florida this time, and my aunt asked if we wanted to have "Practice Thanksgiving", of course my answer was yes!!

For our 'Thanksgiving', I was in charge of sweet potatoes, green bean casserole,  (I used my peoplefood recipe from two years ago, but steamed fresh green beans, and added some fresh sauteed mushrooms), and stuffing. My mom mastered the turkey, mashed potatoes, rutabaga, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. My aunt was in charge of hors d'oeuvres, and the apple and cherry pies. Yes, we went all out. Yes, it was all comforting, delicious and is making me look forward to my favorite holiday even more!

I cannot share all of the recipes of the day... (and I doubt you want to read all of them!) but I wanted to pass on the recipe for the Cranberry-Cornbread Stuffing I made, (which will likely be re-appearing on my table on turkey day), as well as the family recipe my aunt shared with me for a super simple, delicious, cherry pie!

Last year, I made a cornbread stuffing and it was moist, delicious, dotted with cranberries, and all around awesome. Of course, I couldn't find the recipe/my notes and didn't have all of my recipe stuff with me on vacation to sort through.... So, I set out to find a new recipe to try, (it was "Practice Thanksgiving" after all....). I ended up using a Martha Stewart recipe for Cranberry-Cornbread Stuffing, minus the pecans. I am sure that the roasted pecans would add a great meaty/nutty note to the stuffing, but I had to cook with safety in mind so I omitted them for my son's sake.

Cranberry-Cornbread Stuffing
Martha Stewart, serves 10

8 oz. (2 cups) pecans
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3 large onions, cut into 1/4 inch dice
6 stalks celery, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves, chopped*
1 batch Skillet Cornbread*, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 loaf day-old white bread, with crust, cut into 1 inch cubes (10 heaping cups)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups dried cranberries
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley*
1 tbsp coarse salt
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp Bell's seasoning (poultry seasoning)
1 quart chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread pecans in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet; toast in oven until golden and fragrant, 8-12 minutes, tossing occasionally. Let cool, then roughly chop; set aside.
Melt butter in large skillet. Add onions and celery and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent. Add oregano and stir to combine
Transfer onion mixture to a large bowl. Add pecans, cornbread, bread cubes, eggs, and all other ingredients. Mix to combine. Cook stuffing in turkey or baking dish. If using baking dish, generously coat dish with butter, fill with stuffing, and dot stuffing with additional butter. Cover with parchment paper-lined aluminum foil, and bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 20 minutes.

Notes on this recipe: I think that this makes much more stuffing than 10 servings. I would probably make this same batch for 15, and expect it to be perfect. (There are always so many sides to choose from!) I made this batch for 8, and we still ended up with a gallon freezer bag of leftovers. Also, I used dried herbs instead of fresh... I will typically buy fresh parsley because its so versatile, but decided to scrimp a little and go without fresh herbs. Instead of 1/4 cup fresh oregano, I used 4 tsp. dried, and instead of 1 cup fresh parsley, I used about 5 tbsp of dried. In the future, I would say that you can do without fresh oregano, but would recommend fresh parsley to brighten things up a bit. I made the cornbread (see bottom of post) the day before, cubed it, and let it sit out for a day before making this recipe. I also cubed the white bread a day ahead. (It is humid in FL, and I thought that it could use more time to dry out so that the stuffing wasn't gummy and too moist, here in NJ, I would probably cube the breads the night before and they'd be good to go). I would recommend mixing it in two batches- this makes a lot of stuffing, and it was difficult to mix in all of the seasonings evenly.

Now... for the belle of the ball.... cherry pie. I love my aunt's cherry pie, and I don't get it very often. She has made this pie every Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember... and no one makes it like she does. I am very excited that she shared her recipe with me, and I can't wait to make it later this year. My mom is the pumpkin pie queen (maybe I'll share her secret next month), but my aunt always wins for her cherry and apple pies.

What I love about this cherry pie, is that it's not heavy. It's not syrupy or artificial tasting... and its easy!! The cherries are juicy and light, not-too-sweet, and the pie makes a great breakfast treat, snack, and dessert... especially with some vanilla ice cream!

Cherry Pie

2 cans sour cherries in water
3 tbsp instant tapioca
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tsp flour

Mix the ingredients and let stand for 15 minutes. (This allows the tapioca to "bloom", and gives time for the tapioca and flour to work their magic as thickeners).
Pour into pie crust. Slice top crust, and lay over pie in lattice pattern.
Bake in oven at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 350, and bake for additional 25 minutes. (You can cover crust with shield or aluminum foil if it browns too quickly).

Mmmmm... my mouth is actually watering just typing the recipe. I cannot wait to make it myself now that we're home... I may have to practice before Thanksgiving again!

Martha Stewart's Skillet Cornbread:

2 tbsp. solid vegetable shortening; 2 cups all purpose flour; 2 cups yellow cornmeal; 2 tbsp sugar; 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp baking powder; 1 1/2 tsp salt; 2 cups milk; 4 large eggs
Preheat oven to 425 degrees, with oven rack in center. Place shortening in a 9-10 inch cast iron or ovenproof skillet, and place in oven to heat.
In medium bowl, whisk together flour and dry ingredients. In separate bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Pour wet ingredients into dry, and stir until just combined. Do not overmix- batter should be lumpy.
Carefully slide out oven rack. Pour batter directly into hot skillet. Cook until cornbread is golden brown, and firm to the touch- about 25 minutes.

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