TOLD TO “STUFF IT”? IT’S EITHER THANKSGIVING, OR YOU’RE TALKING TOO MUCH – BETTER TO STUFF YOUR MOUTH WITH THIS STUFFING!

tksday 11-12_073Let me first confess that this year’s stuffing was not my best rendition. I was so thrilled that I had homemade turkey stock to add to the mixture, frozen a few months ago for just this occasion, that I overdid the moisture part. Or maybe the moisture just didn’t absorb as well as usual into the bread/croutons because, for the first time ever, I didn’t dig into the bowl with my hands and mush all the ingredients together, as I’d been taught to do by my mother. Apparently I was led astray by those gorgeous photographs of stuffing spilling out of the turkey’s cavity, with obvious chunks of bread, aromatics and sausage on display.

Well, our family likes most of those ingredients well-combined. Besides, not “mushing” can also result in a too-dry stuffing!

The recipe for stuffing in this blogpost is adjusted so that readers can make their own judgments on how much liquid to add to their stuffing, based on what I used and what I’d suggest starting out with. Our stuffing wasn’t waterlogged but could’ve done well with perhaps half-a-cup less of stock. It tasted great, however, and it was even better a couple days later as part of the topping (along with some of the potato casserole) on a Turkey Shepherd’s Pie.

As mentioned in yesterday’s entry, I opted for stuffing in the turkey rather than just filling its cavity with lemon and herbs and making it totally a side dish, baked separately. There’s never too much stuffing.

ckbook PolishOnly one family memory regarding stuffing and then on to the recipe. My father often got involved in the cooking on Thanksgiving, at least in Big Bird part, and he would sometimes mix together what he called “a Polish stuffing,” which translated to how his mother made it. Nana Zembo (who arrived in this country from Poland early in the 20th century) made a version that included raisins. I was never certain this was a true Polish food tradition until I perused my copy of Polish Cookery: The Universal Cook Book by Marja Ochorowicz-Monatowa (Crown Publishers; my copy is its 13th printing, 1975). It contains two raisin stuffing recipes, one in the “Poultry and Poultry Stuffings” section and the other under “Stuffings for Roast Pig.” I didn’t own this book, however, when I tried making a rendition of Nana’s dish. All I did was add raisins to my usual recipe (and maybe some diced apples or applesauce). Tasted glorious to me, but I found I was also the only one eating it. Our traditional TurkeyDay dressing disappeared into well-filled bellies but I guess “honoring our Polish heritage” only goes so far.

With that said, here’s the Day-Zembo family’s “usual” turkey stuffing. I create the same recipe for chicken, only with chicken stock (in fact, in past years it’s often been chicken stock that went into the turkey stuffing).

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DAY-ZEMBO FAMILY TURKEY STUFFING
Yield: Enough to fill cavity of a 17-18 lb. turkey, plus a large ovenproof bowl/pan

Ingredients

  • 5 to 6 generous cups homemade (or supermarket purchased), herbed croutons – more if needed
  • Up to 1 quart turkey broth (you’ll start with less & eyeball it for moisture)
  • 1 tablespoon oil (more if needed, as sometimes is the case with turkey sausage)
  • 10 to 12 ounces turkey (or pork) sausage
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 medium to large onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced small (Mom never added carrots; it’s my way of sneaking some extra nutrition into the mix.)
  • 3 large celery stalks, peeled and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste (minimum, however, of a teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried sage
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • a couple tablespoons Bell’s Seasoning, if desired
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten (optional but advisable; I didn’t include them this time— had I done so, perhaps they would have offset the extra moisture since eggs work as binders)
  • additional butter to dot dish of extra stuffing

Process

  1. Into a very large bowl, pour the croutons.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet and add sausage. Sauté until browned, using spatula as it cooks, to break into small bits. (I had to use turkey sausage – daughter doesn’t eat pork or red meat – and couldn’t find a package of it with “breakfast sausage” seasonings in it, so wound up with a 9.6 oz. package of Jimmy Dean Hearty Sausage Crumbles.) If sausage is the pre-cooked kind, still sauté to warm it and to add flavor to the pan.
  3. Remove sausage to a paper-towel-covered plate to drain.
  4. Add butter to skillet and, when melted, further add onions, carrots and celery, cooking for about three minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  5. Add garlic to pan and sauté for an additional minute, monitoring mixture to be sure garlic doesn’t burn.
  6. Return sausage to pan and add about a cup of the stock. Use spatula to scrape any pan brownings up, further flavoring the broth mix. (This is called deglazing.)
  7. After a few minutes, turn heat off and add contents of pan to the bowl of croutons, mixing together well.
  8. Add one cup of warm stock (I microwave it) to mixture, plus the thyme, sage, parsley and Bell’s Seasoning (if using). Also add any additional salt and/or pepper, as desired.
  9. Ensuring first that the mixture is cool enough not to “cook” the eggs upon addition, add eggs to the mix and stir until combined.
  10. Then DIG IN with those hands, mushing the mix together. You aren’t going to make it into one gooey mess, breaking down veggies into nothingness, but croutons should be well-dampened with some of them broken down entirely. (If it’s a bit dry, add more stock— a little at a time to avoid overdoing it. Too wet? No harm in adding more croutons. Judgment call.)
  11. If roasting stuffing inside the bird, as well as in a separate dish, make sure turkey’s cavity is salted and then fill about ⅔ to ½ full (stuffing expands). I don’t bother to try to sew up the cavity; I simply pull drumsticks together and tie with kitchen twine. (See yesterday’s post for suggestions about roasting the bird.)
  12. Fill an appropriate-sized, ovenproof dish or pan with remaining stuffing. Dot with butter.
  13. Extra stuffing can be baked along with the turkey (but only for about 30 to 45 minutes of the turkey’s time, so schedule accordingly), or separately. Since we have only one oven in our kitchen and the bird takes up most of that space, I usually microwave stuffing until heated through and then place it in the oven after turkey has been removed and is resting on the counter. Bake it until browned on top and thoroughly heated through.

There you have it – my guidelines for great stuffing. It takes practice in judging exactly how much stock you’ll want in your own version. And still, after years of T-Days (or whenever you’re indulging in turkey), you might not come off with exactly the texture you were aiming for. Hopefully, however, it’ll still be full of flavor, as ours was – and it’ll work well in those recipes for leftovers!

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Honoring My Ancestors: Christmas Eve 2011, Recipe #2 – Goląbki (Polish Stuffed Cabbage)

Here’s the second “main dish” I prepared for our Christmas Eve buffet this year (see previous post for the first recipe, Pierogi in a casserole form, which also describes two other ways I’ve dished those little dumplings up in the past – including the version Mom learned from Dad and his mother). I doubled the recipe below when cooking up the Christmas batch, with a few revisions as noted. Doubling gave me enough to freeze to give to my brother for a future meal as well as for ourselves. In fact, we had Bill’s sister over for dinner a couple nights ago and served her stuffed cabbage too! She toted home some leftover goląbki (gwum-kee) along with mashed potatoes.

 

Even though Dad’s family was the Polish side, I remember vividly how many of Mom’s family members were wild about them – even to the point where, on one of our get-togethers in Schenectady’s Central Park in the late ’50s, it was requested that Dad make them. It didn’t matter that it was a picnic where hot dogs, hamburgers and salads generally prevailed. It was an opportunity to eat George’s gwum-kees! No one made them like my father, who learned from his mom, Nana Zembo. He showed Mom how to create them. I had to corner my mother one afternoon when she was in her late 60s, standing beside her at my stove, to get the ingredients and cooking process into writing. I didn’t want the family recipe to disappear.

Central Park, Schenectady, NY, toasting marshmallows under the golabki pot - left to right: Marilyn (me), Uncle Arch, Aunt Ann (in back at table with Dad, Uncle Corley), cousin Gary, brother George, cousin Archie. 1950s.

I’ve even written a short story, “Gerta’s Path,” which takes place in my grandparents’ old neighborhood in Albany, NY, and features goląbki. It’s theme? …how you serve up love.

Dad, Europe, World War 2

 

NANA ZEMBO’S GOLĄBKI (Polish Stuffed Cabbage)
(Makes from 20 to 30 stuffed cabbages, depending on how large your cabbage is!)

 Ingredients
  • 2 large heads of cabbage
  • ¼ to ½ lb. salt pork
  • 2 cups cooked rice (cooked it in beef broth this time, only difference from the original recipe)
  • 2½ to 3 lbs. ground chuck (actually, I used 80% beef as it’s a bit healthier)
  • up to 1 lb. loose pork sausage (optional; also, I use about ½ lb.-too much more makes meat stick together more than preferred)
  • 3 or 4 eggs (generally use 3)
  • Salt, pepper, garlic powder (or paste, my preference), 1 tsp. each or to taste
  • 1 large can tomato puree
  • 1 large can water (use puree can)
  • 2 large onions, peeled and sliced

Process

  1. Cook cabbage in boiling water until pliable (1 to 1½ hour). Test core for doneness; do not poke leaves. (I cut around the core of the cabbage before placing them in the water. It’s lots easier to pull leaves away for filling later on.)
  2. While cabbage cooks, dice salt pork into small cubes, first cutting away grizzle from back of pork. (Alternatively, pork can be ground in food processor after removing grizzle.) Fry until crisp and brown.
  3. Mix hamburger, pork (if using), eggs and rice with salt, pepper and garlic powder (or garlic paste).
  4. Add salt pork from fry pan, including the grease to the meat mixture.
  5. Line bottom of a large oven roaster pan with outside pieces of cabbage that possibly softened too much for filling.
  6. Fill each cabbage leaf with meat mixture, folding over to close four times (side closest to you, then sides on left and right, followed by the side furthest way – thus covering all the mean mixture inside).
  7. Place filled cabbages in pan, folded side down, layering as necessary.
  8. Pour puree over stuffed cabbages; then pour water over everything.
  9. Distribute sliced onions over the top.
  10. Cook in pre-heated 350º oven for 1½ to 2 hours, until done (slice one stuffed cabbage in half to determine if meat inside is sufficiently cooked—and check cabbage to be sure bulkier pieces are tender enough for eating).
  11. Serve with mashed potatoes as a side dish. I also enjoy a side of wax (yellow) beans with them.

    Nana Zembo

Honoring My Ancestors: A Polish Buffet for Christmas Eve 2011, Recipe #1 – Pierogi (3 ways)

Jak będzie Wigilia, tak będzie caly rok.
— “As is Wigilia, so is the entire year,” a Polish proverb.

Although my paternal grandparents were immigrants from Poland to the U.S., my brothers and I weren’t raised learning many Polish holiday traditions since my mother came from Dutch and German stock who arrived in this country sometime in the distant past. Still, love of certain foods came down to our generation, along with one of Nana’s recipes. Dad taught our mother how to make the golabki (gwum-kee), stuffed cabbage. Mom even took time to create pierogi “from scratch” once, she told me, but decided she’d never do it again—as soon as a small batch was done, heaped with sautéed onions, they’d disappear into everyone’s tummy with no leftovers to enjoy (too much work, she said!). I made some “scratch” pierogies one year too, at Eastertime, and came away with the same feeling – not likely to happen again, not while there’s Mrs. T’s! As for kielbasa and sauerkraut – well, it’s a given Mom would make that occasionally, but not with the Polish sausage (German roots, plus American familiarity with ’kraut, meant we enjoyed it with hot dogs or pork chops). Kielbasa was for dippin in mustard – a munchie!

So it seemed like a good idea to bring together a Polish feast for Christmas Eve this year, inviting a few family members to share. The main menu included golabki, mashed potatoes (I can’t have golabki without potatoes as a side), pierogi casserole, sauerkraut with turkey kielbasa and carrots, and good marbled rye bread (no, I did not make the bread—no time, energy expired!). I wanted to try baking a delicious-looking Sweet Pecan Kugel recipe from a great blog I subscribe to, Savory Simple, but I ran out of time with all the baking, cooking, shopping, wrapping, decorating the week before. I’m saving that recipe for sometime in the next week or two. Anyway, we had plenty of cookies and candy (those recipes will appear in some of my next posts).

Given my previous ignorance and lack of an ingrained sense of Polish traditions, I hope anyone reading this blogpost who possesses better knowledge of customs in Poland will forgive my completely ignoring, with my holiday buffet, the fact that the customary Polska Night before Christmas consists entirely of meatless fare, including several fish and other meat-free dishes. If you’re Roman Catholic or know anything of RC fasting laws, you understand where the fish thing originated. The Wigilia (vee-GEEL-yah, which means “vigil”) meal celebration itself, also known as the Star Supper, is the heart of Christmas. It begins when the first star appears in the sky, commencing a magical time when it’s believed animals can talk and humans can predict the future. No food can be eaten until each and every family member and guest has broken the oplatki (translated as “angel bread” – a wafer with a Christmas image, such as the Nativity or the Star of Bethlehem, stamped into it) and exchanged wishes for good health, long life and prosperity.

If I’d stuck with the meatless theme, the pierogi casserole could’ve fit into the Wigilia tradition (but only if I left out the bacon, which would’ve been tasty enough too). This recipe originally came from an issue of one of my favorite magazines, Cooking Light, and was called Bacon Pierogi Bake. I’ve made several changes to their recipe, which I guess makes it my own. You can go to the link included in the previous sentence to view the original, but here’s my “take,” in a nutshell:

  • First of all, this recipe makes double the batch in the Cooking Light recipe. I was serving a crowd!
  • I used two kinds of frozen pierogies: potato & onion and potato & cheese.
  • I substituted turkey bacon for the real stuff, but have made it both ways with excellent results. This meant sautéing in a bit of butter and/or oil.
  • My boxed chicken broth preference comes “No Salt Added” – not “lower-sodium.”
  • I added a dash of nutmeg to the sauce (it goes great with cheese).
  • I eliminated the sliced green onions that get added as a topping after the casserole comes out of the oven in favor of sautéed (almost caramelized) onions spread atop the pierogies and sauce, before sprinkling cheddar cheese over it.
  • I opted for less chopped tomato (went for low-end of the ¼ to ½ cup) because I wanted the crunch and nuttiness of toasted pine nuts.
  • I suggest serving with sour cream or Greek yogurt, which adds a few calories (so Cooking Light did not include this as an option).

Let me preface this recipe with an apology about photographs of our Christmas feast: there are none. The photos herewith were taken on the day after Christmas (Boxing Day in many countries), so you’re viewing a plate of leftovers, albeit yummy ones. It was so hectic getting that meal on the table and trying to be sociable with family in between, I forgot to take pictures! But take my word for it—it was a fine setting indeed – and enjoyed by all, with leftovers going home with several (Kristen, George, Aunt Pat…).

MARILYN’S PIEROGI CASSEROLE
Yields about 8 servings (3 each serving)

Ingredients

  • 2 (15-ounce) packages of frozen potato & cheese or potato & onion (or one package of each) pierogies (such as Mrs. T’s)
  • 4 bacon slices (real or turkey bacon – center-cut slices best for the real stuff), chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil, if using turkey bacon
  • 2 large onions, cut in half, then sliced thin
  • 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil, plus 1 pat (tablespoon) of butter
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • ⅔ cup (6 ounces) ⅓-less-fat (Neufchatel) cream cheese (I’ve used full-fat cream cheese too, with good results)
  • 1 cup fat-free, low-sodium (or no-salt-added, which I use) chicken broth
  • dash of nutmeg (fresh-ground preferred)
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • ¼ to ½ cup chopped seeded plum tomatoes (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ⅔ cup pine nuts (less or more, according to preference)
  • sour cream or Greek yogurt for topping (optional)

Process

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Toast the pine nuts: Turn heat to medium under a non-stick frying pan. Do not coat the pan with anything. Arrange pine nuts in a single layer in the pan and cook for about 5-10 minutes, occasionally stirring, until nuts begin to exude a nutty aroma. Remove pan from heat. Set aside.
  3. Coat a large glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking spray. Arrange the pierogies in the baking dish.
  4. Fry the bacon in a saucepan over medium heat until crisp. (If using turkey bacon, you will need to add the olive or canola oil to the pan, just enough to prevent sticking.) Remove from pan to a paper towel-covered dish. Set aside.
  5. In a large frying pan, melt the butter with the oil and add the sliced onions. Sautée on medium to medium-low until almost caramelized. This can cook while you are preparing the rest of the casserole, but keep an eye on it and remove from heat when they begin the browning.
  6. Add minced garlic to drippings in pan (if using turkey bacon and there are few drippings remaining, add another ½ teaspoon of oil or butter). Cook garlic for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
  7. Add the cream cheese to the pan and cook for 1 minute or until the cheese begins to melt, stirring frequently.
  8. Gradually add chicken broth to pan, stirring with a whisk until smooth.
  9. Add the dash of nutmeg, giving a final stir or two.
  10. Pour cream cheese mixture over the pierogies.
  11. Top evenly with sautéed onions. 
  12. Top, again evenly,with shredded cheddar cheese.
  13. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbly and thoroughly heated.
  14. Remove from oven and sprinkle with bacon, tomato (if using), ground pepper and toasted pine nuts.
  15. Serve with sour cream (or Greek yogurt) as an optional, delicious topping

The plate, clockwise from top left: golabki (sliced open), sauerkraut with kielbasa & carrots, pierogi casserole, mashed potatoes.

Pierogi alternative recipe #2:  My original method for doing pierogies (frozen ones) came from Mom. Boil water. Drop them in. When they float to the top, they’re done. Take them out and put into a wide, flat bowl. Meanwhile, “fry” onions on the sides with plenty of butter and some salt and pepper, until well-browned. Dump the fried (sautéed) onions atop the dumplings and serve.

Pierogi alternative recipe #3:  At least a decade ago, our daughter Kristen told us about this now-closed restaurant on Lark Street in Albany where they served pierogies somewhat differently and most delectably. After tasting them, I followed suit with this method – Just like Mom: boil water; drop in; done when they float; into that wide-flat bowl – but keep them warm and moist so they don’t stick to each other since you will be sautéing them in the onion pan. In the meantime, toast pine nuts in a large frying pan; remove them to a small bowl. Then sauté onions in butter in that same pan. Remove them to another bowl. Sauté pierogies in batches in the onion pan, adding a little oil or butter as needed, until they brown and reach desired crispness (some might just like the browning but a little crisp is wonderful). Return to the wide bowl, adding onions and pine nuts as topping. Serve with sour cream. (This version is probably the most calorie-and-fat-packed of all three, plus it involves lots more over-the-stove work with all those pierogies to fry.)

I’m loving the casserole version, having thrown it together for at least three or four meals to date.

Stay tuned for the next recipe… most likely the golabki! And by the way, in the Polish Wigilia fashion, although a little late, let me wish you all good health, long life and prosperity.