Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cooking for a Holiday - Thanksgiving, Part XI - Connie Staccato Stuffs a Turkey

The secret to stuffing a turkey is - ha! - you don't.  Listen to me, I know of which I speak.  Stuffing a turkey is a PAIN IN THE ASS.  On many levels.  To begin with, you have to stuff the thing, no big deal in and of itself, but there are rules:
  1. You have to put the turkey in the oven immediately after stuffing it;
  2. You have to unstuff it before you eat, but not too long before you eat;
  3. You have to hop up from the table right after the last spoonful of cranberry sauce passes your lips to put it all away...
...before the nasty bird microbes start to interact with the nasty egg microbes in the stuffing, because that's going to kill you at room temperature.

I like to keep things simple, so I avoid the little bastards altogether and bake my stuffing "on-the-side", as we say.  It gets nice and brown and crunchy on top.  If you're rabid about it, you can baste it - before baking - with some of the turkey juice.
I recommend baking the stuffing in those little foil cake pans, the kind that come 3-to-a-package at the grocery store.  That way, you can eat a few pans at Thanksgiving dinner and freeze the rest, in dinner-size portions, and have ready-to-go side dishes.  If you're looking to avoid Seasonal Blimpdom, you can send any uneaten pans of stuffing home with your guests, no repackaging required.  For the record, I am in NO WAY above serving the stuffing in those foil pans, because - in my opinion - it's all about the food.  Not that I don't appreciate the sight of a lovely table but, once you start eating, who the hell cares?  If you do, lie to me.

This recipe is from my Sicilian-American grandmother who - in a show of patriotism - always allowed space for a turkey and trimmings alongside the lasagna at Thanksgiving.  I have modified it in two ways:
  1. I have cut the recipe down by two-thirds, size-wise.  Triple it if you're feeding three rooms full of an extended Sicilian family.  You know, the inner-circle table and the outer circle table and the kids' table.  Geographically arranged to allow for maximum yelling;
  2. I leave out the sage at the request of my husband.  This a Sicilian woman always does:  she cooks according to the tastes of her husband, even if he wouldn't know a sage leaf if it jumped up and bit him on the ass.  She understands why he married her.  Digressions from this tradition are few and far between, even to accommodate small children.  Let me illustrate one of the main differences between the Sicilian-American Table and the Very White American People's Table.  Very White American People cook some God-forsaken pap that they think their kid will like, or they get all tough-love about it and serve the food that Mommy and Daddy like and make the kid sit there until he eats it.  Or at least tries it.  A Sicilian woman does not do this.  She cooks what her husband likes, and the kids can eat bread and butter, whatever.  Which they love.  They grow up at least knowing what good food looks and smells like.  And they learn to like lentils.
Feel free to add sage, without fear of repercussion.  Or oysters, or cranberries, or quail beaks.  Whatever floats your boat.  Just remember that if you do, I'm not responsible for the results.  But the following recipe will stand up to just about anything.

The ingredients:

3 large loaves of cheap white bread, cut into 1-inch (or so) cubes
4 cups of celery, chopped and cooked in butter
4 cups of onions, diced and cooked in butter
1/2 cup of fresh Italian parsley (the flat-leaf kind, it's better), chopped fine
3 sticks of butter, melted
3 eggs
1 Tbl salt
1 Tbl fresh ground pepper

The recipe:
  1. Prep your bread.  After cutting it into cubes, you can do this in one of two ways: either toast them slightly in the oven, or leave them out somewhere safe for a day or two to get a little stale.  I like the second method because I have no time or patience for anything.
  2. The day before Thanksgiving, saute the celery and onions in butter, and store (covered) in the refrigerator overnight.  WHATEVER you do, NEVER put raw chopped onions in the fridge, which will make your milk - and everything else - smell like a Chicago hot dog.
  3. On Thanksgiving, put the stale bread in the biggest pot you have.  Run some cold water over it, until bread is thoroughly damp, and press it down hard with your hands.  Add more water, if necessary, and keep pressing until your bread is about the consistency of paste..  It's a good idea to take your rings off before you do this.  Make sure you POUR OFF any excess water!!! (Author's note:  This section has been modified, on account of my son, Nino, tried to make stuffing, added WAY too much water, and - of course - he blamed me.)
  4. Right there in the pot, add all the other ingredients to the bread.  Mix well with a big spoon.  This takes some muscle.  When you're done, you'll have worked off your first piece of pie;
  5. With the same big spoon, put the stuffing into the cake pans.  You should get four to six of them;
  6. Cover the pans with foil and put them in the fridge until they're ready to be baked;
  7. An hour before the turkey is done, uncover the stuffing and bake (until browned) as many pans as will fit in the oven with the bird.  You can bake more pans, if necessary, while you're eating.

As far as the (unstuffed) turkey goes, just put it in a big foil roasting pan into a 325 degree oven and roast it until it's done, basting it once in a while and reserving any extra juice for the gravy.  For a big, fresh turkey that should be about four hours, but ask the guy at the meat counter.  If you want to take the guesswork totally out of it, stick a meat thermometer into the thigh and the turkey's done when the thermometer says 180 degrees.  The science know-it-alls say we don't even have to wash a turkey any more.  Okay by me.  You also might want to check for - and remove - any feathers, and don't forget to take out the neck and gizzards first, but I'm not talking to a stoonahd, right?

Assuming that you've been following me closely and doing everything I've told you to do, here are the only things you have left to do, while the turkey is roasting:
  1. Make the mashed potatoes.
  2. Make the succotash.
  3. Make the gravy.
  4. Bake the sweet potatoes.
  5. Whip the cream for the pies.
And here are the recipes:

Mashed Potatoes
Peel and wash 8 to 10 baking potatoes.  Cut into quarters and put them in a big pot of water.  Boil until soft.  Drain and smash them up a bit.  Add a cup of hot milk, a half-a-stick of butter, and a tablespoon of salt.  Beat with an electric beater until fluffy.  This is all you have to do, because - honestly - it's really all about the gravy.

Bring a half-cup of salted water to a boil in a big pot.  Put in a package (each) of frozen corn kernels and baby lima beans.  Bring to a boil again and cover.  Turn the heat down and let cook about 10 minutes.  Add a quarter-stick of butter, a half-cup of chopped parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir it up.  You have realized by now that this meal is about 50% butter, right?  That's why it tastes good.

Melt a stick of butter in a saucepan.  Add 8 tablespoons of flour and cook over low heat until smooth.  Gradually add 4 cups of turkey juice (reserved from basting, or a mix of turkey juice and water to make four cups) to the flour mix, cooking and stirring constantly.  Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer.  Cook a few more minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.  If your family and guests are gravy hogs, either double the recipe, or have some packages of instant gravy mix on hand.  They won't care.
I would be remiss in my duties as a Sicilian-American kitchen capo di tutti capi if I didn't tell you what to do after dinner is over, which is usually signalled by your male diners turning on the second half of the football game.  Designate any food still on the table as "doggy bag" or "leftover" and package accordingly.  Stack the dishes in the sink.  But first, take a tall-size plastic garbage bag, put the turkey in it (roasting pan and all), secure tightly, and stick it on the bottom shelf of your fridge.  Remove any drawers that get in your way.

After all, it's your holiday, too.  And that bird isn't going anywhere.

Now relax and have some pie and coffee.

After the game, of course.


  1. hey babe!
    loved both your recipes and will certainly cook a turkey one day, probably the easier version...if only I had your skills!! i bet your christmas table will be a treat!
    a big hug my dear

  2. my dearest friend,
    wish you a lovely, caring, delicious and peaceful Xmas!you deserve so much!
    a big hug, Aida


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