Today the Stuffing...

Thanksgiving stuffing, also known as "dressing" (which always perplexed me), is one of my favorite parts of the meal. I grew up with Pepperidge Farm packaged "croutons" mixed with lots of butter and caramelized onions and I loved it when my mother baked it in a casserole and the topping got all brown and crispy. It is one of those childhood taste memories which I cling to, still. But I offer you a slightly more upscale, and definitely more interesting stuffing this year: Cornbread, Bacon & Shiitake Stuffing. It is meant to accompany almost any turkey flavor profile or cooking technique, but has real character of its own. It might seem labor intensive to make your own cornbread, but this recipe is speedy and can be done way ahead of time and frozen, if you wish. I hardly ever freeze anything but please feel free -- especially if it's going to keep the stress level down. In that spirit, I would like to offer the concept of Mindful-Based Stress Reduction and specifically apply it your Thanksgiving preparations. You should make the cornbread at least 1 to 2 days before using as it's best if it's a bit dry to better absorb all the delicious juices. You can use an equal amount (16 ounces) of store-bought cornbread or corn muffins, but the result will be sweeter. The stuffing itself can be made a day ahead and reheated.

Cornbread, Bacon & Shiitake Stuffing

Cornbread 1 cup flour 1 cup yellow cornmeal, fine or medium 1 tablespoon sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon baking powder 1 cup milk 1 extra-large egg, beaten 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Stuffing 4 tablespoons olive oil 3 cups chopped onions 2 cups chopped celery 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped 5 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice 5 ounces sliced shiitake mushrooms 2 extra-large eggs, beaten 2 cups chicken stock

To make the cornbread:  Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Stir in milk, egg, and butter. Stir well and pour into well-oiled 8-inch square pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until just firm. Let cool.

For the stuffing:  Heat oil in a 6-quart pot. Add onions and celery and cook 15 minutes over high heat, stirring, until softened and golden brown. Add rosemary, bacon, and mushrooms and cook 10 minutes until mushrooms are soft and bacon is cooked. Cut cornbread into 1/2-inch pieces and add to pot. Stir and cook 5 minutes. Whisk together eggs and stock; pour over cornbread mixture and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes and serve. Serves 8

Today the stuffing, tomorrow the sweet potatoes:  Three fab recipes!  Stay tuned.