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.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mr. President

I was enthralled by the story yesterday in the food section of the New York Times about Marilyn Monroe's recipe for Thanksgiving stuffing. What a fabulous bit of sleuthing by authors Matt and Ted Lee to determine the origin of the recipe.   In a new book called "Fragments" -- a collection of letters, poems, and "scribblings" of Ms. Monroe's from 1943 to 1962 -- resides a poignant reminder of a real life: a handwritten recipe for stuffing a turkey or chicken. Amazing in its complexity, it is quirky and voluptuous, and much like the cook herself.

But more interesting for me, on a personal level, is that the book highlights Monroe's life when she was married to Arthur Miller and a student of Lee Strasberg at the Actor's Studio, predominantly in the late '50's.  Some 15 years later, right after graduating Tufts University, I decided to open a catering business out of my small apartment in midtown Manhattan.  I called it "Catering Artistique."  My boyfriend at the time was a terrific actor and I, a very bad actress. Instead I set my sights on cooking and wound up with a roster of clients including politicians, (infamous) lawyers, and theatre people.  Among them were Lee and Anna Strasberg.  They hired me many times to cook their holiday meals and be their "go-to" girl for cocktail parties and intimate gatherings. I cooked mostly at their apartment on the upper west side.  It had a homey kitchen with a famous back door.  And you would never know who would walk in (or out) at a moment's notice.  Most often it was Al Pacino who lived in the building.   Sometimes I did the event solo, or with my boyfriend Lee. Decked out with a white shirt, black bow tie, and black pants, he would play the starring role that evening as he acted as a waiter -- just waiting, someday, to be an actor.  It was hard not to swoon at all of it during those evenings, rubbing elbows with the theatre's most humble glitterati.  And it was impossible not to think of what those evening's would have been like -- if Marilyn had walked through the kitchen door.

Marilyn's stuffing according to the Lee's, has 11 ingredients plus five herbs and spices.  The recipe I offer below, which I created for the holiday issue of Real Food magazine, is far simpler, radically so, and unlike Ms. Monroe's recipe, has a whiff of garlic.   There are surprising similarities however --my recipe is also a bit "Italian-inspired" and also includes nuts, almonds, rosemary and parmesan cheese.  Here's a sneak preview:

Almond, Rosemary and Panko “Stuffing” This modern stuffing has an old-fashioned taste because of traditional flavors of celery,  onion and rosemary.  But the twist is the use of panko breadcrumbs (in addition to bread slices), sliced almonds, and a liberal amount of nutty, sweet Parmigiano-Reggiano.  This “stuffing,” baked outside of the turkey’s cavity, can be assembled early in the day, and refrigerated in the large baking dish which will later be heated alongside the turkey.   You may add slivers of prosciutto to the mix if desired.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup finely chopped celery

2 cups coarsely chopped onion

2 teaspoons dried basil leaves

2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano

1 cup sliced almonds

2 cups panko

5 slices firm white bread, cut into ½-inch squares

½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

2 extra-large eggs

1-3/4 cups chicken stock

1 large clove garlic

1 tablespoon finely minced fresh rosemary

Melt 2 tablespoons butter and olive oil in 4-quart pot.  Add celery and onion and cook, stirring, over high heat for 10 minutes until soft.  Add basil, oregano, and almonds and cook 2 minutes.   Stir in panko and bread squares and cook 2 minutes until coated.   Transfer stuffing to large shallow baking dish.  Stir in cheese, salt and pepper to taste.   Beat together eggs and chicken stock.  Add garlic, pushed through a press.  Pour over bread mixture.  Mix well.  Stir in rosemary and dot with remaining butter.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to bake.  Bake at 375 degrees until golden brown and crispy, about 1-1/2 hours.   Serves 8