Friday, November 21, 2014

Thanksgiving Way Out West: Cornbread and Sausage Dressing

        There are stuffing people and there are dressing people, but no Thanksgiving Dinner is complete without one of the two. Not even one in California. ( By the way, the only difference between stuffing and dressing is whether you put the stuff in the bird or cook it separately.)  And between turkey and stuffing or dressing there’s very little color difference which may be one reason green beans are so popularly served with a Turkey dinner. But a few years ago, I found a recipe for Cornbread Dressing that included copious amounts of parsley and celery and, then, triumphantly for those of us desperate for color, red pepper. 

        Dressing used to be Andrew’s provenance. His mother’s Cornbread dressing was the standard that all others had to live up to. And it was delicious, an old southern family favorite from her native Alabama. However when I came on the scene, I insisted on the addition of sausage because that was always in our family version. So we ended up with a ‘blended’ version. The other change that happened was that Andrew took up baking, and did so with a vengeance – I counted 6 desserts last Thanksgiving—he rather needed the help. 

        I stuck to his mother’s cornbread recipe because there was no need to improve on perfection.  If you are not feeling overly ambitious or if you are feeling completely stressed out by all you have to do for Thanksgiving, you can be forgiven for choosing to buy ready-made corn bread.  A nine by nine inch piece of the stuff is what you'll need.
        I did make our own from the original Phllips family recipe.  The changes I made to the dish were to the add-ins and, of course, the sausage. Now this recipe serves 24. Since we had 21 for Turkey Day this year, this seemed to make sense. But I had a lot leftover so I would suggest that halving it, which is very easy to do, and creating one dish for 12 would likely be fine even for 21.

Here’s the recipe:

First make the cornbread:
(For two loaves or 24 servings, follow this ingredient list. For 12, simply half the quantities.)

2-2/3 cups all purpose flour
2-2/3 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup sugar
2 tbsps. Plus 2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. Salt
2 2/3 cups whole milk
4 large eggs
¾ cup (1 ½ Unsalted Butter, melted).

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 
2. Grease and flour two 9x9x2 inch metal baking pans. 
3. Whisk together the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl to blend. Whisk the milk, eggs and butter until smooth. Add milk mixture to dry ingredients, stirring until the batter is just moistened. Divide the batter between the two pans.
4. Bake the cornbread until tester plunged into the center of each comes out clean (about 30 minutes). Cool completely in pans.
This can and should be done a day ahead. Cover the cornbread with foil and store at room temperature.

For the Dressing:

6 large sweet Italian sausages
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, divided
4 cups chopped celery, divided
4 cups chopped onions, divided
2 red bell peppers, chopped and divided
8 fresh sage leaves, divided or 2 tbsp. dried sage leaves, divided

1 recipe of Cornbread.

2 cups Italian parsley, divided
1 cup chopped celery leaves, divided
8 large eggs
1 ½ cups chicken stock (if not using homemade, use low sodium chicken broth
4 tsp. salt, divided
2 tsp. freshly ground pepper, divided

1. Remove the sausage from its casings and break it down into bite sized pieces. In a large saucepan, cook the sausage over medium heat, futher breaking it down with the back of a wooden spoon. Once it is completely cooked through, remove from heat, divide in half and set aside.
2. Butter two 13x9x 2-inch glass baking dishes.
3. Melt ½ cup of butter in large, heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add two cups of celery, 2 cups of onions, 1 bell pepper, and 4 sage leaves (or 1 tbsp. dried). Saute until the vegetables are just tender, but not brown, about 15 minutes.
4. Cut cornbread loaf into ½ inch cubes. Place in a large bowl. Add half the sausage then add 1 cup of parsley, ½ cup celery leaves, and sautéed vegetables. 
5. Beat four eggs, 1 ¼ cups stock or broth, 2 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. pepper in large bowl to blend, stir into cornbread mixture. Put the dressing into one of the baking dishes. 
6. Repeat this entire process with remaining vegetables and cornbread to make the second batch. (This can be done three hours in advance of when it is needed. Cover with foil and refrigerate. However, making the dressing this weekend and then freezing it will add up to big time savings on Turkey Day)
7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the dressing, covered, for 40 minutes. Remove the covering and bake until cooked through and beginning to brown on top, about a half hour later.