Tag Archives: holidays

133. Cornbread Dressing, Because Stuffing is for the Birds

26 Nov

One of Southern Living's "83 Spectacular Thanksgiving Sides" Click for recipes.

One of Southern Living’s “83 Spectacular Thanksgiving Sides” Click for recipes.

First off, I must clarify that we’re not talking about stuffing. Most Southerners can’t be bothered to actually stuff a turkey; we’re far too busy stuffing ourselves. Besides which, everybody knows the turkey cannot possibly hold enough stuffing to go around. Unless said turkey were roughly the size of one of those balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And then it wouldn’t fit in the oven.

The major difference between dressing and stuffing is the main ingredient. One features crumbled cornbread, the other cubed white bread. Also, dressing tends to be moist and delicious, whereas stuffing is less so. Plus, stuffing has been known to contain all manner of non-essential add ins: Dried fruit, fresh fruit, nuts, mushrooms, root vegetables, and even kale.

The list of ingredients for cornbread dressing is blessedly short: cornbread, eggs, stock, onions (and maybe celery), and salt and pepper. Some folks add in sage, but my mom hated it nearly as much as All Things Tacky, so our dressing was always sans sage.

Southerners along the Gulf Coast often add oysters in the mix. I’m not sure how my Delta-raised mother latched on to this tradition, but for years she made half and half oyster and regular. Which would have been fine if half the family liked oyster dressing. Alas, only two out of eight or so did.

gobble gobble napkinsBut then Hallelujah! My sister-in-law Kay took over the dressing one year and introduced us to duck, which upped the deliciousness factor by roughly 1000%. Nary an oyster ever darkened our dressing again.

I should warn y’all that dealing with duck can be a pain in the ass, not to mention the fingers (from trying to pull hot duck off the bone due to a failure to plan ahead). The depth of flavor and level of moistness the bird adds is worth the extra effort. Especially if you’re not actually participating in the preparation.

Since I spend most Thanksgivings in Seattle, I have resigned myself to eating stuffing. Folks here don’t understand the true nature of cornbread. If they attempted to make dressing with sugary Yankee pone, they’d end up with dessert. Which, now that I think about it, might not be such a terrible idea. Especially if they threw in the fruit and nuts.

Several years ago, I rejoiced upon learning that an expat Southern couple would be providing the dressing for a Thanksgiving gathering. Between the creamy mashed potatoes and the authentic cornbread dressing, Chad and Leah made me think for just a moment that I was home for the holidays. Alas, they’ve moved to Asheville, and I’ve been stuck with stuffing ever since.

give thanksIn case you are wondering why I don’t volunteer to bring the dressing, it’s because I made the mistake of introducing Seattle folks to green bean bundles. Now they’ve become my price of admission to all Thanksgiving gatherings. These fussy sweet and savory bundles are only slightly less challenging than dealing with duck. If I tried to make both dishes, I’d never have the energy for shopping on Black Friday.

As the holiday approaches, I’m thankful to be part of a family whose love eclipses distance and time zones, and for my “family” here who make Seattle home.

Also, I’m thankful to Kay Holloway for sharing her recipe so I can pass it along to y’all.

Kay’s Duckalicious Cornbread Dressing

Not to be confused with cornbread mix.

Not to be confused with cornbread mix.

For the cornbread:
1 1/2 cups cornmeal mix
1/2 cup flour self rising
2 eggs well beaten
Enough buttermilk to pour it in the skillet
Pinch of salt
Tablespoon of sugar
Finely choped onions (don’t tell Jenna)
Finely chopped celery

Add some butter to a baking dish and preheat in a 400-degree oven. Mix all of the above ingredients, pour into heated pan and bake till golden brown (25 minutes?).

For the dressing:
One duck, thawed
A few boiled eggs, chopped
Lots of butter
Seasonings to taste

Boil Duck, debone, and save broth. When cornbread is cool, add duck meat, chopped boiled eggs, pinch of sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Crumble well with hands, add duck broth and stir until well mixed. Put pats of butter at intervals and bake @ 350 till browned. Add duck broth if it gets too dry and stir. (Lots of real butter and greasy duck broth.) My note: If you’re making a pre-smoked Butterball as I am wont to do, cook the bird on top of the dressing, so the juices seep into it. Also, I had no idea Kay added a pinch of sage to the dressing. Thankfully, Mom never noticed.

Kay says: I usually make 2 or 3 containers of the cornbread to have plenty for the dressing. Never had too much, of course Mike and the kids would pass through the kitchen and nibble on it. It’s actually good with the tiny celery and onions in it! Comfort food tastes way better when someone you care about “fixes” it!

What’s your favorite holiday comfort food? And what do you like in your dressing? Please do tell.

Photo Credits: Cornbread dressing and 82 other recipes from Southern Living; Gobble Gobble Napkins available from WhiteTulipEmbroidery at Etsy; and Give Thanks Pumpkins from SkyeArt at Etsy.

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132. Sweet Potato Casserole: Dessert in Disguise

21 Nov

sweet potato casseroleSome Southerners are partial to the pie, but I prefer my sweet potatoes in a casserole. Mainly because it allows me to fool myself into thinking that what I’m eating is a vegetable, not dessert.

I’m not sure how I got elected for the job, but I’m the official Holloway sweet potato casserole queen. (Not to be confused with an actual Sweet Potato Queen.) Every Christmas, I whip up a big dish of the delectable stuff, but not before arguing with my sister about how much to make. She pushes me to triple the recipe, but I stand firm at double, seeing as we always end up with way too many leftovers. Even a die-hard sweet potato fan gets a little queasy at the thought of eating reheated casserole more than three days in a row.

Back in the days before we switched from canned to fresh sweet potatoes, I had a whole other argument with my Mom each year. She tried to convince me that I should include the liquid from the can, when clearly draining is the only way to go. Unless you want sweet potato soup. Which I don’t.

For Southerners, sweet potato casseroles fall into two distinct camps: marshmallow topping or pecan/brown sugar crumble. The Holloways are nut people. That’s not to say I’d abstain from eating the marshmallow variety. Quite the contrary. I run across sweet potato casserole about as frequently as Baptists enter dance halls by the front door so I take what I can get. But given my druthers, I’ll opt for pecans.

BC sweet potato casseroleA while back I was browsing Grocery Outlet, where one can find an array of interesting products not seen in major chains. I’m talking Kellogg’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Corn Pops, Lil’ Joey Pancake Pockets, and Spam Singles. Imagine my shock and horror when I happened upon Betty Crocker’s Sweet Potato Casserole mix. Why, Betty? Why?

Sweet potato casserole isn’t hard to make. Especially when one is left alone in the kitchen. Sure, it always takes about twice as long as I think it will. And peeling sweet potatoes is a pain in the ass. But I’d never resort to serving “casserole” made with a blend of reconstituted sweet and russet (WTF?) potatoes. Prior to the zombie apocalypse, anyway.

Some of my family’s best loved dishes are related to us by marriage. I’m sure we’d have adored my sister-in-law Karen even if she’d come with an empty recipe box. Thankfully, we’ll never have to find out.

Karen Holloway’s Sweet Potato Casserole
3 cups sweet potatoes (drained)
1/2 cup butter (melted)
1 t vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 eggs beaten
1/3 cup milk

Boil sweet potatoes over medium high heat till tender. Drain and mash. In a large bowl, mix potatoes with all other ingredients and pour into a buttered baking dish.

Top with the following mixture:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup butter (melted)
1 cup chopped pecans

Bake at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes or until top is browned

Notes: I’m not sure how many sweet potatoes equal three cups. I usually peel and cut up a few and add them to a 4-cup measuring cup. I fill the cup to the top to compensate for the gaps around the pieces. I tend to err on the side of too much potato. If anybody has a better way of guestimating three cups of potatoes, please enlighten me.

When doubling the recipe, I usually just use one and a half times the topping. When tripling the recipe…oh right, I don’t.

The size of baking dish wasn’t specified. Similar recipes call for 1 1/2 to 2 qt. casserole dishes. I usually opt for a 9 X 13 dish, unless I’m doubling in which case I use the biggest dish I can find.

The recipe calls for 20 minutes bake time, but I’d allow at least 40. You want the top to be good and crunchy.

What’s your pleasure: Nuts or marshmallows? Have you ever done both?

Photo credit: Sweet potato casserole by bengarland, Flickr Creative Commons.

129. Pecan Pie: Kicks Apple’s Butt Any Day

11 Jul

The next best thing to pumpkin pieHere in Seattle, pecan pie sightings of any variety are few and far between. Which is probably just as well seeing as restauranteurs here would likely substitute walnuts and toss in some rosemary or cumin for a creative twist. I have had a couple of decent renditions featuring chocolate and/or bourbon, but nothing comes close to the sticky indulgence I grew up with.

Now normally, I would think of pecan pie as a dessert served in the fall or winter months, but someone somewhere declared July 12 National Pecan Pie Day. Who am I to argue? It’s not like I would turn down a piece of pecan pie anytime, anywhere. Wait! I should amend that:

Pecan pie’s not worth the calories if it’s:
Sold in convenience stores
Found in your grocer’s freezer
Served cold
Made with Splenda (yes, I realize this means fewer calories–still not worth it.)

Also, I’d steer clear of any pecan pie that calls to mind the word “revamped.” It’s vamped enough! Don’t mess with perfection.

41LbM077IQL.01._SR300,300_Folks might argue with me, but I think the secret to perfect pecan pie is corn syrup, or Karo as we say in the South. Does another brand exist? If so, I’ve never noticed. Having not made a pecan pie in years, I’m not sure which side to take in the light vs. dark debate. Anybody care to weigh in?

When it comes to pecans, you’ll want to use the best you can find, seeing as they’re the star. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t buy a 10 pound bag from the roadside stand I encountered off I-95 in Georgia. But seeing as I had no room in my luggage or freezer at home, it’s just as well. Not really, but still.

World's Largest Pecan Pie MuralIf you already know how to make perfect pie crust, skip ahead to the next paragraph. Ok, now that it’s just us, I’ll admit that I’m still struggling with this fickle beast and have been known to use those Pillsbury ones next to the heat-up cookies. This will do in a pinch. Just don’t resort to the frozen kind in the tin; they are inedible. Also, while a graham cracker crust IS mighty easy, it will never work for a pecan pie. Probably.

The first time I made a pecan pie, I was amazed to discover that you can mix the nuts in with the sticky goo and they’ll rise to the top. Note: This is probably not the method Martha Stewart prefers. And for the love of all that is tasty, leave those pecans whole (or, technically, half). Save the pieces for brownies, cookies, banana bread, whatnot.

Folks in the Holloway family are devout dessert eaters, which is why my nephew Ben has been permanently barred from carrying sweets to the table. He’s 20-something now and could most likely be trusted, but no. In the beginning, there was carrot cake. “Was” being the operative word.

Due to popular demand, nearly every family occasion featured his mom’s delectable two-layer cake piled high with just-tangy-enough cream cheese frosting. Now, the distance from my parent’s den to the dining room being minimal, someone (I’m not naming names only because I don’t remember) allowed this hyper eight-year-old boy-child to carry in the cake. He might’ve made it three or four skipping steps before…plop! Shrieks of horror, cries of despair, there might have even been cursing (there was most definitely cursing). Then my mom and Kay salvaged what they could, put it back on the plate, and promptly set about serving it. I’m not ashamed to tell y’all that not a one of us gave a second thought to digging in. Not even our dinner guest, Mary Bess, who might as well be family. If Kay ever opened a bakery, the tagline could be “Floor Lickin’ Good.”

Texas Pecan pieHow does that story relate to pecan pie? Well, cut to Thanksgiving dinner at Mike and Kay’s with a bunch of no longer hungry but still-wanting-something-sweet Holloways. (That’s generally how we roll). Once again, someone allowed Ben to carry in dessert. Only this time, he decided to put the pecan pie on his head. On. His. HEAD. Well, you don’t need me to tell you what happened. And, yes, we ate that off the floor, too. BUT, we finally learned our lesson.

I’ll leave y’all with another family recipe that’s characteristically short and exceptionally sweet. Remember, handle with care.

Pecan Pie (Kay)
1 cup white Karo syrup
1 1/2 cups pecans
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs (beaten)
1 t vanilla
1/2 t salt

Mix ingredients. Bake in pie crust at 325 for 50 minutes.

What’s your secret to perfect pie crust? And have you ever eaten dessert off the floor?

Photo credits from Flickr Creative Commons: Pecan pie by ldrose, World’s Largest by kb35, and Texas pecan pie by texascooking.

84. Mardi Gras (“Throw Me Something, Mister!”)

8 Mar

Throw me something, mister!

Laissez le bon temps rouler, y’all. At least until midnight tonight. You’d think that in the South Fat Tuesday wouldn’t be that big a deal. I mean, what distinguishes it from Fat Wednesday, Fat Thursday, or Fat Friday? In a word: beads.

Pop quiz: Which city hosted the first Mardi Gras celebration in North America? If you answered “New Orleans,” you are A. wrong and B. obviously not from Alabama. Yes, folks, the good people of Mobile, Alabama, got the party started years before New Orleans was even founded. They gave birth to the tradition, and then New Orleans came along and turned it into a juvenile delinquent with a substance abuse problem. Not that they’re bitter.

Is there any place more fun than New Orleans on Fat Tuesday? I think not. If your idea of fun includes being jostled by an unruly mob, having beer spilled on you (repeatedly), and groveling (or worse) for some cheap-ass plastic beads. For some, this is heaven. For others, it’s hell. For me, it’s a little of both. Yes, folks, I’m willing to dodge a little vomit in hopes of catching a doubloon. If anyone wants to trade one for the giant pair of granny panties I caught one time, please let me know.

The last time I celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans, I was in my 20s. If I were to do it again, I’d want a hotel room with a balcony. Not necessarily to avoid being trampled (though that’s a plus), but to have access to a bathroom that’s been sanitized for my protection. I would rather pee on the street than enter the ninth circle of hell better known as the porta-potty. Picture the poophouse scene in “Slumdog Millionaire.” Or don’t. I still have nightmares.

Ok, moving on. Did I mention there’s cake? And costumes? And beads? And cake?

It’s not particularly tasty cake. But there’s green and purple frosting. And a plastic baby inside. If you get the slice with the baby, you win a fabulous prize: you have to procure a King Cake and host the next party. Woo hoo! Who doesn’t enjoy providing pastry for a bunch of drunken ne’er-do-wells? I’m not sure what happens if you don’t follow through. Maybe Rumpelstilskin convinces your first-born child to run off and join the circus or take up with a bunch of proselytizing vegans.

Well, I should wrap this up before Ash Wednesday rolls around.

What’s the best thing you ever caught at Mardi Gras? No STD stories, please.

All photos from Flickr Creative Commons: Bead seekers by Philippe Leroyer, Mardi Gras Beads by Mike Bitzenhofer, and King Cake by Logan Brown.

A Belated Holiday Post: Deep-Fried Turkey.

13 Jan

by Henry Alva, Flickr Creative Commons

As y’all know, I’m generally in favor of deep fried foods, but you’ve got to draw a line somewhere. I humbly suggest we draw it at turkey.

It would be one thing if you wanted to cut up a Butterball and batter it, but whose idea was it to just drop the whole dang turkey in a vat of boiling oil? What’s the point?

Fried turkey aficionados will tell you that deep frying produces a bird that’s moist and delicious without being greasy. I will tell you that I’ve tasted deep fried turkey alongside oven-baked turkey and the only difference I could discern was the extra hundred or so dollars spent on oil and a turkey-frying contraption.

The upside of deep fried turkey is that it frees up oven space for the requisite sweet potato casserole, dressing (not stuffing: Southerners don’t bother with actually stuffing the poultry), rolls, and green bean casserole. The downside is, well, it’s difficult to enjoy dinner when your house is burning down.

Even I, a card-carrying member of the Safety? Schmafety! Society, must confess to feeling uneasy seeing folks frying turkeys in the garage around a bunch of flammable materials. Cars, for instance. Yeah, folks know you’re supposed to fry turkeys outside, far from kids, pets, and other wildlife. But that’s also far from the kitchen. Besides which, it might be raining.

Despite all the exploding turkey stories you hear, misguided fry masters are STILL dropping half-thawed poultry into boiling oil. I don’t imagine they do it more than once, but to paraphrase P.T. Barnum, there’s a nitwit born every minute. Here’s hoping you aren’t married to one. I was going to say “here’s hoping you aren’t related to one,” but realized the odds for that are very, very slim.

Do you enjoy deep-fried turkey more than the regular variety? What am I missing?

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