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Slow Cooker Thanksgiving Dressing

dressing on spoon There are many examples of Britain and America being divided by their common language. Some seem exotic like a short stack of pancakes. some seem amusing such as the confusion between suspenders and braces and some are just baffling. Why did Americans always talk about eating dressing at the Thanksgiving meal when there was no salad on the plate?

It turns out in this context dressing is another word for stuffing. Momentarily clearer until you realise most dressing is made from cornbread. I’ve tried repurposing cornbread crumbs by combining with them with liquid and the memory still haunts me. There is no word can do that level of stodge justice. I remained confused as to why anyone would eat it willingly even if they genuinely like green bean casserole.

Everything became much clearer last year when I went to my first ever Thanksgiving lunch, hosted by my co editor at the Brixton Blog, Lindsay. An ex pat American living in south London, she’s a food writer and fantastic cook. As well as turkey so moist and juicy we all had thirds, she served stuffing and I discovered that Americans make it totally differently to the British and Irish version.

Big squares of pillowy soft bread are mixed with flavourings such as sausagemeat, herbs and dried fruit and combined with beaten egg and stock before being baked. It has similar flavours to our traditional stuffing, but it’s much lighter yet crispier round the edges and I loved it so much I asked for the recipe when I emailed to thank Lindsay for her hospitality.

Sadly this year I haven’t found any Thanksgiving dinners to gatecrash so instead I’m just going to use the date as an excuse to eat stuffing til I’m, well, stuffed. I’ve made the Thanksgiving stuffing with pumpkin, kale and cranberries from Slow Cooked again (see page 127) and this time am trying a dressing style stuffing in the slow cooker as well with sausage, apple and sage. Any excuse…

Slow Cooked Dressing (serves 4-6 as a side dish)

  • 150g caramelised onions
  • 450g sausages, preferably something with sage
  • 100g bacon or pancetta
  • 600g stale white bread or 300g cornbread and 300g white bread, cubed
  • 1 apple, peeled and diced
  • 50g dried of fresh cranberries
  • 25g fresh sage, finely chopped or 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 25g melted butter
  • 300ml chicken stock
  • 2 eggs, beaten

The onions are important. You’ve either already turned to page 122 of Slow Cooked and followed the recipe there (or at the linky above) and have some gorgeous caramelised onions about your person or you need to roughly dice one large onion and sweat it in butter until golden for about 40 minutes. Set aside until needed.

Slice your bread into decent doorstops and from there into 1 inch cubes. Mine were a bit too big and some pieces remained slightly soft rather than crisping up enough, giving a slight hint of savoury French Toast to it all. I used a white batch loaf from the supermarket which was going a bit stale and then left the cubes of bread to sit for a while to dry out further. As long as it isn’t soft and squidgy, it’ll work well here. Put the bread into a large bowl.

Put the bacon or pancetta into a hot pan and without moving it about too much, allow it to get a lovely sticky caramelised feel to it on one side. Mine took about 4 minutes but watch to make sure it doesn’t burn. Tip the bacon and any lovely bacon fat into the bowl of bread.

Skin the sausages and break the meat up into big lumps. Using the same the pan, cook the sausagemeat for 3-4 minutes on one side without moving it too much. Again you want caramelisation before it all goes in the slow cooker, but you don’t need to cook the sausages the whole way through.

Take them off the heat and mash the sausagemeat with a potato masher to get the right texture. You don’t need to do this if you are using sausagemeat rather than skinned bangers, but for some odd reason I can only get this in England around Christmas time. Add the sausagemeat to the bread and bacon.

Peel and chop the apple and add along with the cranberries, onions, sage, mustard and cayenne pepper. Mix it well so everything is evenly dispersed. Fresh cranberries are especially good here but I couldn’t get any. Melt the butter and pour it into the mix. Add the chicken stock and the beaten eggs. Stir well to coat the bread well. Leave to sit for 5 minutes to allow it to settle.

Grease your slow cooker crock well with more melted butter or a flavourless oil. Don’t use olive oil. I also don’t like the spray oils people seem to favour for the slow cooker. You need to use so much to grease the crock properly I can always taste it afterwards. I’ve never bought cake release spray because frankly I see no reason not to use butter but some people swear by it.

Check the bread. If any of it seems dry, add a splash or two more of chicken stock and then tip it all into the greased crock. Don’t press it down, but just leave it as it is. Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook on high for 3.5 – 4 hours on high. The very edges of mine were burnt at 4 hours but everyone’s slow cooker cooks slightly differently so best to check after 3.5 hours.

raw dressing

Serve straight from the crock as part of a Thanksgiving meal or roast dinner or heap a bowl full of it with some gravy on the side for the ultimate comfort food. It reheats brilliantly and I had some of the leftovers next morning with a poached duck egg on top. This is one where the Americans are ahead of us. I’ll be trying it with leftover cornbread next time and hoping that this is the dish that takes from pulled pork as the UK’s Americana of choice!

Extra treat for you all today: you can win a spare copy of Slow Cooked and an utterly gorgeous cast iron slow cooker from Netherton Foundry here at The Happy Foodie (closing date 23/11/14.) I don’t mind telling you I am green with envy whoever gets this stunning slow cooker. I might just invite myself round for dinner in fact…

I’m entering this into this month’s Credit Crunch Munch hosted by Camilla and Helen and via My Little Italian Kitchen this month.

Credit-Crunch-Munch

 

Haggis Stuffed Onions

I love Burns’ Night. Not only is it a welcome night of revelry in the grey gloom of January, it’s an excuse to enjoy the delights of haggis (and mash). Seen as plain food by some, I associate it with excitement and glamour thanks to childhood memories of our parents hosting Burns’ Suppers for friends. They’d dress up, the table would get laid with the good plates and the house would be full of laughter and clinking glasses and everyone having a good time. That association and the comedy flying haggis that sat on the mantlepiece all year round has given me a huge soft spot for the humble haggis.

I do try and eat it each January, but I’ve never cooked it for myself before as its usually too much for one person and I feel I’d be treading on Scottish toes to host a supper myself. So imagine my glee when on a recent trip to Walters Butchers in Herne Hill I espied a teeny tiny perfectly portioned haggis for sale. Feeling slightly in need of indulgence since it’s a dry January, I brought it home and plotted doing something slightly different to the normal haggis, neeps and tatties.

And unsurprisingly, I got the urge to stuff something with the haggis. But since I’ve already tried squid and cabbage leaves and tomatoes and a marrow and probably more I’ve forgotten, it seemed like I’d run out of things to stuff. Until I espied a big bag of onions in the farmers’ market. I’ve heard of such things as a stuffed onion but never eaten them. I decided they would be a good challenge.

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Game, ceps and mash…

Partridge 10

We’ve written before about our shared love of game, especially the profusion of locally-sourced goodies from my part of the world in the Pennines. As our first birthday beckoned, and we thought of something to raise a fork and a glass to, I picked up a brace of partridge from Stansfield’s in Todmorden with an eye to our celebratory seasonal feast. As luck would have it, work took me to London for the weekend so we conspired to rustle up a hearty wintery meal which would encapsulate many of the tastes and temptations of the first twelve months of our blog, from both north and south.

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Stuffing rolls

I think I may have mentioned this before but I’m fond of Christmas. Presents are lovely, family time is great, but a holiday that exalts stuffing is my idea of heaven! If there’s one thing I like more than stuffing things, it’s actually making stuffing itself. So imagine my glee when I was invited to a seasonal soiree with lots of people who don’t eat pork and I got the chance to try out my idea of vegetarian ‘sausage rolls’ using stuffing as a filling instead…

Inspired by last week’s Christmas doughnuts, it was essential that the stuffing would be based on chestnuts for a festive feel. To compliment their slight sweetness, I decided to pick up a parsnip and a sharp-sweet Bramley, both of which are in season and useful to have round the house anyway at this time of year. The kitchen essentials of some rye breadcrumbs from the freezer, an onion and some kale would complete the recipe nicely and make a delicious and fast stuffing when seasoned with mace and nutmeg.

 

While the finely diced onion caramelized down and the chestnuts roasted in the oven, I turned my attention to the pastry for the rolls. I’m a relative newbie to pastry having only made it a couple of times and never having tried to make puff or flaky pastry so I turned to the recent thread on the perfect sausage roll over at the Word of Mouth blog on the Guardian from a few weeks ago for some pastry tips and decided to follow Felicity’s recipe as I realised how awkward puff pastry really is to make.

I had no mustard powder to add to the pastry, but otherwise this was to the letter and very straightforward to make. Five minutes later it was resting in the fridge and I was adding grated parsnip to the onion mix and letting it cook down a bit while I peeled and grated a large Bramley, finely chopped some kale and turned my attention to peeling the chestnuts. This isn’t difficult, but it a bit time consuming and must be done while the chestnuts are still a bit warm, otherwise it is a nightmare to do. I then blitzed them in the hand blender with the remains of the chestnut puree from the doughnuts and then combined everything together with a beaten egg and some seasoning. It would be an excellent idea to mix and season everything, taste it and then add the egg, otherwise it’s difficult to sample the stuffing. I, of course, didn’t do this so this was a bit of a risky recipe as I just made the quantities up as I went along!

I left the stuffing to cool and got cracking rolling out the pastry. It’s a stiff pastry so didn’t need too much flour and rolled nicely. I did end up with some oddly shaped sections so trimmed them down to proper strips and re-rolled the trimmings. I then wet the edges with egg wash and rolled the pastry round the stuffing, sealing the edges with some serious crimping. I then cut the giant stuffing roll into bite sized sections, egg washed the top and popped them in the oven. With a bit of practice, this would be extremely quick and easy and since the stuffing and the pastry can be prepared well in advance, you can make these fresh when needed.

They take about 15 minutes in the oven which is less than the meat version and stops the edge of the stuffing becoming unpleasantly crispy. I left them to cool on a rack in order to carry them more easily, but you could serve them oven fresh as they are much nicer warm. We reheated them at my friend’s house and they were pretty good. The stuffing was quite sweet, more than I usually go for and when making them again, I’ll probably swap the parsnip for some mushrooms instead, but it’s a minor quibble. The pastry was lovely and short and crumbly, but overall they were a little dry and would definitely be lifted from nice to brilliant with a dip on the side. I’d go for something with chilli and in fact ate my leftovers with some crabapple and chilli cheese!

Team these with a lovely sauce or selection of condiments and they make a great meat free canape that everyone will enjoy. You’ll also look very impressive having made them from scratch, but you could use pre-bought pastry as long as you roll them yourself for an authentically wonky look!