Saturday, November 10, 2001

Update Thanksgiving stuffing

By Kathleen Stebbin
Reno Gazette Journal

        Does your family's stuffing recipe come with a past? Has it been bequeathed through generations, enshrined on a yellow clip of newspaper or well-worn index card? You're not alone. Holiday recipes seem to change very little over the years, probably because tradition is comforting and there really is not much incentive to update a rarely used dish.

        But if your usual stuffing has grown a bit long in the tooth (or perhaps your holiday history always has been defined by the words Stove Top), it might be time for a little variety.

        If you fancy toying with the formula yourself, knowing the basics will ease your way. Traditional bread-based stuffing consists of four components: dry bread cubes, flavoring liquid (usually including drippings), textural items (bits of meats, vegetables, etc.), and seasonings. Altering any one of these components will produce a change in flavor.

        For example, you might try changing your bread. If you've always relied on packaged bread cubes, consider making your own. The procedure is simple: Cut fresh bead into one-half-inch cubes, spread in a single layer and dry at room temperature for a day or two. If you are in a hurry, several hours in a barely warm oven also will do the trick.

        Imagine the possibilities: sourdough, pumpernickel or an earthy artisan loaf from a neighborhood baker could add an intriguing dimension. The only requirement is that the bread be thoroughly dried, enabling it to soak up the flavoring liquid later.

        As for the liquid itself, pan drippings, gravies or stocks are commonly used. But what about replacing part of that liquid with wine, cream or even juice (depending on the flavor you're after)?

        Changing the textural ingredients is easy. If you're accustomed to minced gizzards give sausage a try. Use leeks instead of onion, carrots instead of celery. If you want to get really creative, you might enlist pancetta, sundried tomatoes, chopped artichoke hearts.

        One caution: Avoid changing too many things at once. You will, however, consider correcting your usual seasonings to accommodate whatever ingredients you add. Sage, for example, works well with onions, garlic and the savory herbs, hence its ubiquitous use in stuffings. But heavy use of sage might overpower more delicate flavors, such as the aforementioned artichoke hearts, so be mindful of amounts.


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