I remember one year when I was living out in California, taking meager solace in the sea & more substantial solace in a dear, brilliant neuroscientist shortly after my divorce, I caught the red-eye back home for Thanksgiving. Just for Thanksgiving. I remember walking in the front door. It smelled wonderful, and all I remember, truly, is my mother smiling. She was, against all reason at the time, happy to see me. I wasn’t in good shape. But there everything was, just as it had always been. My father was making his famed deviled eggs, my mother had the much revered “Coca-Cola butt ham” & her pumpkin pies ready to go, and we packed it all up in a wicker picnic basket and drove up Lookout Mountain to my Aunt Brenda & Uncle Jim’s house, for their house is the province of the feast. My Aunt Brenda is the one who orchestrates the affair—she makes the dressing & smokes a turkey out on the deck in their little Weber (it’s a skill). She also makes all manner of other treats—pecan pie & gravy not the least among them. There are usually no less than 5 pies at our Thanksgiving: buttermilk, pecan, chocolate, pumpkin, and usually something else…apple? I don’t know. I lose count. So much pie. Glorious.
When I was approached by Grains For Your Brain, a resource provided by the Grains Food Foundation that arms you with the science behind nutrition and information about how the food we eat affect our brains, about introducing you all to their nutritional resources, it was a no brainer (I’m sorry, but that pun was intended). Because there are few things I’m more for than carbohydrates and neuroscience. I couldn’t think of a better way to do so than with a Thanksgiving dressing that features two of my favorite uses of grains: cornbread and buttermilk biscuits. I’m one of those people that finds that the more I understand about the intricate dance between what I take into my body and how I think and feel, the more awe I experience each day & the more I’m inspired to make good decisions about what I eat as well as not feel guilty about foods that some factions of our culture would have me believe are bad (I love you, bread!). I can’t think of a better time than Thanksgiving to delve into knowing more about the relationship between the food I eat and the meaty, electric, ghostly mechanism that is my brain. I am immensely grateful for that amazing process. How fortunate we are that our bodies can run on dressing! Among, of course, other things too.
Other than my obvious affinity for the pies there are only two other things I really care about on Thanksgiving: dressing & deviled eggs. You can change up tradition all you want; lord knows it’s hard for me to leave well enough alone when it comes to the culinary. But I will not abide a Thanksgiving without dressing & deviled eggs. I can make a mean deviled egg. But I’d never made dressing before. So, of course, I called my Aunt Brenda (who is to this day one of my main culinary consultants & the only other “real” cook in our family). Torn out of a Bon Appetit in 1980, this is the dressing Brenda makes, the one I eat every year. It’s moist and flavorful, not dry and bland like lesser dressings tend to be. It’s important to me to learn the recipes from my family while they’re still with me; I don’t want to ever repeat the experience of losing so many recipes when I lost my grandmother. Because they’re more than recipes, they’re memories and traditions. They’re the spells of our womenfolk. And they are precious.
So now, when it comes my turn to carry the torch, I’ll be able to do so. Of course, I’ve made a few tweaks. I added a little buttermilk (due to a pathological need to add buttermilk to everything? Also, I self-describe using the word pathological a little too often…), and I changed onion to shallot because I’m a shallot fiend and threw in a fresh jalapeño, and I also added a hit of apple cider vinegar and sugar because I think those two things really brighten it up. They make it a little more than a side, something that could stand on it’s own. Proud and homely in a bowl. Besides, I think stuffing should be integrated into non-Thanksgiving meals as well. I’m already imagining the possibilities of different birds, herbs, spices, and vegetables. Also note, you can omit the gizzards & livers, but they add a special richness that I love.
I realize that dressing is one of those truly personal recipes. It’s because it is by it’s very nature a family recipe. It’s embedded in the one holiday that is devoted to the thing I love most: gathering around the table with people dear to you and partaking in wonder that is preparing edibles yielded by the earth—by wind and rain and sun—and eating them in order that we may blink and sigh. Shuffle our feet and fold our hands. Twirl a strand of hair around our finger. Everything we do is fueled by electrical impulses shooting through our bodies like stars. And that is fueled by the air we breath, the water we drink, and, of course, by the food we eat.
- 7 cups crumbled Jalapeño Cornbread (1 full recipe below)
- 4 cups cubes of buttermilk biscuits (recipe below)
- 3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 2 cups finely chopped shallots (about 8 smallish ones)
- 2 cloves finely minced garlic
- 1 1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
- 1 fresh jalapeño, seeded & minced
- 1 cup finely chopped celery, save leaved for garnish if there are any
- Turkey gizzard, liver, and heart OR 2-3 chicken livers, chopped in a blender (not a paste but not big chunks) (optional but trust me!)
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- kosher salt & freshly ground pepper to season
- 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
- 1-2 teaspoons of sugar to taste
- 3 eggs lightly beaten
- 1/2-1 cup turkey or chicken stock (enough to make it quite moist but not wet)
- Combine cornbread, biscuits, and chopped egg in a large bowl and toss lightly to mix well. Set aside
- Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until softened. Add green pepper and celery and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. If using, add the gizzard, liver, and heart or chicken livers and sauté just until they lose their raw color. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool slightly.
- Add the buttermilk, cider vinegar, and sugar to the cooled cooked mixture, and then add that to the cornbread mixture and gently blend well. Stir in eggs. Blend in enough broth to moisten lightly, starting with half a cup and increasing if needed. You want it very moist but not "wet".
- At this point it can be tightly wrapped and frozen up to a week or refrigerated for up to 2 days. Before continuing with the recipe make sure to bring stuffing to room temperature.
- Heat oven to 350°F.
- To bake outside the turkey, place stuffing in a 9 x 13" baking dish. Place that dish in a larger, high sided baking dish like a roasting pan. Fill roasting pan with water so that it comes about halfway up the sides of the stuffing dish. Bake for 40 minutes.
- To bake inside the turkey, simply stuff the clean turkey and cook the turkey as you intended. Try it smoked like my Aunt Brenda & Uncle Jim do! This makes enough to stuff a 17-20 lb bird.
Do not put warm stuffing in a cold bird unless you intend to roast it right away. The warm stuffing sitting in the bird for an extended period of time could lead to food born illness.
- 2 cups (250 grams) all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup (half stick) of butter (cold)
- 1 cup buttermilk
- Heat oven to 450°F
- In a mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt well.
- Cut in the butter with your fingers or a pastry cutter until no pieces larger than a pea remain. You do want chunks, but no huge pieces. Don't over work it.
- Stir in the buttermilk to just combine. Don't over stir.
- Grease a baking sheet and then plop the biscuits on by the spoonful, flattening them out slightly if you want.
- Bake for 15 minutes and allow to cool. Use in the recipe above. You will probably have 1-2 extra. So, you know, eat those.
- 1 1/4 cup (175 g) cornmeal
- 3 Tbsp flour
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (4 oz.)
- 1/4-1/2 cup pickled jalapeños, chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 3 Tbsp butter, melted
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup (240 g) buttermilk
- 1/4 tsp baking soda, dissolved in a bit of water
- Heat oven to 425°.
- Grease a cast iron skillet with butter and place in the oven while it heats.
- Mix the cornmeal, flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl.
- Cut in the fat with your fingers or two knives, mixing well until you have a sandy texture.
- Toss in the cheese & peppers.
- Combine the eggs and the buttermilk, add to the dry ingredients, and mix to combine well. Add the baking soda and stir to combine.
- Pour the mixture into the hot skillet and bake for 20 minutes. Invert onto a plate.
Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, and I was compensated for my participation. The opinions, stories, recipes, and ramblings are, naturally, all my own.