Thanksgiving is with out a doubt my favorite holiday. I have great childhood memories of our Thanksgiving dinners. They always included special dishes that we only got once a year and there were never enough leftovers to satisfy everyone. Growing up in the South, even something that today we consider ordinary like broccoli, was a treat -even if it was frozen. While there are many traditional dishes that always need to be a part of your Thanksgiving feast, we all develop our own take on old favorites. My two favorites are cornbread dressing and cranberries.
Any cook worth their salt in Tennessee would NEVER dream of making dressing with anything other than cornbread. My grandmother would use Martha White hot-rise cornmeal and a black cast iron skillet to make her cornbread. When she would pull it out of the oven it was always so hard to resist cutting a piece of the hot, crusty cornbread, slicing it in half and spreading it with gobs of butter. Cornbread in the South is not sweet. I’ve never considered cornbread like is served at Marie Callendar’s real cornbread – it is more like cake to me. Southern cornbread is a little tangy because you use buttermilk in place of milk. In developing my own take on a Southern classic I have added ingredients that combine sweet and savory, dried cherries and cranberries, chestnuts, italian turkey sausage and fresh herbs. The great part about this recipe is that you can make it vegetarian friendly by eliminating the italian turkey sausage.
Next is cranberry sauce. The type I was raised on was prepared more like a chopped relish with orange peels and chopped pecans. It wasn’t until much later in my life did I learn about the cranberry sauce that most of us are familiar with. I found a recipe in Gourment magazine over 30 years ago and I have never tried to change it because it is just perfect the way it is. The only thing I do now is reduce the sugar it calls for, but it is just delicious either way.
Savory and Sweet Cornbread Dressing
1 medium green apple, cored and diced into 1 inch cubes
1 medium red apple, cored and diced into 1 inch cubes
1½ cups onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter, plus 2 tbsp cubed
2 bunchs fresh sage, leaves minced
¼ cup dry white wine
1 (6 oz.) bag dried cranberries
½ cup dried sour cherries
½ tbsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
l lb. sweet Italian turkey sausage, meat removed from casing
8 oz. jar steamed whole chestnuts, roughly chopped
1 cornbread (large skillet) NOT sweet, cut into ½ inch cubes (this can be prepared a day or two ahead)
1 tbsp poultry seasoning, or more to taste
½ tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste
3 eggs, beaten
1½ qt. chicken stock
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a medium sauté pan add the apples, onion, celery, 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp. butter and cook over a medium low heat for 10 minutes to soften. Add the wine, cranberries, cherries and salt and pepper and simmer for about 5 minutes. Take off the heat and allow the mixture to cool.
In a large sauté pan over medium high heat, add 1 tbsp olive oil and turkey sausage meat and break up with a wooden spoon and cook until browned and cooked through, approx. 10 to 12 minutes. (This can be done a day or two ahead)
In a medium bowl, toss together the fruit and onion/celery mixture, sausage, chestnuts, cornbread, sage, poultry seasoning, eggs and red pepper flakes. Combine all ingredients. Add the chicken stock and parmesan cheese and stir well to consistency desired – add more chicken stock and break down cornbread for a more traditional stuffing – this is the way I do it. Also, taste to make sure it has the right amount of sage, poultry seasoning and salt and pepper for your taste.
Place into a baking dish. Dot with butter cubes, and bake about 45 mins to 1 hour until top is brown. Check during baking process if additional chicken stock should be added.
Cranberry Sauce with Bardolino Wine
2 cups Bardolino or Chianti wine
2 cups sugar (or a little less if you don’t like your cranberries too sweet)
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
6 whole allspice
2 pounds cranberries
Heat wine, sugar, cinnamon, whole cloves and allspice in a heavy large nonaluminum saucepan over low heat, swirling pan occasionally, until sugar disolves. Increase heat and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 20 minutes. Discard spices with a slotted spoon. Return liquid to boil. Add cranberries. Cook until berries begin to pop, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight. (Can be prepared 3 days ahead). Let sauce stand at room temperature about 15 minutes before serving.