Thursday, November 20, 2014

You say stuffing, I say dressing

No two families can agree on the proper stuffing or dressing recipe let alone decide on the correct name to use.  There are many opinions out there about which is the correct term to use.   In the "Joy of Cooking" it indicates stuffing means to stuff the cavity of the turkey where dressing is baked it in a pan.   Yet others claim it is regional term and had nothing to do with the turkey.  Southerns use dressing because it is more "gentile" then stuffing which is a northern term.

I don't know... we used both in our house and we are from the north.  We just roll that way...LOL!

The differences do not stop with the proper name.   All will agree that dressing is a bread type casserole, but what goes it in varies widely.   Some are traditional recipes and others are personal preference.   Like so many other dishes we have and will talk about, it is good to know the history and to see where we fit in.  

Like many things. we can date stuffing  back to ancient Romans.  Apicius, a Roman chef who is believed to have lived in the 2nd century BC  - 1st century AD,  wrote one of the oldest known cookbooks called  ‘ Apicius de re Coquinaria’, which included recipes for stuffing a variety of animals with vegatables, herbs, nuts and spelt, a popular known wheat.  However, we are sure it dates farther back then that.  In the Middle Ages dressing was known as “farce” which comes from the French word  farcir, which means “to stuff”.   Stuffing first appeared in print in 1538.   In the 1880’s the Victorians decided to change the name to dressing… apparently the fickly people they didn’t like the crude name of stuffing.

There is a bit of vanity that comes with making dressing.  We all think ours in the best and will politely smile when we taste others and say…”Mmmmm that is good” and when the creator turns their back we look at our family member and say…”but ours is better”.   You know you have done it. 

There is a pride that comes with a Thanksgiving meal and dressing is a traditional dish that is the staple of a proper table setting.  It is hard to know what the Pilgrims used for stuffing when they landed on Plymouth rock in 1621 but by the early 19th century oyster stuffing was popular.   It was a coastal dish and not readily know to the pioneers who were establishing homestead on the frontier. 

Oyster Stuffing
Yet with the expansion of the railroad it became more known throughout the country. Frontier families view the dish as an upper class dish and was not widely received. 

As the south began developing there was a shift in using a bread base dressing to a cornmeal base.   In time the Cajun influence appeared adding andouille sausage.  There is the Pennsylvania Dutch version which uses mashed potatoes instead of bread.  And lets not forget the Wild rice stuffing from the Great Lakes area which usually had dried cherries, cranberries and/or apples.  There is still the Chestnut dressing that is ever so popular and reminds us of old England which lives in our minds thanks to Charles Dickens.

Corn Bread Stuffing
Like all the families out there, the Williams family has traditional dressing which was created by our father.  I am going to guess he learned how to make this dish from his mother and probably his grandmother who lived with him when he was a child.   She came from Belgium so I am guessing there is a bit of Bavarian influence in the dish.  After our father passed it fell to me, Pam, to take up the helm.   I am not sure how that happened since I was only 21 at the time and really not a cook.  But I took it on proudly.  Like many dressings I tried “fancying” up this dish and putting my own spin on it.   Changing spices or adding in fruit or changing the meat.   Every time it failed.  And it failed BIG!!!  Finally I was told to stop it and make it right.   Tough crowd I was working with.   Like most families a “traditional” dish is not written down.  You watched, paying close attention and took mental notes.   So back to the basics I went.   I have not strayed from the path since.

So here it is.   Our family recipe.  And yes the proportions are up to you but I will give you a few guidelines.

What you need:
1 – ½ ground beef.   Use good ground beef whenever possible.  
One chopped onion
2-3 stalks celery - chopped
1 -2 bags Sage bread crumbs
Salt and Pepper

What you need to do:
  • Brown the ground beef and drain grease.
  • Sauté onions and celery.
  • Place ground beef, onions and celery in a large mixing bowl.  Add at least one bag of sage bread crumbs.  
  • Slowly add water and begin mixing.  Now get in there with your hands and mix…clean hands of course.   
  • Add water as you go until mixture is moist.  This is the hard part to explain.   It is experience and a touch thing.   Remember the moister will evaporate if you bake it in a pan in the oven.  However it will stay or possibly become moister when put in a crock pot.    This is a judgment call and guess.

To cook in the oven:   Place in an oven proof pan at 350 until warmed through and crunchy on the top.

Crockpot method:  place in crock pot on a low to medium setting and cook until warm.   Depending on your crock pot you will get a crunchy bottom and side to the dressing.
I do both methods depending on where we are having Thanksgiving.  As you know, there is never enough oven space. (that is a design flaw with the Thanksgiving meal….LOL)

(ok this years I am going to add sautéed fennel… wish me luck.   I will probably get yelled at for messing with it.)

Now that we have our dressing in order, we need to discuss the bird.  You know what we're talking about....the TURKEY.   Whether you stuff your turkey or bake your dressing in the oven separately, it is important to make sure all your side dishes compliment the turkey. 

But before we get to the recipe, here are a few facts for you:

  • In 2012, the average American ate 16 pounds of turkey..
  • 88% of Americans surveyed eat turkey on Thanksgiving
  • 46 million turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving, 22 million on Christmas, and 19 million on Easter.
  • In 2011, 736 million pounds of turkey were consumed in the US.
  • In 2013, 242 million turkeys were raised in the US.
  • The average weight of a turkey sold at Thanksgiving is 15 pounds.
  • The heaviest turkey ever raised was 86 pounds.
  • The wild turkey is native to northern Mexico and the eastern US.
  • The turkey was domesticated in Mexico and brought to Europe in the 16th century.
  • Turkeys live almost 10 million years ago.
  • Male turkeys gobble and can be heard a mile away.  Female turkeys do not gobble.
  • Turkey's can see in color.
  • Turkey's are related to pheasants.
  • Wild turkeys can fly; domestic turkeys cannot fly.
  • The Native Americans hunted wild turkey for its sweet and juicy meat as early as 1000 AD.
Turkey is clearly the most recognized part of any Thanksgiving meal.  And there are any number of ways to prepare a turkey, including smoking it on the grill, deep frying the whole bird, roasting it over an open fire on a spit, and the old reliable way of roasting it in the oven. If you are looking for a great way to ensure that your turkey is moist and tender, regardless of how you cook it, then we suggest you brine your turkey.  

Brining a turkey takes a bit of extra work, but it is so worthwhile.  I'll admit that in the beginning I thought brining was the same as pickling.  I didn't get it until I did some investigation.  Here's what I learned.  The reason brining makes meat more tender and moist is because of the very nature of meat protein.  The meat, which is essentially muscle, has a structure that, when cooked, tightens up.  This is true especially in overcooked meat. That is why it is dry and tough.  Brining fills the meat with tasty liquid and helps in the roasting process to keep the it moist and tender.  Now even brining really only works if you don't overcook it!!!!  Here's a guide to help you know how long to cook your turkey.

So today, in honor of the lovely turkey, we offer you a recipe for brining your turkey and enjoying it's juicy goodness.

Turkey in Disguise!  :)

What you need:
1 10-12 lb turkey (thawed)
1 Cup kosher salt
1/2 Cup light brown sugar
1 Gallon vegetable stock
1 Tablespoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoon allspice berries
1 1/2 teaspoon sliced fresh ginger
1 gallon heavily iced water.

What you need to do:
In a large stockpot over a medium-high heat, combine stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and ginger.  Stir occasionally to dissolve the solids and bring to  boil. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.  Refrigerate overnight.

Put the stock, water and ice in a 5 gallon bucket.  Place the thawed and cleaned turkey in the brine, breast side down.  Weight the turkey down if necessary to keep it submerged.  Set the turkey in the refrigerator or a cool are for at least 8 hours.  Turn the bird half way during the brining process.  

Remove the turkey and rinse it thoroughly inside and out.  Discard the brine.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place turkey in roasting pan.  Stuff as you like.  Roast turkey for 30 minutes.  Turn down over to 350 degrees for approximately 2 to 2 1/2 hours or to a temperature of 161 degrees internally.  Remove turkey from oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving.

The 2 Prickly Pears bid you a peaceful and joyful Thanksgiving.  Enjoy your family and friends, and give thanks for all the blessings in your life.  We are taking Thanksgiving week off from our blog because we have lots of holiday preparations, just like you.  We'll be back in December to talk about all kinds of baking fun.

Now, go out and make something good!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pumpkin or Sweet Potato....Yes, we are talking pie again.

Did you carve a pumpkin this year for Halloween?  

We remember the days of cutting out triangles for the eyes and nose, along with a scary smile all lit up by a candle.  It was great fun and when we were pretty small, it was a bit frightening.  It was all part of the Halloween experience.  The first carving of a vegetables started with the Irish, who would take turnips and carve images in the vegetable and place them in their windows.  Upon arriving as immigrants to America, they found the pumpkin and so the first pumpkins were used for carving.

These days, pumpkin carving has taken on dimensions that are endless.  Here are a few examples:

Wow!  That last one is impressive.  It makes us wonder what is the biggest pumpkin grown to date.  A little research reveals that the largest pumpkin on record weighed in at 2,032 lbs. In October 15, 2013, Tim Mathison grew this pumpkin in his backyard:  

Do you wonder how many pumpkin pies that pumpkin would make?  The answer is actually none. And that's because not all pumpkins are created the same. There are a seemingly endless variety of pumpkins, too many to list here, but we've included a link to break it down for you.  Each kind of pumpkin is used in different ways.

Pumpkins belong to the same plant family as watermelons, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, zucchini, squash, and cucumbers.  Pumpkins have been grown in North America for five thousand years.  They are indigenous to the western hemisphere, but now are grown on every continent except Antarctica.

Once pumpkins have served their purpose for Halloween, we turn to them as a food source. As a matter of fact, Native Americans roasted long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and ate them. The seeds were also eaten and used as medicine.  They would also dry the strips and used them to weave mats.  The flowers, seeds and flesh of a pumpkin are all edible. The nutritional value of this plant includes:
  • No cholesterol or saturated fats
  • High in dietary fiber, anti-oxidants and minerals
  • High in vitamin A, C and E
  • Good source of vitamin B-complex, like folates, niacin, and thiamin
  • Pumpkin seeds are a concentrated source of protein
After you prepare the pumpkin flowers (here's a recipe) and after you roast the seeds (here's a recipe), it's time to make something with the meat of the pumpkin.  There are literally hundreds of recipes using pumpkin.  You can make everything from muffins to pie to soup to bread and on and on.  

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, everyone is expecting a recipe for pumpkin pie. We offer you a link to a variety of images of this most holiday pie.  If you click on an image you can visit the page that will offer you the recipe.  It is speculated that the first pumpkin pie was actually a whole pumpkin with the seeds removed, filled with milk, spices, and honey.  It was baked in hot ashes.  Today's pie usually includes a pie crust and a dollop of whipped cream.

Our holiday pie is not at all related to pumpkin.  In fact, it is a relative to the potato. We offer you an alternative to the pumpkin pie, a southern staple at celebrations, including Thanksgiving, namely the Sweet Potato Pie.  This pie was undoubtedly developed by slaves who came from Africa.  The sweet potato is a vegetable very familiar in Africa.  Today sweet potato pie is considered among dishes known as soul food.

Here's is the 2 Prickly Pears recipe for Sweet Potato Pie.  

Just a side note from PP1:   when I made this pie for the post, I didn't realize that I was missing an ingredient.  Turns out I didn't have any evaporated milk.  I didn't realize this until I had already mixed the sweet potatoes and the eggs.  I decided to put all the filling ingredients together and put it in the refrigerator, then finish the pie the next day after I went to the store.  When I was ready to finish the pie, I took the filling out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.  Then I mixed in the evaporated milk and completed my pie.  It may be that my oversight of my ingredient made my pie even better.  I was told that the pie had a depth of flavor and "soul."  It is safe to say that the spices and other ingredients had a chance to meld together giving the pie better flavor. You can choose for yourself if you wish to use this technique for your pie.  I know I will do it again.  

What you need:

Unbaked pie crust for 9" pan  (pie crust recipe)
1/3 butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs slightly beaten
3/4 Cup Evaporated Milk
2 cups mashed sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

What you need to do:

Cream butter and sugar until smooth, add eggs and mix well.  Add all remaining ingredients and mix until well combined.

Pour pie mixture in unbaked pie crust.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake another 30-35 minutes. 

This pie can be made a day ahead of your Thanksgiving meal.  Add a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon......Yummy!

We know the holidays can be hectic.  Prepare many of your dishes ahead of time to save some peace of mind.  Enjoy yourself!

Now, go out and make something good!!!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Cranberries... Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!!!

With the holidays right around the corner, that means a busy time for many including the 2 Prickly Pears.  We are going to take a little break during the holiday season but before we do we wanted to wish everyone the best during this time and to share one of our more popular blogs for the holiday season.

From our kitchen to yours we wish you a Merry, Christmas, Happy Holiday and Happy New Year.   May 2016 be a joyous year for everyone.

See everyone again in 2016!!!


With Halloween over and the two biggest holidays approaching, we thought we spend a little time talking about the classics of these cooking season.  Let's start with Thanksgiving.  Over the next few weeks we will look into the true history of Thanksgiving and the foods that are so familiar with the traditional turkey dinner.

Fresh Cranberries
Today's post is all about the cranberry.  Can you guess what cranberries have in common with blueberries and concord grapes?  The three are native fruits of North America.  And long before the settlers took over the shores of what we now know as the United States, Natives of the land used cranberries as a food source, medicine and dye.  

It's easy to imagine the first convenient food ever made was a mixture of deer meat and mashed cranberries.  It was called pemmican.  Pemmican kept for long periods of time and was great for long travels.  As for medicine, cranberries were used in poultices that would draw poison from arrow wounds. And the juice of the berry was used to dye blankets, rugs and clothing.  The Delaware Indians of New Jersey used the cranberry as a symbol of peace.

East coast people called the red berries sassamanash.  The Pequot and Leni-Lenape tribes called them ibimi. And the Algonquin tribe of Wisconsin called them atoqua. The versatile berry was introduced to the English settlers in Massachusetts, which helped stave off starvation.  The truth of the matter is that the settlers only survived with the help of the native population.

The English named cranberries after the plant's flower, which resembles the bill of the Sandhill Crane.  Crane-berry morphed into what we recognize today as the cranberry.

Flooded bog
Contrary to popular belief , cranberries do not grow in water.  They do grow in bogs that are made up of mostly of sand and clay.  Once the berries have acquired their family color, the bog is flooded with about 8 - 10 inches of water, making harvesting easier.  But it turns out that this method of harvesting actually adds health benefits to the cranberries.  It is the berries exposure to the sun that develops its nutritional value.  Cranberries are naturally high in antioxidants, as well as vitamins C, A, & E.

Cranberries float as there are chambers in the the berries.

In case you were wondering, Wisconsin is the largest grower of cranberries in the US growing more than half of the berries available, followed by Massachusetts.

More interesting facts about cranberries:
  • Sailors on the days of wooden ships carried cranberries as they were loaded with vitamin C which fought against scurvy.
  • Dennis, Massachusetts was the site of the first cultivation of cranberries in 1816.
  • It takes one ton or more of cranberry vines to plant a bog.
  • Recipes using cranberries date back to the late 1700's.
  • During WWII, American troops required about 1 million pounds of dehydrated cranberries per year.
  • In 1996 200 billion cranberries were harvest, about 40 for every man, woman and child on the planet.  In that same year, growers harvest 4.84 million barrels of fruit.  If the berries were set end to end they would span 1.75 million miles.
  • 440 cranberries make up one pound.
  • It takes 4,400 cranberries to make a gallon of juice, and there are 440,000 cranberries in a 100 lb barrel.
Now that we have a better insight into the make up of cranberries as an industry, let's talk about it's place on the Thanksgiving table. We will talk more about the history of Thanksgiving in coming posts.  For now, sufficed it say, it is safe to speculate that cranberries were cooked up and served at the first Thanksgiving.  And certainly cranberries enjoy a familiar presence on today's table.  But before we get to our recipe, lets have a short talk about canned cranberry sauce.

We are all well aware of the smooth, jello-like cranberry sauce that slides out of the can. There is a large population that is completely offended if the canned sauce is not on the table each year.  We respect the need for tradition.  And if canned cranberry sauce is your personal preference, then we bid you enjoy every bite of it.  If, on the other hand, you want to venture out and make your own cranberry sauce, we have a recipe for you that is easy-breezy and can be made up to a week ahead of time.  And if there are left-overs, feel free to freeze your sauce in an air tight container.

Here is the 2 Prickly Cranberry Pear Sauce.  This is also known as chutney.

Cranberry Pear Sauce (Chutney)
What you need:
3/4 cup water
1 cup sugar**
1 pear, peeled and chopped
12 oz bag of of whole cranberries ***
Zest of 1 orange

What you need to do:

In sauce pan combine sugar, water and orange zest.  Heat until sugar is dissolved.  Add cranberries and pear, bring to boil.  Reduce heat to low and cover.  Simmer chutney until the berries burst and the fruit is soft, approximately 15 minutes.  This will actually depend how chunky you like your chutney. Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

** add a bit more if you like your sauce sweeter.
*** if you can't get fresh cranberries, dried berries work just as well.  You'll likely need a bit more water in your recipe.

That's it!!  Easy, tasty, convenient and no can opener.

We know that holiday dinner can be hectic.  We wish yours to be peaceful and filled with good things to serve your family and friends.

Now, go out and make something good.