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Southern Cornbread Dressing!

Thanksgiving just wouldn't be Thanksgiving proper without the cornbread dressing.  It's almost, if not, the most important part of the meal at our house.  If you have turkey, you have to have dressing with it.  Nothing else will do.  Of course, you also have to have mashed potatoes and gravy.  It just all has to be there, together in unison, on the plate.   This might not be true for all of you and your Thanksgiving dinners, but it is for us.  

As far back as I can remember, the night before Thanksgiving, I can conjure up the pungent smell of poultry seasoning, black pepper and celery and onions being diced by my mother or other relatives who might be at our house for the holiday.  The dressing was always mixed up the night before and it made me so hungry smelling all of the preparations for the next day's meal. 

 It was comforting to know that people were in that kitchen getting things ready for all of us so that we would have a wonderful meal together.   The smells are always what bring us back it seems.

Now, out of the past and into the present,  I really have dreaded writing this post.  I have discovered, the hard way, that dressing or stuffing as some call it, is a very controversial topic in the food world.   I guess I never really knew that.  Is it dressing or is it stuffing? Does dressing have to be cornbread or does stuffing have to be, well, stuffed, as in the bird stuffed?   Is dressing the southern term for the same thing those above the Mason Dixon line call stuffing?  It's all so crazy and people can get so argumentative about it. 

Here is my take on it, dressing is the southern term for what we make and serve and it's usually a base of cornbread with (sometimes) other breads mixed in.   Stuffing seems to be a northern or Midwestern term for something similar, but not always made with cornbread.   Whether you stuff it in the bird or not, doesn't really seem to be a factor in whether it's called dressing or stuffing. I really think it's a geographic semantics sort of thing.  

We bake our dressing in a casserole dish or baking pan.  I honestly don't ever remember my mother baking it in the bird.  I hear it's safer to bake it in the baking dish and not in the bird where it might not get cooked through enough so it's good we don't do that.  If you do, be sure it reaches 165 degrees in the very center of the stuffing to be safe. 

Now, this is the recipe we use for dressing, I am sure you and your family do it differently, but this is how we do it.  All recipes are adaptable, so do what you will with it.  


 Here is what you will need: 


1 pan of cornbread ( recipe below)
6 slices white bread, toasted and cut in cubes
1 sleeve saltine crackers, crushed
2 cups celery, finely diced
1 large onion, finely diced
1 stick butter
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbs. poultry seasoning
1 tsp. sage (optional)
6 cups chicken or turkey stock
1 can cream of chicken soup
4 eggs, beaten


Cornbread Recipe

1 cup self rising flour
1 cup self rising cornmeal
1 cup buttermilk
2 Tbs. oil
2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix all together and pour into an 8"x8" baking dish that has been heated with enough oil in it to cover the bottom well or you can use an iron skillet.
Bake for 30 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, crumble cornbread, add bread cubes and the crushed saltines.  Place butter in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the onion and celery until tender.  Pour this mixture over the bread and crackers. 

Add seasonings.  You will notice that we use mostly poultry seasoning.  We actually leave the optional sage out, because the poultry seasoning is a blend of sage, thyme, rosemary, marjoram and black pepper.  It's not so overwhelming and 'green' like the sage can be when overused.    If your family likes their dressing green with sage, use more sage and less poultry seasoning.  However, I am convinced that the over use of sage and the under use of other seasonings is what ruins a lot of good dressing. 

Add 6 cups of chicken or turkey broth, the beaten eggs, and the can of cream of chicken soup.  The can of soup adds the best flavor to dressing, but I can always envision the comments on this.  I am not sure when canned soup got such a bad reputation, but let me say you can leave it out if you think you might die after ingesting it right there at the Thanksgiving dinner table.  If you do leave it out, add an extra cup of broth and you might need a smidgen more salt.   Lightly mix all of this together.  This mixture will be loose, not tight or too thick.  If it's too thick, add some more stock to it. 

Spray a large baking pan or casserole dish with nonstick baking spray and pour the mixture in.  Smooth the top, but don't pack it down in the dish.  That makes the dressing too compacted and dry when baked. 

This is best when prepared the night before and refrigerated overnight to give the flavors a chance to blend.  When you take it out to bake on Thanksgiving day, drizzle about a cup of the warm turkey broth from your just baked turkey over the top of the dressing.  This seeps down into the dressing as it bakes and really makes it moist and flavorful.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes. 


This makes a really big pan of dressing, so if you are cooking for a smaller family, you can put this in two casserole dishes and freeze one for Christmas or another meal when you might have baked chicken or whatever.   If you use two smaller casseroles, bake for about 30-35 minutes.





Italian Cream Cake...a Southern Favorite!


Italian Cream Cake is a wonderfully moist cake that doesn't really seem to have originated in Italy, but in the South. I have no idea why it's called "Italian Cream Cake".  I have researched it and can't seem to find anyone who does know. 

When I think of Italian Cream Cake, I think of my late mother in law, who made one every year during the holidays, sometimes two, one for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas.   She made one of the best I have ever had the pleasure of eating.  Unfortunately, I didn't get her recipe, but this recipe comes very close to it according to what my husband and I remember.

 Here is what you will need for this decadent cake:

1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
5 egg yolks
5 egg whites, stiffly beaten
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
1  1/2 cups flaked coconut
1 cup chopped pecans

Frosting
1  8oz. package cream cheese, softened
4 Tbs. butter, softened
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans (for garnish on the top of cake)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

With an electric mix beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, set aside.

In a separate mixing bowl, cream the butter, shortening and sugar together.  Add the eggs yolks and mix well.  Mix the flour, baking soda and salt.   Add the buttermilk and flour alternately to the mixture and blend, don't over beat this, but make sure it is well incorporated.  Add the vanilla, nuts and coconut. 

Fold in the beaten egg whites. 

Pour the mixture into 3 greased and floured cake pans (9 inch works best).   Place in oven and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Let them stand and cool about 15 minutes before trying to remove from pans.

Frosting

Beat cream cheese and butter until smooth.  Beat in the powdered sugar and add vanilla. Frost between the layers of the cake and the top and sides and sprinkle the 1 cup chopped pecans on top.


A good way to keep your cake plate clean when frosting a cake is to lay the first layer on pieces of wax paper slipped up under the edge all the way around.  Then as you frost it, it will catch any that comes off the edges.  I tend to be  a bit messy so this really helps me.










When you finish with the whole cake, carefully pull out each piece of wax paper and then just neaten up the edges.  See how clean the plate is?  It wouldn't look like this if I hadn't used the wax paper, believe me.  I am not that neat.









Italian Cream Cake!










Country Beef Stew!



There is nothing any more comforting and wonderful tasting as a big pot of beef stew on a chilly day!  We just love it!  I just use the basics in my beef stew, stew meat, carrots, onion, potatoes and celery.  You can add green peas or corn if you like though.  This is one you need a good two hours to cook low and slow, but the results are well worth it.

So here is what you are going to need for the beef stew.  Some recipes I see called beef stew have all kinds of mixed vegetables and tomatoes or tomato sauce in them.  That is not beef stew, that is vegetable beef soup where I come from.  This is beef stew:


2lbs beef stew meat or round steak cut into cubes, onion, 4 stalks of celery, a bag of tiny baby carrots, potatoes, beef stew mix, seasoned salt, Nature's Seasoning, and pepper.


Place 2 cups flour in a shallow dish or pie plate.  Sprinkle with  1 tsp of seasoned salt, 1 tsp. Nature's Seasoning, and 1/2 tsp black pepper.


Mix thoroughly with a fork.


Heat 1/2 cup vegetable oil in a dutch oven.


Toss the beef stew meat in the flour coating lightly.


Place in hot oil and brown well.  This will stick if you don't keep moving it around.  You will need to brown the meat in batches because it will be too much for one pan full. Remove the first batch and place on a plate, then move to the next batch.
 

On the last batch, chop your onion (not too fine, just a rough chop) and add to the browning meat to soften it. 


There will be browned bits stuck to the pan when the meat has browned.  Keep the heat up on medium high and pour a cup of water into the pan to deglaze using a rubber spoon or spatula which won't scratch your pot. Get all of this browned flour off of the bottom of the pan or our stew will stick.


Now add your package of stew seasoning mix and 3 cups water.  Mix it up well. The package of stew seasoning might say 2 cups water but it won't be enough.


This is the consistency you have.  Cover and turn to medium low.  Cook for 1 hr., but stir this every 20 minutes and make sure you scrape the bottom so it doesn't stick.  It will stick and burn if you do not do this.


 Wash chop your  celery, potatoes and carrots (I like to use the baby carrots).  Add them to the pot and stir with 3 more cups of water or more if needed, cook for 1 more hour.  Taste at this point and you might need to sprinkle with a little more seasoned salt and pepper to your taste.


Make some cornbread and slice some sweet onions and you are ready to serve!  It's delicious and the leftovers are just as good the next day!


Ingredients:
2 lbs stew meat
5-6 potatoes
3 cups carrots or bag of tiny baby carrots
1 medium yellow onion
4 stalks celery
1 pkg beef stew seasoning (I love the Kroger brand, but any will do)
about 6 -7 cups water
1 tsp Nature's Seasoning
1tsp seasoned salt
1 tsp. black pepper
2 cups flour
1/2 cup oil to brown meat

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