Thursday, December 20, 2018

Day 20. Don't Mess With The Stuffing


Today I'm thinking about the traditions surrounding our Christmas celebrations, particularly when it comes to the dishes we prepare for our holiday feasting. Christmas is a big deal here in Canada, since our Thanksgiving celebrations are held back in October -- by this time, we're well ready for another holiday with feasts.

I'm interested to know what traditions you keep when it comes to the holiday meals. Do you have special Christmas Eve meals? Does your family focus mainly on Christmas Dinner on December 25th? Do you make favourite dishes that come out only at Christmas? Are you a complete traditionalist, a mix of family favourites and new dishes, or are you wildly experimental some years, creating menus for Christmas Dinner that are completely non-traditional?

Our family is pretty traditional. Christmas Dinner for us always has been roasted turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, and cranberries, with a variety of recipes used for the side dishes of salads, vegetables, and, of course, the desserts. We haven't strayed too far from this menu over the years. Because we make the recipes but once or twice a year, we really look forward to these predictable but comforting dishes with lip-smacking appetites.

One such recipe that we quit fooling with years ago, i.e., experimenting with other dressing/stuffing recipes, was the family recipe for the turkey stuffing. It's my mom's recipe that she developed as a young mom. Last year, I wrote an essay for the anthology Christmas: Stories & More by InScribe Press, and it was titled "Please Don't Mess With the Stuffing".

Today as the big day gets closer, I want to share the story and the recipe with you.


"I don't like the turkey, but I like the bread he ate,"
said one small child after eating Christmas Dinner.


In our family, it’s always been called “stuffing.” Everybody we knew called it that, even our cousins. One Christmas at Aunty and Uncle’s place, while sitting at the kids’ table, my little sister, older cousin, and I thought ourselves most clever to pronounce that we were stuffing ourselves with stuffing. All through dinner we giggled at our little joke, filling our faces with the savoury dish till indeed we were stuffed.

Even back then, stuffing was the favourite part of our Christmas dinner. Although we like turkey, it is, as my sister recently pointed out, merely the conduit for this seasoned, bready concoction.

As Mom prepared the bird and stuffing Christmas morning, she would try and shoo everyone out of the kitchen so she could chop and sauté in peace. There was no chance of that: my siblings and I, and sometimes even our Dad, would jostle for position to watch (more like sneak fingerfuls of) the savoury ingredients mounting up in the big bowl. Mom would mildly scold us to get our hands “out of there.” That first whiff of sizzling onions and celery would always set our mouths watering.

Mom, as a young wife, developed her own recipe for stuffing, distinct from that of her own mother, who always diced in turkey giblets. Instead, browned ground beef and finely diced ham eventually replaced the offending viscera.

Years later, it was my turn to host Christmas Dinner. As a young woman, I was eager to try new stuffing recipes, and I found some interesting ones in Ladies Home Journal and Canadian Living magazines, which suggested adding sausage, apple, and sage, or chestnuts and dried fruit. That experiment and any future ones did not go over well, for someone at the table invariably moaned about there being no “real” stuffing.

In the end, we all agreed. No more experimenting, just make my mother’s traditional, tried and true recipe. After all, for more than a half a century, it’s been making our family happy. Whoever is hosting welcomes suggestions to adjust anything else on the Christmas dinner menu, but please don’t mess with the stuffing.

Mom’s Christmas Stuffing

Serves 10 with leftovers
Preheat oven to 190° C (375° F)


2 large loaves white bread, day old (about 900 g)
1½ medium onions, diced
3 to 4 celery ribs, diced
2 cups finely chopped ham
¼ to ½ cup butter, for sautéing onions, celery, and ham
1½ pounds lean ground beef (about 700 g)
cooking oil (as needed for sautéing)
1 to 2 tsp poultry seasoning—start with 1 tsp and adjust to taste
1 tsp salt—to taste
½ tsp freshly ground pepper—to taste
1¾ to 2 cups low salt chicken broth
1/3 cup butter, melted, for pouring over stuffing before baking


1. One to two days prior to turkey day, cube the bread and set out on cookie sheets to thoroughly dry. Toss once or twice so all sides get exposure. When dry and no longer soft to the touch, set aside in a very large bowl and cover with a clean tea towel.

2. In a large skillet, melt ¼ to ½ cup butter. Gently sauté onions and celery until soft. Add chopped ham and sauté for a few minutes. Remove from pan and set aside in a bowl.

3. In the same skillet, add (if needed) some cooking oil. Brown the ground beef; break up the meat as it browns. Dust with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning.

4. Add the bowl of sautéed onion mixture to the browned beef.

5. Sprinkle on the measured poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper. Mix together.

6. Bring out bowl with bread cubes. Sprinkle chicken broth over cubes to lightly moisten. Add onion and meat mixture. Stir everything together thoroughly.

7. Carefully adjust seasonings to taste; poultry seasoning can overpower. Add chicken broth if bread is still dry; the mixture should cling together somewhat, but not so it’s drippy-wet. If there's time, you can let the stuffing sit for a few minutes and then thoroughly mix everything one more time (Mom's tip).

8. Put the stuffing into a large buttered roaster or casserole dish. Pour the melted butter over the stuffing; this will bring out the flavour and help keep it from drying out. Our family outgrew the amount of stuffing that fits into a turkey cavity so we just put it all into a roasting dish or pan. 

9. Cover and put in a preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until heated through. Stir at least once at around the 15-minute point.

Note: It’s only once a year, so we don’t fuss about calories.

How to Eat Leftover Stuffing

1. Layer with turkey slices and cranberries in a sandwich;

2. Reheat with lots of gravy over top;

3. My personal favourite:
Cold, with a fork, straight from the bowl in the refrigerator.
Warning: this last one often means fending off
other forks aiming for the same snack.

* * *

We're bustling around here today. Some grocery shopping,
some errands, some cleaning. Reading through the stuffing recipe
is making me so hungry, I can hardly wait 'til Christmas. Haha

Here's wishing you a beautiful day.


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  1. Your Christmas dinner sounds like my Thanksgiving dinner. My stuffing is the same one my mom made when I was growing up. Bread, onions celery, sage, chicken stock and crumbled breakfast sausage. Have a wonderful Christmas.

  2. Amen, Sister! I'm not much of a traditionalist, but there are some things that are sacrosanct! Mom's stuffing recipe is definitely one of them:)

  3. No traditional Christmas dinner in my family nor has there been for over a quarter century. We are, after all, fresh from Thanksgiving and don’t need nor want another major effort like that. Often we simply snack of party like foods,,,finger sandwiches, chips and dips, desserts, salads, etc. This year, I will make a lasagna because that is this year’s request. Your mother’s sausage and ham and hamburger stuffing sounds very good. I am pinning because otherwise I’ll forget.

  4. Around here we are not traditional.We have had,over the years, everything from turkey and stuffing to homemade pizza. This year it will be ham and sweet and sour meatballs.Your stuffing recipe does sound good.

  5. Although I enjoy the rest of the meal tremendously, I'd trade it all in for stuffing! All three of your leftover stuffing ideas sound wonderful. (#3 is my favorite. ~smile~)

  6. Your traditional meal is one reminiscent of my childhood, and one that I've often replicated in our home. However, now that we have children who go to their in-laws one day over Christmas and usually have turkey there, I've begun doing Ecuadorian food as a nod to our family's history. I agree, don't mess with the stuffing - I've done a recipe similar to yours but in recent years have added bacon. Stuffing is the best part of the meal, for me, too.


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