Stuff It!

basic-stuffing.jpgIn my book, Stuffing has held its place in my penalty box along with green bell peppers; cilantro, cumin and lime flavored Life Savers. For me, it’s the Buzz Kill of Thanksgiving.

I have never met a Stuffing I’ve liked, but not for obvious reasons.  I find the premise of a food item that’s made from torn up bread to be, somehow, cheating, not to mention being a food group that’s utterly unappetizing to me.  Justin Wilson, The Cajun Cook from a while back once made something that even he copped to being the height of poverty cuisine; faux potato salad! It was made with old torn up bread.  Nothing wrong with poverty cuisine by the way.  Southern fried and most Jewish food is exactly that. But substituting potatoes with bread is just sad.
Wikipedia outlines the history of stuffing dating back to Roman times where you could get anything from a chicken to a dormouse stuffed with vegetables, herbs, spices, nuts, spelt (which is described as ‘old cereal’ by Wikipedia) and a variety of organ meat still considered palatable today. 

Nothing wrong with that, I say. But, as it had evolved and morphed, it has picked up and been dominated by bread.  Gross. Especially when you consider the quality of bread in our country. 

Around the time of Queen Victoria, the more genteel arbiters of taste considered the term stuffing to be too vulgar.  Hence is was given the undeserved euphemism; dressing.  But dressing implies something moist.  It never ends with this stuff.

The corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Beverly Glen used to be home to the Santa Glen Market and Pharmacy.  For many years, ‘Mo’, the crusty but benevolent Philippino hot deli case attendant supplied her mother’s Thanksgiving stuffing.  It was made with Challah (a step in the right direction), so it was closer to a savory bread pudding (still a big cheater in my book).  My husband Chad loved it and we bought it for as long as they made it after the holidays.  When our little market closed, Mo moved on to Gelsons at Century City, then she just disappeared. I wondered if I hadn’t just imagined her stuffing entirely.

dressca2.gifMy dad’s sister, Aunt Lovey, was a wonderful cook. The entire extended family loved her stuffing. I didn’t have the heart to turn down her offer of giving me her recipe, which she literally parted with as an early inheritance. The foundation of her recipe is Mrs. Cubbison’s cornbread mix. That brought it closer to being a more reasonable, uh, food entity.

Our family goes back and forth each year from Philadelphia for Chad’s family and here for mine.  This year, because of the economy, we stayed home, but my sister Tracy, who takes on Thanksgiving and Christmas while I cover Passover (dunt esk) decided she wanted to accept an invitation to a friend’s Thanksgiving party.  That was ok with us.  We were invited to some friends of ours too. I’m excited.  My yams are very popular with my own family and I feel sure our friends will like them too.  They don’t have any stinkin’ lemon zest or orange juice in them.  They have butter and brown sugar. I’m sure there’s someone who has a problem with that…..but that’s just weird.


Aunt Lovey's Turkey Stuffing Recipe

1 Stick butter or margarine
2 cup chopped onion
2 large cloves of crushed garlic
1 1/2 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped pecans
1 Twelve Oz. Box Mrs. Cubbison’s Corn Bread Stuffing Mix
8 Oz. Can oysters, chopped (with liquid)
20 Oz. Can chestnuts, drained and crumbled
1 teaspoon Salt (or less, to taste)
1 teaspoon Dried Sage (or Thyme if you don’t like Sage)
1 teaspoon Poultry Seasoning
1 Stick of Butter or Margarine melted
1/2 cup to 1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup dry sherry

In a large skillet melt 1/4 lb stick of butter and sauté  onions, garlic and celery until soft and most of the liquid evaporates. Add the pecans and stir until they are toasted. Remove this mixture to a large mixing bowl.  Add the stuffing mix, oysters with the liquid, chestnuts, salt, sage, poultry seasoning, the other stick of butter (melted), the chicken broth and sherry. Stir well. If it is too dry, stir in remaining chicken broth. Stuffing can be drier when cooked in the turkey than when baked in a casserole.

Bake covered at 350°F  for 30-35 minutes and you can baste it with the Turkey drippings. Serves 14-16. 


My Ridiculously Bad for You Caramel Yams

6 Yams, scrubbed and pierced with a fork several times

1 stick of butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt

Bake the yams in the oven at 375°F for 40-45 minutes or until they are soft thru and thru.  Its important that you bake them to bring out the natural sugars more. When they are done, let them cool and then the skin comes off easily. Mash them in a 13 x 9 baking dish and set aside.

In a saucepan, over low heat, melt the butter and brown sugar whisking to make sure nothing crystallizes on the sides of the pan.  When the mixture is no longer grainy, add the cream and salt and stir until well incorporated.  Pour this over the top of the yams. Spread evenly. Top with single layer of marshmellows and bake for about 25 minutes or less at 350°F until top is brown and melted. 


Laraine Newman is a founding member of The Groundlings Theatre Company and an original cast member of Saturday Night Live.  She lives in her hometown of Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters.