Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Food and Cooking: Making Your Own

Wow, with the start of the new school year and leap to Senior High for my daughter, I totally lost track of the time.  That, and the disappointing results of my garden due to unspecified pests of some type, have kept me from posting.

I have loved Stove Top Stuffing ever since I was a kid.  Something about the flavor and texture combination made me really, really happy.  I rediscovered this joy recently when I bought some on a sale-inspired whim.  I was shocked and saddened when, AFTER I brought it home, I read the ingredients list and found out that it contained High Fructose Corn Syrup.  Not only that, but it was the SECOND ingredient on the list, obscured by the long sub-list of ingredients for the flour.  I know, I should have read the label in the store, at least to look for semi-expected bad ingredients like MSG (which is also in there, dangit, along with a crap-ton of hydrogenated fats).

I know it didn't have these ingredients when I was ten.  Okay, I don't *know* for sure, since I wasn't a label reader then, but I'd be willing to bet it's changed a lot.  It certainly doesn't taste the same.

So I decided to scour the internet for a clone recipe to make my own mix, and make it healthier.  I've seen many, over the years, in books like "Make Your Own Groceries" (now sadly out of print and selling for over $50 per used book on Amazon) and I knew it could be done.  I found several, including this one on, and another on a blog titled "Feeding the Crew", but I didn't like either one.  The recipe used bouillon cubes, which to me seems odd, and unnecessary.  Just use granules in the first place!  Plus they don't go into the dried celery part, which might discourage some people as it's not readily available in all grocery stores.  The blogger's version was good, but adds a small amount of sugar to the mix.  The less sugar you feed your family, the less they expect it, and the less they crave it.  I don't think it's necessary to add sweetener to a stuffing.

I had a batch of baguettes that hadn't turned out right because I missed a crucial step (that basting with water and blast of steam when they enter the oven is very, very important to the classic crackling crisp crust).  I decided it was time to attempt the mix, but I'd use a modified combination of the two recipes to make something I would be happy to use.

Stuffing Mix

1 1/2 baguettes, sliced thin and cubed -OR- 6 cups cubed bread, dried (see below)
2 stalks of celery, finely diced and dried (see below)
3 tablespoons dried diced onions (I use an organic store brand)
2 tablespoons dried parsley (purchased organic, or home-dried organic)
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
6 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules, optional (you can omit if you plan to use home-made chicken stock for prepping the stuffing)

Place all ingredients in an airtight container and shake vigorously to combine.  To use, combine 1 2/3 cups water and 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan, -OR- 1 2/3 cups chicken stock in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and add 2 cups mix.  Stir and cover.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes.  Fluff and serve.

*Notes:  You can dry your own celery and bread for this recipe easily, and without fancy gadgets.  Take the finely diced celery and spread it in a single layer on a foil-lined cookie sheet.  Place the cookie sheet in the oven and turn the oven on to as low a setting as you can manage where it still kicks out a bit of heat.  My oven has a digital readout, and will only go down to 170°, so if you have digital, I recommend that setting.  My old dial stoves had something like 120° on the readout, but I swear the heating element wouldn't come on until I set it to at least 150°.  So use your judgement... you know your equipment!  My celery dried in about three hours.  The goal here is something that won't spoil if you leave it in the cupboard, so make sure it's dry.  My celery shriveled to 25% of its original size, and even though the pieces started out the size of pencil erasers, they were teeny-tiny after dehydration.  The same procedure will work for the bread cubes, although you don't need the foil.  The foil is in case the celery sticks, and there's not enough natural sugar or moisture in the bread for that to be a problem.

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