Monday, November 19, 2007

Tales from the Archives: The Stuffing Wars

In honor of the upcoming holiday, below follows a piece I wrote a while back on the first Thanksgiving that Marty and I celebrated together.

I have long dreamed of the day when I would host Thanksgiving. The honor currently belongs to my Aunt Pearl, our family matriarch, so any Thanksgivings spent in New York are spent at her table in Kew Gardens. But in 1999, Marty and I were living in Houston and decided not to travel. We were going to do our own Thanksgiving. I was ecstatic.

We hit the first hurdle with the menu planning. Marty wanted to serve traditional green bean casserole (you know – the recipe that comes on the side of the can of Durkee fried onions), macaroni and cheese, dirty rice and pecan pie. I wanted to make cranberries from scratch, mashed potatoes, some kind of green vegetable that wasn’t smothered in Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup and pumpkin bread pudding.

Then there was the issue of the meat. I wanted to serve turkey. Marty insisted on Cornish game hens.

It seemed the only thing we had in common was that we both wanted stuffing.

One night, we were having drinks at the bar at the Four Seasons. I was knee deep in planning mode and I had a sheaf of recipes I wanted to go over. I started to show Marty some different stuffing recipes I had pulled off of Epicurious including one for sweet potato cornbread stuffing with greens and bacon that I really had my eye on. He rejected them all. The stuffing, he told me, would be Pepperidge Farm, like he had eaten as a child. Although I had not eaten a lot of stuffing as a child and did not have a strong position on the subject, I felt passionately about being able to prepare the stuffing I wanted to prepare. This was going to be a gourmet Thanksgiving if it killed me.

We launched into a heated argument about stuffing, further fueled by cocktails. At one point we were debating the merits of using stale or toasted bread versus fresh bread. Just as I was about to give up hope, a young mother pushing a baby stroller came up to us.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” she said. “But I couldn’t help but overhear your discussion on stuffing.” Of course she overheard us. We were loud. And how kind of her to call it a discussion when it was clearly a fight.

Still, she continued on. It seems that her family had nearly come to blows over stuffing several years back until the recipe she shared with us, saved them. It was a simple recipe and I forget who gave it to her. But she passed it onto us and it saved us. The basic premise is to saut̩ a trinity of onion, garlic and celery in some oil. Add some cubed baguette (we prefer sourdough), which has been buttered and sprinkled with salt and pepper (we actually use Tony Chachere's seasoning). Add some stock, maybe a little wine, cook down and you are done. The stuffing can be augmented with anything Рsausage, mushrooms, oysters Рbut it is best in its original simplicity (although to be fair, we top it off with some fresh Parmesan).

Marty and I made our Four Seasons Stuffing that year. Along with everything else. We literally made 2 Thanksgivings for 3 people as we could not come to agreement on what to cut from the menu.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

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