I probably spend more time reminiscing at Thanksgiving time than any other time of the year - Christmas included. It is crammed full of memories of my father. The images of him in his apron at the stove - bustling around the kitchen, always quick with a corny joke, teasing my mom. I loved being in the kitchen with him. Oh dear - the tears are flowing already. It's gonna be one of those posts today. This song by The Judds has always pulled at my heartstrings as well. It's purpose is one of reflection - and hopefully, by reflecting, we can glean some insight as to how to bring those very good parts of the not-so-long-ago back to the present. I can do it by closing my eyes - or making the stuffing on Thanksgiving Day!
My father was not one of those guys who expected dinner on the table when he got home from work - although it usually was. He would frequently get home, take off his suit coat, roll up his sleeves, grab an apron, and help finish up what needed finishing. I thought all dads did this.
Although he did help a great deal with meals, still, I considered the kitchen my mother's domain. Except on Thanksgiving Day!
Dad would be in there orchestrating the feast as if it were a symphony! My favorite part of the meal - besides the pie, of course - was the stuffing. Every year it was different. And every year it was divine! He always managed to find some interesting ingredient to throw in the mix - oysters, roasted chestnuts, fruits. Not exotic, by any means, but they all would lend a new flavor profile.
He used the neck, heart, liver, and gizzard of the turkey to make the stock - and rewarded himself by taking a rest mid-morning and having a snack of said stock ingredients! I considered it an honor to enjoy this snack with him. Oh, I can hear the collective "Ewwwws!" out there! And, I agree, that it sounds rather red-neck. But, I can't help it - it was delicious! There - I've said it!
I have spent a good many years trying to create a stuffing that would be as enticing as Dad's. And I'm sharing this attempt with you. I decided to roast up some chestnuts as my interesting add-in. It's not too hard to do if you remember to roll the cooked chestnuts in a dish towel upon pulling from the oven. The shells and skins will come right off after you roll and press them inside the towel.
I also added apples, but I always add apples to my stuffings! I love the sweet, tart surprise when you come across a bite with a chunk of apple within. Any variety of apple will do! This year I'm using an apple that I have no idea what kind it is. They were a gift to my husband from work - and all I saw was stuffing when I looked at them! I also opted for a whole grain bread for the texture it would bring as well as the color - and, OK, it was a healthier option!
If you're the one that is making the stuffing this year, give this recipe a try. And if you don't feel like using the chestnuts, you can leave them out - or substitute another nut, such as pecans or walnuts!
Roasted Chestnut and Apple Stuffing
serves 8 - 10
1 loaf bread - (16 - 24 oz.) cubed
1 1/2 t. dried sage
1 1/2 t. dried oregano
1 t. dried thyme
1 T. salt, divided
1 t. black pepper
1 onion, medium dice
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled and small dice
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
2 c. chicken stock
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the cubes of bread on a large sheet tray - or two, if needed - and toast them in the oven for 10 minutes. Be sure that there is plenty of room for the cubes to spread out. Remove from the oven and let sit until dried - a couple hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut a small X into the flat side of each chestnut and place on a small sheet tray, X side up. The X is necessary as it provides a vent for the steam to escape and keeps it from exploding while roasting. Roast for 20 - 25 minutes. The skin of the chestnut will start to peel back and open up. Remove from the oven and toss the chestnuts into a dish towel and roll and massage and press down on the nuts. You'll hear cracking sounds. It's OK! You're loosening up those shells and skins and making the next step so much easier! Open the towel and start separating the nut from the shell and paper skin.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter with the vegetable oil. When butter is melted, add the onion, celery, and carrots and stir to coat with the fats. Season with 1 t. salt and a few cranks of black pepper, to taste. Cook until the onions are translucent - about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Place the toasted and dried bread cubes into a very large bowl, giving you plenty of room to toss ingredients together. Sprinkle the sage, oregano, and thyme over the top, evenly distributing them throughout.
Beat the eggs making sure to thoroughly combine the yolks and whites.
Heat the chicken stock in the microwave or on the stove top until just warm.
To the bowl of seasoned bread cubes, add the sauteed vegetables, beaten eggs, roasted and peeled chestnuts, chopped apple, and pour the warmed stock over all. Add the remaining 2 t. salt and the 1 t. black pepper. Toss well until well-blended.
Place in a baking dish that has been coated with cooking spray. Cover and bake for 40 minutes. Remove cover and bake for another 10 minutes. Garnish with fresh herbs, if desired.