There is no spectacle on earth more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves. – Thomas Wolfe
I’ve often said that though I’m fairly good at many things, there are only three that I’m really good at. The first one is the reason so many of y’all think this blog is worth reading; the second is the one that allowed me to make a career out of my primary topic. And the third is one I have used nearly every day, year in and year out, without fanfare, since my late teens; it’s the only one of the three I’ve never been paid to do, and the only one I wouldn’t even consider a job in because unless one is strikingly proficient at it, nobody’s going to offer enough money. But that’s probably because unlike the other two, nearly anyone with the desire and the practice can get good at it. At this time of year I usually do a lot more of it than the second and somewhat more than the first, and so I’ve decided to write about it today.
I am speaking, of course, of cooking. Unlike many good cooks, I do not embrace pretension; I roll my eyes when a recipe insists that sea salt or vanilla pods will make a major difference in the taste of the finished product, and though I do indeed prepare a lot of dishes with French names I do not believe that the presence of such a name improves it. Few of the dishes I prepare often use any ingredients unavailable from a typical supermarket, and virtually none use anything more exotic than tahini or fish sauce (i.e. easily obtained at an ethnic market). And though a number of my family’s favorites do have foreign names (such as kang Musmun, moussaka, gnocchi and enchiladas), few of them would be considered “gourmet” in their countries of origin; they are generally humble dishes with humble ingredients, and require no advanced culinary techniques for their preparation. A typical week of dinners at my house (starting on Sunday) might be fried chicken, red beans and rice, sandwiches and soup, creamed ground beef on toast, lasagna, fish & chips, burritos (Tuesday is my traditional “night off” from doing a full dinner). And the dessert is much more likely to be apple pie, bread pudding or cookies than crème brulee or doberge cake…though I can prepare those if requested.
Over the last few years I’ve already shared a number of my favorite recipes, so if you’d like to try chicken and andouille gumbo, turkey soup, potato salad, real (non-microwave) popcorn, chicken paprikash or king cake, I’ve got you covered. I’ve also shared my recipes for chili and fried chicken via email, and would be happy to publish them if asked. But today I’m going to share two very simple, homely recipes, the first in response to the season and the second in response to some folks who were concerned about the poisoned Chinese-made pet treats we read about last month: cornbread stuffing and dog biscuits.
This recipe is intentionally small so it’s easy to multiply. Prepare it as is for very small birds, double it for a 10 to 12-pound one, and quadruple it for a large one (or if your family really likes stuffing). Just in case you don’t have a recipe for cornbread, I’ve included the one I use at the bottom of the stuffing directions. Leftover cornbread is actually best, but if you’re making a quadruple batch you’ll need a whole pan. If you don’t have granulated garlic, use half as much garlic powder or twice as much finely-minced garlic or garlic flakes. If you’re using this for a goose rather than a turkey or chicken, double the sage and omit the garlic.
2 cups (480 ml) crumbled cornbread
1 cup (240 ml) chicken bouillon or broth
¼ cup (½ stick, 60 ml) butter
¼ teaspoon (app. 1 ml) each pepper, paprika, granulated garlic, thyme, sage, rosemary & tarragon
Heat bouillon, spices and butter over medium heat until boiling. Remove from heat, add cornbread, stir to moisten, then let sit (covered) for 10 minutes before stuffing bird. Yes, it’s safe to stuff a bird no matter what the nannies now claim; just make sure it’s completely thawed before cooking and cook it for roughly 3 extra minutes per pound.
Cornbread: Preheat oven to 425o Fahrenheit. Combine 1 cup (240 ml) flour, 1 cup (240 ml) cornmeal, 2 tablespoons (30 ml) sugar, 1 tablespoon (15 ml) baking powder, and ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt. Beat 2 large eggs; mix in 1 cup (240 ml) milk and ¼ cup (60 ml) cooking oil, then add mixture to dry ingredients and mix until combined. Pour into greased square pan, bake for 20 minutes.
2 cups (480 ml) flour
½ cup (120 ml) cornmeal
½ tbsp (7.5 ml) granulated garlic
2/3 cup (160 ml) beef bouillon
6 tablespoons (90 ml) oil
If you don’t have granulated garlic, see recipe above. Though dogs like garlic more than you might think, you can skip it entirely if you like; it helps protect them from fleas but inside dogs need that less. I use a small cutter, about tea-cookie size, but you can use a larger one or a bone-shaped one if you like. You can substitute beef stock or any other meat-flavored liquid for the bouillon. For the oil, bacon grease or used fryer oil is best, but any cooking oil will do.
To prepare, mix all dry ingredients, then add bouillon & oil and mix well. Dump the dough out onto a clean counter and knead with your hands just until it’s all mixed and even-looking, then roll or pat it out to about ¼ to ½” (about 1 cm) thick and cut with the biscuit cutter. Gather the leftover dough together, roll out and cut again until it’s all used up. Bake the biscuits at 350o Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, then cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Store in a sealed container in a cool place; you can refrigerate them or even freeze them for longer storage. I have never met a dog that did not LOVE these, and since there’s nothing weird in them you might even like them yourself (I’ve caught Grace sneaking them on occasion).
That’s all for today, but I’ll keep sharing other recipes from time to time, and if you need a particular one please don’t hesitate to ask.