Rutabaga. And Other Thanksgiving Traditions

Monday, November 12, 2012

Ann's Herbed Dressing Recipe, Stuffed with Holiday Memories

The approaching Thanksgiving holiday brings many wonderful images to mind. These are the things that color our memories and make us smile years later, like the family in the iconic Norman Rockwell painting. Huge parade balloons. Beautiful fall foliage. Football games in crisp autumn air. And, of course, rutabaga. You do think about rutabaga, too, don't you? No? Maybe that's just me and my siblings.

All families have their Thanksgiving side dish favorites, guaranteed to be part of the meal every year. We had Mom's amazing herbed dressing, can-shaped cranberry sauce, lime gelatin salad, and mashed rutabaga.  Mom was the only one who ate rutabaga and we teased her about it without fail. After all, how many root vegetables do you need at one meal? Just before Thanksgiving in 1988, my parents  moved into their dream house. In all the bustle of the move and the preparations for the holiday, Mom forgot to buy her rutabaga. On the way over to help prepare dinner, my husband and I stopped at a grocery store to get it for her. Searching all over the produce section of the Fort Washington Safeway, we came up empty. It wasn’t a big deal at the time -- what's one Thanksgiving without rutabaga? -- but at the time we didn't know that would be Mom's last Thanksgiving. It's funny the things that stay with you. Every year I remember that last frantic, failed search, and in the intervening years it's actually become a pleasant memory, more about this menu idiosyncrasy and the fun we had with it than about what was missed.
It never occurred to me to make mashed rutabaga. I love my mom and treasure the memories, but I am not about to kid myself that anyone would touch that dish! The recipe that does live on and has become something my family looks forward to as much as being together is that amazing dressing. There's no secret ingredient, but everything comes together perfectly. My husband says it's a meal in itself. Our youngest daughter was eating it for breakfast last year at 5:00 in the morning before leaving for her flight back to college. Every year like clockwork, my dad calls for the recipe. So here it is for him, and anyone else who wants a simple but sublime addition to their Thanksgiving menu.
Ann's Herbed Dressing
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 C chopped Vidalia onion
1C chopped celery
1 bag (14 oz) herb seasoned stuffing
3 C chicken broth
1 lb lean ground beef
2 large eggs
1 medium sweet apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
Melt the butter in a large skillet. Saute the onion and celery until tender. Set aside. In a large stock pot, stir together all of the stuffing and about 1/2 cup of broth over medium heat. Add the remaining broth a little at a time, stirring to combine, until the stuffing is very moist. Thoroughly stir in the onion and celery mixture. Keep it over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, while you brown the ground beef in the skillet previously used for the vegetables. Drain the fat from the beef. Stir the beef into the stuffing mixture and combine thoroughly. Add the eggs (be sure the stuffing isn't too warm so the eggs don't cook). Add the chopped apple. If you are not going to use the dressing immediately, put it in a covered 2 quart casserole dish and refrigerate. If you are going to cook some of the dressing in the turkey, do not put it in the cavity until just before putting the turkey in the oven. Any stuffing not put in the turkey should be baked at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. Keep it covered for the first 30-35 minutes, then remove the cover if you want the top to be crisp.