Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

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Thanksgiving Day Stuffing – Or Any Day

Stuffing, also called dressing depending on where you live, is a seasoned mix of vegetables and starches and sometimes eggs that are cooked within or alongside a meat entree. Some stuffing recipes utilize other meats, such as sausage (especially popular in Italian dishes) or oysters in their mix and vegetarian stuffing is usually based on bread, rice or potatoes.

Various kinds of stuffing go as far back as the Roman Empire , where recipes appear in De re Coquinaria , a collection found within a kitchen anthology called Apicius that chronicles thousands of Roman dishes. In De re Coquinaria , chicken, rabbit, pork and dormouse stuffing are included and there are long traditions and other historical references that corroborate the wide use of stuffing in Ancient Italy.

The First Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving

Since humans were thought to be stuffing small animals long before the days of the Roman Empire, it seems natural that the pilgrims might think to stuff a turkey. However, there is no historical evidence that stuffing was served at the first Thanksgiving, but the tradition has been long standing in America.

Stuffing is not uncommon, but is not regularly utilized in most households, other than during the Thanksgiving holiday. Turkey stuffing is the most widely used, and while many buy pre-packaged stuffing such as Stove Top, there are yet many varying family recipes that have endured over the years. Stove Top introduced boxed stuffing in 1972. It was home economist Ruth Siems who discovered how to manipulate bread crumbs in such a way that made reconstitution practical, and Stove Top, now owned by Kraft Foods, sells almost 60 million boxes of stuffing every Thanksgiving.

In Victorian England, “stuffing” became “dressing” and remained so in its emigration to America.  Now “stuffing” and “dressing” are used interchangeably in America, although some places, especially in the Midwest, still refer to the dish as dressing. The famous cookbook, “The Joy of Cooking”, says that a mixture is considered stuffing if you cook it inside the bird, and dressing if you cook it in a pan.

Other differences are in the ingredient choices which vary according to regional locations. The base is usually a crumbled bread product such as cornbread, biscuits or bread. Most call for chopped onion and celery. Some recipes call for sauteing the onions and celery until they are tender. Another key ingredient in almost every recipe is poultry seasoning.There are recipe variations that can include sausage, walnuts, cranberries and in coastal areas, oysters.

There is a health risk involved with placing stuffing inside the turkey cavity while it is cooked. The stuffing can develop bacteria if it is not cooked to 165 degrees. The problem is that it is possible for the thigh of the turkey (where you insert the thermometer) to register an internal temperature of 180 degrees while the stuffing may not be the same temperature. If the turkey stuffing has not reached 165 degrees it must be cooked longer, which can result in the turkey being overcooked.

When it comes to the texture of stuffing, there is no right or wrong way to make it. Some people like it dry and crisp; some like it moist and dense. Soft breads produce a dense, spongy stuffing; toasted breads produce a drier stuffing because the bread crumbs can absorb more juices without becoming soggy.

To get the consistency your family prefers, follow these simple suggestions:

  • For a drier stuffing, use prepackaged dry bread crumbs or cubes and limit the amount of liquid.
  • For moist stuffing, add broth or juice until the mixture is just moist enough that it sticks together when pinched. But keep in mind that stuffing baked in poultry or in a tightly covered dish will not dry out as it bakes.
  • For fluffier stuffing, add a beaten egg or egg substitute, such as Egg Beaters. It will allow the stuffing to bake to a lighter, more airy consistency. For food safety reasons, use an egg substitute in dressing that is stuffed into poultry.
  • Ensure stuffing is done by using a meat thermometer. The temperature at the center of the stuffing inside the bird should reach 165°.
  • For stuffing baked in a separate dish, either egg or egg substitute can be used. Refrigerate leftover stuffing promptly.

If you like stuffing, you don’t have to limit it to holiday dinners. It bakes up just as well on its own as an accompaniment to chicken or other meats. Simply place stuffing in a greased shallow baking dish, cover with foil and bake at 325°F. to 350°F. for 1 hour or until heated through. For a crisper crust, uncover stuffing during the final 15-20 minutes of baking.

My Family’s Favorite

Italian Bread & Sausage Stuffing

Yields about 18 cups, enough to fill a 12- to 14- pound turkey and a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

Ingredients:

  • 14 cups Italian bread, like ciabatta, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes (about 3 loaves)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 pounds bulk hot or sweet Italian sausage (or sausage links, casings removed)
  • 2 large yellow onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 5 large ribs celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 5 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (or 1-1/2 tsp. dried)
  • 1 tablespoon. dried sage
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 cups chicken broth

Directions

Pile the bread cubes into a very large bowl and set aside.

Spray a large sauté pan with cooking spray and set over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon or spatula until light brown, about 5 min. With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to the bowl of cubed bread. Wipe out the pan and add the olive oil, onions, celery, and garlic  and saute until the onions are translucent and just beginning to brown, 8 to 10 min. Stir in the thyme, sage, salt, and peppers, cook 1 minute, and add the mixture to the cubed bread. Add some of the broth to the bread mixture; stir until well combined. The stuffing should just hold together when pressed together, if not add more broth.

If cooking in a turkey, put the stuffing in the bird just before roasting. Pack the stuffing loosely, leaving enough room to fit your whole extended hand into the bird’s cavity. Cook the stuffing in the bird to 160º to 165ºF, checking with an instant-read thermometer. If the bird is done before the stuffing is, take the bird out of the oven, spoon the stuffing into a casserole dish, and continue to bake it while the turkey rests.

My preferred method:

If baking some or all of the stuffing in a casserole, pour a cup or two of broth over the stuffing to replace the juices the stuffing would have absorbed from the bird. Bake it covered until heated through, 45 minutes to 1 hour. For a crunchy top, uncover it for the last 15 minutes of baking.

 

Fennel, Pecan and Caramelized Apple Stuffing

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces sourdough bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Cooking spray
  • 5 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 cups chopped onion
  • 1 1/4 cups sliced fennel bulb
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped carrot
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 3 cups chopped Golden Delicious apple
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Arrange bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake for 16 minutes or until golden, stirring after 8 minutes. Place in a large bowl. On a separate baking sheet place pecans and bake for 6-8 minutes and add to bread cubes.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion and next 5 ingredients (through garlic). Add 1/4 teaspoon pepper; sauté 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Add vegetables to bread mixture.

Return pan to medium-high heat. Add remaining 2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add apples and sugar; sauté 5 minutes or until apples caramelize, stirring occasionally. Add to the bread mixture.

Combine broth and eggs in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add broth mixture and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper to bread mixture; toss well to combine.

Spoon bread mixture into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cover with foil. Bake at 400°F. for 20 minutes. Uncover dish; bake for 20 minutes or until browned and crisp.

You can adjust oven temperature and baking time, if you are baking the stuffing alongside a turkey or you can stuff the turkey.

 

Wild Rice Stuffing

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans (13 3/4 to 14 1/2 ounces each) chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2/3 cup wild rice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 medium celery stalks, diced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 8 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 cups regular long-grain rice
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Directions:

In a 4-quart saucepan over high heat, heat chicken broth, wild rice, salt, thyme, and 1 1/2 cups water to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, in nonstick 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Add carrots, celery, and onion and cook until tender-crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove carrot mixture to bowl.

In same skillet in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, cook mushrooms until golden brown and all liquid evaporates.

Stir long-grain rice, carrot mixture, and mushrooms into wild rice; over high heat, heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 20 minutes longer or until all liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Stir in chopped parsley. Use to stuff 12- to 16-pound turkey or, spoon into serving bowl; keep warm.

Cherry Stuffing

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 5 cups country bread cubes
  • 3/4 cup dried cherries
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) or frozen (defrosted) pitted tart cherries, drained
  • 1 turkey (10 to 12 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

In a saucepan, saute celery and onion in butter until tender. Stir in thyme and poultry seasoning. In a large bowl, combine bread, dried cherries and celery mixture. Add broth and canned cherries; toss to mix.

Loosely stuff turkey just before baking. Skewer openings; tie drumsticks together. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan. Brush with the olive oil.

Bake, uncovered, at 325°F. for 4 to 4-1/2 hours or until a meat thermometer reads 180° for the turkey and 165° for the stuffing. Baste occasionally with pan drippings. Cover loosely with foil if turkey browns too quickly.

Cover and let stand for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving the turkey. If desired, thicken pan drippings for gravy. Yield: 10-12 servings (6 cups stuffing).

Note: The stuffing may be prepared as directed and baked separately in a greased 2-qt baking dish. Cover and bake at 325°F.for 50 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 minutes longer or until lightly browned.

 

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Cherries in Delft bowl with red and yellow apple (Painting by Amelia Kleiser)

Life is just a bowl of cherries.

Don’t take it serious; it’s too mysterious.

You work, you save, you worry so,

But you can’t take your dough when you go, go, go.

So keep repeating it’s the berries,

The strongest oak must fall,

The sweet things in life, to you were just loaned

So how can you lose what you’ve never owned?

Life is just a bowl of cherries,

So live and laugh at it all.

Written by songwriters,  Lew Brown and Ray Henderson 1931

Cherries

The cherry is one of the world’s oldest cultivated fruits, along with its cousin, the apricot. Cultivation dates back to 300 B.C. and its lineage dates back even farther. The common cherry tree, Prunus avium, is native to the temperate areas of eastern Europe and western Asia and is part of the Rose family. Its name comes originally from the Greek, and in Latin means, of or for the birds, due to the birds’ obvious love of the fruit. The English word cherry originates from the Assyrian karsu and Greek kerasos. The tree was beloved by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans both for its beautiful flowers and its versatile fruit. Although a different species of cherry was already strongly established in America by the time the first colonists arrived, the new settlers brought along their favorite European variety and eventually cross-bred the two. Today, 90 percent of the commercial cherry crop is grown in the U.S., mostly in Michigan, California, Oregon and Washington.

The most popular variety is the Bing cherry, which was developed by Seth Luelling of Milwaukie, Oregon in 1875. It was allegedly named for his Manchurian foreman. There are now thousands of varieties of cherries and most are still picked by hand.

There are two general varieties of cherries: sweet and sour. The success of your recipe will depend on choosing the right variety. Fresh sweet cherries are available in the U.S. from May through August. Sour cherries begin ripening in June. Dried cherries are now available year-round and can be eaten as snacks or used in recipes like raisins.

A Japanese legend tells of a brave warrior who lived to a great age, outliving friends and family. His most beloved memory was of playing beneath a cherry tree in Iyo during his youth. One summer, the tree died, which the man took as a sign that it was also his time to die. Although a new cherry tree was planted nearby, the old warrior was inconsolable. During the winter season, the old man pleaded with the dead tree to bear flowers just one more time, vowing that if his request was granted, he would give up his long life. The tree bloomed, and true to his promise, the old warrior committed hara-kiri beneath the dead branches of the tree. As his blood and spirit soaked down to the roots, the tree bloomed once again in the dead of winter. Legend holds this tree in Iyo still blooms in winter every year on the anniversary of the warrior’s death, though all other trees nearby lay in dormant winter state. Japan has gifted the United States with thousands of cherry trees on more than one occasion as a gesture of friendship. The trees are planted in America’s capital city, Washington, D.C.

Types of Cherries

Sweet Cherries

Usually eaten out of hand, sweet cherries are larger than sour cherries. They are heart-shaped and have sweet firm flesh. They range in color from golden, red-blushed Royal Ann to dark red to purplish-black. Bing, Lambert, and Tartarian are other popular dark cherries. Sweet cherries also work well in cooked dishes.

Sour Cherries

Normally too tart to eat raw, sour cherries are smaller than their sweet cousins, and more globular in shape with softer flesh. The Early Richmond variety is the first available in the market in late spring and is bright red in color, with the Montmorency soon following. The dark red Morello variety is another popular sour cherry. Sour cherries are normally cooked with sugar and used for pies, preserves, and relishes.

Fresh cherries should be clean, bright, shiny, and plump with no blemishes. Sweet cherries should have firm, but not hard flesh, while sour cherries should be medium-firm. The darker the color, the sweeter the cherry. Avoid cherries with cuts, bruises, or stale, dry stems. You’ll find stemmed cherries less expensive, but be aware that cherries with the stems intact will have a longer shelf life.

Frozen cherries can be substituted for fresh cherries in most recipes. If you are substituting canned cherries for fresh, you may need to drain and/or rinse off the syrup before proceeding.

Unopened canned cherries can be stored on the shelf up to a year. Once opened, keep the canned cherries in a covered container in the refrigerator and use within one week. Maraschino cherries will last six to twelve months in the refrigerator. Unopened dried cherries will last up to 18 months.

Cherry Storage

Store unwashed cherries in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, and wash just before eating. Before eating fresh sweet cherries, leave them out on the counter for a few hours as the flavor is much better at room temperature. Fresh cherries should be consumed within two to four days.

When using cherries in baked goods, you might notice a blue discoloration around the cherries in the finished product. This is due to a chemical reaction between the cherries and alkaline substances, such as baking powder or baking soda. To prevent discoloration, substitute buttermilk or sour cream for milk in the recipe or add an acidic liquid such as lemon juice. Pure almond extract is a natural companion to cherries. Less than 1/4 teaspoon added to cherry mixtures really brightens the cherry flavor.

When using dried cherries in recipes, you can plump them up just as you would raisins, by covering them with hot water and letting stand about thirty minutes.

Complimentary Cherry Foods

Black pepper goes amazingly well with cherries, especially when paired with pork, beef, or game meats. Dairy products also bring out the mild tart flavors of cherries, particularly sweet cream, gorgonzola (blue) cheese, ricotta cheese, and mascarpone. As for herbs, choose sage, chives, and verbena.

Cherry Measurements

• 1 pound fresh unpitted cherries = about 80 cherries

• 1 pound fresh unpitted cherries = 2-1/3 cups pitted

• 1 pound fresh unpitted cherries = 1-1/2 cups cherry juice

• 16 ounces canned cherries = 1-1/2 cups

• 21 ounces canned cherry filling = 1-1/2 cups

• 10 ounces frozen cherries = 1 cup

• 2 ounces dried cherries = 1/2 cup

• 1 cup fresh sweet cherries = 1 serving

Cherries for Breakfast

Cherry-Almond Coffeecake

9 servings

Ingredients:

Topping:

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup regular oats
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon chilled butter or Smart Balance Blend, cut into small pieces

Cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or Eagle Ultra Grain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar or ¼ cup light sugar alternative
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter or Smart Balance Blend, softened
  • 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 large egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups pitted sweet cherries, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons slivered almonds

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

To prepare topping:  lightly spoon 1/4 cup flour into a dry measuring cup, and level with a knife. Combine flour, brown sugar, oats, and cinnamon in a small bowl; cut in 1 tablespoon butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Set aside.

To prepare the cake:  lightly spoon 1 1/2 cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl; set aside. Beat granulated sugar and 1 1/2 tablespoons butter at medium speed of a mixer. Add the yogurt, extracts, and egg; beat well. Add flour mixture, and beat at low speed until well-blended (batter will be thick). Spread half of batter in bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray, and top with cherries. Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons topping. Repeat procedure with the remaining batter and topping. Sprinkle with almonds. Bake for 45 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Cherries for Lunch

Spinach Salad with Cherries

4 servings

Ingredients:

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Salad:

  • 5 cups cleaned torn spinach leaves, stems removed
  • 1 cup bite-sized fresh pineapple wedges
  • 1/2 cup dried tart cherries
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • Crumbled blue cheese,  (optional)

Directions:

For the dressing, combine oil, vinegar, honey and pepper in a medium bowl; mix well. For the salad, combine spinach with pineapple, cherries and onion in a large salad bowl. Spoon dressing over spinach mixture; mix to coat salad with dressing. Serve topped with cheese, if desired.

Cherries for an Appetizer

 Honey-Rosemary Cherries and Blue Cheese Crostini

Begin your party casually by offering this appetizer “help yourself” style. Or, make up single-serving plates and present as a first course at the table.

Ingredients:

  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh pitted cherries or 1 (12-oz.) package frozen dark, sweet pitted cherries, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups loosely packed arugula
  • 16 (1/4-inch-thick) ciabatta bread slices, toasted
  • 1 (8-oz.) wedge gorgonzola cheese, thinly sliced
  • Garnish: freshly ground pepper

Directions:

Sauté shallot in hot oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat 2 to 3 minutes or until tender. Add cherries (and any liquid in package) and next 5 ingredients. Cook, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes or until thickened. Let stand 10 minutes.

Divide arugula among toasted bread slices. Top each with cherry mixture and 1 blue cheese slice. Garnish, if desired.

 

Cherries for Dinner

Grilled Chicken With Cherry Sauce

You can make the cherry sauce with either fresh or frozen berries. You can also serve it over grilled pork chops.

Makes 4 servings (serving size: 1 chicken breast, 1/4 cup cherry sauce)

Ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup chopped pitted sweet cherries fresh or frozen
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 4 (4-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • Olive oil

Directions:

Prepare outdoor or indoor grill. Grease grill racks.

Lightly crush cherries in a small saucepan. Add the wine and next 6 ingredients (through honey). Bring the mixture to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes.

Brush the chicken with olive oil. Grill the chicken, covered, for 4 minutes on each side or until it is cooked through. Serve chicken topped with cherry sauce.

Cherries for Dessert

Cherry Tiramisu

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream
  • 1/4 cup coffee liqueur
  • 1-1/2 cups (Amaretti) almond cookie crumbs (about 30 2-inch cookies)
  • 1 can (21-ounces) no sugar added cherry filling and topping
  • Grated chocolate for garnish
  • Fresh mint leaves for garnish

Amaretti Cookies

Directions:

Combine ricotta cheese, confectioners’ sugar, sour cream and coffee liqueur in a large mixing bowl; mix well. Set aside.

In the container of food processor, process cookies, in small batches, until finely crushed.

Remove 6 cherries from cherry filling; reserve for garnish.

To assemble dessert, spoon 2 tablespoons ricotta cheese mixture into each of six (8-ounce) parfait glasses. Add 2 tablespoons cookie crumbs to each glass; top each with 2 tablespoons cherry filling. Repeat ricotta, crumbs and cherry layers. Finish each serving with an equal portion of the remaining ricotta cheese mixture.

Garnish with reserved cherries, grated chocolate and mint leaves, if desired. Let chill 2 to 3 hours before serving.



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