Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Meals: Caramelized Onion and Mushrooms with Wild Rice Stuffing (or Dressing)

I have made Thanksgiving Dinner since I was 14 years old.

Yes, 14.

Any child of  immigrant parents will tell you that while the food of your motherland is great... sometimes, it's not what you want. Growing up I want to try things you hear about from other people. For example: meatloaf, fish sticks and tacos. I didn't have a taco until I went to dinner at a friend's house. I think I ate 10. I was 8 years old at the time.

So for Thanksgiving, all the kids are having turkey. My mother, bless her heart, tried making what I wanted:  meatloaf, mac and cheese and tuna salad casserole. She drew the line when it came to turkey.

Finally, at 14, I was old enough to understand good old mom's food is tinged with seasoning and techniques that she has not deviated from in 20 years. Everything that comes from her hand will taste vaguely, well, Asian. Which, as I get older, I find hysterical that whenever I try to cook something Asian I get the "it's not quite Asian-flavored" comment. Eh, to each their own.

Back to Thanksgiving....

I have been making this particular recipe for over 10 years. It started as a Thanksgiving recipe testing, before I found out that you are not suppose to test recipes on Thanksgiving. Yes, I was young and ambitious. Also many items other Thanksgiving dishes were canned, boxed or otherwise pretty easy to handle.

After a few Thanksgiving / Christmas Eve dinners I noticed that bread stuffing was being made then wasted. It was happening year after year. The solution was easy. Throw out the box and make something else. So I went hunting for another recipe. What I got was a pretty delicious stuffing recipe from Epicurious. It was popular with the family, it was great with the friends. It was talked about until I made it again the following year. And the year after that. Add on the occasional Christmas Eve dinner..... and well, you get the picture.

Until the year I couldn't get home for Thanksgiving. And I could make my stuffing. Because I had to work. *Cry a small tear*

Then I realized, I don't have to wait until Thanksgiving to make this stuffing. I can make it whenever I wanted. So I did. However, a trip to the supermarket revealed that there's rarely turkey to be found in the middle of April. So I stuffed 4 Cornish game hen instead. Then fed my roommate, who happened to get home from work when I pulled it out of the oven. She cried happy tears and declare it delicious. (She had not eaten any food that day so it might have been her blood sugar talking)

I had another breakthrough this year from Cook's Illustrated, which I am going to declare the best cooking magazine and cookbooks I've ever had. I just purchase a 3 year magazine subscription and put all the books on my wish list. I suggest you do the same. Like now.

Or after you finish reading this post.

In any case, this is a good enough recipe to use at fancy Holiday gatherings but just as good at your any day dinner table with a roommate with a glass of supermarket wine.

The recipe differs from the original in a few ways:
-First, I halved it. Even at Thanksgiving it's a lot of food.
-Second, I had to use dried cranberries instead of dried pears. Do you know how hard it is to find dried pears? They are none to be found in Hawaii and for some reason I couldn't even find them on the mainland this year. Obviously, it is not the most popular dried fruit.
-Lastly, using a technique from Cook's Illustrated (the best cooking magazine ever), I flavored the stuffing without actually stuffing the turkey. Which was very helpful because a 22 lbs turkey already took too long in the oven as it was.

So call it stuffing, call it dressing, just make it, because you will call it delicious.

Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms with Wild Rice Stuffing (or Dressing)

4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 large onions, halved, thinly sliced
generous 1/2 pound assorted wild mushrooms, sliced
1.5 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
salt and pepper

2.5 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade (but canned will work)
1.5 teaspoons chopped fresh sage, divided
1/2 cups wild rice (4-ounce)
Heaping 1/2 cup long-grain white rice
1/2 cups dried cranberries (about 3.5 ounces)
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 turkey wings, separated at joints (for fancy-smancy Family Gatherings)
4-5 Cornish game hens, halved (for everyday enjoyment)

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions, a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar; sauté until very tender and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Transfer onions to large bowl. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in same pot over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and 1/2 tablespoon thyme, a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar; sauté until mushrooms are deep brown, about 12 minutes. Add to bowl with onions. Season with salt and pepper.

Bring broth, 1/2 tablespoon thyme, and 1 teaspoon sage to boil in heavy large deep saucepan. Mix in wild rice; return to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 30 minutes. Mix in white rice; cover and simmer until all rice is tender and almost all liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes longer. Stir in caramelized onions and mushrooms, remaining 1/2 tablespoon thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon sage. Stir in dried cranberries and heat until warm through, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper. Take off the heat and stir in 3/4 cup parsley.

For a Fancy-Smancy Family Gathering: 
Make 1-2 days beforehand. The morning of your event take all the stuffing and dump it into a slow cooker that's been sprayed with cooking spray. Flatten the top. Take the turkey wings, and fry them on high heat until all the skin is brown. It does not have to be cooked through. Dump all the turkey wings, any sauces in the pan and anything you scrap off the bottom of the pan on top of the stuffing. Turn on low and leave it there until you are ready for dinner. I left it about 8 hours on low but I think we could have started eating it at the 5 hour point.

For Dinner right now:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Put half a Cornish game hen in your hand skin side down. Take a large spoonful of stuffing and smear it inside the bird. Flip the bird onto a baking sheet with stuffing side down and skin side up. Season skin with salt and pepper and bake until done. About 35-45 minutes. Serve with your favorite vegetable and some everyday wine.

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