Homemade Cornbread Dressing

Make your own tasty dressing instead of buying it at the store!

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Years ago, I started making our holiday dressing from scratch, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as far as our holiday menu each year.  Cornbread dressing has to be one of the most forgiving recipes ever, and anyone can tweak it to their own taste.  Indeed, I think I’ve varied my own recipe just a tad every year, and that is just part of the fun of making it.

Today, I’m sharing my dressing recipe, along with photos of each step.

  • Steps in Part 1 of this process can be done ahead of time to save time on the day the meal is to be served.
  • Steps in Part 2 are best done on the day the meal is served. 

Part 1 (Advance Preparation)

In my previous post, I shared the first aromatic step in making this dressing, sautéing the Creole mirepoix (meer-PWAH).  While this recipe can certainly be tweaked in many ways, omitting a basic mirepoix of onion and celery with another ingredient would be a mistake, since this is the foundation of the dish as far as flavor.  For several years, I just used diced onion and celery, but more recently, I have added diced red bell pepper to the mix because it adds even more flavor and also some nice color.

The mirepoix for the dressing consists of one large sweet onion, the green stalks of a bunch of celery (not the tougher white parts) and one large red bell pepper, all chopped finely by hand or in a food processor.  The mirepoix is then sautéed in about two tablespoons of Land O’ Lakes soft butter/canola oil, but feel free to just use butter or oil, if you desire.

Good cornbread is the base of the dressing, and I prepare two boxes of Jiffy Cornbread Mix.  Jiffy cornbread is actually a traditional family dish and the only cornbread my mother ever baked.  She also added a little sugar to her cornbread, and I’ve been known to do that a few times myself.  For this recipe, I follow the recipe on the box, which calls for one egg and 1/3 cup of whole milk per box, doubling those for this recipe.

The cornbread can be baked as desired, but I start mine on the stove on medium high heat in an enameled cast iron skillet that has been warmed to 400 degrees in the preheated oven.  Before adding the cornbread mix to the skillet, I melt two tablespoons of Land O’ Lakes butter with canola oil in the skillet, but butter or oil alone would be fine, too.  Allow the mix to heat on the stove for only one minute, no longer, then transfer the skillet to the 400 degree oven for twenty minutes or until the cornbread is thoroughly done in the middle, using the toothpick test.

Cornbread is a real treat for me these days, as I have to follow a low-carb diet most of the time.  So, when I make it, I want it to be pretty much perfect.  This method of preparation is the best I’ve ever found, as the cornbread has a little crunch on the bottom and is evenly cooked throughout.

Isn’t this a beautiful… gorgeous… lovely sight?

dressing-e1smfs
Cornbread, baked to perfection!
dressing-fsmfs
The cornbread turns out to a plate with ease
dressing-gsmfs
I confess. I ate a warm piece. Cooks prerogative.

I could have just stopped right there and eaten the whole thing!  Seriously.

After letting the cornbread cool, crumble it into a bowl or large pan and leave it on the kitchen counter covered by a paper towel for one or two days.  I used a pan with more surface area to allow it to dry out a little faster.  If pressed for time, use the oven at 250 degrees to help the cornbread dry out faster, stirring it every ten minutes until it is a bit crunchy but retains some moisture, too.

dressing-hsmfs
Crumbled cornbread dries for one or two days on the counter or faster in a low oven

Adding one pound of cooked pork breakfast sausage is an optional step, but it is a requirement for us because it adds even more flavor and helps keep the dressing moist.  Simply cook a pound of regular sausage, then drain it thoroughly on paper towels, removing as much fat as possible.  Store the sausage in a sealed container in the refrigerator until the day to make the dressing or in the freezer if making the dressing more than two days later.

At this point, I add some finely diced fresh parsley.  It adds a subtle flavor and also adds some color, complimenting the red bell pepper nicely, and I store it in a sealed container in the refrigerator until I’m ready to make the dressing.

dressing-ksmfs
Several sprigs of finely diced fresh parsley

 

Part 2 (Assemble and bake)

On Thanksgiving, all that is left to do is combine the pre-prepared ingredients with the seasonings and chicken broth, then bake the dressing in the oven.  Yes, that’s it!  Easy peasy.

Combine the cornbread, mirepoix, sausage and parsley, then add most of a 32 oz. carton of chicken broth, reserving just a bit of the broth.  Add seasoned salt and poultry seasoning, sprinkling both generously over the top, then stir well to combine.  Feel free to taste test and add seasoning as desired, being careful to not over-season the mix.  I don’t add pepper but some other people include it.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the empty baking dish in the oven to also preheat.  I used an enameled cast iron baking dish.  When the oven and baking dish are preheated, remove the dish from the oven and spray it with non-stick spray.  (Don’t spray the dish before pre-heating it.)

Pour the dressing mix into the pre-heated dish, smooth it out, then bake it at 350 degrees for thirty minutes.  At that point, remove the dressing from the oven and stir it thoroughly, then bake it for fifteen minutes or more until it reaches your desired consistency.

I love, love, love this dressing!

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The finished product… oh, how I love this!

I can make a meal on this dressing and nothing else.  It’s that good.

As I said earlier, dressing is a very forgiving dish to make.  If your dressing is a bit dry, just add a little more chicken broth and heat it a bit longer.  Take it to new levels by adding even more tasty ingredients, like sautéed diced mushrooms or finely diced jalapeno pepper

For this dish, I do not recommend adding any other types of bread other than cornbread, but feel free to give it a try if you’re feeling especially adventurous.  The consistency and flavor of the cornbread is what makes this dish, in my opinion.  If you opt to use other breads in place of part of the cornbread, just be sure to dry them out as much as possible before making the dressing.

Here is the complete list of ingredients.  Just read back through this post for the preparation instructions.  Enjoy!

Southern Cornbread Dressing

For the Mirepoix:
one large sweet onion

one bunch of celery (use only green stalks)
one large red bell pepper, seeded and cored
two tablespoons Land O’ Lakes butter/canola oil spread

For the cornbread:
two boxes Jiffy Cornbread Mix
two extra large eggs
2/3 cup milk
two tablespoons Land O’ Lakes butter/canola oil spread

one pound regular pork breakfast sausage

7-8 stalks of parsley leaves, diced

poultry seasoning (to taste)

seasoned salt (to taste)

 32 oz. box regular chicken broth 
(if using low sodium broth, use a little more seasoned salt or regular salt)

 non-stick spray for the bottom of the baking dish

I use enameled cast iron dishes (pre-heated) to bake both the cornbread and the dressing for best results.  If using other non-heated baking dishes, cooking times may take a bit longer.

Happy Thanksgiving cooking!  Savor every moment of the fun!  🙂

 

Turkey Talk

I follow Food Network on Facebook, and last Friday, they posted something that gave me a bit of concern, especially for younger cooks or even older cooks who are just now looking into the possibility of cooking the big bird for the first time.  I know that feeling all too well.  I’ve been there myself, and I suspect many of you have been there, too.  I just hate to see anyone stress for no reason over something like this, so I would like to share some helpful information about a particular point they attempted to make on Friday.

In what I believe was an honest attempt to help those who are looking to cook a turkey for the first time, or perhaps cook a better turkey for the first time, someone at Food Network posted a “top ten” list of things *not* to do.  Here is a quote of the first item on their list.

Turkey Taboos: 10 things NOT to do this Thanksgiving

1. Use a frozen turkey

While I understand that the taste of a fresh turkey is very likely a fabulous thing, the vast majority of people around this country do not have access to purchase a fresh turkey.  And even if they do have a turkey farm nearby, the cost is often quite expensive, sometimes close to $100 for a fresh bird of any size!  So, for item #1 on this list of things to not do in preparing a turkey, I think this needs to be considered in the real world where most of us live and certainly not list it as a “taboo.”  Good grief! “smh”  By the many comments on their post that basically said the same thing I’ve shared, I’m in the majority of folks that disagree with their take on item #1, too.

There is absolutely nothing wrong or bad in preparing a turkey that was first frozen.  Let’s let one of Food Network’s own explain this little fact further.

One of Food Network’s most popular, long-time personalities and one of their best chefs, in my opinion, is Alton Brown and his long-running show is Good Eats.  I have always enjoyed watching his show over the years because he often shares the science behind his preparation method in an entertaining way.  I have also shared here on a couple of occasions that I only use Alton Brown’s turkey preparation recipe when cooking our bird for the holidays because it produces the best turkey I’ve ever eaten.

Alton is on record in the following video (from about five years ago) about fresh vs. frozen turkeys, and I hope that by sharing his video, perhaps a few cooks this year will not waste their time and money in search of a fresh turkey.  Hubby and I fell into that trap ourselves a few years ago, and we ended up just purchasing a frozen bird anyway.

Perhaps Food Network should have consulted with one of their most popular chefs before posting item #1 on their list?

And while we’re talking turkey today, here is another great video by Alton that is both entertaining and informative.  This is the exact process that I use to prepare our bird.  The turkey sits in the brine overnight prior to cooking the next morning, and we put the bucket either in our spare refrigerator or outside with a cover over it on our patio table, as our overnight temperature is often pretty much perfect for this process in late November and December.  If the temperature outside is warmer where you live, you might just keep it in your refrigerator overnight in a brining bag or keep it in a brining bag in a well iced cooler overnight.  As Alton mentions in the video, the salt concentration will also help to keep bacteria formation down during the brining process, so don’t skimp on the salt that is listed in the recipe.  This is one of his classic videos and a spoof on Mystery (Food) Science Theater.

Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman, also follows this same basic procedure, too.  I watched a rerun of one of her earlier Thanksgiving shows on Saturday morning to see how similar her turkey preparation is to Alton Brown’s method, although she basted her turkey every 30 minutes while cooking.  My experience with Alton’s recipe is that basting really is not necessary because the bird is so moist without it.  No sense making this harder than it needs to be.

Ree’s holiday cookbook is absolutely fabulous, and her Thanksgiving recipes in the book are worth the price of the whole book.  Best. Mashed. Potatoes. Ever!  I received my cookbook as a thank-you gift from a sweet friend last year, and while I cannot eat these types of foods day in and day out, these recipes are truly wonderful for all of the holidays listed in the book.

Pioneer Woman Holidays_sm

Brining is the key, even for a properly thawed frozen turkey.  You may also read elsewhere to not brine anything but a fresh turkey.  Feel free to just ignore those comments.  Just rinse the bird *very well* for several minutes after the brining process.  Ree rinses her turkey, then puts it in a separate bucket of cold water for 15 minutes to help rinse away as much of the salt as possible.  After rinsing, just pat the turkey very dry before putting it in the oven.  The result will be a great entrée that is very moist and flavorful, as long as Alton’s directions are followed according to the recipe at the link below.  Don’t forget the covered rest time of 15 minutes after baking, which is important.  Seriously, this is absolutely the best turkey we’ve ever had.

Alton Brown’s 5 Star Turkey Recipe

There is a good reason why this particular recipe remains one of the top recipes at Food Network’s site year after year.  😉

To see some of my previous detailed posts on preparing a Thanksgiving dinner, just check out the links below.  I’ve noticed that some folks have already been doing just that, and I hope my information is helpful to you!

 Best Thanksgiving Meal Ever
(very detailed prep by day)

Easy Thanksgiving Lunch

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Thanksgiving Meal Prep Schedule

Our Thanksgiving Table
“Giving Thanks” – Our Thanksgiving Table

Three years ago, I wrote a post about my own Thanksgiving meal preparation schedule, and it detailed how I prepared the big meal on my own with all homemade foods for six people over the course of the days just prior to Thanksgiving.  On that particular Thanksgiving, I wanted to serve all homemade items for the first time, instead of opting for a just a few homemade items and others that were frozen from the grocery store or purchased elsewhere.  I wanted to see if a little more organization could help simplify the task and lessen my stress level, and it absolutely worked.

The only shortcut that I used in the prep work was to buy Rhodes Frozen White Rolls, as they are honestly as good as the homemade rolls that my mother always made.  The rolls still needed to rise on their own, so I figured that had to count for something in the whole “homemade” concept.  I factored that prep time in the schedule as well.

For the record, I used (and still use) Alton Brown’s Good Eats Roast Turkey Recipe, as it is the best way I’ve ever found to prepare a flavorful and moist turkey.  No dry turkey at our house – ever!  Brining the turkey according to the directions in the recipe is an essential step.

To make the food prep process a little more fun each year during the holidays, I turn on the DVD player in the kitchen while I cook and watch some favorite movies from years past.  Spending two hours in the kitchen cooking and watching Steel Magnolias once again is always a good thing, unless you pay a little too much attention to the movie and not enough to the recipe at hand.  I did that a time or two, but at the very least, it always makes me feel good to see that my cooking creation surely is better than the bleedin’ armadillo cake served at Shelby’s wedding.

This prep schedule for Thanksgiving worked well for me, and I want to share a link to that detailed post again here today.  Perhaps it can serve as a guide for someone else that wants or needs to prepare the big feast on their own for the first time.  With just a little bit of advance planning and proper scheduling, preparing the whole feast is really not a difficult task at all.  It just takes a little time each day over the course of a few days, but perhaps not as much time as you might think, depending on how you approach it for your own family.  Of course, if you have someone else in your family that can help cook, that is even better!  Just know that it is possible to do the whole thing on your own, perhaps a little easier than you might think.  😉

Best Thanksgiving Meal Ever
(click here for detailed post)

I’m almost sad that I won’t be preparing our own feast this year, due to some of our travel plans right before Thanksgiving.  The turkey that we cook (according to Alton Brown’s recipe above) is so good and so much better than what we will eat at the hotel buffet.  However, I will soon be back to baking and decorating cookies for Christmas gifts again, hopefully beginning the first week of December.  That was so much fun, and I can’t wait to do it again this year!

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New Salsa Recipe

Update: 7/19/2013 – I have slightly modified the recipe below from the original recipe that I posted, based on several preparations since this post was done.  All ingredients are the same, with only a few slight changes in amounts to suit our particular taste.  I have also added a few more specifics on the peppers.   As a result, the salsa is now slightly thicker than the one shown below in the original picture, which makes it perfect for chip dipping.  We’ve also learned that our best batches of this salsa are made with jalapeno and red serrano peppers right out of our own garden, too.  Now, on to this great (slightly modified) recipe!

———-

We’ve had a little “crisis” of sorts over the past week, it seems.  Our favorite fresh (not in a jar) salsa was discontinued at our grocery store a couple of weeks ago, and I had no clue that move was coming, as the company that makes it is still very much in business.  After voicing my disappointment to the store manager, along with my opinion about a few other good products that have been discontinued over the past couple of months in favor of lesser quality ones, I knew that I was going to have to just give in and learn to make a salsa that we would like.  Salsa snobs?  Guilty as charged, I guess.  Once you’ve enjoyed good salsa, it’s just hard to give it up, especially since we eat it several times a week on some food at our house.

After a couple of attempts, I believe I have finally come up with a salsa recipe that we will be quite happy with going forward and does not use fresh tomatoes, since we can seldom buy good ones here and have to grow our own in the summer months to ever have any decent ones.  I opted to include habanero peppers in it, since our favorite salsa also included them.  This is the first time I have used habanero peppers in anything, and I heeded the many warnings from others online to wear plastic gloves when dicing them up.  I also discarded all of the habanero seeds, even though I used the seeds from the jalapeno peppers.  Later on, I’m also going to try adding either a bit of pineapple, peaches or a little orange juice, as I’ve had (and loved) these variations in salsas in the past.

Here is my new salsa recipe!  Please note that this is a HOT salsa recipe, so if you are not a fan of setting your tongue on fire just a bit, just reduce the hot peppers to your own taste.  Peppers can certainly vary in their intensity, so I always add the peppers one at a time, then taste until I’m satisfied with the result.

Homemade Salsa
Homemade Salsa


HOMEMADE SALSA

Ingredients:
1 Can (28 oz) Whole Tomatoes, draining all of the juice into a separate glass
2 Cans (10 oz) Original Rotel Diced Tomatoes And Green Chilies
1/2 Large Finely Chopped Sweet Onion (or one Medium Onion)
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Whole Jalapeno Peppers, diced with seeds
2 Habanero Peppers, diced and SEEDED (or 2 Red Serrano Peppers With Seeds)
(WEAR PLASTIC GLOVES TO SEED AND DICE PEPPERS)
1 tsp Sugar (more to your taste)
1 tsp Salt (more to your taste)
2 tsp Ground Cumin (more to your taste)
1 Cup Fresh Cilantro Leaves, chopped, no stems (more to your taste)
Juice of a Whole Lime, about 5 Tbsp.
1-2 Tbsp White Vinegar (helps to keep the salsa fresh and bright)
.
Directions:

Combine the whole tomatoes (drained), Rotel, onion, jalapenos, habaneros or serranos, garlic, sugar, salt, cumin, lime juice, vinegar and cilantro in a large food processor, then pulse in short pulses until the salsa is the consistency desired, less for chunkier, more for smoother.  Test the seasonings by tasting with an unflavored tortilla chip or with your favorite chip and adjust as needed.  The salt content of the chip should be considered when flavoring the salsa, taking care that too much salt is not added to the salsa.  I actually added a bit more of all of the seasonings to mine, but I listed what I think would be a minimum of each for starters.  Keep the salsa refrigerated in a sealed container.  This can be served after about an hour in the refrigerator, but it is much, much better after letting it sit overnight, which lets the flavors come together so nicely. Also, since the jalapenos, habaneros and serranos can vary in their level of heat just a bit, you can certainly tweak the quantities of those to find your own perfect level of heat for each batch.  If needed, you can add back some of the drained tomato juice to tone down the heat and/or make the consistency a little smoother.  We prefer our salsa with none of the juice added back, but that is just our preference.

And one last reminder, please wear the plastic gloves when handling the peppers, especially the habaneros and/or serranos, and wash surfaces well that come in contact with the peppers and their juices.  Do not make the mistake of rubbing your eyes with hands that have touched any hot pepper.  Been there… done that… not fun… at all.  Enjoy!

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