What better time to talk about Christmas food and feasting than the week we have all returned to austerity and abstinence. Do I have my finger on the pulse of society OR WHAT?
Even so, the Christmas cooking lesson cannot be left undocumented as it solved my toughest cooking challenge thus far – making gravy. My friend, Deb Jensen, heard my call and invited me to her place to help her prepare the fixin’s for a Christmas meal. This wasn’t just any Christmas meal, either. It was the meal our church would be putting on for the community on Christmas Day. The stakes were high.
What you need to know about Deb is how easy-going she is. It’s not that she doesn’t care about details, it’s that she doesn’t sweat them. Deb used to be our financial administrator at the church. Whenever I had a question about creating a budget line or donations or gifts in kind, she always answered with assurance and a calm manner. “Sure!” and “Why not!” are both great things she’s said to me lots and lots over the years. I don’t know if she only acts this way around me to offset the drama I can create, especially when trying to grapple with the unknown (such as budgeting and cooking), but she has this “everything’s going to be OK” vibe about her. And guess what, everything is always OK!
Deb played on the co-ed ball team with me in the summer. When I discovered a not-so-latent competitive streak in me… it was instantly assuaged when I looked in her direction.
What’s the score, you ask? Who cares! Let’s have a chat instead and forget to cheer the team on.
Deb exuded that same serene attitude on our cooking date. There were no recipe books, no hassles. I was late, no worries. She even booked it on December 24, Christmas Eve, to accommodate my schedule, no problem.
Deb did not scour her kitchen and didn’t dress up for me or wear make-up, even knowing that I’d be taking pictures and posting them. That kind of nonchalance earns my deepest respect and admiration.
Here is a candid shot of Deb in what she calls her “two-bum kitchen”, with her dog, Bella and her teenage daughter, Kelsey. I was about to insert my bum into this kitchen and start by learning about stuffing, gravy and let’s throw in cranberries too! Like I said, all the fixins!
Darn it, the battery in my recorder died. Kelsey thought she was going to have a relaxing day this Christmas eve. Nope, she’s our note taker now! She was as easy-going about the task I imposed on her as her mom. (Blame Kelsey for anything I missed, she can handle it.)
Ingredients for stuffing:
- Loaf of “stuffing” bread
- Package of Uncle Ben’s roasted chicken and wild rice (any long grain rice will do) *enough for12 servings
- 10-15 mushrooms or 1pkg of the pre-packaged sliced mushrooms
- 3-4 stalks of celery
- 2 medium onions
- 3 tsp poultry seasoning
- 1/4 cup butter
- 3/4 low sodium chicken broth
- 3 handfuls (1 c.) cranberries (optional)
Ingredients for topping (optional):
- 1/4 c. butter
- 1/2 c. bread crumbs
Instructions for stuffing:
- Cook the rice as per instructions on package *make enough for 12 servings
- Dice the loaf of stuffing bread
- Sautee mushrooms, celery and onion with butter until softened
- Mix rice, bread, mushrooms and cranberries into large bowl with bread
- Add poultry seasoning and chicken broth
- Mix all ingredients together thoroughly large spoon
- Put in large greased pan (used stone 9 x 12 pan)
Instructions for topping:
- Mix butter and bread crumbs together thoroughly with fork
- Crumble on top of stuffing in pan until covered
Bake all ingredients in pan covered with foil at 350 for 35 mins.
Uncover and cook another 15 min, or until heated through and topping is slightly browned.
Deb had me get right to work cubing bread – that’s fun! – for the stuffing.
While there might be room for two bums in the kitchen, it seems there is only counter space for one. But Deb produced a brilliant solution. A counter-sized cutting board that covers her sink and allows more space to move. “Where did you get this?” I asked.
“IKEA, I think?” It’s just details!
Deb doesn’t cook by recipe as much as she “cooks by smell.” Also, “I’m a cheater.” She says this because she has Uncle Ben’s roasted chicken & wild rice cooking on the stove in a pot. But I’m impressed that she cooks rice out of a pot instead of a rice cooker. But then again, I’m easy to impress.
“It’s just another appliance to clutter the kitchen. You can cook rice as easily in a pot.”
We used pre-cut mushrooms, but Deb sliced the celery and onions herself. Her trick for nasty onion tears is lighting a candle close to the onion. Which she didn’t bother doing because she’s a rock star and if you’re a rock star in the kitchen, you don’t use tricks, you just find the right tools and get ‘er done.
We set to the task of sauteing the vegetables. I was surprised when Deb added butter to her non-stick pan. I forgot that butter is also used for flavouring, not just for toast and keeping things from binding forever to your cookware!
Deb also used butter because this stuffing would be oven-baked and not inserted into the turkey (the Lord spared me on that one). The butter helps add flavouring and moisture that would otherwise come from the turkey drippings.
Our goal in sauteing the vegetables was to soften them. You know they’re softened when they are translucent-ish.
Deb threw out this extra tidbit I don’t know what to do with, but maybe you will: if you want to brown the vegetables, add brown sugar.
Once the rice is cooked and veggies soft, throw it into a massive mixing bowl and work the ingredients through it with a large spoon. Throw in some cranberries. Three handfuls, four if you have disproportionately tiny hands like me. Pour on the broth, a little more… good. You want the bread mushy, but not dripping. Put it all in a pan, distribute it evenly through just like you would Rice Krispies (that last contribution is mine).
If you don’t think it looks pretty enough, you can add a topping. Deb decided we’d smoosh butter and bread crumbs together so that it would like nice and golden-browny once it came out of the oven. This is the tool we used, but I think it’s for something else other than smooshing butter and crumbs together. Deb?
By the way, you can also blame Kelsey for any pics where our facec don’t quite make into the picture. Ah, who needs a head anyway. See? I’m so chill around these Jensens!
Doesn’t that look way better? We would wrap this with tin foil and leave it till Christmas Day when we would bring it to the potluck to serve with the rest of the meal.
According to Kelsey’s notes, this is the point where Deb said, “I have no idea if this will work.” No sweat, still looks good!