Sunday, November 16, 2014

The "Correct" Thanksgiving Sausage Stuffing Recipe

In my family, Thanksgiving isn't Thanksgiving without Grandma's sausage stuffing. Technically, we prepare it as "dressing", but we always call it "stuffing". It can be stuffed in the bird, but I have a big family and the amount of stuffing that we consume on Thanksgiving could never fit into a bird. And then, of course, there's that salmonella thing. I have a sister who stuffs her bird when she's preparing it for her family unit, but I'm on the side of stuffing the casserole dish instead.

Woe to the person who attempts to prepare a different type of stuffing/dressing recipe for my family's Thanksgiving gatherings. A sister-in-law attempted it once. I wasn't around for it that year, but I heard all about it – it was that big of a controversy. To this day, when I invite any of my family to Thanksgiving at our house, I close the invitation with a promise that I will make the stuffing the "correct way", just to set their minds at ease.

My mother told me that she got this recipe from my father's mother. It's one of those recipes that I learned all the ingredients for, but the measurements were never actually written down until I documented it last year. So I can't guarantee that the proportions are exactly the way Grandma made it, but this is how I do it....You can vary the type of bread used – either white or sourdough. I'm sure Grandma used white bread (she lived in Wisconsin), but since I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, sourdough became the bread of choice.

In Texas, of course, cornbread stuffing is the most popular. At our local Brookshires, I couldn't even find sourdough bread, much less any stuffing croutons for making a white-bread-based stuffing (in California, I could find bags of plain croutons just for stuffing, which made life easier). So I had to improvise by making the croutons myself using ordinary white bread at first – then I discovered Market Street carried sourdough bread, so now I use that.

Making the Croutons

If you don't want to bake your own croutons, you can use something like Orowheat's Premium Herb Seasoned Stuffing as a shortcut. Just make sure you're using white bread and not cornbread. If you use seasoned croutons, omit the herbs from the recipe later.

You can make these a day or two ahead of time – just let them cool completely before putting them in a plastic bag, and store them in your pantry.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. A convection oven works best for this, so if you have a convection setting on your oven, use it. 

1 1/4 loaves Pepperidge Farm "Farmhouse Sourdough Bread"(it's presliced). If you have some extra wheat bread handy, you can substitute some of the sourdough for it. I have siblings who save the ends of their wheat bread for that purpose – they say it helps "balance" the flavors.

Cut the slices into 16 cubes as shown below.

Arrange the cubes on baking sheets so they make a single layer. Spray them with cooking spray to lightly coat them (I like olive oil cooking spray), tossing them so that both sides are sprayed. The purpose of the oil is to aid in the browning, not make them greasy, so don't overdo it.

Bake the croutons for 12 minutes, or until crisp and light-brown. You'll end up rotating baking sheets of croutons in assembly line fashion in and out of the oven, as this makes a lot of croutons.

In the end you will end up with 1 1/2 lbs. of croutons, or about enough to fill up one of the bags that your bread came in.

Preparing the Sausage and Veggies

You can substitute your favorite sausage – the regular and sage-seasoned varieties of Jimmy Dean sausage are also good in this – but I find that the reduced fat version works well because you don't have to strain any fat off your sausage after you cook it. The little bit of fat it does create will just be absorbed by the bread and make it extra yummy without being greasy.

In a large skillet, break apart and cook a 12 ounce package of Jimmy Dean Reduced Fat Premium Pork Sausage just until no pink remains.

Add one cup yellow onion, chopped, and one cup of celery, chopped. Cook for another couple of minutes, until the onion just turns transparent (don't overcook it)

Assembling the Stuffing

Put your croutons into a large casserole dish (you'll want to use a dish that has a glass cover). Then put in your sausage and vegetable mixture and stir with the biggest spoon you have. Add your favorite aromatic herbs: I like to add 2 teaspoons of rubbed sage; one of my sisters adds sage plus 1-2 teaspoons of thyme leaves, and sometimes a little rosemary.

Gradually add a 32 ounce carton of Pacific Organic Free Range Low Sodium Chicken Broth (any brand will do, just make it low sodium). You'll want to add about a half cup or so of the broth, let it soak in, stir, and repeat. It takes a bit of time for the broth to get completely absorbed by the croutons; it will continue to soften the croutons over time even without adding more. So don't worry if it seems like the croutons are hard--just be patient.

Optional: Add 2 eggs, beaten, or a 1/2 cup of Egg Beaters. My mom swears that adding eggs makes for a lighter texture in the stuffing. Personally, I tend to skip this step because I can't really tell the difference. If you have any concerns about undercooked egg in your stuffing, you can too. I would also recommend skipping the eggs if you make your stuffing ahead of time.

Once everything is well combined, smooth out the top of the stuffing in your dish. At this point, if you are making the stuffing ahead of time, you can cover it and put it in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake it.

Cooking

Cover the casserole and put the stuffing into the same oven as your turkey, when your turkey has about an hour to go. If you need to use a separate oven, put it into a preheated 325 degree oven and bake for 1 hour. If you prepared the stuffing ahead of time and refrigerated it, add another 30 minutes to the cooking time. 

If you want the top to be extra "crusty" remove the cover during the last 15 minutes of cooking.

If you are concerned about doneness, you can put it in 2 hours ahead of time until it is heated through to your satisfaction, and then just keep it warm in a 250 degree oven until you are ready. Just make sure you keep it covered while staying warm, to prevent it from drying out too much.

Enjoy!


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Referrals for New Residents of North Texas

My husband and I went out to dinner last night with a coworker and his wife. They just moved to Texas from Michigan--the movers haven't even arrived with their furniture. So our invitation for a relaxing dinner out that included tables and chairs was eagerly accepted.

We took them to Rick's Chophouse in McKinney (I'll try to write a separate review on our excellent dinner soon). While they had done quite a bit of homework to find the local services and stores, they asked lots of questions about services such as doctors, barbers, etc. that you would really prefer to get a personal opinion about, rather than just taking your chances and going through a trial-and-error process. So, for the benefit of my friends and others who are new to the area, here are my personal recommendations:

Family Doctors

We've been going to Segal Family Medicine for a few years, which recently became part of Village Health Partners. There used to be three doctors in the practice: Dr. Irwin Segal, his son Aaron, and Aaron's wife Stephanie. Dr. Aaron was my doctor, and I liked him quite a bit, but he left the practice for another opportunity a couple years ago, so I now see Dr. Stephanie. My experience with her is positive so far. My husband has been seeing Dr. Irwin, who he describes as "OK". (Disclaimer: My husband doesn't like seeing medical professionals in general. I don't think I've never heard him describe a doctor as anything other than "OK" or worse.) In general, I think they do a good job of making sure that all the bases are covered with preventative care and vaccines (which is what generally healthy people need in a family doctor), and I've never had any issues with their insurance billing. You can get your lab results delivered through a personal account in their online patient portal, and also make appointments and send secure e-mails to them. Getting short-notice/urgent care appointments has usually been easy as well.

Their practice has gone through some changes with their new affiliation -- they will be moving soon and their online patient portal is a mess because their IT people weren't able to get the Segal patient records and accounts integrated properly with the Village Health patient portal. I had to jump through a few hoops to get my account sorted out with them. Hopefully everything will be fine once they work through the move, etc., and until then I give them a "qualified" recommendation because I don't know if recent changes are for the better or worse. 

Dermatologist

I have to have regular mole examinations because skin cancer runs in my family. My doctor referred me to Dr. Bryan Selkin, who is recognized as one of the best dermatologists in the area. He has locations in Plano, McKinney and Flower Mound. You can get in to see him relatively quickly if you are a referral for a condition such as mine.

He does suffer from the stereotypical issue with doctors: I'm never seen on time. A 30 minute wait in the waiting room is not unusual, and there is always an additional wait in the exam room. I've also been in situations where they've had to reschedule my appointment 2-3 times to deal with his shifting schedule.

He seems pretty rushed when I see him, probably due to constantly being behind schedule -- but at the same time, he is also able to diagnose skin issues very quickly and is very efficient with mole removals. So if you're like me and "just want to get it over with" when it comes to identifying and removing problematic moles, he's your guy. For a simple mole removal/biopsy, he removes them in such a way that no stitches are necessary (basically, they are shaved off) and there is minimal scaring if his post-op instructions are followed (a skill that other doctors I've seen have lacked). For one appointment, one of his Physicians Assistants took care of me (Dr. Selkin just gave his final approval before the moles were removed), and I thought she did a good job as well.

So, if you can deal with the extra time in the waiting room, I highly recommend Dr. Selkin and his staff.

Optometrists

We used to go to Dr. Dana Biederman at Frisco Eye Associates. We liked her, but had to find a new optometrist when our company changed vision plans and Frisco Eye Associates didn't accept our new insurance. It looks like Dr. Biederman is opening her own practice soon, Frisco Family Vision.

The doctor we see now is Dr. Ryan Rosemore, at Rosemore Eye Care. His brother shares the practice with him. I'm not an easy patient when it comes to eye exams, mainly because I have a fast blink reflex that I have a hard time controlling. So I need an optometrist with the patience of a saint, and Dr. Ryan has proven himself in that regard. They also embrace the latest technology there, and even though our insurance doesn't cover it, we pay a little extra for the Optomap scans (which eliminates the need to dilate your eyes for a comprehensive eye exam). Both doctors are very hands-on with all aspects of the practice -- even helping with eyeglass adjustments if their assistants are busy. So they get two thumbs up.

Chiropractors

We also give two thumbs up to Dr. Flint Loughridge at Frisco Chiropractic Center. I first went to see him when I messed up a muscle in my back. By my second visit, he had me walking straight again. Since my husband often had back pain as well, I referred him to Dr. Loughridge, and the doctor discovered a birth defect that no other doctor had found before. While not something that can be cured, he was able to provide my husband with quite a bit of relief, as well as the knowledge of the source of his pain, which is helpful in itself.

You need to make an appointment for your first visit, because he will spend a lot of time with exams (including X-rays, if necessary) and Q&A to determine what treatment is needed. For subsequent visits, you don't need to call ahead or make an appointment - you can just show up.

Dentists

My first dentist in North Texas was Dr. Deanna Banks at Banks Dental, but I think she's moved to another practice. I would never recommend her.

Currently we go to Dr. Jerit Davis & Associates. Dr. Davis has a decent staff of hygienists, but of course we have some favorites and some not-so-favorites (I had one drop a malfunctioning polisher that she was trying to put to rights, and it hit my forehead. I'm not one to get upset over accidents like that, but she told the doctor right away and they made sure I was OK.). I've generally liked the associate dentists that he's brought into his practice as well. Beyond normal cleaning and fillings, I had to have a wisdom tooth removed by Dr. Davis. In all ways I'd say he is a good dentist and not one to recommend unnecessary procedures. Appointments are not easy to get on short notice, so if you are new to the area and know that you're due for an exam, I recommend calling them sooner rather than later.

Veterinarians

We used to take our cats to Windmill Veterinary Center in Prosper, but after a serious misdiagnosis (our cat had just "crashed" from kidney failure, and she thought it was a brain tumor) and dissatisfaction from her "bedside manner" during the event, we switched to Dr. Sargent at Prosper Pet Clinic. Dr. Sargent has always given us straightforward advice and recommendations. When our kitten had an incident that we later determined was part of a rare condition -- even though they do not normally do emergency care and we arrived just after they closed on a Saturday -- Dr. Sargent still let us in and examined our cat. He also went above-and-beyond as we sorted through the symptoms and diagnosis later, even communicating with me via e-mail when he was out of town.

Haircuts

My husband goes to Floyd's 99 Barbershop in Frisco. They have a location on Preston Road near Stonebriar Mall, but just opened a new one on Main at the DNT, which is the one he prefers because they are usually not as busy as the one on Preston. He likes John, who is also the shop manager.

For women's haircuts, I recommend Josie Lugo at Salon Isla in McKinney, at Eldorado and S. Central Expressway (in the salon suites near the Bed Bath and Beyond and Half Priced Books). Josie has been cutting my hair since I moved to Texas 7 years ago. She is the kind of stylist who you can just instruct to "make it look good", and she'll give you a perfect cut. She and her partner, Mimi, are both master colorists as well. The best way to make an appointment with Josie is to call her cell, (213) 674-1939.

Grocery Stores

I love Market Street because they have good meat, produce and seafood, with a decent representation of organic foods. They are basically a more relaxed version of Whole Foods, because they offer more mainstream/affordable options as well as high-end and organic foods. Their store in McKinney used to have a cooking school, but it appears they no longer offer classes (which is a pity). I regularly shop at their store in Frisco, on the DNT at Eldorado, which is always less busy than their McKinney store.

Places to Eat When You Just Don't Feel Like Cooking

North Texas has a wide variety of restaurants, but these are the ones I recommend for casual dining. Note that none of these are fast food.
  • Ernesto's in Prosper is our go-to destination when I don't feel like cooking. Their food and service are good, and prices are very affordable.
  • Square Burger in McKinney is good if you want eclectic burgers and a good microbrew. The trick with them, though, is that you have to get there before 6pm or else you have to wait for a table (though you can always grab a seat at the bar, if you aren't picky).
  • For a more traditional burger at a place that isn't quite as busy, we also like Gazeebo Burgers.
  • If you feel like pizza, there are plenty of places around who will deliver, but if you want to eat out at something that isn't a monster chain pizza place, we like Campisi's, We also enjoyed the Cavalli's pizza that our friends in McKinney picked up for a Halloween gathering at their house. A new lunch favorite for my group at work is Taverna Rossa, as they have some great salads and unique pizzas.
  • For breakfasts, we like the Original Pancake House in Plano, but our favorite is The Egg and I.