Stuffings Worth Sticking With

SOME foods come with holes that just take up space: Swiss cheese, Cheerios, donuts, Life Savers. Too small to be good for much of anything, really.

Other foods have large, cavernous spaces that beg to be stuffed: Giant bell peppers, sub-sized zucchini, and especially turkeys, come to mind. And although there are as many ways to stuff a bird as to top a pizza, too many home cooks still cling faithfully to Grandmother's Sacred Stuffing Recipe.

Every Thanksgiving, our family respectfully stuck to Grandmother's stuffing, and, I can attest, it stuck to us. Although it was tasty - liberally sprinkled with poultry seasoning, celery, and onions in generous quantities, and even the occasional oyster -

it always came out a moist, rather gray affair with a texture like Play Doh, and bounce-ability second only to Silly Putty.

I've since learned that too much liquid, overmixing, and stuffing the bird too tightly gave Grandmother's stuffing its unique textural quality. (So, when you start looking for the plunger, you've gone too far.)

Still, we were raised on it, we loved it, and besides, nobody messed with Grandma.

During the last few years, I've dared to be more adventuresome, trying out different stuffings whenever I have had the chance. The addition of dried fruits in any combination is a simple way to bring color, flavor, and interest to the most drab, bread-based mixture. Fruit juices, in most cases, can also be used instead of water or stock. And a good stuffing can get along quite well on its own. Baked alone, it can be an interesting alternative to potatoes, pasta, or rice.

These three stuffings are quite different and delicious and are guaranteed to flunk the Silly Putty-bounce test. Oyster, Sausage, and Spinach Stuffing

This recipe is a glorious combination of several perennial favorites with a couple of international additions. The bread must be stale or dried out in a 250 degree F. oven for 1 hour. As with all stuffings, do not overmix ingredients or overstuff the bird.

2 pints shucked oysters, with their juices

2 cups chicken broth

1 10-ounce bag fresh spinach

4 links (about 1 lb.) sweet Italian sausage

2 cups onions, chopped

1-1/2 cups celery, chopped

1 tablespoon poultry seasoning

1 teaspoon fennel seed

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 stale French baguettes, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

6 tablespoons butter, melted

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a saucepan, bring chicken stock to a boil, and remove from heat. Add oysters and their juices, and set aside.

Wash spinach carefully and trim stems. Place in pan, cover, and steam in the water that clings to the spinach. When limp, drain thoroughly, chop, and set aside.

Remove skin from sausages, crumble, and saute with onions and celery for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in poultry seasoning and fennel seed. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl (it may take two), mix oyster/chicken stock with eggs. Add the bread cubes, and toss thoroughly. Then add the spinach, sausage mixture, melted butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss lightly.

May be used to stuff a 12- to 15-pound turkey or baked in a preheated 325 degree F. oven in a buttered, covered casserole dish for 50 minutes. Fruited Wild-Rice Stuffing

This recipe combines wonderful ingredients from around the country: wild rice from the Midwest, pecans from the South, and dried cranberries from New England.

1 cup uncooked wild rice

4 cups chicken broth

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup pecans

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

1 cup bread crumbs

1 cup dried cranberries *

1/2 cup Granny Smith apple chunks, unpeeled

Rinse wild rice in a strainer under cold water. Place rice and chicken broth in saucepan, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and cover. Cook until rice has absorbed broth, about 50 to 60 minutes.

Heat butter in frying pan, and saute pecans until toasted. Remove from heat. Add remaining ingredients to pan, tossing thoroughly.

May be used to stuff a 10- to 12-pound turkey or baked in a buttered, covered casserole dish for one hour in a preheated 325 degree F. oven.

* Raisins or currants may be substituted. Orange Couscous Stuffing With Apricots and Peppers

This recipe demonstrates how colorful and flavorful fruits and vegetables give a boost to otherwise bland couscous.

2-1/2 cups orange juice

2 tablespoons butter

10 ounces couscous

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1-1/2 cups onion, finely chopped

1/2 cup celery, finely chopped

1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup carrots, chopped

1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped

1/2 cup prunes, chopped

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander seed

1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram

1/2 cup chopped scallion tops

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat orange juice with butter in medium saucepan, to boiling. Stir in couscous, remove from heat and cover. Set aside for 5 minutes, or until orange juice is absorbed. Fluff with fork.

In large pan, heat oil and add all vegetables except scallion tops. Saute over medium heat for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in dried fruits, spices, and scallion tops. In a large bowl, combine vegetable mixture with couscous.

May be used to stuff a 12- to 14-pound turkey or baked in a buttered, covered casserole dish for 30 minutes and uncovered for another 30 minutes, in a preheated 325 degree F. oven.

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