The holiday season, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, is my favorite time of the year! Something about the opportunity to gather with family and friends surrounded by twinkling lighted trees and crackling warm fires always comforts me….and, OH THE FOOD! It seems that people not only put more time in their food preparation during this time of year but they actually put more love into it and you can almost taste the care that went into every dish.
On Thanksgiving, the dish I look most forward to is usually not the star of the meal (the turkey) but just a side dish…the dressing. Now, there has always been a debate, depending on where you grew up, whether this dish is called dressing or stuffing. My understanding is that if it is served stuffed in your bird, it is called “stuffing” but if it’s served as a side dish, then “dressing” it is! I don’t really care what you call it as long as you call it “GOOD”!
My version, what I call my Southern Cornbread Dressing, is very traditional in the south. I don’t add sausage, turkey, or any other kind of meat to it. It is simple in it’s ingredients and keeps it focus on the cornbread that will later be smothered in a delicious gravy! I honestly don’t have a sugnificant special memory of why I like my dressing this specific way. I do remember my mother making dressing and I do believe it was cornbread-based but I took over the dressing job years ago and my version is what I think of most when I think of Thanksgiving.
Since we join my husband’s family every year for Thanksgiving and my wonderful mother-in-law, Janice, uses sausage in her dressing, I try to have my version at our own little Thanksgiving feast at our house the week before Thanksgiving each year. It is usually just Jeff and I along with our 25 year-old son, Jarrod and our 23 year-old daughter, Ashleigh. It was even more important for me to have our little gathering this year because Ashleigh will be headed to the beaches of North Carolina this year to spend Thanksgiving with her boyfriend, Hunter’s family. My first Thanksgiving without her so I definitely wanted to have our own little “Mini Thanksgiving”.
My cornbread dressing recipe originally started from Southern Living Magazine many years ago and has been tweaked so many times, that it is quite a bit different from what I started with so I’m claiming it as my very own! The problem with dressing recipes is that you truly have to observe the moisture content of your cornbread before determining the amount of broth you put in it. The cornbread doesn’t turn out the exact same way every time so you have to adjust your amount of broth based on how “crisp” you like your dressing to turn out. Therefore, I suggest adding 4 cups of your broth and blend it before gradually adding the rest…you might even need more. Some people like their dressing very moist, and others prefer it on the dryer side. I kind of like both…moist but still a bit of a crunchy bite that holds it all together. If this is your preference then this is the recipe for you!
In the original Southern Living recipe, the way the cornbread was prepared was what I thought made the dish a standout and I haven’t changed that other than adding a bit of seasoning to my mixture. However, it called for adding fresh breadcrumbs (which I did for many years) but as time passed and I played with the recipe a bit, I found that adding in toasted cubes of both white and wheat bread improved not only the flavor but the texture. Since I do love a good shortcut in the kitchen, recently I found a more time efficient way to have these perfect toasted bread cubes…Pepperidge Farm’s Unseasoned Toasted White and Wheat Bread Crumbs! (Make sure NOT to use the seasoned kind!)
So whether you toast your own breadcrumbs or use the pre-made kind, stick with the way the cornbread is made in the recipe because it is truly the key to the dressing!
My next bit of advice is about the sage….you must use fresh UNLESS you have dried your own herbs from the previous summer and have that to use. It is key in the flavor! I did use my dried this time because its aroma was so incredible but never use dried sage from the grocery store in your dressing…no, no, no! If you compare the original recipe with my current version, you will see quite a few differences but the changes I have made have been done over time with lots of trial and error. (On a funny note, I don’t actually have a picture of my whole dressing completely baked to perfection because my daughter took a big hunk out of it before I could take the picture so that is why you only see a partial picture…I didn’t mind one bit!)
Frankie’s Southern Cornbread Dressing
- 1 cup butter, divided
- 3 cups Self-Rising Cornmeal Mix
- 1 cup All Purpose Flour
- 7 large eggs, divided
- 3 cups buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon, garlic powder
- 2 1/2 – 3 cups white and wheat bread cubes, toasted
- 2 large sweet onions, diced
- 6 celery ribs, diced
- 1 teaspoon, salt
- 1 teaspoon, black pepper
- 1 teaspoon, onion powder
- 1 teaspoon, celery salt
- 1 teaspoon, poultry seasoning
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh sage
- 6 cups Chicken Broth (more if needed)
Place 1/2 cup butter in a 13- x 9-inch pan; heat in oven at 425° for 4 minutes.
Combine cornmeal and flour; whisk in 3 eggs, buttermilk, and garlic powder.
Pour hot butter into batter, stirring until blended. Pour batter into pan.
Bake at 425° for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool.
Crumble cornbread into a large bowl; stir in toasted bread cubes, and set aside.
Melt remaining 1/2 cup butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add onions, celery, and seasonings (next 5 ingredients) and saute until tender. Stir in sage, and saute a couple of more minutes.
Stir vegetable mixture, remaining 4 eggs, chicken broth (remember my broth tip I mentioned above), and pepper into cornbread mixture; pour evenly into 1 lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish and 1 lightly greased 8-inch square baking dish. Cover and chill 8 hours.
Bake, uncovered, at 375° for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown.
Bottom Line: I hope you love this recipe as much as me and my family do…It is very southern, very traditional, and very delicious! Happy Thanksgiving and until next time, I am Chef Frankie encouraging you to “Love and Cook with Wild Abandon”!
For the original Southern Living recipe, follow this link: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/cornbread-dressing-6