Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Feast: Apricot Sausage Stuffing

Whether you are gobbling up turkey, hogging all the ham, or carving a nice slice of roast beast, everyone has his or her ideal Christmas Feast.   Mother Nature and I were up early this morning, and not just for the presents.   She provided the soft serenity of a White Christmas, I was the one banging and clanging with my own “Heavy Metal” in the kitchen.   Warm aromas of apricot glaze poured out of the oven and a saccharine smell of the makings of pecan pie wafted from the stove top.  This year, Christmas dinner featured a crown roast and apricot sausage stuffing.  If turkeys fear Thanksgiving, then pigs probably hate Christmas. 
In the morning, I opened my long-awaited present from Santa: the 13 inch All-Clad French Skillet with lid.  It was my “Red Rider BB Gun”.   I had a foodie moment as I admired the new lifetime cooking partner: sleek stainless steel, curvature of the handle, and aluminum core.  Cooking with it felt natural. “This is the way it’s supposed to be”, I kept repeating as I fried the sausage, onions, garlic, and celery for the stuffing.  It was a family affair as I taught my brother how to brown the sausage and vegetables and my grandparents gathered the other ingredients from the pantry.  I zested lemons, squeezed fresh orange juice, and chopped up dried apricots – eating half of the soft, sweet ones.   But that’s how one stays full until dinner!  A pound of white bread crumbs later, I was shoving a ceramic dish heaping with stuffing into the oven.
When it landed on the dining room table among the other holiday foods, the stuffing was still a standout.  The fluffy golden mass was the marriage of natural sweetness from the fruit and bold, salty flavor from the sausage.   Soaking the bread with chicken broth, orange juice, lemon juice and spices gave the stuffing a savory richness along with a citrus undertone.   We all enjoyed as many helpings as we could until our stomachs stopped accepting visitors.
*Side note: this recipe is adapted from Land O Lakes, Treasury of Country Heritage Meals and Menus for a holiday celebration, so it serves 8. 

Apricot Sausage Stuffing
1 cup (2 medium) onions, chopped
1 cup (2 stalks) chopped celery, chopped
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 (14 ½ oz) can chicken broth
½ cup orange juice
1 T lemon juice
1 cup (6 oz) dried apricots, chopped
1 pound loaf white bread, dried and torn
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 tsp dried sage leaves, rubbed
Salt and pepper (about ½ tsp each)
1 T lemon peel, grated

1.       Preheat oven to 325˚.
2.       While that is preheating, put sliced bread on baking sheets and toast for about 10-15 min, or until dried.
3.       In skillet, cook onions, celery, sausage, and garlic over medium high heat.  Stir occasionally until browned, about 10 min. Drain off fat.
4.       In large bowl, combine all remaining ingredients.  Add in sausage mixture. 

5.       Spoon into large casserole dish.
6.       Bake for 55 to 60 min or until heated through.

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