Jalapeno and Cheddar Cornbread Dressing
Like so many young cooks, I desperately wanted to impress the family with my culinary skill. Instead, my respect for Mom and Grandma deepened alongside my serving of humility.
I’ve no idea what came over me that November in 1980-something-or-other, but something prompted me to volunteer to cook the entire Thanksgiving meal for my family. Almost 40 years later, I can look back and chuckle at this episode.
Don’t get me wrong; I’ve contributed to a good number of Thanksgiving meals over the years. When I was married, I’d bring side dishes to in-laws’ houses. As a single who would sometimes tag along with a friend to a Thanksgiving gathering, I usually got away with bringing a bottle of wine. This year, a couple of girlfriends and I are thinking about doing Friendsgiving because their kids are not able to travel due to COVID-19 restrictions. But if the number of virus cases keeps climbing in my area, I may have a turkey sandwich at home in front of the TV ( recipe to come, so stay tuned).
But the year my mom and grandma nervously stepped back to let me do Thanksgiving, I did it all, from roasting the turkey to making pecan pies. The meal—inspired by a menu from Bon Appetit magazine—began with a beef consommé, followed by a salad, main course, dessert, and coffee. I can’t remember the vegetables, but then nobody else did either.
To add to my already high stress level, Mom invited her usually grumpy brother, Louis. Uncle Lou rarely smiled and exhibited a stone face most of the time. Frankly, he scared me a bit. Not that he was a cruel man; one just never knew what he was thinking, and I found that unsettling.
What was probably unsettling to my Mom and Grandma was me straying from the “traditional” menu. No green bean casserole or cranberries, and what was with this jalapeno cornbread stuff? What happened to good old-fashioned dressing? As the most popular side dish, screwing around with the stuffing (or dressing) recipe on Thanksgiving would make any traditional cook break out in a sweat (and not from the heat of the peppers).
I never again made a full Thanksgiving meal. Even after Dad died and it was Mom, my daughter, and I at the table, she and I collaborated for our small celebration. This dressing recipe I share with you today is a mash up in homage to my mother and that fateful holiday dinner from the mid-1980s. My one stab at Thanksgiving—while stressful but ultimately satisfying—taught me new respect for my mom and grandma who carried out this incredible task year in and year out.
The point to this story is this: Some of you may be staring at the prospect of making the full Thanksgiving dinner on your own for your family this year. Let me say you can do this! Maybe your family can't travel this year due to COVID-19 or it could be the matriarchs of your clan aren't able to get to you to help with the dinner. Still, this is an absolute example of "if I can do it, you can do it," so head up, shoulders back, and strap on that kitchen apron! The keys will be proper planning and enlisting family members to help. Make it a special time, no matter what the menu looks like. If you want some tips, hop over to our Facebook page and follow a month's worth of ideas and recipes.
And this year, no matter how I celebrate the holiday, I’m most thankful for good health. Remember, Thanksgiving shouldn’t be about impressing people with your knowledge of cooking; it’s about simply being with the people you love. Wishing all of you and your families a beautiful Thanksgiving. Please stay well and take care of each other.
Jalapeno and Cheddar Cornbread Dressing
2 (8.5 ounce) packages Jiffy corn muffin mix
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup jalapeno peppers, cored, seeded and diced
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated
8 ounces breakfast pork sausage
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup celery, chopped
3/4 cup onion, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 10-inch rectangle baking dish.
Combine muffin mix with 2 eggs and milk. Fold in peppers and cheese. Bake as directed on package.
Remove cornbread and let cool. Reduce oven to 350 degrees. Crumble cooled bread and place flat on a baking sheet to dry for 5 to 10 minutes.
In a large skillet, break up breakfast sausage and brown. Remove sausage from skillet and add 2 tablespoons of butter, celery and onion. Cook until just tender.
In a separate large bowl, combine two eggs, chicken broth, sage, thyme, garlic powder, and pepper. Stir in sausage and vegetables. Fold in crumbled cornbread.
Spread in a prepared baking dish, top with 2 tablespoons of butter and cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, remove foil and bake another 5 to 10 minutes until dressing starts to brown.