Every member of family is gifted with mad culinary skills. We’re all consummate cooks, it’s in our blood. Ever since I was a young’un, the real the reason I became adept in the kitchen was because I’m a slob- I detest housework! So at a very tender age, I learned that if I could whip up luscious culinary creations, I could totally leave the kitchen looking like an F5 tornado hit it, and inevitably, somebody else would willingly step in to clean up the damage!
A few years ago, my sisters Eddie, Cupcake and I even had a ridiculously popular food blog called “The Haphazard Gourmet”, named after a well-loved cook book that my late father, author Richard Gehman, wrote in 1966, when I was but a tot.
One of the biggest ironies in my life is that though I love to cook, I almost never have the chance to because I am constantly on the road. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, I was frequently on indie rock ‘n ’roll tours with my various bands. After that, it was either touring for belly dance and burlesque gigs, or on location for film shoots.
During the holidays, the one time of the year when I am actually home, I always cook up a storm, and this dressing is one of the things I love to make. It is extremely work intensive, and has a boatload of ingredients…but I’m tellin’ you, all the labor is worth it! Since it’s pretty close to Thanksgiving, and you might already have your meal plans set, you maybe will want to save this to make for Christmas or New Year’s Eve… or just to “rehearse” for the up-coming Holiday Pig Out Season.
I’m going to give you an adaptation of a recipe for a scrumptious, savory, sweet and very spicy holiday dressing that has been in my family for over half a century. I’ve been eating it for as long as I can remember, and making it myself for well over thirty years. A valuable life lesson that this stuffing has taught me over the years is that if you are great cook and make something this yummy...
SOMEBODY ELSE WILL ALWAYS OFFER TO CLEAN UP THE KITCHEN FOR YOU!
A little history on the dressing itself: my father was a famous writer, a bohemian bon vivant, and a consummate chef, who absolutely adored making-and enjoying- extraordinary food. He was handsome, dapper and ultra-charming. He was alternately witty and brooding, and never without a drink in his hand. Actually, now that I think about, my father was not unlike Don Draper from "Mad Men". Anyway, before I was born, he interviewed his friend Morton Thompson, also a very well-known writer and man-about-town, and apparently this stuffing originated with Morton Thompson. I’ve put a link to my father’s article, and the original recipe at the bottom of this post, if you want to look it up.
This Gehman family take on Morton Thompson's recipe makes a ton of dressing, enough to feed an army and last you, your family, friends and neighbors for a few days so you can halve the recipe if you don’t want lots of leftovers… but of course you’ll want them, cause this dressing is the damn bomb!
Before I go into the exact details, you need to know a couple of the most important parts of the recipe.
The first thing is that there was a reason my father’s book, and our family cooking blog, were both called “The Haphazard Gourmet”. It’s because we improvise freely in the kitchen… dancing madly around in an apron, brandishing spoons, taking healthy tastes frequently, andusing crazy ingredients, adding or subtracting them on a whim, making do with whatever is around.
Like improv in dancing, comedy or acting, it’s fun to just wing it with food. Don’t be scared to cook according to your own taste, and don’t feel lost without specific measurements. I’m just giving you a guideline… don't be afraid of to making substitutions or adding in some new elements. My own personal version of this is quite different than the original version, but they taste similar and they’re both divine.
The second ultra-important thing you need to know is that while you are making the dressing, you need to brag loudly, obnoxiously and continuously…or the dish simply won’t turn out right.
Tell everyone within earshot that you are not only foxy, but also the best cook on earth and they’re blessed just to be inhaling the same oxygen that you’re breathing.
Tell them they’ll be on their knees kissing your feet- just seconds after they take their first bite! Let them know you are an immortal being with culinary gifts from the heavens above…then let them clean up your mess…and thank you profusely the whole time they’re doing it!
Once I was cooking for Thanksgiving with my neighbor, and he had a recipe for dressing he got off the Internet. He handed it to me and actually expected I’d make it.
“Are you kidding?” I cried, “I never use recipes, I always cook by instinct! You’re gonna love my stuffing!”
He regarded me suspiciously, like I was a teenage shoplifter.
“Ok,” he said finally, “But if you fuck this up, I’m going to be really mad.”
“Whatever!”, I sniffed indignantly.
The moment he tasted my stuffing, a strange look came over his face… the kind of pie-eyed expression Vince Vaughn or Owen Wilson get in those stupid rom-coms when they finally realize they’re in love.
My neighbor finally shook it off and came back to earth, exclaiming loudly,
“I will never doubt another word you say, as long as I am alive!”
Then he started cleaning the kitchen.
So: you will need a large frying pan with a cover, couple of small bowls, a couple of large bowls, aluminum foil, and two Pyrex or disposable aluminum baking pans.
Two boxes bread cubes or stuffing mix, of any type you prefer….or if you’re really a dyed-in-the-wool foodie, get a couple of loaves and hand-shred the bread yourself.
Six stalks of celery- take off the strings
Two green peppers
Four large yellow onions
Six to ten fresh garlic cloves (or fresh mashed garlic from a jar)
A handful of loose white mushrooms
Two large apples (red or green, either is fine)
Two large oranges, or a medium sized can of Mandarin oranges
Two cans of sliced or chunk pineapple in plain water- not syrup
One large can sliced water chestnuts
One and a half giant handfuls of walnut halves or walnut pieces
( I’ve also thrown in pecans, and in some years added pre-made trail mix here as well. Like I said, improvise!)
Two large containers of chicken or vegetable stock
Quarter pound stick of butter
(If you don’t eat dairy, then eliminate this step, and just use more stock to keep the stuffing moist. But if you do eat dairy, don’t skip on the fucking butter, ok?)
Four or five links of spicy Italian sausage
( If you don’t like traditional pork sausage, then chicken or turkey sausage is ok… if you are a vegetarian, just eliminate the sausage altogether!)
The herbs can be fresh or dried; it’s your call! Fresh is obviously better though.
You’ll need rosemary, oregano, sage, marjoram and thyme… plus three or four large, whole bay leaves, and a small bunch of fresh parsley. The parsley must be fresh. Separate the leaves from the stems, and snip them up with a scissors.
If you’re using dried herbs, use an extremely liberal pinch or about a very full teaspoon of each. For for fresh herbs, cut up a few leaves of each. I usually go heavy on the sage and rosemary for a more savory taste. Put these herbs into a bowl, mix them up, and set them aside for now.
I’ll say this again: I don’t measure when I cook, I do it mad scientist style!
So, for the following spices, you’ll need a few very healthy shakes of each: salt, pepper, all spice, cinnamon, nut meg, curry powder, cumin seed, and cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes, turmeric, and a small chunk of fresh ginger, which you’ve peeled and sliced.
If you’re scared to spice up your food the way I do, then measure out about a quarter teaspoon of each, and put them in another small bowl, making sure they’re mixed up. Set these aside, too.
Cut up or dice all ingredients-everything!
This is the time consuming, hellish part. I usually dice it all up into small, thin pieces, but I’ve also made late-night, post-gig rushed versions of this dressing where I carelessly chopped the peppers, celery and onions into larger chunks… so, whatever you want to do is fine.
I cut the parsley with a scissors- and at the same time, if I am using fresh herbs, I cut them, too. If you want, you can also used diced packaged onions, cause crying while cutting onions is the worst, but I usually just weep my way through this part of the process.
Skin the sausages, and either crumble them or cut them into thin pennies, then get ‘em into in a very large frying pan or skillet with a little blop or two of extra-virgin olive oil, and start cooking them. If you are making the veggie version of this stuffing, eliminate this step and start sautéing the veggies. You want the sausages cooked through, and a little browned. When the sausages are almost done, throw in the diced onions, garlic, peppers and celery, parsley, and a few generous pats of butter and stir. You will need to stir this continuously! Take a few pinches of both the herb mixture and the spice mixture and throw them both in, according to your taste.
Have a glass of wine here if you drink… or if you want to be like my father, make it a scotch.
Make sure you’ve been bragging to anyone who’ll listen! If nobody is at your house yet, by all means, send a few texts, tweet about it annoyingly, and update your status on Facebook, describing in great detail the manna from heaven which you are creating. If you really wanna go for it, post pix on Instagram. Do it… remember, you need to brag or it won’t turn out right!
Preheat your oven to 350.
When the veggies have almost cooked, throw in the apples, walnuts, mushrooms, oranges, and pineapple, with all the juice from the can. Drain the can of water chestnuts and throw those in too. At this point, you will probably need more of the herbs and spice mixtures- I always do! And while you’re at it, just start adding more pats of butter like a crazy person with a death wish! Stir it all up well. Turn down the heat, put a lid on the pan, and keep stirring it occasionally. Take a taste and figure out if you need to add more herbs and spice… I know I would! While you’re at it, throw in some more butter.
Divide your bread cubes up into two large bowls. Prepare according to the package, but use your chicken or vegetable stock instead of water to moisten it up. Mix it well, and then slowly start adding in the big mess of ingredients you’ve got in the frying pan.
When you’ve gotten the entire contents divided into the two big bowls, start mixing it all up. Mix it until you think you’ll get carpal tunnel!
Take a few pats of butter and grease your baking pans, yelling loudly that you’re about to put this divine creation in the oven, and soon everyone’s going to be hearing the angels sing. Send a few more status updates and pour yourself another drink.
Divide the well-mixed dressing into the baking pans, then put a few more pats of butter on top, cover them with the foil tightly, and pop ‘em into the oven. Let them bake about fifteen or twenty minutes, then take the foil off, and keep them in the oven for another ten or fifteen minutes so that the top gets browned and crunchy.
By this time, you’re going to be beating people out of the kitchen like a lunatic, because the whole house will smell amazing. Have them make you a drink and tell them they need to start cleaning up…cause the gorgeous aroma from the dressing you created just enriched their sad, oh-so-pedestrian humdrum lives!
Take the baking pans out of the oven and keep them covered until you serve them. I usually make this the night before, and keep them in the refrigerator until serving, because it allows the flavors and spices to marry. You can heat them up on Thanksgiving Day (or whatever day falls after you make this unearthly creation) and it’ll be even more divine.
A link to a reprint of the original recipe for this dressing…and for an incredible turkey recipe, too is here: “Morton Thompson’s Turkey” by Richard Gehman:
My father, Richard Gehman’s Wiki page: