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The Stuff of Winter Dinners

I was so pleased with myself on Saturday. I spent an hour in the front garden, trimming back a fuchsia bush that was out of control and ripping up the ivy that is growing relentlessly - where from, I have no idea. It looks a bit barer now but I see it as a blank canvas ready for some spring planting.

While I was working up an appetite in the garden, I started thinking about Christmas dinner. There is a chance that it could just be the three of us this year, or else, we will have friends from our bubble join us for dinner. I am excited about Christmas this year. Small as it may be, last year's was a write off because of moving so this year we are going all out. Neither Michael or I are fussed on turkey so we normally have roast beef with our Christmas dinner, which means Uncle Chris' stuffing that mum makes every year doesn't work because he puts sausage meat in it. Many people will disagree but I don't really like roast beef and sausage together.

If we have Christmas in Abu Dhabi, Mum will normally leave the sausage out and just put all the other bits in. But without the meat flavour, I find it a bit too bell pepper juice-y. I daydreamed a lot about what I was going to put in the stuffing instead of sausage meat and came up with the best solution. A completely different recipe altogether.

I made it on Sunday to go with our roast dinner. I didn't want to get to Christmas Day and have my brilliant idea completely bomb at the dinner table. That is not how I would like to remember Christmas 2020. The result of my experiment was delicious. I was so pleased it worked out and now we have plenty in the freezer for the next time one of us fancies a chicken and stuffing sandwich in the run-up to Christmas.

I made it a little bit sweet and a little bit savoury and a big bit more-ish. It's dense enough to hold it's shape on the plate and then when you eat it it's so soft and practically melts in your mouth. Move over sausage, there is a new stuffing in town.

Christmas Stuffing

  • 400g stale bread

  • 200g onion (about half a large one)

  • 25g fresh sage

  • 100g dried cranberries

  • 50g shelled pistachios

  • 500ml chicken or veg stock

  • Salt to taste

  • 75g panko breadcrumbs (optional)

  • Butter or coconut oil for greasing

Soak your cranberries in boiling water for about an hour. This will make them nice and plump and won't mean that they're taking up valuable moisture from the stuffing mix.

When the hour is up, preheat your oven to 190 degrees C. Add the water from your cranberries to your stock so that you have 550ml of liquid. Top it up with more hot water if you need to.

Blitz up your bread to make breadcrumbs and add them to a large mixing bowl. Finely chop your sage and pistachios and add them to the breadcrumbs. Peel and grate your onion and add that it in too. It will be very wet, so it's up to you if you want to add the juice as well or just the pulp. Juice = flavour. Add the cranberries, stock and 1 or 2 tsp of salt (your preference but it will depend on how salty your stock is) and mix it all together with a wooden spoon. It will take a good couple of minutes of mixing to make sure everything is well dispersed.

Let it sit for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, grab an oven dish. The bigger it is, the thinner your stuffing will be. Mine was about 40cmx50cm as a rough guide. Use your grease of choice and run it round the bottom and sides of the dish so that your stuffing doesn't stick.

When your stuffing is ready, use your fingers to spread it out into the dish and press it into an even layer. Either sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top or rake over the top lightly with a fork. I used breadcrumbs which was delicious, but it has made my stuffing look like a coconut slice. You do you.

Put your stuffing in the oven for 20 minutes or a bit longer if you want a bit more browning over the top. But don't go crazy, you don't want it to burn.

Enjoy with your Christmas (or Thanksgiving if you're reading this in the States) dinner. You will notice that I have written ingredients to make this stuffing omnivorous, vegetarian or vegan so really, you absolutely must make it. Top tip: pairs well with gravy.


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