My friend Kerry and I have been cooking together for fifteen years. He owns a backstage catering company and provides food to the artists and production crew of rock concerts, music festivals, and video shoots. The work we do backstage is intensely difficult, more of an extreme sport than a foodservice job; the hours are insane, the labor is back-breaking, and the stakes are high given the A-list clientele. We’ve banged around the country together for a long time doing this work, and over time we’ve developed an interesting relationship. We’re fiercely loyal and close friends, but we argue like an old married couple; in fact, I often (half) joke that our friendship has none of the benefits and most of the drawbacks of marriage.
So on a six hour return trip after a five hour client meeting, Kerry asked me what I was planning for my next Guiding Stars recipe. I told him I really wanted to do a holiday-type dish, to which he responded, “No one wants to eat healthy on the holidays,” which I suppose is true for many. But since we had spent way too much time together during the 24 hour trip, I interpreted his comment—valid as it was—to mean, “You can’t make a recipe that will taste good.” Yeah, I know that’s not what he meant, but it was my takeaway…my takeaway in my sleep-deprived, stressed-out, coffee-induced delirium.
My new stuffing recipe was the result of this perceived challenge. Stuffing’s something most people can’t picture a holiday meal without, but it’s often an afterthought, pulled out of a box and if time permits, sometimes doctored. As such, many people associate the flavor of boxed stuffing as the preferred flavor for stuffing in general: it’s tradition. So the last thing I wanted to do was mess with that; so, dried fruit and chunks of random stuff was not an option. I wanted this stuffing to have the flavor everyone expects.
To reduce the caloric burden stuffing puts on the holiday weight-control plan, I immediately decided to bulk up the vegetables to compensate for less bread. But the last thing that I wanted was to create some sort of “veggie nugget surprise.” Mushrooms—specifically shiitake mushrooms—were a first priority. Sautéed in olive oil, they cook down to soft, savory, almost meat-like nuggets. Leeks gave me the onion flavor necessary without the crunch—an attempt to keep the dish kid-friendly while maintaining the traditional flavor profile. Celery is just plain necessary: try making stuffing without it and you’ll see why.
An easy way to bump the nutrition of the stuffing way up was with white whole wheat bread. This bread is soft and white, giving the traditional look and taste, but it has the same nutritional benefits of whole wheat bread. Its light color is a result of the type of wheat used for the flour rather than the processing. By changing the bread, the dietary fiber of my recipe is higher, something many people appreciate after a heavy holiday meal. Low-sodium chicken broth, skim milk, and eggs provide the moisture, and fresh herbs brighten the flavor and the visual appeal of the dish.
So I put all of these changes together, and I’m happy to say that not only does this stuffing taste the way stuffing should taste, it’s healthier too, earning 1 star. More importantly, when Kerry tries it, he’ll have to eat crow alongside his stuffing, because I’m thinking that he will eat healthier over the holidays when my recipe will become his new default. So Kerry, this recipe’s for you. And that’ll teach you to say things that I (mis)interpret as you questioning my abilities. ;)
This recipe makes a stuffing that is crunchy on top and moist inside. If your family prefers crunchier or drier stuffing, make individual servings in muffin cups for the maximum amount of crunchy edge bits.
Servings: 16 (134 g )
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 min.
- 3 cups chopped leeks
- 1½ cups diced celery
- 1 lb. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
- 1 tsp. salt, divided
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
- 2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
- 2 tsp. chopped fresh sage
- 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
- ¼ cup chopped fresh chives
- ½ tsp. pepper
- 1 egg
- 1 egg white
- ½ cup skim milk
- 1 (1 lb.) loaf white whole wheat bread, cubed
- Preheat oven to 350ºF. Coat a 9″ x 13″ baking pan with cooking spray.
- In a 12″ non-stick sauté pan, sauté the shiitake mushrooms in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat until browned and moisture has evaporated (6-8 minutes).
- Add ¼ teaspoon salt, reduce heat to medium, and stirring frequently, continue cooking until mushrooms are dark brown and caramelized (6-8 minutes). Move the mushrooms to a large bowl and set aside.
- To the same pan, add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sauté leeks and celery with ½ teaspoon salt until soft (6-7 minutes). Transfer to bowl with mushrooms.
- In the same pan, add stock, thyme, rosemary, and sage and simmer for 1 minute.
- Transfer stock to the bowl of vegetables. Stir in the parsley, chives, and pepper. Set aside.
- Beat the egg and egg white together with milk and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Stir egg/milk mixture and bread into the vegetables. Transfer to prepared baking dish and bake until set and brown (30-35 minutes).
About the Expert Chef
Erin Dow balances three food worlds. As a mother of three young children, she’s fighting the battle every parent faces: how to keep her kids interested in the foods that keep them healthy.
As the chef and owner of her catering company Eatswell Farm, she utilizes original recipes and techniques–focused on enhancing the enjoyment of locally-sourced ingredients–to best interpret the client’s vision. And as Consulting Executive Chef for Falmouth-based Professional Catering Services, a business specializing in production and backstage catering for concerts, she develops and executes menus that accommodate the strict nutritional requirements of the music industry elite.
Erin and her family raise their own chicken for meat and eggs, have dabbled in pastured Narragansett turkeys, and have a very weedy but very large and productive garden.