Holiday Cooking: Matsutake pecans, bacon cornbread stuffing

I had to improvise a Thanksgiving meal today because plans with family members fell through. Unfortunately none of the convenient grocery stores were open, so I had to use things I already had. Luckily I've been cooking a lot lately and I had a decent amount of stuff to work with. Except I had almost no vegetables and no thawed or easily thawable meat except bacon. But our meal, while slightly odd, ended up being pretty tasty.

A few days ago I had made an impulse purchase of two matsutake mushrooms, also known as pine mushrooms both for their habitat and their coniferous taste. I wasn't sure what exactly to do with them since it was only two, but I'd been wanting to make pecan brittle for awhile and I thought mushrooms might be an interesting addition. Some of my favorite restaurants, including Elizabeth, use mushrooms in desserts. I also had some kafir lime leaves I needed to use up from a Vietnamese market on Argyle st. and I knew those were good with nuts because I used to buy cashews roasted with them from Nuts + Nuts at the New Amsterdam Market when I lived in NYC. Another thing I needed to use was some roast duck fat leftover from my bi-monthly duck cooking. The base recipe I used was from Elena's Pantry, because it looked pretty easy.

I chopped the mushrooms and sauteed them in the duck fat in a cast iron skillet with a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, which I used in my recipe instead of cinnamon. Instead of all honey I used a mix of honey and birch syrup leftover from my trip to Montreal last year, which I whisked together with the egg white and salt the recipe calls for. I also chopped up the kafir lime leaves into tiny pieces and mixed them in with the egg mixture before mixing in the pecans. Then I threw everything in my skillet with the duck fat mushrooms, mixing around to get the mushroom pieces into the brittle. I baked that in the pre-heated 300 F oven for 30 minutes.

I was worried about the egg white causing the mixture to stick, but they didn't and they turned out great. I was pleasantly surprised at how dominant the matsutake flavor ended up being. The resulting brittle was aromatic and exotic, reminding me of forests near and far.

I broke up little bits of it to use today for my main Thanksgiving recipe, a cornbread stuffing. For the cornbread I used Sean Brock's skillet buttermilk lard cornbread recipe. I then cooked some bacon and japanese chilis in my larger skillet. The broth I used was from some lamb necks I made using Ferran Adria's mustard mint lamb neck recipe from The Family Meal. I mixed a cup of that up with some butter and homemade harissa (I used The Domestic Man's recipe). I chopped up the cornbread and tossed it with an egg, then threw that in the bacon pan with some of my leftover pecan brittle and mixed it all up. Finally I poured in the broth mixture. I baked it in the oven at 350F for 35 minutes then tossed in some grated grass-fed cheddar and broiled on high for five minutes.

 

It was weird having stuffing at the holiday meal centerpiece, but this was hearty and delicious enough to serve as that. It was spicy and crispy and fatty with little bits of sweet goodness. I mixed up some leftover homemade aioli with some sliced carrots, apples, and kimchi to make a side salad. I'd actually never made stuffing before, but now that I know the basics, the possibilities seem endless. I'm dreaming of a pastrami buckwheat stuffing with chicken soup broth and chicken cracklings and mini crispy latkes now…