stuff the day with thanks ::::
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays for the appreciation of a full table with expectant eaters and catching up with friends and family. We don’t deviate much from the traditional menu of roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and stuffing. Over the years, our family has tweaked our favorites a bit, giving each dish a little more flair. I’ve roasted turkey with butter-primed skin or in an oven bag, brined or skin salted, spatchcocked and whole, freshly-killed turkey (hours old!) versus store bought and thawed, each being wonderful. Eat developed a mashed potato profile involving enough garlic and butter for an army. I loooooove smitten kitchen’s swiss chard and sweet potato gratin, one of my favorite casserole-style dishes ever. (I have been known to make an entire gratin in the off-season and eat it practically all myself.) I even added in my go-to roasted beet salad with almonds for the past two years (recipe upcoming when I’m happy with the photos), the dish sitting patiently at my side on the table, nary a look from anyone else but me. I’ve been the head cook in the household for the past few years for Thanksgiving and I get to choose my favorites. Mashed potatoes may be your game, but sometimes that bitter-sweet mix of swiss chard and sweet potatoes sitting in a creamy roux just gets me.
And then there is the turkey stuffing. YAAAAHHHHSSSS. Technically, I make dressing, not stuffing. Dressing is cooked outside the bird, stuffing is stuffed in the bird and cooked. After a couple trials of making my mom’s mushroom stuffing, awkwardly stuffing the bird with it, it resulted in longer cook times as well as a mushier, gluey texture. I don’t want to serve a well-loved Thanksgiving dish ruined by the consistency of glue, and thus I’ve erred on the side of not stuffing the turkey at all and baking the dressing in large covered cast iron pots. This method gives us the best dressing: a little crispy on top and on the edges, and a soft inside abounding with mushrooms and buttery, thymey flavor. I can eat this and never care about the gravy with anything else on my plate (well, except this year, because my gravy is AWESOME — quadruple recipe made ahead of time, ready to add turkey drippings to).
My mom’s mushroom dressing/stuffing (she’s made it both ways) kept me afloat as a teenager, when I finally figured out how good it tasted and would eat multiple servings. I often requested it other times of year, and still do. When I spent a Thanksgiving with a friend one year and stuffing was not on the menu because there was “too much starch with mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole already,” I was appalled. What the hell IS this place? I thought. Another year, I spent a Christmas holiday with relatives across the country, the dinner marked with a roast turkey and beef, as well as oyster dressing. This is too weeeeiiiirrd, I lamented silently. I could not be moved from Mum’s mushroom version.
Nowadays, I squirrel away stale bread bits for months in the freezer, anticipating the November holiday. Since I’ve hosted Thanksgiving a few times with friends and family, it is the dish that my in-laws always gravitate to. The accolades go to my mom. I’ve had the privilege of being a taste tester for years.
– If you plan on stuffing the turkey, keep the stuffing on the drier side, as it will soak up all the turkey juices while cooking.
– You can mix/partially cook everything up the night before the final cooking and refrigerate. I sometimes also chop all the vegetables (onions, mushrooms, celery) the night before any assembly. This makes the process of making the dressing pretty easy, especially if you are multitasking other dishes for the big day.
Have a great Thanksgiving!
- 1 stick of butter -- I usually use salted butter as I will add salt to the entire dish later anyway.*
- one large onion, chopped
- a few ribs of celery, chopped
- mushrooms -- I usually use about 24 ounces of whatever mushrooms are available and look fresh, usually brown or white mushrooms. Fancy isn't necessary.
- diced bread, stale (about 3-4 quarts)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- poultry seasoning (For each quart of bread, use 1 teaspoon of poultry seasoning. Make your own with a mix of dried rosemary, thyme, and sage.)
- chicken broth (How much depends on how dry the bread is. I make sure I have at least 4 to 8 cups around. If going vegetarian, vegetable broth is fine.)
- Melt butter in large cast iron pot. Add onion and celery to cook to translucency slowly for 10 minutes, covered.
- Add mushrooms and cook more to soften.
- Mix in bread and add broth to moisten. Moisten just enough to help soften the bread, but not make mushy. Add poultry seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook to warm through. At this step, you can cool the mixture to room temperature and store in fridge overnight to cook completely the next day.
- IF STUFFING A TURKEY: Stuff the bird, secure, and cook as you would with any stuffing.
- IF COOKING IN A CAST IRON POT: Preheat oven to 400 deg F and cook about 40 minutes with the lid on. Length of time depends on if the mixture is cold from the fridge or if you are making everything on the same day. Cook in the oven until the top is browned but not too crispy. Serve immediately with your Thanksgiving meal.
- Make extra! The leftovers will sustain you (and freeze well if you don't want to be sustained right after a bottleneck of turkey mayhem).