Thanksgiving stuffing takes almost as much scrutiny as the turkey and for most it is just as great a cause of stress. I remember my first time cooking dinner for the family on Thanksgiving day. There I was, a budding chef working to impress, with all eyes on the bird and my bragging rights in jeopardy. I was so busy basting and browning that turkey that I neglected the stuffing completely.
As dinner was served I watched, filled with anxiety as everyone took their first bites. Most tasted the turkey first and I was pleased with the smiles and nods from around the room. Then off to the side of the table I saw my cousin take a bite of the stuffing. First an eyebrow raised a little then the all too familiar look of “I think I can chew this without spitting."
I could not figure out what had happened. Then I remembered. The stuffing had sat in the oven during the turkey’s browning phase, which meant the oven was at 450 degrees, uh-oh. I walked over the the baking pan with the stuffing in it and looked down. What I found was something that looked like croutons around the edges with a weird gelatinous blob in the middle. I was so embarrassed I thought I would die. I swore then and there that I would find ways to make the stuffing fool proof. The issue seemed to be that with all the hustle and bustle of the holiday it was just too much to do all the prep work and find the time to properly cook all the food. That was when I began working ahead of time, way ahead, and I found that I could make Thanksgiving dinner without crying.
The recipes this week will provide you with excellent and unique options for a side dish and a dressing that will be worthy of high praise. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the green bean casserole as much as the next guy; however, I think we all have that down pat. The stuffing recipe below is sweet, savory, moist and delicious, and with all the prep work done as much as a week ahead of time, it is also headache free. The potatoes are a great alternative to the traditional cheesy potato. I would love to say that they are a tradition; however, in truth, I made the recipe up over the weekend. I am really glad they turned out well and I believe they are worthy of the dinner table at any holiday feast.
One final note. The Thanksgiving holiday will fall before my next article so I am also including turkey tips at the bottom. I promise you, if you follow the steps below you will have the juiciest and most flavorful bird of your life. Let’s cook and celebrate turkey day!
Cranberry Walnut Stuffing and Loaded Potatoes Au Gratin
For the Stuffing
Large baking dish or speckle wear at least 3 inches deep
Large (2 gallon freezer bag)
Small mixing bowl
For the Potatoes
Mandolin for slicing or very sharp chef's knife
Large shallow baking dish
Large (1 gallon freezer bag)
Oven at 350 for both
For the Stuffing (serves 6)
1 large loaf of crusty bread (French bread works great)
1 c finely chopped celery
½ c shredded or diced carrots
1 c finely chopped walnuts
1 ½ c dried cranberries
½ c milk
2-3 cups (aprox) chicken or turkey stock
1 tblsp Herbs de Provonce
1 tsp salt and pepper
For the Potatoes
6 redskin potatoes, skin on
¾ c each shredded cheddar and mozzarella
1 pint of heavy cream
¼ c milk
3 strips of bacon
½ roasted red pepper
¼ tsp garlic powder
½ c bread crumbs
S&P to taste
Putting It All Together
The goal here is to prepare you for Thanksgiving days ahead of time so I will write the instructions in two parts; one as the prep instructions and one of the day of cooking.
Take the two-gallon freezer bag and get it ready. Now dice the loaf of crusty bread into one-inch pieces. Put the bread in the freezer bag. Now dice the celery and the carrots (or add the shredded carrot), add those to the freezer bag. Add the walnuts, cranberries and the dry seasoning to the bag as well. Really you are adding all the ingredients to the bag save the egg, milk and stock. Squeeze all the air out of the bag, seal it and put it in the freezer.
Fast forward ... the day before Thanksgiving take the bag out of the freezer and set it on the counter. The morning you are ready to cook, pour the dry ingredients into the baking dish or into a bowl if you prefer. Take the milk and the egg and whisk together. Pour over the homemade stuffing mix and stir until it soaks in completely. Add one cup of the stock and do the same. Spread the stuffing evenly in the pan and pour another cup of stock over the stuffing. It should be enough that you see liquid in the bottom but not so much that it covers the bread. Bake for 40 minutes checking at 20 to see if more stock is needed. Remove from the oven and let sit on the counter, covered for a half an hour to let it set. Serve immediately after.
Now, take the one-gallon freezer bag and set it by your slicer. Cut the bacon into bits and fry until crispy then set aside. Dice the red pepper and set it aside. Thinly slice all the potatoes. Add them to the bag. Pour in the shredded cheese, spoon in the bacon bits with as little grease as possible, add the red pepper. Freeze immediately. if you let the mixture sit out the potatoes will begin to turn brown. On Thanksgiving day pull the mix out and spread into a greased baking tray. Pour on the cream and the milk and add a few dollops of butter. Cover with tin foil or the baking pan lid and bake for 45 minutes. At 30 minutes remove the lid and top with the bread crumbs. Continue baking for 15 more minutes. After removing, let set on the counter for about a half hour to let the cheese sauce thicken.
- Brine, brine, brine, brine the turkey. Did I mention you need to brine you turkey? The difference between average and oooooh is brine. The turkey, after brining, would be hard to dry out on the Saharra. It is an easy, ridiculously easy, step that will make all the difference in the world. Find a container, a cooler works great, and fill with water leaving enough room for the bird. For every gallon of water add one cup of sugar and of salt. Options also include throwing in a few lemon halves and a cloves of garlic. Really whatever flavor you want in the bird will infuse in the brining process so throw it in. Let it soak overnight. About an hour before cooking, pull the bird out and dry off the skin.
- Butter, butter and more butter. Take the dry seasonings for your turkey (basil, thyme, sage and garlic are wonderful) and mix with about a cup of butter. The skin on the bird around the breast meat is easy to separate from the meat and that is exactly what you need to do. Put your hand in between the skin and the breast and make a little pocket (the easiest place is the curve above the hole in the bird). Now take the butter mixture and stuff it in the hole. Press the skin back down.
- If you are using a bag to cook the bird, now is the time to put it in. Around the turkey put pieces of lemon, apples, onions and water. Add more dry seasoning to the skin, seal and bake. If you are using a roaster, lay the bird on the tray and lay the veggies and fruit around it. Fill the bottom of the pan about half way with water and cover for the first ¾ of cooking time. Then uncover and make an aluminum foil tent for the bird. This allows the turkey to brown without drying.
Have a great holiday and check back for Christmas galore coming soon! As always, ask any questions you would like by email or comment and I will be happy to help.