Thanksgiving is a mere 10 days away, though I’m already starting to think out the meal. Many are intimidated by Thanksgiving dinner, with all of its requisite component parts, but it’s really a relatively simple meal to prepare. It’s much more thinking things out and trying to time it all to be done around the same time. But each component is generally relatively easy to prepare.
Those of you who have had a meal at my home know well enough that I abhor food out of a box for two primary reasons. The first is that Thanksgiving, if no other time, should really be about homemade food in my view, though that’s subjective and everyone is clearly welcome to his or her own opinion on that. But secondly, and more factually, food out a box is hardly food. It’s full of preservatives, salt, chemicals and a bunch of other crap you don’t want.
The two biggest offenders of the food out of a box mentality at Thanksgiving are mashed potatoes and stuffing. I’m going to talk more about the latter today as, like with many home-prepared foods, it takes more prep. Fully homemade stuffing, in particular, actually requires about a 8-9 day lead time.
If you open up a Stove Top box, you’ll immediately be presented with what is essentially over-prepared croutons, which form the basis of your stuffing. These croutons are (or should be; can’t say how they make Stove Top) bread chunks that have been fully dried out over a period of time.
How do you do that? Easy: get some bread, hack it up, and let it dry out over the course of a week or so.
So the basis of any good Thanksgiving stuffing is some great bread. This year, I’ll make four loaves of bread to create my stuffing (I like my leftovers; stuffing freezes very well). Two of my traditional cheese bread, which I have been using for years. Two of garlic bread, which I am using for the first time this year.
I use a bread machine to create my bread, but you can always do it by hand (I won’t discuss the process here, but do a Google search if you want). Here are my recipes:
THE BASIC BREAD
4 1/3 cups of bread flour (preferably King Arthur)
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp dry milk
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sugar
1 3/4 cup hot water
1 packet highly active dry yeast
To create cheese bread, add 16 oz of roughly chopped Velveeta “cheese” (and I use this term loosely – I know about the preservatives, but it’s the only cheese that’ll melt into the bread). I also throw in about 1 tsp of cumin for extra spice.
To create garlic bread, add 1/4-1/2 cup of chopped garlic chips and some garlic and onion powder.
Once each loaf is completed and relatively cool, roughly chop each loaf up into small pieces (again, think croutons) and spread out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Shake a bit of salt over the top – this will help aid in the drying process. Leave out, uncovered, for at least one week before using.
So this is the basis of my Thanksgiving stuffing. What you eventually add to it is a matter of taste, but I will eventually add the following:
MY ADDED INGREDIENTS
2.5 lb of browned ground sausage (or sausage with casings removed) – mix of sweet and hot Italian, or whatever you like
2-3 chopped and sautéed onions
8-12 oz of chopped and sautéed mushrooms
6-8 stalks of chopped and sautéed celery stalks
So take all of that, throw it in a giant bowl. Get some low-sodium chicken broth (you can usually find around 6-8% of your daily intake on the label, but be careful, most is 30%+). Slowly add chicken broth to your mixture, and smash it all together until it mixes together. Basically the stuffing should be moist, but not liquidy. Add the broth slowly; you can always add more, but it’s hard to take it out.
Put the mixture into a baking dish and bake at 350 until heated through and dry on top – usually 30-45 minutes.
I don’t stuff my turkey with the Thanksgiving stuffing – I prefer to stuff my Thanksgiving turkey with herbs and spices for added flavor. But…more about this on Thursday.