Thanksgiving is about the people and not the food. And some of my best ones have included canned peas, cranberry jelly shaped like a can, and pumpkin pie picked up 3 for $10 at the grocery store. Why? Because I loved the people I was with and love makes food taste good. No amount of effort or fancy ingredients can make otherwise great food taste good on Thanksgiving if you are spending the day with jerks. Insist on a good day, even if that means it’s just you, a TV dinner on a TV tray, and the Cowboys game. My family has always had really nice, jubilant, silly, pot-luck types of gatherings…but I hear about some doozies. And, I have the ability to do the cook-all-day-martyr-routine, which let’s face it, is pretty unappealing for everyone involved.
But, my hope for you is that you are planning a nice, peaceful Thanksgiving (allowances for bone-crushing backyard football games, or course), whatever form it takes. I’ve said it before, I’d rather have Thanksgiving at Luby’s with people I love (and I know from experience that they do a pretty darned good to-go Thanksgiving) than a “gourmet” meal with people who aren’t being nice to each other. But, if you are cooking, and cooking for people you love, you might want to add this stuffing to your list of Thanksgiving contenders.
I’m cooking at home with just my sweet little pod of people. And, I’m very much looking forward to it. But, I’m going to keep it simple. I am only cooking things that I truly enjoy cooking…and I truly enjoy making stuffing.
To this end, I have again placed my order for a Greenberg Smoked Turkey which will arrive all smoky and bronze-colored on my doorstep. And know that if you get any big ideas about waiting in your car at the end of my street ‘til the FedEx dude shows up because I’ll be waiting, too. You don’t want to get in that kind of food fight with me. I will make this stuffing (dressing, I suppose, since it won’t be going in the bird…but I’ve always called it stuffing, so…), and I’ll make some sort of sweet potato concoction. I’m half tempted to simply bake a few sweet potatoes and fill them with butter and brown sugar. That is one of my favorite things any day. Or, I might go for my standard Sweet Potato Casserole. There is still time to tinker with the tiny menu. Perhaps I’ll make these Farmstand Green Beans, again. I’ll definitely be making cranberry jelly, but this year I might leave out the jalapenos.
This dressing is based on a recipe I clipped over a decade ago. But I have taken the step of making my own sausage to go into it, and changed everything else here and there. Do you have recipes like that tucked in cookbooks, that you know you will get around to playing with someday? Feel free to buy a package of Jimmy Dean’s at the grocery store. But this recipe is nice because the sausage is a little more subtle. The stars for me are the artichoke hearts and the parmesan cheese. No one will even know the cheese is in the dish, but it adds a depth to the stuffing that is usually missing.
1 lb. ground pork
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
½ teaspoon dried sage
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 pound loaf of sourdough bread (for 10 cups of cubed dried bread)
1 cup diced onions
1 cup diced mushrooms
1 cup diced celery
1 can (14 ounce) artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 can (14.5 ounce) low sodium chicken broth
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Mix the spices together and then sprinkle them over the pork. Using your hands, mix the spices into the ground pork until they are evenly distributed. Set aside.
Cut the sourdough bread into ¾” cubes. Place the cubes on two rimmed cookie sheets. Bake the bread cubes until they are dried out and beginning to get crisp, but not brown, around 15 minutes. Turn the bread with a spatula and continue to bake for another 5 minutes if the bread is still soft and steamy. Remove the cubes from the oven and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in a large non-stick skillet, cook the sausage, breaking it up as you cook it. Cook the sausage until it is nicely browned and no longer pink. Remove the sausage to a paper towel lined plate, but reserve the drippings in the skillet. There should be approximately 2 to 3 tablespoons of grease in the skillet. If not, add a tablespoon of butter to supplement the drippings before continuing.
In the reserved drippings, sauté the onion, celery and mushrooms over medium heat until they are softened and beginning to turn golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add in the chopped artichoke hearts and garlic and stir to combine. Cook for an additional 2 minutes. Return the sausage to the skillet with the vegetables and stir to combine and heat through. Add the additional thyme, rosemary and salt. Taste the vegetables and adjust the seasoning, bearing in mind that you will be adding it to a mass of unseasoned bread. It should be well seasoned at this step. Remove from the heat.
In a small measuring glass, thoroughly mix one cup of chicken broth with one egg. In a very large bowl, combine 8 to 10 cups of the dried bread cubes with the vegetables and sausage. Mix together with your hands or a large spoon. Add the parmesan cheese and, again, mix to combine. Pour the chicken broth and egg around the stuffing and mix the stuffing to distribute the liquid evenly.
Prepare a 9 x 13 inch baking dish by spraying it with non-stick cooking spray. Transfer the uncooked stuffing to the baking dish and pat it all down slightly so that it is well distributed and slightly compacted. Pour the remaining chicken broth evenly over the dressing.
Cover the dish with foil and bake the dressing at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes or until the dressing is golden on top and reaches at least 165 degrees in the middle. Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.
You can dry the bread crumbs and prepare the cooked sausage a day ahead. You can also prepare the dish completely and cook it, cool it, and keep it in the refrigerator overnight and reheat it. I highly recommend having an extra can of broth on hand if you do so. Moisten the dressing a bit before putting it in the oven to re-heat. I suppose you could assemble it and refrigerate it uncooked but I didn’t personally do that so I’m not going to say that you can, but I bet you can.
This recipe for sausage can be easily used for regular breakfast sausage. I formulated the spices knowing that I was going to be adding additional spices to the dressing later. So, if you are going to use this alone as breakfast sausage, you might want to increase the amounts of herbs and spices accordingly. You can always pinch off a little bit and fry up a bite to test the seasoning if you are unsure.
Finally, since Thanksgiving is usually about the familiar, let me be clear that this is full of vegetables and it isn’t cohesive. You can’t cut squares and have it look uniform. It is sort of chunky, and with big bites of sausage. If you like a stuffing that is a little more dense and cohesive, you could certainly add another egg to the chicken broth mixture, and use a little more broth over-all.
So, what kind of a feast are you considering? Simple, enormous, homemade, catered, big, small, non-traditional? I’d love to hear about how you like to celebrate my favorite holiday.