For so many, Thanksgiving cuisine is typified by old habits, safely and adorably disguised as traditions. There are those certain familiar recipes, passed down through generations, and we just can't seem to liberate them from the annual spread.
Tips and tricks galore become a part of our food legacies, some legit and many others just plain bunk. Fear of failure, a tendency toward proverbial flavors and finicky guests are the main dictators for most cooks, hence the tried and true dishes of the past tend to prevail.
In the spirit of adventure, have the chutzpah to try at least one new dish this year, throwing caution to the blustery November wind. With just a bit of strategic planning and creativity, you should be able to avoid any momentous disasters -- although most of us harbor at least a few in our holiday repertoires.
I'll never forget our family's infamous Thanksgiving turkey catastrophe. It nearly became a Turkey Day massacre. My dad decided to head up a project to deep-pit a flock of turkeys to feed our ever-growing extended family. Deep-pit cooking is mostly a hole in the dirt, filled with hot fiery stones and whatever might be on the menu. It's then sealed with wood and sand, while the meat slow-cooks overnight.
When done properly, it yields delicious, tender meat. However, this particular year, the fire went out sometime during Thanksgiving Eve. Because the hole had been sealed, nobody realized the fire was out until the deep pit masters were greeted with a vast hole of cold, raw turkeys, just minutes before dinner was supposed to be served.
You see, I come from a big Dutch family of dairy farmers, equipped with appetites like an army of Vikings. So the reaction to the uncooked turkeys was just short of physically violent. Fifty something people with no turkey? And my father was the scapegoat! I could scarcely handle the stress of being a 10-year-old spectator! Ever the resilient group, the family scrambled to their home ovens and cooked the turkeys in record time. We got to enjoy dinner after all, albeit a few hours past the deadline. If nothing else, it made for a Thanksgiving I'll never forget!
Naturally opinionated, I have a strong posture on Thanksgiving dinner. Never one to shy away from a whisk, I've cooked my fair share of this traditional American feast (post-deep-pit debacle), and each one has been different from the last. I can't seem to refrain from trying new recipes every year.
However, there are a few Thanksgiving points that I believe to be absolute. First, don't cook your turkey in a bag/pillowcase/cheesecloth. It leaves the poor thing looking more like a cadaver than a lauded golden bird and does little for moisture or flavor. Brine the turkey overnight, then oven-roast. You shall succeed.
Second, it's all about gravy. Plenty of delicious gravy is the saving grace of the Thanksgiving table; dry turkey, bland stuffing or sticky potatoes all find their redemption under the murky surface of tasty gravy. If you don't know how to make real turkey gravy, please Google it and teach yourself something new. By no means should you ever buy gravy!
Third, which has less to do with food and more to do with attitude -- enjoy the process. Involve everyone in cooking, carve the turkey together and don't let the mess freak you out. Focus on the camaraderie, the football games, the wine or whatever it might be that brings you contentment.
This recipe is a suggestion for modifying your stuffing ever so slightly. The preservationists at the table won't freak out, yet the adventurous eaters will love every bite. Sausage in stuffing is a must. Pork fat has an undeniable appeal, and there's little hope of replacing it. This combo also calls for Granny Smith apples, which are a delightful contrast to the savory herbs, but can be replaced by dried cranberries or apricots if you're feeling especially frisky. Assuming you've got the rare privilege of an allergy-free table, throw in some chopped pecans, walnuts or almonds -- and take it to another level entirely!
1 bag unseasoned bread cubes
1/2 loaf marble rye bread, cubed and dehydrated (350-degree oven for 20 minutes)
1 lb. pork sausage
1/2 cup butter
2 cups celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large or 2 small Granny Smith apples, chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 tsp poultry seasoning
2 tsp salt
1 quart chicken stock or giblet stock, plus more if needed
2 eggs, beaten
Cook pork sausage in large saute pan until just done. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add butter, and melt. Add celery, onion and garlic. Saute until celery is soft. Add Granny Smith apples, cooked sausage, thyme, poultry seasoning and salt. Stir to combine. Remove from heat. Place bread cubes in large bowl. Spoon sausage mixture over bread cubes, then add desired amount of stock. There should be just a slight bit of liquid at the bottom. Mix gently, but thoroughly. Add beaten eggs. Mix with a metal spoon until well combined. Place in a buttered casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, or until center is very hot and top is golden brown. Can be made one day ahead. To reheat, bake 15 minutes at 400 degrees, covered, and 10 minutes uncovered. (serves 8-10)