I tend to go a little crazy around Thanksgiving every year.
Not only is it one of my favorite holidays, one that I take VERY seriously, but it’s also the beginning of the busiest season of the year where I work.
No matter how much planning and thinking ahead I do to make things easy on myself, the chaos at work and the perfection pressure I put on myself always starts to overwhelm me in the week or so before the day of the big bird.
This year I’ve been poking around the internet for tips and ideas on the best way to host a stress-free Thanksgiving; and make sure every aspect of the day, from the shopping and prep work to the serving and cleaning up, goes as smoothly as possible.
This ain’t my first time at the rodeo, so a lot of the information I found wasn’t entirely new to me. One tip that I realized would actually make a big difference though, is not testing out any new-to-me recipes when I have a million other things going on in the kitchen.
Sometimes those unfamiliar recipes on Pinterest may look perfectly delicious on the screen but can actually turn out to be a big fat flop in reality. You don’t need to add that flop possibility, or any extra time figuring out a new recipe, to the already lengthy list of chores and worries you have when people are on their way for the biggest meal of the year.
Even when the tips I’ve found haven’t been entirely new to me, I’ve tried to do my best to share them with you on facebook and pinterest. I hope you’ve been learning (and making your lives easier) right a long with me.
If you don’t follow me on social media, you totally should. Not only does it make me feel warm and fuzzy to get new “likes” and “follows”, but you might learn something too! I try to share as much information as I can right here on the blog, but I can only do (and write) so much. When I find something interesting or helpful on the internet that I don’t have the time or expertise to blog about, I try my best to the share the wealth on social media so you don’t feel left out.
In the name of not testing new recipes with so many other projects in play, I’ve been working on a few things ahead of time to make sure I know what to expect and don’t need to work out any kinks. Last week a good friend was visiting from out of town so I used her as a guinea pig for my new sweet potato gratin recipe and this here apple walnut dressing (or stuffing, if you prefer, though technically it’s not stuffing unless it’s actually stuffed in something).
This recipe has everything I want to see in my dressing. Yeasty artisan bread made tender with rich stock on the inside with a crispy craggy buttery golden top. The variety of flavors and textures going on here are the perfect compliment to any roasted poultry (or pork), no matter what the occasion. Tender sweet apples, crunchy bitter walnuts, chewy savory sausage, and rich caramelized leeks all brought together with plenty of autumnal herbs and a mixture of chicken stock and apple cider. I seriously cannot get enough of these flavor combinations this time of year, and I think you and your friends and family won’t be able to either.
This can easily be made vegetarian by leaving out the sausage and swapping vegetable stock for chicken. There are more than enough other elements and flavors at play here that the dressing will still be amazing, and truth be told, it looks like I’ll be leaving the sausage out myself to accommodate my guests.
Apple Walnut Dressing with Sausage and Caramelized Leeks
One 1 1/2 to 2 pound loaf artisan bread
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage (spicy works too)
2 cups thinly sliced leeks or 1 cup finely diced onion
3 celery stalks, diced (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 large firm apple, diced (I used Braeburn)
3 large eggs
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup apple cider
2 cups chicken or turkey stock
2 tablespoons butter
Heat the oven to 350°F. Slice the bread into small cubes, removing the crusts if desired, and spread the cubes in a single layer on two baking sheets. Toast for ten minutes, stir up, and add the chopped nuts. Continue toasting until the bread is completely dry and the walnuts are toasted, approximately another 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. If you like to think way ahead, you can toast your bread and store it up to a week before moving on with the next step.
To prepare your leeks, slice the white and tender green parts in thin disks, and slice each disk in half. Discard the deep green leaves. Place all the sliced leeks into a bowl and top with cold water. Leeks are very sandy so this is important. scoop the leeks out being careful not to disturb the sand at the bottom of the bowl. Repeat twice, and set aside to drain dry.
Brown the sausage with a sprinkle of salt over medium heat, breaking it up into crumbles as you cook, about 10 minutes. Transfer the cooked sausage to a bowl and drain off all but a few teaspoons of the fat.
In the same pan over medium heat, cook the leeks with a sprinkle of salt until softened and beginning to brown, about 5 or 10 minutes. Add the celery and continue cooking until the celery is softened, another 5 minutes. Add the apples and the fresh herbs. Cook until the apples are just starting to soften, another 1-3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Remove the pan from heat.
Increase the oven temperature to 400°F.
Combine the sausage, vegetables, apples, bread cubes, and nuts in a large mixing bowl. In a medium bowl or large measuring cup, lightly beat the eggs, and add in the salt, cider and chicken stock. Whisk to combine and pour over the stuffing. Gently fold or stir until all the ingredients are evenly coated, being careful not to mash down or squish the bread cubes.
Pour the dressing into the baking dish and try to even it out. If you have a bit too much you can mound it a bit in the center, or bake some separately in ramekins (or you can make it into stuffing by filling it into the hollow cavity of a turkey). Dot the top with butter and cover the dish with aluminum foil. If you’re trying to make things a day ahead, you could stop here and refrigerate the whole shebang to be baked the next day. Just make sure you take the dish out about an hour before baking so you don’t crack your baking dish by putting a cold dish into a hot oven.
Bake at 400°F for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the top is crispy and golden, another 15-20 minutes. Let cool briefly before serving.