Does Thanksgiving strike dread in your heart, or do you love every minute of it?
I'm more on the "love" end of the spectrum.
I used to view Thanksgiving as an opportunity to try new and sometimes outlandish recipes on unsuspecting guests and family. Now I've mellowed to just making the best-tasting versions of the classics we all love.
I've seen magazine articles outlining an eight-week countdown to the big day. Yikes! It's a meal with loved ones, not a polar expedition.
To keep the cooking as low-stress as you can, focus on the items that mean the most to your family. If your family has ongoing, heated discussions about which kind of stuffing should be served, make 'em all.
If no one touches the Brussels sprouts or that obligatory green salad you dutifully supply every year to counter all the starches, well, maybe it's time to let them go. Do what makes you and your guests happy.
The biggest issues on Thanksgiving day are typically arranging it so everything is ready at the same time and finding space in your oven.
The first issue is a juggling act — you're on your own for that. As for the space issue, you probably already use your toaster oven to warm your rolls and your microwave to reheat dishes you made in advance. But how about using your slow cooker for your stuffing?
You can stuff your bird and put the remainder of your stuffing the slow cooker. If you need your bird to be ready a bit sooner — or are worried about the dangers of stuffed turkeys — then toss a large cored apple, a large quartered onion and a sprig of rosemary in the cavity of your bird and put all the stuffing in your slow cooker.
Crock Pot Stuffing is quite flexible. You can make it in any variation your family prefers. You can add chopped cooked giblets to the stuffing or cooked bulk sausage. If you have vegetarians on your guest list, you can leave out any meat and easily make this with good-quality vegetable stock.
Please, though, use the absolute best stock you can find, definitely not those nasty bouillon cubes that taste so metallic and fake.
For chicken stock, I highly recommend Better than Bouillon, which you can find at most grocery stores. It comes in a jar and is made from actual chicken. You'll find yourself using it all year long, and it keeps well in the fridge.
Crock Pot Stuffing
1 stick unsalted butter
1 large yellow or white onion (8 oz.)
1 large crispy, sweet apple, peeled & cored (8 oz.)
4 long celery stalks
8 oz. fresh mushrooms (don't use canned)
14 – 18 oz. bread crumbs, either homemade or Pepperidge Farm
2 - 3 cups of high quality stock, very warm
1/2 cup high quality apple cider or white wine
1 ½ tsp. poultry seasoning or Herbes de Provence (the kind without lavender!)
¼ tsp. black pepper
2 eggs, beaten slightly
Dice your veggies and fruit fairly small.
Quick tip #1: Rinse your mushrooms in a colander, halve them and cut with an egg slicer.
Quick tip #2: Slice your celery stalks lengthwise, then cut the usual way. Substitute whatever veggies/fruits you want, just try to end up with about 4 to 5 cups.
In a heavy sauté pan, put the butter, herbs, pepper and veggie/fruit combo, sauté until soft on medium heat.
Put bread crumbs in a large flat-bottomed bowl. Pour sautéed veggies over stuffing and mix lightly. Use your hands — it's way more fun. Pour in 1 cup of warm stock and toss with your hands. Give the stuffing a couple minutes to soak up the broth. Add the apple cider, toss. Slowly add additional broth ½ cup at a time, tossing into stuffing and allowing the broth time to soak in. Try not to pack the stuffing.
When it seems moist enough, taste the stuffing and correct the seasonings. If you are using homemade bread crumbs, you may need to add a little salt and possibly more herbs. (Remember, the flavors will intensify in the slow cooker.)
Once the stuffing is to your taste, add the beaten eggs and mix lightly. Immediately put the stuffing into a greased slow cooker, 3.5 to 5 quart size. Turn on high for ½ hour, change to low setting and bake 3 to 4 hours. Check it about halfway through, add broth if needed.
Look for more Thanksgiving recipe ideas in this column over the next week.