For the Love of Stuffing (And Dressing, Too)
Stuffing is, without a doubt, my favorite part of Thanksgiving. Though I love me some sweet potato casserole, and I inherited a fondness for fruit pies from my father, I spend 362 days a year (thank you, leftovers) thinking about stuffing.
You see, throughout my entire life, my mother has been responsible for preparing the stuffing for our Thanksgiving meal, a prized recipe passed down from my grandmother. And while a love of cooking might have skipped a generation, my mom masters that stuffing, year after year, striking the perfect balance between moist, aromatic and crispy. So it seemed wrong to try to recreate it myself — or even to ask for the recipe.
But once I started working in food media, and Thanksgiving became the highlight of my professional year, it occurred to me I ought to ask for that recipe, and see what made it so darn delicious. Well, folks? The answer, much to my dismay, was boxed stuffing — or at least, part of the answer. My grandmother (or Mama, as she was known) always added some choice vegetables and herbs to give it her own special touch.
When we asked our Kitchens to create some unique Thanksgiving side dishes, I couldn't wait to see what stuffing or dressing they'd come up with. Perhaps a southern-leaning dressing with oysters and sausage? Or maybe something totally different, like Mixed Grain Dressing With Shiitakes, Parsnips and Apricots? Chef Treva Chadwell succeeded at surprising us twice with her highly original renditions on the Thanksgiving classic, but it was the third recipe that really caught my eye: Better Than the Box Stuffing.
This recipe, much like Mama's, starts with a bag of seasoned stuffing mix — because on Thanksgiving, of all days, those little shortcuts count (and man do those seasoned cubes taste delicious). She adds leeks, celery and herbs (all musts), plus pecans and cranberries for their nutty, sweet and tart flavors. Suddenly, the finished stuffing melds even more harmoniously with the rest of the Thanksgiving meal, from the requisite cranberry sauce to the pecan pie.
And you know what? When Cooking Channel chef Kelsey Nixon crafted a super-easy Thanksgiving menu for our website, I noticed that her Baked Apple Pear Stuffing started with a bag of the cubed stuff, too. With the two fall fruits and raisins, it is pleasantly sweet and possesses amazing texture.
So I guess my point is this: At this time next week, on Thanksgiving Eve, if you're planning to use some boxed or bagged stuffing (cubes or not, with or without herbs), it's okay. More power to you if you're starting from scratch with an interesting base like cornbread or biscuits. But if you are going to use the store-bought stuff — at least add in some additional fresh ingredients. Just like my Mama did.