Image via Martha Stewart Living
Thanksgiving is my annual cooking extravaganza, and for me the turkey is not the star of my show — it’s all about the stuffing, or the dressing, depending on what you call it. Sure, the turkey is essential, but the stuffing is what makes or breaks your Thanksgiving. That’s just this cook’s opinion.
Some of my fondest memories of Thanksgivings involve sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table and watching her cube the bread for her famous “dressing.” That is what she called it. It was always what made my holiday.
Image via The Pioneer Woman
She is part of the reason I wanted to start hosting Thanksgiving at my home, about eight years ago. I’m a “stuffing baked on the side” person. I know there’s a huge debate on whether to stuff the bird or bake it separately. For me, it’s a time issue. I can make stuffing the night before, and re-heat the day of — plus, making stuffing inside the bird requires extra cooking time. No thanks!
Image via Food 52
Here are my tips for a standout stuffing, or dressing if you’re old school.
Use homemade chicken stock. Yes, it’s an extra step, but soooo worth it. I use this Barefoot Contessa chicken stock recipe . It’s easy and takes only a couple of hours the Saturday or Sunday before — just a matter of dumping things into a pot and letting it rip.
Image via Coupon Clipping Cook
Use real butter. There’s no cheating on Thanksgiving. The smell of celery and onions sauteing in butter is one of my favorite aromas There’s nothing like it.
Image via Pepperidge Farm
I use dried, seasoned cornbread crumbs. I know, it sounds very “non-homemade.” But it’s what works for me and I wouldn’t try anything else. Making cornbread is great, but the texture isn’t right for me. Go with what works for you, and don’t apologize (except for using anything besides real butter).
Image via Zeigler’s
Add that something unexpected. I use apple cider in addition to chicken stock. That’s my big secret. Some people swear by sausage or oysters or wine. Make your stuffing stand out by adding an unexpected, subtle ingredient. It’s a cook’s holiday, and your time to shine!
My mom and I have cobbled this recipe together over the years by piecing together parts of multiple recipes. I’ve tweaked it a bit, using homemade stock.
Cornbread Apple Pecan Dressing
1 cup diced onion
5 stalks celery, diced
1 package dried cornbread stuffing, 14 oz.
2 cups pecans, chopped
2 1/2 cups apple cider
2 cups chicken stock, homemade prefarably
6 tablespoons butter, divided (plus extra for greasing the pan)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 tablespoons dried sage
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Saute diced onions and celery, plus salt and pepper, in olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter until translucent. Allow to cool slightly.
2. In a large mixing bowl, stir beaten eggs into stuffing. Mix in cooled celery and onion mixture, then pour in 4 tablespoons of melted butter. Combine with dried sage and salt and pepper, to taste (Note: If your homemade stock is seasoned, be careful not to add too much additional seasoning).
3. Slowly add apple cider and chicken stock until stuffing is thoroughly moist but not runny. If mixture appears dry, add a bit more chicken stock. Mix in 1 1/2 cups pecans.
4. Transfer stuffing into a buttered 13-inch by 9-inch casserole dish, sprinkle half cup of pecans on top. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes until golden brown.