Maria’s Almost-Famous Clean-Out-the-Cabinet Stuffing

It was a good year.

Every year, when I make Thanksgiving dinner, I also make one of my favorite so-not-on-my-low-carb-diet dishes: stuffing (AKA, dressing). I like this dish so much that if you took away the turkey and all the other fixings and just gave me a dish of this, I’d be very happy. What’s more is that the way I make it, it includes food from all the food groups except dairy, so I can argue that it’s a meal in itself.

Because the recipe varies from year to year — depending, of course, on what ingredients are handy to toss into it — I never know how it’s going to turn out. Last year was probably one of my worst concoctions. But this year was one of my best.

If you’d like to try your hand at this, here’s my basic recipe, along with a list of what I tossed in this year.

Base Ingredients:

  • 1 pound sausage meat. I use breakfast sausage and I prefer Jimmy Dean sage sausage. I don’t buy the low-fat kind; it usually doesn’t generate enough fat to need draining.
  • 1 medium or large onion, chopped. I usually use a large one.
  • 2 stalks celery, trimmed and chopped. I generally don’t like celery, but it’s one of the “aromatic vegetables” I include.
  • 2 large carrots, chopped. Or chopped up baby carrots, which is what I use.
  • 1 apple, chopped. Any kind of apple will do.
  • Turkey or chicken broth. Use the amount you’d need to prepare the rice (if included, see below) plus the amount of stuffing included (see below).
  • Prepared stuffing mix bread cubes or crumbs. This year I used Pepperidge Farm that I bought last year and didn’t use. I don’t use Stove Top brand. If I use a stuffing mix that has a separate seasoning packet, I throw that packet away. Sometimes I use a small package of cornbread stuffing with a small package of “herb seasoned” stuffing. Never the same two years in a row.

This Year’s Toss-Ins:

  • Brown or wild rice. Or a rice blend. I usually find a package in the cabinet with less than 1/2 cup left in it and toss that in.
  • Chestnuts, cooked and chopped. Trader Joe’s sells them prepared and that sure does make life easier.
  • Almonds, chopped. I used blanched slivered almonds this year. Sometimes I use pecans or walnuts — whatever is leftover from baking earlier in the year.
  • Raisins. Another clean out the cabinet item; this year I found some golden raisins that were turning brown.

In the past, I’ve also included bacon, ham, turkey giblets (the stuff in the bag stuffed into the raw bird’s chest cavity that most people throw away), garlic, yams, parsnips, turnips (I sure do love my root vegetables), other nuts, oatmeal (not sure what I was thinking there), dried cranberries, dried cherries, sesame seeds, flax seed, etc. I can’t remember them all. The key is to go through the refrigerator and pantry and decide what might “work” in the mix. You can’t really get it “wrong” if it’s something you like — the big exception being something silly, like chocolate. (There’s a time and a place for chocolate and T-day stuffing is not the place.)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Brown the sausage meat together with the onion and celery. Be sure to break apart the meat and stir it good. Unless there’s a lot (more than 1/4 cup?) of fat in the bottom of the pan, don’t drain it off; it’ll mix in and add flavor.
  2. Add the carrot and any other hard vegetable likely to need a little extra cooking. Simmer everything on low heat until the flavors are melded.
  3. All all other ingredients except the broth and stuffing mix. Stir it up well while simmering.
  4. Add the broth and bring the mixture up to a boil.
  5. If the mixture contains rice, cook until rice is mostly done.
  6. Add the stuffing mix and stir well to make sure all bread is moistened. Cover until ready to use/eat.

I don’t make the turkey — that’s my husband’s job. I make the stuffing. We don’t put the stuffing into the bird. The main reason for this is that we always make turkey soup the next day — indeed, my husband is prepping that now — and when the bird has been stuffed, boiling the carcass to make soup yields a cloudy broth that simply isn’t appetizing. Besides, the argument that cooking the stuffing inside the bird makes the stuffing more flavorful just doesn’t apply here. The stuffing is flavorful because of all the flavors cooked into it.

Yesterday’s stuffing came out very good. I had some for lunch and then had some with my turkey dinner later in the day. My guests seemed to enjoy it. Of course, because I put so much stuff into it, I have a ton of it leftover — not the best situation when I’m trying to cut carbs — but it freezes tolerably well and can always be pulled out later in the year to enjoy with another meal.

Do you make your stuffing like this? If so, why not share a few of your add-ins?

And if you make your next stuffing with my recipe as a rule of thumb, please do share your thoughts about the results.

What do you think?