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Walnut-Cranberry Stuffing

November 3, 2014

Stuffing has been a Thanksgiving wishbone of contention for years now. “It’s a hotbed of food borne illness.” “It’s not a Thanksgiving turkey without stuffing.” Do we or don’t we. In response to the first issue: any food is a potential vector for food borne illness. Simply not washing your hands or not using soap and water to clean surfaces is the most common cause of food poisoning. But a whole turkey does pose its own problems. Rinsing the turkey under cold running water will remove surface contaminants. And proper cooking will take care of the microscopic problems.

As to the second, butterflying the whole turkey, or deboning and using just the breast, we can lay the meat over a mound of stuffing. This will still impart all the turkey flavor into the stuffing but also expose the stuffing to much higher temperatures and direct cooking heat.  A butterflied turkey also cooks more evenly. Afterall, who brings a whole turkey to the table and carves it standing up while everyone waits, except of course, in TV commercials.

Speaking of TV commercials, stuffing should not come in a box, and it certainly isn’t made on a stovetop. Well, part of it is prepared on a stovetop, but generally, stuffing should be roasted in an oven, either in a casserole dish or under a bird in a roasting pan. But there is one aspect of that boxed, salted travesty that is quite useful: the stuffing cubes. Oh, we’ll not be buying a box of Stovetop Stuffing simply to use the bread cubes and throw away the rest, but we will be using stuffing cubes from a reputable bakery: your trusted store brand, or either Arnold or Pepperidge Farms stuffing cubes work wonderfully. Just be sure you buy unseasoned bread cubes. The seasoned variety contains quite a bit of salt, and powdered spices. We’ll be adding our own fresh spices, and controlling how much salt goes in based on our own tastes.

Why stuffing cubes? Convenience cannot be overstated here. Thanksgiving is a truly hectic time of year for cooking, and refrigerator and freezer space are at a premium. The bread cubes are completely dry and can be stored, indefinitely, in a cool dry place. Consistency is also key. Each piece is the same size and texture which makes the overall finished product a consistent quality, no large soggy pieces of bread lurking in the depths.

We’ll also be using Craisins, dried, slightly sweetened cranberries, in this stuffing. Like the cubes, they are much easier to store and the consistent quality helps out. No picking through fresh cranberries to pull out the unripe berries. As for the walnuts, a very rough chop is all that’s required here. Keep the food processor and nut chopper clean and give these nut halves a once over with a large, sharp knife. We want identifiable pieces of walnut, but not so big they take over the bite. Chopped walnut pieces, the kind sprinkled on your brownie fudge sundae, are too small for this stuffing.

This stuffing can be prepared an hour or two in advance and held at room temperature to ease the kitchen counter crowding when it comes time to prep the bird for the hotbox.

If you’re looking for a new way to incorporate cranberries into your holiday menu and avoid the canned gelatinous cranberry sauce ubiquitous to many a Thanksgiving tables, this delicious stuffing is a win-win solution. Give it a try this holiday, it won’t disappoint.

Walnut-Cranberry Stuffing

  •  14 ounce bag of dry stuffing cubes, Arnold, Pepperidge Farms or store brand
  • 10 ounces cream of celery soup
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh sage, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • 4 cups turkey or chicken broth
  • 1-2 cups whole milk
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup Craisins
  • 1 cup roughly chopped walnuts
  • kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste 

In a large bowl, combine the bread cubes, cream soup, eggs, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme and stir to combine. Set aisde.

In a large skillet, melt the butter and sweat the onion, about 2 minutes over medium high heat. Add the craisins, walnuts and salt and pepper and continue to sauté over medium high heat for an additional 5 minutes or until the walnuts start to brown and become fragrant. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly, about 10 minutes.

Add the onion mixture to the bread cubes and thoroughly combine. Add the broth and thoroughly combine. Allow the mixture to sit for several minutes to allow the cubes to absorb the broth and begin to soften. Add the milk, a cup at a time until the milk is visible in the mixture. The bread cubes have an enormous capacity to absorb liquid. If you prefer a drier stuffing, add less milk. Since everything is cooked, be sure to taste the stuffing before roasting and adjust the salt and pepper to suit your taste.

Bake the stuffing in a casserole dish at 350°F for an hour if you are not roasting it under or in the turkey.

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