*Disclaimer: Asthmagirl doesn't cook a huge quantity of dishes for Thanksgiving. But what she does cook is agnonized over and turns out just the way the she likes it and each year as she looks at her plate, she wonders where to start first because it's all so good! Basic, nothing fancy, but good!
On with the dressing... or whatever you choose to call it. Whether you put it in the bird or not... dressing is a big part of the Thanksgiving meal. I am incredibly finicky about dressing... it's goes back to childhood. My mother was a proponent of cornbread stuffing. Ugg. I like cornbread, I like stuffing, but I detest cornbread stuffing. And my mom didn't incorporate additional bread into it... just cornbread. When I got old enough, I began making a small pan of my own stuffing. My mom was fairly distressed at this mutiny... after all, who wouldn't like cornbread stuffing? Yeah... that'd be me!
Fast forward a to a few years ago... I'm now doing my own Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It took me a year or two to get this right, but this is what works for me year after year....
First of all... no bags of dried bread cubes. If you use them and it works for you, that's wonderful. But I can't get the moisture content right so I gave them up and went to real bread.
As soon as I get up Thanksgiving morning (at 4:30), I cut my bread into cubes so it can start drying a little. I use about two loaves of buttermilk bread and a loaf of 100% whole wheat... The short, wide loaves. I use a giant 10 quart bowl for this. I toss them every 15 minutes or so while I make breakfast and start the rest of the dressing. These cubes will not be super dry by the time I start adding the other ingredients.
The rest of the dressing: I slowly melt 1 cube of butter in a skillet. To that I add 1/2 of a sweet onion, thinly shaved and minced. (I hate big chunks of onion). I also add about 3-4 stalks of celery thinly shaved on the mandolin... 1 clove minced garlic and about 10-15 minced sage leaves, 10-15 tarragon leaves and maybe 10-15 stems of pulled thyme leaves (1 tbsp?). It kind of depends on how herb-y you like your dressing. I like the herbs! Slowly simmer... Back to the bread cubes. I make sure no one is looking and add about a tsp of dried over-the-counter thyme and about 1.5 tsp dried over-the-counter sage. Toss.
Now... I make two pans of dressing. One will be just bread/herb, the other will be sausage and apple. I use two links of Sweet Italian chicken sausage, removed from casing, cooked to crumbles and drained and 1-2 Granny Smith apples (depending on how much apple you like), peeled, cored and diced. I don't want a sweet apple, because it's a savory dressing and I just want a spike of flavor.
So with the apple and sausage set aside, I take my huge bowl of seasoned bread cubes and pour the butter/onion/herb on it slowly and toss for distribution. Then I draft a kid to come in the kitchen and slowly pour (I use the cartons of organic chicken broth from Costco) chicken broth while I stir the crumbs, slowly turning the bowl as we go. When I get the soft, mold-able, clumping consistency I'm looking for, I take half of the stuffing and lightly press it into a lightly buttered pan (glass). Then I stir the apple and sausage into the rest of the dressing. This gets lightly pressed into a slightly larger buttered glass pan.
Done? No. Stuffing cooked in pans tends to dry out so I pour chicken broth over the stuffing before covering it foil and placing it in the fridge for later. I would estimate I pour at least a half cup of broth over each pan (focusing on corners) before covering it. The bread will absorb this while the turkey is cooking...
These will get placed in the oven in the last half hour of the turkey/dinner roll/sweet potato rotation. I then remove the stuffing into dishes and toss. Very moist, great flavor! The apple sausage is usually wiped out on Thanksgiving. But I always have the herbed dressing for left overs! It's great in a turkey sandwich with a little bit of my home made cranberry compote!
PS- for the variables... you can always add mushrooms to either dressing (not for me thanks) or oyster (really, no). This year, I'm considering adding a small handful of currants or maybe leeks. More onion is always an option, I just like the essence of onion, not the overwhelming presence!