As far as I'm concerned, side dishes are what make a Thanksgiving dinner great. Sure, I like turkey, but I truly love stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes. For me, carbs topped with gravy make this holiday meal delicious. The problem is that most of us don't make these three dishes very often, so preparing them once a year -- for a table full of family and friends no less -- can seem intimidating and make you feel a bit like Dorothy walking into the dark unknown forest with the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. (Some of you may be able to tell that my daughters have just discovered the joys of watching - and rewatching and rewatching and rewatching -- the Wizard of Oz).
I made my first solo Thanksgiving dinner when I was 22 years old. My mom was sick and so I jumped in at the last minute. I had never made a chicken, let alone a turkey, but was excited to help out my mom and cook the meal. I muddled through the day, making boxed stuffing, lumpy mashed potatoes with the skins mixed in, and watery gravy. It was the worst Thanksgiving meal my family had ever eaten, but nobody seemed to care. Everyone just seemed thankful that they didn’t have to cook all day, and, of course, we were together.
Since then, I have cooked numerous Thanksgiving meals, some with help and some by myself. Each year I learn something new, try something different, and gain a little more confidence. My stuffing is now always made from Ciabatta and oven-roasted chestnuts, my mashed potatoes are creamy, and my gravy is (thankfully) thick. So, if you’re in need of a little Thanksgiving advice, here are a few things I’ve learned throughout the years about my three favorite parts of the Thanksgiving meal.
Moist Flavorful Stuffing
To stuff or not to stuff, that is the question. Although many recipes call for placing the stuffing in a baking dish and cooking it separately from the turkey to avoid bacterial contamination, I think this makes it dry. I therefore bake my stuffing in the turkey so all the lovely juices drip into the dressing, making it moist and flavorful. Without those, the stuffing is really just a mix of bread and other stuff. I then scoop it out when I take my turkey out of the oven, place it in a dish, and stick that back in the oven so it can heat up to the proper temperature while the meat rests. This allows you to get all the flavor of a stuffed dressing, while making sure it won't kill anyone.
Note: I won't recommend a specific stuffing recipe as there are tons of recipes out there.