Turkey may be the star attraction at the Thanksgiving table, but a great stuffing steals the show. (Photo by Jim Greene)

Six great stuffing recipes

What makes Thanksgiving dinner special? We know, and it's not served on a platter.

Here are six stuffing recipes to give thanks for, from a shrimp-and-oyster mixture with a Louisiana heritage to a no-guts, no-glory sausage, chicken liver and gizzard-accented dressing that will do your gravy proud.

Savory Sausage Stuffing

1 pound chicken gizzards

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 pound Italian sausage, mild or hot, removed from casing

1/2 pound chicken livers

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/4 cup chopped parsley

3 celery ribs, chopped

1 medium onion, diced

2 green onions, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 cup diced mushrooms

1 (14-ounce) package herb stuffing cubes

1/2 cup (1/4 stick) butter

1/2 cup pine nuts

1 (14.5-ounce) can reduced-sodium chicken broth

Place gizzards in a medium saucepan, cover with water, add salt and pepper and simmer for about 45 minutes. While they are cooking, brown and crumble sausage in skillet over medium heat; set aside. Add washed chicken livers to the gizzards and simmer another 20 minutes. Drain and discard liquid. Dice meats, discarding fat and tough membrane.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is warm, saute garlic for about 30 seconds. Add parsley, celery, onion, green onions, carrot and mushrooms. Saute until onions are translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

In same pan, saute diced meats for 3 to 5 minutes; add to vegetables. Empty herb stuffing cubes into large bowl. Melt butter in 1 cup water. Drizzle butter/water mixture over cubes and fluff with fork.

Add meat, sausage, vegetables and pine nuts. Drizzle chicken broth over mixture and stir to combine; it should be very moist but not soggy. If a moister stuffing is desired, add a cup of water and stir well.

Lightly oil a 10-by-14-inch baking dish. Spread stuffing in pan and bake for 40 minutes. If more crispness is desired, put under broiler for 5 to 10 minutes; place the pan 6 inches under the broiler and watch carefully for overbrowning.

Cuban Meat Stuffing (Relleno de Pavo)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1/2 pound ground beef

1/2 pound ground pork

1/4 pound ground ham

3/4 cup capers

1/2 cup tomato sauce

1/4 cup white wine

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add oil. Saute onion, green pepper and garlic until softened. Add ground beef, pork and ham and saute, breaking up any clumps, until browned. Add capers, tomato sauce, wine, salt and pepper and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Chestnut Stuffing

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine

1 large onion, chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped

1 pound ground beef

1 (16-ounce) package herb stuffing mix

1 8-by-8-inch pan corn bread, crumbled (about 5 cups)

4 large eggs, well-beaten

1 cup chestnuts, coarsely chopped

1 cup chopped pecans, divided

4 cups turkey broth or low-sodium canned chicken broth, divided use

1 teaspoon salt

Black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with vegetable oil or cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large skillet, melt butter. Saute onion and celery, then add ground beef and cook until meat is well-done. Pour into a very large bowl. Add stuffing mix, crumbled corn bread and eggs. Mix well. Add chestnuts and 2/3 cup pecans.

Put 4 tablespoons broth in a small bowl. Add remaining broth to stuffing mixture until it is gooey but not thin enough to go through the fingers. Mix well. Add salt and pepper. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Top with reserved broth. Add reserved pecans. Bake 40 minutes.

If you're going to use some of the mixture to stuff a turkey, set it aside before adding broth. You'll need a drier mixture for inside the bird.

Southern Corn Bread Dressing

6 cups crumbled corn bread

1 loaf white bread

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 ribs celery, chopped

1 tablespoon dried sage

5 eggs, lightly beaten

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, melted

3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided use

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Black pepper to taste

Prepare or buy corn bread and white bread a day before assembling stuffing. If using packaged sandwich bread, preheat oven to 250 degrees. Tear white bread slices into small pieces, place on a cookie sheet and bake until dry but not browned, about 30 minutes. Let cool, then crumble and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and set aside.

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Saute onion and celery until soft. Add sage. Mix well. Remove from heat. In an extra-large mixing bowl, combine onion-celery mixture, corn bread, white bread, eggs, butter, 2 cups broth, salt and pepper. Mix well. If mixture looks dry, add more broth, but resulting mixture should not be soupy. Pour into pan. Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until golden brown.

Louisiana Shrimp and Oyster Stuffing

3 tablespoons butter, divided use

1/4 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper

1 teaspoon gumbo file

1 teaspoon dried sage

12 cups crumbled corn bread

1 teaspoon salt

Black pepper to taste

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste

1/2 cup milk

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 pint fresh, shucked oysters, drained (reserve liquid)

1/2 pound small shrimp, peeled and deveined

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt 2 teaspoons butter. Saute celery, onion and bell pepper about 10 minutes, or until onions are a deep gold. Reduce heat if needed to prevent browning. Remove from heat and place in a large bowl. Add gumbo file and sage to sauted vegetables and mix well. Add corn bread and stir. Add salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper and combine, then stir in milk and eggs. If oysters are large, cut them in pieces. Add oysters and shrimp to mixture; stir well. Add reserved liquid from oysters and 1 tablespoon melted butter and stir until moistened.

Lightly coat a 9-by-13 baking dish with butter. Add mixture to the pan. Thinly slice remaining tablespoon butter and dot the stuffing with butter. Bake for about 30 minutes, until top is lightly browned and crispy.

Rosemary Walnut Bread Stuffing

1 (20-ounce) loaf white bread

1 (20-ounce) loaf whole-wheat bread

3 (1-ounce) packages sage leaves or to taste, chopped

2 (1-ounce) packages rosemary leaves or to taste, chopped

2 (1-ounce) packages thyme leaves or to taste, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups (4 sticks) butter, melted

3 celery ribs, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 cup chopped walnuts, or to taste

1 (14-ounce) can reduced-sodium chicken broth (optional)

Remove bread from packages and leave out overnight to go stale. Tear slices into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces. In two large bowls or one very large bowl, combine white and whole-wheat bread. Add the sage, rosemary and thyme (divide evenly if using two bowls). Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour melted butter over bread/herb mixture and toss well to combine. If you haven't already, divide the mixture into two equal portions.

For the "inside" stuffing: Combine half the bread mixture with celery, onion and walnuts and mix well. You can either stuff the cavity of the bird with this part of the stuffing or transfer it to a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. If cooking separately, drizzle the stuffing with chicken broth, cover and bake for 1 hour at 400 degrees.

For the "outside" stuffing: Take two large cookie sheets, layer with foil and spray with nonstick spray. Spread the other half of the stuffing in a thin layer across both sheets. Cover with plastic wrap, and set aside until the turkey is done. When turkey is done, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use a baster to suck the turkey juices from the roasting pan (reserving enough for gravy) and dribble the juice onto the stuffing in the cookie sheets, taking care to distribute it equally. Bake the stuffing, stirring every 5 minutes with a long wooden spoon, for 10-20 minutes, or until the stuffing turns a rich golden brown and is crunchy.


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