I've never been totally in charge of Thanksgiving. Living at least three hours away from my extended family for my entire adult life, I have resigned myself to Special Guest Star status during any of our big celebrations. That is, I don't get to make the food; I get to swoop in and eat it. And I'm sure many people might think this is the best possible Thanksgiving situation, but I love to cook and appreciate all the showboating opportunities I can get.
If you are in the same situation, you might consider swooping in with the following dishes for Christmas. If you have a cooler, they can travel and can even be made the night before, and the stuffing can be reheated along with the ham or turkey or whatever you're having. Added bonus: both are scene-stealers. The little cheesecake will dominate any appetizer table, and the stuffing will mesmerize your friends and family into taking not seconds, not thirds, but FOURTHS. I saw it happen yesterday.
Thanksgiving is over, and let's face it, Christmas is a time for culinary one-upsmanship and even vengeance. Sure, you may be single and childless, doing whatever it is you do in that godforsaken college town on the other side of the state (why would you ever want to live there??). You may be living in a sketchy, transient apartment with an incontinent cat, trying to peddle your overrated paintings over the blasted Internet, and we all know you're not getting any younger. We've stopped asking about that noble but dead-end job of yours because it's just too depressing.
But DAMN, GIRL, can you ever cook!
Here's your game plan for next month. Let's kick some asses. I'm just going to call the first recipe...
Recipe by Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten, who knows what she's doing, with italicized tips and changes from me. This is not technically stuffing, as you do not put it inside of an animal. Rather, you bake it in its own pan. But come on, who here likes to use the word "dressing" when talking about stuffing in its own pan? I don't. Because it's still stuffing, and that word is infinitely cuter and more fun to say.
Again, you could make this ahead of time and refrigerate it. I made it on the day of the meal (one hour, start to finish), but guess what? The Day Two leftovers are even better. So I say make and bake it the day before, drive it to your feast, let it come to room/car temperature if that's possible with your travel situation, and reheat it in the oven.
Yesterday six people (some of whom have been accused of being bird-like eaters, and some of whom had fourths) barely made a dent in this massive amount of stuffing, but everyone made extra-sure to take a sizeable chunk of it home. I've played around with different recipes, but now I can say that this is the only stuffing I will ever make from now on.
- 16 cups 1-inch bread cubes, white or sourdough (1 1/2 pound loaf) <-- I managed to find a pound loaf of semolina bread, which I paired with half a long baguette, both from LaBrea
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 2 cups medium-diced yellow onion (2 onions)
- 1 cup medium-diced celery (2 stalks)
- 2 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled, cored and medium/large-diced
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 pound sweet or spicy Italian sausage, casings removed <-- Since I went shopping on Thanksgiving Saturday, my supermarket had been picked clean of Italian sausage, so I had to use a pound of regular Jimmy Dean sausage. While awesome, I think Italian would have been even better. And I just used the whole pound.
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup dried cranberries
Preheat the oven to 350.
Place the bread cubes in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake for 7 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Remove the bread cubes to a very large bowl. OR: skip this oven jazz and cut the bread into cubes the night before, allowing them to dry on a sheet pan.
Put the bread cubes in the largest bowl you have.
In a large saute pan, melt the butter and add the onions, celery, apples, parsley, salt and pepper. Saute over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened. Pour this over the bread cubes.
In the same saute pan, cook the sausage over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until browned and cooked through, breaking up the sausage with a fork while cooking. If you want to save time, brown the sausage in a separate frying pan while the onions/apples are cooking in their pan. Nothing makes you feel like a chef quite like monitoring multiple pans. Add the sausage to the bread cubes and vegetables.
Add the chicken stock (use more than a cup if you want a mushier stuffing) and cranberries to the mixture, mix well, and pour into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. I patted the top down flat with my hands, but Ina's was craggier than the Grand Tetons. Up to you! Bake for 30 minutes, until browned on top and hot in the middle. Serve warm.
RED PEPPER CHEESECAKE
Forgive the iPhone photos, but who can remember to bring proper cameras when there's a feast a-brewing? Above is the amazing little red pepper cheesecake after a couple of people attacked it. The recipe is by Giada de Laurentiis, from her book Giada's Kitchen, the one where she's zesting a lemon and looking at you as if to say, "How is it possible for me to eat my own food and look like this?" The cheesecake is a huge favorite of mine, producing the ultimate savory/sweet bite. Serve it on pita chips, crackers, crostini, etc.
Note: you will have to buy a tiny, 4-inch springform pan. It will set you back six dollars and this will infuriate you, but believe me, it's worth the hassle and expense. You will make this again and again and people will bow to your godlike genius.
- 4 oz ricotta cheese, room temperature <-- go with whole milk if you wanna impress
- 4 oz cream cheese, room temperature <-- go with full-fat if you wanna blow minds
- 2 oz goat cheese, room temperature <-- if you don't have it or you hate it, substitute any soft cheese you don't hate or even shredded mozzarella, or if you don't have that, just use more cream cheese
- 1 T sugar
- 1 egg
- pinch kosher salt
- 2 jarred roasted red bell peppers cut in thin strips and halved, about 1/2 cup
- 1/4 C apricot jam
Preheat the oven to 350. Wrap the outside of a 4-inch round springform pan with 2 layers of heavy-duty foil. We were out of foil, but I decided to make the cheesecake anyway, sans water bath, and had no problems, although I put the pan on a baking sheet.
Place the ricotta, cream cheese, and goat cheese in a food processor and pulse to mix. Seriously, this cheese needs to be at room temperature or you will have a FAIL. Add the sugar, egg, and a pinch of salt and pulse a few times until will mixed and thick and creamy. Fold in the red pepper strips with a rubber spatula. Pour the cheese mixture into the springform pan.
Place the springform pan in a roasting pan and pour in enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake until the cheesecake is golden at the edges and the center of the cake moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken, about 45 minutes. The cake will become firm when it is cold. Transfer the cake to a wire rack and cool for 1 hour. Refrigerate until the cheesecake is cold, at least 3 hours and up to 2 days. If transporting, try to keep the cheesecake cold.
To serve, top with apricot jam. If jam is too thick to spread easily, thin with 1 or 2 teaspoons of hot water. Tip: be liberal with the jam. It really makes this special.
And finally, check out what Jeff did to the turkey yesterday:
He removed the breastbone and back. The squashed turkey was fully cooked in half the time! Possible future post, but he wants to do it again and get photos of the deboning procedure, which was gruesome yet entertaining and created strange, sci-fi-looking by-products.