For years, I thought the right thing to do was to torture myself on Thanksgiving eve and day in order to make everyone else happy. Then, I came up with a system to conquer having to cook all day long.
Before I start sharing tips on food preparation, I wanted to share another turning point in how I made my stuffing go over the top from great to excellent. Well, we all have our favorite stuffing and could fight stuffing wars on who has the best stuffing, but no matter WHAT your favorite stuffing is (outside of stuffing from a box), the key to having it taste incredible is to bake your own bread or buy loaves from a bakery.
Now, if baking bread seems overwhelming to you, one way to combat it is to buy a bread machine. Just the other day, I was at a thrift store for veterans where there was a stock pile of bread machines. Machines could be bought for under $10.00 at this place. You can do two good things at once – make a purchase that benefits people and get an appliance or two.
Look inside prior to purchasing one. I’ve noted the paddles are usually missing from inside the pan, but you can check to see if you can order the part. If you want to go for my unconventional bread baking methods, try my recipe in this article: How to Bake Bread Like You Know What You’re Doing. I posted my own Honey Bread recipe on there, but, for stuffing, you might want to eliminate the sweetness a bit and just add a tablespoon or two of sugar or honey. My all time favorite bread to make for my stuffing is Challah Bread (an egg bread). My honey bread will work well.
Another thing – if you’re making a cornbread sausage stuffing, making a sweet cornbread and bread like I posted above tastes so good (but, again, that could be a matter of opinion). I just love the combination of a sweet cornbread mixed with sausage and fresh baked bread broken up into it.
I also love a more traditional stuffing. My grandmother use to make a sage stuffing that I loved. After I tried cornbread sausage stuffing, the other stuffing went to the back burner for me. Trust me when I tell you I was the die hard fan of the sage stuffing and refused to try anything else…until, one day, I gave the cornbread sausage stuffing a try, and my Thanksgiving world was changed.
Onto my own, personal tips and tricks:
Two Days in Advance
Start chopping up all the vegetables you may need. Have storage bags on hand to put the vegetables in for each dish, and put the name of the dish on the front of each bag so you won’t get confused and put the wrong amount of vegetables into another dish.
Start making your vegetable broth at this point for your brine if you make my version for The BEST and Most Moist, Succulent Turkey Without Breaking the Bank.
Bake a loaf of bread for your stuffing. If you have a large amount to make, you can bake one loaf one day and one loaf another.
One Day Before Thanksgiving
Bake your pies, cheesecakes, and all the other desserts you have to make!
Assemble casseroles and any side dishes that can be made ahead of time. Just remember: you’ll have to pull these out of the fridge and bring the temperature down a bit if you’re sticking them in the oven. You don’t want to crack your dishes from taking them from cold to hot so quickly. I haven’t done that for a long time, but it can happen! Using a microwave doesn’t need to cause you so much concern.
Put together your stuffing, but do NOT leave it in the bird overnight. Put your turkey in the brine.
Set out everything you need to make dinner on a counter top so you have it all lined up and ready to go.
Make a mental note on how you’re going to bake all your food the next day. Are you going to need to use the oven? Can you use the microwave? How will you time everything to come out at the same time?
Currently, I don’t have a double oven installed in my house. It would be a great thing to have this time of year. If you have one, I’m totally jealous. If not, here are some ideas to cook your food and keep it warm:
I make two kinds of stuffing for Thanksgiving – the one I was raised eating, and the one my husband was raised eating. I put his stuffing in the bird to add more flavor. His exceeds the amount of room in the cavity of the bird, so I put the rest in a small casserole dish that has been sprayed with a non-stick spray. I cover it with foil and, during the last hour or so of bake time for the bird, I put his stuffing in and stir it every 20 minutes to prevent burning on the sides. I later combine this with the stuffing that’s in the bird.
I put my stuffing in a large slow cooker. I stir it throughout the day to make sure it’s getting heated throughout and to prevent the sides from becoming burnt or too dark.
When the turkey comes out of the oven, I let it sit for 30 minutes. During that time period, I put casseroles, side dishes, etc. into the oven. Things that can be microwaved, I put in the microwave and cover to keep warm. You can start making your gravy at this point too.
I’d love to hear your favorite tips and tricks for getting your dinner prepared, but, MOST of all, I’d love to hear THE STUFFING WARS!!!! What’s your all time favorite stuffing and why? Are you a die hard stuffing fan? Does it have to be your stuffing way or the highway? When someone tells you to try something new, do you just tell them to STUFF IT or do you give it a go?