Let's loosen those belts and dig out our elastic waist pants because tomorrow is the big day. As you know Thanksgiving is the grandest of food holidays celebrated in our country. It is the Mount Everest of feasts, a summit that I intend to reach one forkful at a time.
I'll be honest, over the past two years, I have been hesitant to write about the recipes that accompany this celebration. Every family has their own traditions. One may prepare a beautifully browned oven-roasted turkey. Others might smoke or deep fry their birds.
Does your table showcase creamy mashed potatoes spruced up with garlic, parmesan and sour cream folded in the midst? Or does your family serve thicker potatoes cut with butter, the perfect consistency required to create a massive potato bowl that can hold up to a cup of delicious brown gravy?
Cranberry sauce can be thin and festively spiced, or it can be served in a jiggly mold with orange zest and fresh cranberries. We all know if one custom is changed it will cause a riot in the house. Just like the time my cousin added chocolate chips to my favorite pumpkin pie. (I still love you KB!)
When it comes to other Thanksgiving staples, such as giblet gravy, macaroni and cheese, and the bevy of casseroles, I could go on for hours about the different methods used in their preparation. Don't even get me started on the dressing-versus-stuffing debate. There are a million ways to tackle a Thanksgiving feast. Who am I to tell your granny how to fill her perfect dining table cornucopia? They undoubtedly have me beat in the experience department.
When I was trying to decide what recipe to share this month, I placed my focus on the variety of Thanksgiving meals I have experienced in my lifetime. Believe me, I have had plenty. We have been known to eat at up to six different occasions over a two-day period! Furthermore, I have always found it interesting to discuss with other clans how they prepare their celebratory suppers. While going down memory lane, a thought then dawned on me pertaining to the most surprising dish I can remember at a Thanksgiving meal.
In college I had the opportunity to eat at a pal's home during the holiday break. His father prepared a dressing that blew my mind. Instead of cornbread or white bread, he used pretzel rolls as the filler and added sausage. Until that point, I had only experienced your traditional holiday dressing, and as a disclaimer, that is still my favorite preparation because that's how my Mommo, Ma, Mamaw and Greats make it -- however, this was a much-welcomed variation.
This month I want to share a version of that dressing that I have been working on. In this recipe I use soft pretzel rolls and rye bread as the base. I add the usual mirepoix mixture of celery, onion and carrots along with fresh sage, rosemary and thyme. Chicken stock is the moistening agent, but if you have some turkey stock in the pantry, use it for a more festive feel. Lastly, an addition of spicy sausage takes the savory essence and heartiness of this dish to another level.
This dressing has an herbal punch in flavor and aroma. The pretzel rolls add a toasty flavor, as well as a crunch in texture where the top bakes to a golden brown. I am very proud of the rye bread addition. It lends a spiciness in taste, giving the dressing a multitude of layers of flavor needed to dress up a dressing. This recipe smells and tastes just like winter.
Now I don't expect you to change your menu tomorrow, but I hope that you prepare this dish over the next few weeks. It will look perfect placed on a Christmas table or even the center of a cold evening dinner. The sausage makes it so filling that it can be a single meal. You will not be sorry stepping out of your comfort zone on this one.
I hope all of our readers have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with much needed rest over the break. Tell your grandmothers, I said keep doing what you do, making memories through the soul touching medium of food. Be safe in your travels and happy cooking!
Pretzel and Rye Dressing
6 cups pretzel rolls, cubed
4 cups rye bread, cubed
1 pound spicy sausage
1 1/2 -- 2 cups chicken or turkey stock
½ onion, chopped
3/4 cup carrot, chopped
¾ cup celery sticks chopped
1/2 cup green onion
4 garlic cloves, chopped
¼ cup fresh sage, minced
¼ cup fresh rosemary, minced
¼ cup fresh thyme, minced
2 large eggs
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place cubed bread in a single layer on a sheet pan. Use multiple pans if need be. Spray the cubes with butter or canola oil. Toast bread until browned, crunchy on the outside, and still soft on the inside. Place to the side.
In a skillet sauté onions, celery, and carrots on medium heat with butter until softened, and their aromas open up (about 7 to 10 minutes). Once the mirepoix is softened, add the fresh herbs and garlic cloves for a few minutes to release their flavors.
Brown sausage in a skillet and discard the remaining grease.
Beat two eggs and combine with stock to your preference. Use 1 1/2 cups of stock for fluffier dressing and up to 2 cups of stock for a moister dressing.
In a large mixing bowl, fold the sausage, mirepoix, eggs, stock, garlic and herbs into the toasted bread. Add salt and pepper.
Bake covered at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Uncover and cook for 15 to 25 more minutes until the top is golden brown and center is set.