Pros: Extremely simple and delicious recipes
Cons: Not every recipe is equally good
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
First published 11/14/2002
I swear, I was planning to write a fiction review next. But I’ve been working on our menu for Turkey Day,* and I realized I’ve never reviewed Rick Rodgers’ “50 Best Stuffings & Dressings.” I decided I needed to rectify that situation immediately.
*”Turkey Day” is something we do two days after Thanksgiving, on a Saturday. We aren’t big holiday-celebrating people, you see, but Thanksgiving does make a fantastic excuse to cook for family and friends. And if we do it on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, then we can take two days off ahead of time to prepare!
We go a little nuts with Turkey Day. Okay, sure, so now that we’ve moved we don’t have quite as many people to invite. But did that convince us to cook less food? Heck no! This year we’re making a turkey; two stuffings; 11 sides, appetizers, chutneys, and sauces; rolls and biscuits (and two flavored butters to go with); cornbread; six desserts; and two beverages. Or something like that, anyway. Did I mention we’re feeding less than half a dozen people this year? (We do tell everyone to bring tupperware…)
One of the chief recommendations I give to people preparing feasts is this: always make dishes you’re familiar with and have made before. That way you’ll know what to expect and you can be sure things will turn out well. Of course (ahem), we don’t entirely follow this recommendation ourselves. We have enough experience with cooking, and we feel comfortable enough picking recipes, that many of the recipes we make in any given year are new ones. This means we need plenty of cookbooks to keep us going.
After all, we still like to adhere to certain traditions. There has to be something made with pumpkin (mostly because I’m a pumpkin fiend), one relatively “vanilla” mashed potato dish (one of the people we invite always asks for it, so we always make it), something cranberry, eggnog and/or cider of some type, bread(s), a big turkey, and – of course – stuffing. We always make two, because I love stuffing with sausage, and one of our guests is allergic to pepper (which sausage generally has in it).
This is where 50 Best Stuffings and Dressings comes in. It has provided some wonderful stuffings of all kinds over the last handful of years!
How to Make the Best Stuffing Ever: This chapter contains a hodge-podge of handy tips. Like, for example, doing ingredient prep the night before and storing your chopped veggies and toasted nuts in plastic bags in the refrigerator overnight (we do this every year – it makes cooking much quicker and easier!). There are also safety tips and ingredient notes, such as a recipe for homemade poultry seasoning and directions for toasting nuts.
My only quibble here is the author’s assertion that if the turkey hits its “safe & done” temperature before the stuffing does, you can just scoop the stuffing out and finish cooking it separately. That ignores the possibility that the turkey cavity isn’t at a safe and done temperature, and that this could potentially lead to some amount of bacterial contamination. A small and unlikely-to-be-a-problem quibble, admittedly, but I don’t like to take chances with food safety. I adhere to Alton Brown’s direction to cook stuffing separately – with the addition of the right liquids (like a homemade turkey broth), it doesn’t particularly suffer in taste or texture.
I’ll note that each recipe in this book gives you the option of cooking either in-bird or on the side. The book also includes a “perfect roast turkey with gravy” recipe in the front, but I always use Alton’s methods.
Bread Stuffings: Here’s where you’ll find your classic, delicious bread stuffing with celery and herbs – this recipe also comes with variations (giblet, oyster, and sausage variations). Each recipe is very simple, providing a quick note at the top, a simple list of ingredients, and a couple of simple steps to follow (in case you haven’t gotten the point yet, it’s simple). Things get more interesting from there, ranging from Quick Sausage, Apple, and Sage Stuffing to Whole Wheat Bread and Roasted Vegetable Stuffing, Rick’s Deluxe Turkey Stuffing (one of the ones we’ll be making this year), Peppery Sausage and Cracker Stuffing, and one of my favorites – Pumpernickel and Rye Bread Stuffing with Apples, Walnuts, and Golden Raisins.
Okay, honesty time here, we used sourdough instead of pumpernickel and rye because we like it better. The recipes are easy to tweak in this way – we’ve never had a problem with it. In general these aren’t low-fat recipes, with a few exceptions; most of them involve a stick or so of butter. On the other hand, it’s once a year, so why not?
Cornbread Stuffings: Stuffing means different things to different people, and in this cookbook you’ll find all of the major possibilities I’ve heard of so far. For example, cornbread stuffings: Greens and Bacon Cornbread Stuffing, Mason-Dixon Cornbread Dressing with Bacon and Pecans, Crab Gumbo Stuffing, Gingered Cranberry and Almond Cornbread Stuffing, and more. Unfortunately that Cranberry and Almond Stuffing there is one of the ones that didn’t come out entirely well (the flavors just didn’t really work together).
Rice and Grain Stuffings: Now, I’ve never had a stuffing based on rice or a grain before. But I admit, Aromatic Basmati Rice with Apricots and Cashews sounds rather good! Then there’s Chinese Hidden Treasure Stuffing, Paella Shrimp and Rice Stuffing, Five-Rice Stuffing with Baby Onions and Currants, and Wild Rice, Mushroom, and Hazelnut Stuffing – among others.
Fruit and Vegetable Stuffings: Some of the fruit & vegetable stuffings use bread in some amount (like the Fig, Hazelnut, and Prosciutto Stuffing); others don’t (the Chestnut Stuffing with Apples and Sage, which relies on chestnuts, apples, and onion as its bulk ingredients!). Still others include rice (such as the Pilaf Stuffing with Dates and Pistachios), so there is some overlap between this chapter and others. In fact, sometimes I have trouble figuring out why a recipe is in this chapter (or the following chapter) instead of an earlier one, but at least there’s an index at the end to help you find things. There’s even a Smashed Potato Stuffing with Roasted Garlic that uses two whole heads of garlic!
Meat Stuffings: This chapter includes a Caribbean Beef and Rice Stuffing for variety, as well as recipes such as the Chicken Liver, Mushroom, and Brioche Stuffing with Madeira Wine, and even a Kielbasa, Sauerkraut, and Apple Stuffing.
This chapter also contains two of my favorite stuffings ever. One is a Mortadella, Walnut, and Rosemary Stuffing (Rodgers describes Mortadella as “a delicately flavored cured pork sausage with a mousse-like texture,” and surprisingly enough in this small town, the deli at the grocery store actually carries it). The other favorite is a Savory Sausage and Mushroom Stuffing. It was so rich and delicious that I left a notation next to it to double the recipe the next time because it disappeared so fast! Each recipe does specify, by the way, how many cups of stuffing it makes.
“50 Best Stuffings and Dressings” is a very worthwhile cookbook. It’s a small little book, and I didn’t expect much from it, but somehow every year we end up pulling it out again. It’s simple, and most of its results are wonderful. I hope you all have a happy Turkey Day of your own, and some truly memorable food!