One down, one to go. Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, there is one more big meal that stands between now and next year. I don’t count New Year’s as a big meal because it is usually not the same elaborate feast we have for Thanksgiving or Christmas. When I was a kid, we had three really big meals a year: Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Some people have a prime rib roast for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas, but for us and for the other families I knew, there was always turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas and ham for Easter.
Before we get to the stuffing recipe, however, I would like to go over a possible way for you to get everything done.
By starting the cooking a day or so ahead, you will be able to spend more time enjoying the holiday.
The whole idea behind Thanksgiving is the meal. Even football is just an excuse to be able to unbuckle the belt, sit back and vegetate for a few hours while you digest the 10 pounds of food you forced yourself to eat. It is a long day in the kitchen since the kitchen is the hub of all activity. Everyone wants to stop in to say hello or have a drink with the chef or just see what’s going on. Even though you are working non-stop, there are plenty of others in the kitchen to keep you in the party.
Christmas is an entirely different holiday. No longer is the kitchen the center of attention, although the meal is expected to be every bit as extravagant. You’ll find yourself all alone in the kitchen for lengths of time. The living room takes center stage on this day with the brightly decorated tree, the kids playing with new toys, the guests taking it all in — the sounds of Christmas carols, of stories of when they were a kid and how their best Christmases went, the eggnog taking effect. Unlike Thanksgiving, this can really make cooking dinner a much bigger chore — you would rather be out in the living room with everyone enjoying the much more jovial atmosphere.
How can you enjoy more of the day in the living room? Set yourself up in advance. Although this is a big meal, it is also a menu that can be done over a few days and not necessarily all at once. Having enough oven space for all the dishes can be tricky, but if you make a few things in advance, all you need to do is reheat them — that can be done once you take the turkey out of the oven while it is resting. Remember that the bird needs to rest a full 20 to 30 minutes before carving so the juice will settle back into the meat keeping it nice and moist, instead of just running out onto the cutting board.
- Roast your squash and other vegetables the day before.
- Make the cranberry sauce a day or two ahead.
- Cut potatoes and keep them in the refrigerator in cold water.
- Make the mashed potatoes ahead on the thick side. Reheat them by adding a little cream or milk to a pot, heating it and then adding the potatoes into the warmed milk/cream.
- Make the croutons for the stuffing up to three days ahead.
- Cut the sausage and dice the onion, carrot and celery the day before.
All of these ideas will give you a little more time enjoying the holiday in the living room with the rest of your guests. The only thing I will say is to be sure to reheat everything in the oven and not in the microwave.
Have a very merry Christmas.
1 loaf white bread, cut into small cubes
1 12- to 14-oz. package breakfast sausages
1 yellow onion, medium diced
2 large carrots, fine diced
5 celery sticks, fine diced
2 C turkey or chicken stock
2 sticks butter
2 T poultry seasoning
2 T rosemary, crushed
2 T sage, fine chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, fine diced
Cut the bread into croutons. Toss the croutons with just enough melted butter (about ½ to 1 stick) to lightly coat them. Dust with half the herbs and garlic. Spread on a sheet tray and toast in the oven until golden.
Slice the sausages in half and remove the meat from the casing. Discard the casing. Sauté in a pot until just browned and add all the vegetables, garlic and a 1/2 stick of butter. Sauté until everything is soft. Add the stock and rest of the butter. Bring to a boil.
Add the croutons and rest of the herbs and remove from heat. Mix well and keep covered so it remains moist. Add a little more stock, salt, pepper and seasoning to taste.