I have been hosting and cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the past seven years. But this year, my family and I were invited to Jake’s mom’s house for dinner. Deciding what I would cook to contribute to the meal led me to reflect on what dishes I really love the most. I concluded that in order for the meal to feel like Thanksgiving for me, I would have to have my mom’s stuffing, cranberry-apple relish, and my grandma’s yeast rolls.
Every year, I see new gourmet stuffing recipes, but I can never bring myself to deviate from my mom’s simple, classic recipe. My mom always made it by cutting up a loaf of cheap wheat bread and I did too until Thursday. The weekend before Thanksgiving, I made a loaf of light wheat bread (a bread that’s a mix of white and wheat flour so that it’s not as dense as whole wheat bread) and cut the loaf into medium thick slices and then into small cubes. Next, I made stock to replace the store-bought stock or bouillon broth we always used to moisten the bread cubes. I bought celery, onions, and garlic at the farmer’s market and cut about 4 sprigs of thyme from my plant on the patio. The only critical ingredient that I didn’t grow this year and wasn’t able to find at the market was sage. So, I used dried, ground sage instead. It all comes together about 30 minutes before the meal is served. Being a former vegetarian and now hesitant meat eater, I have never actually made the stuffing to go into the turkey. I’ve always served it as a side dish or stuffed it into roasted acorn squash halves.
To make the stuffing, you put some olive oil in a large skillet along with a tablespoon or two of butter (also local). Then, you saute a large onion (chopped), a few cloves of minced garlic, and a bunch of chopped celery stalks. I add the thyme, sage, salt and pepper to this mixture while it’s cooking. After about 5 minutes or when the onions and celery are beginning to soften, I add heaping amounts of bread cubes. I mix them around and then leave them for a minute or two so that they start browning a bit and start getting a little crispy. I add stock by just pouring some around the pan so that the bread cubes absorb some of the liquid. Once the bread cubes have condensed a bit (they will with the addition of stock), I add more bread cubes. I usually add more thyme and sage to the bread cube mixture as well. It’s not an exact science by any means. In fact, I don’t actually have a physical recipe. I just make it from memory â€“ memories of watching and helping my mom in the kitchen. That’s probably why I find this recipe so comforting.
I have to make a quick note about stock â€“ it’s something I’ve built into my routine this year like baking bread. I always thought it sounded like a pain to put together, but I’ve since discovered that it really requires hardly any effort at all and the results amazingly impact the taste of your soup. To make a simple stock, all you need to do is roughly chop (large chunks and pieces) about two onions, a celery stalk or two, two or three smashed cloves of garlic, a sprig of thyme (or dried), and any other greens you may have left over from your other cooking adventures. I’ve added kale, leek greens, carrot tops, and more. You saute those ingredients in a large stock pan with a tablespoon or two of olive oil for just a few minutes. Add about 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and two quarts of water and let it all simmer together for about 30 minutes to an hour. Finally, strain it into two large mason jars and freeze them. When I know I’m going to make a soup, I just take the jar out of the freezer that morning and am able to use it by the evening.
Finally, I’ll leave you with the recipe for the rolls I had to have at Thanksgiving. The recipe I follow, which comes from my grandma Inez, is written in my mom’s handwriting, so I’m guessing she used to make them too. They are easy to put together and really don’t take much time to make, especially considering they’re made with yeast. No kneading is required either â€“ a recipe that’s just my style.
Grandma Inez’s Two Hour Rolls
My original family recipe says to add enough flour to make a thick batter. Therefore, the amount of flour called for in this recipe is approximate. In the ingredients list below, I noted the amount of flour I ended up using the last time I made these rolls.
2 pkgs. yeast
2 eggs (beaten)
1/2 cup canola oil
2 cups luke warm water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
~ 7 cups of flour
1. In a large mixing bowl, beat the two eggs. Then, add all of the ingredients except the flour and mix together.
2. Add enough flour to make a thick batter (about 6 to 7 cups â€“ I know it seems excessive, but it will be worth it). Add the flour 2 cups at a time. The dough will look ragged, but shouldn’t be super sticky when you touch it.
3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for one hour. Meanwhile, oil two 9 x 13 inch baking pans.
4. On a flour-dusted surface, divide the dough in half. I use a large kitchen knife to cut the dough into pieces. If the dough is sticky, add more flour to the surface and the dough to make it easier to work with. Set one half aside and place the other on your work surfa
ce. Divide the first half into 12 rolls â€“ I usually cut the dough into three even pieces and then cut each third into four rolls. Place them in one of the greased pans, evenly spaced. Repeat with the remaining dough and pan. Cover the pans with plastic wrap and let sit for one hour.
5. Bake both pans of rolls at 500 degrees for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Watch them carefully – especially if you’re not sure about the actual temperature of your oven. They burn easily.
6. Butter the tops of the rolls upon taking them out of the oven. Enjoy!