I first started taking over Thanksgiving on my fifteenth Thanksgiving. The next year, I did my first turkey at the age of sixteen. By eighteen, I had taken over every Thanksgiving dinner I laid my hands on. My family soon started called me a “kitchen nazi,” which just thrilled my Jewish relatives. By the age of twenty, I was looking to carve my name into the kitchen table. I wanted to establish myself as different from the matriarchs of the family. Although, messing around with Thanksgiving is a dangerous endeavor. If I go too off the beaten path, I face the wrath of those seated at the very table I’m trying to carve my name into. More than a few years (and honestly still to this day), my brother has come into the kitchen on more than one occasion, picking and tasting and licking the various concoctions I have going on during my prep. He would then look up to me and ask, “What the hell is this froofy shit?!? Where are the mashed potatoes? Where is the stuffing? What is this shit?”
Like everyone else in this family, I am as stubborn as an ox. Any of words of discouragement has never really stopped me from achieve whatever the hell I set out to complete. Nothing would stop me from carving my name into that Thanksgiving table. Finally, one year sitting in my college dorm, I figured out how. Although, I was certain that I was going to piss of my brother. Each Thanksgiving dish became a small plate and I was doing Tapas Thanksgiving. One big waldorf salad became lettuce cups. Sweet potato casserole became roasted sweet potato bourbon puree funneled into chucked out orange halves topped with apple slices and chestnuts (code name orange cups). Traditional turkey stuffing became Cranberry Apple Sausage Stuffing. I’m going to go not so far out on a limb here and say I out did myself. Even my brother was happy, after hours of moping about declaring I had ruined Thanksgiving.
Ever since that year, my name has remained permanently etched into that beautiful pre-civil war era kitchen table. Furthermore, orange cups and stuffin muffins has remained a part of the Thanksgiving menu ever since. Of course, whenever stuffin muffins are one the table, the dirty jokes are sure to follow. This year was no different. Only this year, I had to cook everything on a boat in a marina with a bee problem. Whenever I cook Thanksgiving, I spend 2-3 days cooking and preparing for the big feast. My Thanksgiving prep day is the day before the meal itself. I usually like to cook the stuffin muffins the day before because they freeze so well. Then you can just pop them in the microwave the next day et voila. That also makes them brilliant for long lasting Thanksgiving day leftovers.
The day I prepped these little pinchos, I had to handle hell just to get them in the oven. First, the bees. By hour two, the boat was swarming with more than fifty bees. I stepped of the boat for a moment to try and relax. While I was out, I ran into my friend Sean on Que Sera. He offered to help me wrangle the swarm without killing a single bee. While I put screens on all of the windows, Sean would capture individual bees in an empty water bottle. Once the boat was free of bees, I faced my next obstacle. The god awful heat. The boat’s thermometer was registered at 97° Fahrenheit. I mean, ba-je-zuus! It was a sweatbox. Although, I have to live up to my name carved into that kitchen table. So I got it done. With minimal pain. Just a lot of sitting down and consumption a lot of water.
SAUSAGE APPLE DRIED CRANBERRY STUFFING MUFFINS
½ pound mild bulk breakfast sausage
4 tablespoons butter
3 cups sliced leeks, white and pale green parts only, cleaned well (about 2 large leeks)
2 Granny Smith apples, cored and chopped
1 cup chopped celery with leaves
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
1 cup dried cranberries, rehydrated in boiling water for 15 minutes and drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
6-8 cups boxed bread cubes (croutons)
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
3 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
3 medium eggs
½ c milk
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Saute the sausage in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, crumbling coarsely with the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage and drippings to a large bowl.
Melt the butter in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the leeks, apples, celery and poultry seasoning to the skillet and saute until the leeks are soft, about 8 minutes. Mix in the drained cranberries, sage and rosemary. Add the mixture to the sausage, then mix in the croutons and parsley.
(Optional: The stuffing can be made to this point 2 days before Thanksgiving, refrigerated, covered. Bring to room temperature. Or you can cook the dish all the way through. Freeze and reheat on the day of)
Next add the chicken stock a little at a time until the stuffing is very moist. Be sure not to overdo it; it shouldn’t be mushy. Season with salt and pepper.Lightly beat the eggs with the milk, and pour over the top.Give your muffin pans a light misting of non-stick spray, and fill each cup with stuffing.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 60 minutes. If you prefer a stuffing that’s a little more moist, cover with aluminum foil for the first 45 minutes.