Stuffin’ Muffins – a kitchen hack

Thanksgiving is hands-down my most anticipated meal of the year.  My Roasted Chesnut Apple & Sausage Stuffing is hands down, my favorite part of the meal and I purposely make more than I’ll need.  It freezes beautifully and this year I remembered a kitchen hack from Rachael Ray from early in her 30 Minute Meals days – Stuffin Muffins.

Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray, pack the cups with unbaked stuffing and freeze for three hours.  Take them out of the muffin tin and place in a single layer into a large freezer Ziploc bag.  When you need a single-serving and savory side dish with chicken, turkey or pork simply pop out one or more and bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes until they’re crunchy on top.


My Famous Cran-Orange Relish, just in time for Thanksgiving

 Cran-Orange Relish
Cran-Orange Relish
  • 2 12 oz bags of fresh cranberries
  • 2 navel oranges
  • 1 T raspberry or strawberry jam
  • 2-3 T sugar
  • 1 t balsamic vinegar
  • 1-2 T Grand Marnier liqueur
Assembly Line

I use a dutch oven pan to create more surface area for warming the berries. Place cranberries, sugar, jam and vinegar in the pan on a low to medium setting, stir. Zest one navel orange and then juice that orange, adding both juice and zest to berry mixture. Stir again

Using a veggie peeler or small sharp knife, remove about 1/2 the peel from the second orange, careful not to go beneath the “orange” peel (avoiding the bitter white part). Chop the peel fine (see below) until you have 1 tablespoon. You may use more peel if you end up with more or freeze it for later use.

Add peel to berry mixture. Cut the second orange in half and then section it, adding the sections to the berry mixture. Squeeze any residual juice from the second orange into the pan.

Looks pretty, smells tart and citrusy
Looks pretty, smells tart and citrusy

You will start to hear little pops from the pan, those are the cranberries bursting. Give it a stir, put a lid on the pan, reduce the heat to low. Check back every 15 -20 minutes for another stir, letting it simmer. After 45 minutes, stir in the Grand Marnier, the berry mixture should be breaking down like a chutney. Continue to cook for 15-20 minutes more. Cool and serve. Makes 2-3 cups of relish. This can be stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to two weeks and freezes beautifully, simply thaw and serve.

This is delicious as to serve not only with your Thanksgiving dinner but with chicken, pork or even seared scallops (trust me). For a festive appetizer, make a charcuterie platter  with cheeses like brie or a spreadable goat cheese or camembert, manchego, sharp white cheddar, cornichons and marcona almonds with sliced baguettes! Get creative…..and always, enjoy!

Looking for other Thanksgiving or Holiday recipes? Here’s links to a few of my best recipes:

Chestnut, Apple and Sausage Stuffing

Roasting Chestnuts – a Labor of Love

As I’m making my 2016 batch today, I decided to re-publish this recipe in hopes that it might be helpful to someone this Thanksgiving!  

59 Candles, 59 Things – part twenty seven

Um, I beg to differ – I believe that’s exactly what it means.  Hope I’ve cleared that up…..
Thirty fifth thing: It seems appropriate that this next entry in my 59 Candles, 59 Things series is Thanksgiving, a time of year which I love and a meal that is likely my most favorite to prepare – and eat every year. And yes, it is one of the things that makes me ridiculously happy.

As the years have gone by, Spence and I have created our traditional Thanksgiving meal. Since retiring in February 2014, this meal is more enjoyable as I’m not under the gun to do the prep work the weekend prior or in evenings after working all day.  And there is alot of prep work though don’t read that as a complaint – it is self-imposed, from-scratch cooking that while time consuming, builds joyful anticipation of the flavorful meal to come.

The labor intensive dressing replete with chestnuts (scored, roasted, peeled and chopped) sage sausage, red and green apples, sauteed onion and celery with fresh picked herbs (that emerged unscathed despite last week’s record snowfall) and the partial bags artisan breads from the freezer,deliberately saved and cubed for this purpose.  A masterpiece to be sure (patting myself on the back). Since it’s our favorite part of the meal, I make what may seem to be a ridiculous amount of it and it never goes to waste.

Next my cranberry-orange relish prepared several days ago, including my secret addition, Grand Marnier liqueur.  This chutney-like relish adds a bit of fresh, tartness to a rich meal.

The 8-10 pound bone-in turkey breast, slathered under and over the skin with fresh-picked herb compound butter is in it’s first hour of cooking as I write this – and looks beautiful.

Add my gravy (which I’ve perfected over the years) finished with extra dry vermouth and a shot (or three) of Slap Ya Mama hot sauce plus a Stouffer’s Spinach Souffle, open a bottle of Sparkling Riesling and you know what’s on my dinner table today.

For dessert I made a perfect pumpkin pie!  I used one of the pie crusts from my freezer that I made with my own two hands, using my mom’s fabulous pie crust recipe as she mentored me a few weeks ago.

Oh yum! I love pie!
I’ve been geeky about Thanksgiving all week as the prep for the meal was coming together telling Spence repeatedly how excited I am.  My mom said “you’re like a kid waiting for Santa”. I think that’s accurate.

While dinner is cooking, we will watch the first of our two favorite (and traditional) Thanksgiving movies:

  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles
  • Grumpy Old Men

If you’d like any of my recipes, I’ve shared them on the blog. You’ll find recipes for the cranberry-orange relish, roasted chestnut, sausage & apple dressing, fresh-picked herb compound butter and pie crust!  

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Fresh-Picked Herb Compound Butter

I’ve been growing herbs for almost 30 years. For a self-taught “gourmet”, it’s thrilling for me to go into my backyard and pick lush flat leaf parsley, flavorful chives, fragrant rosemary and thyme.  With our recent freezing temps and heavy snowfall, I was certain that I wouldn’t be harvesting herbs for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. Then we had a thaw and under the weather damaged herbs, I was able to find an ample supply – hooray!

Fresh-Picked Herb Compound Butter

Fresh picked herbs & butter (not pictured crack black pepper)
Fresh picked herbs & butter (not pictured crack black pepper)
Start with 2 sticks of very soft butter (I use salted butter), add  1 generous tablespoon each of chopped flat-leaf parsley, thyme & rosemary, 1 teaspoon of chopped garlic chives and 1-2 teaspoons of cracked black pepper.  Stir together with a dinner fork.  Cover and store in a cool (not cold place) until ready for use.

As we speak, it’s the Monday before Thanksgiving and I just prepared mine. Making ahead allows the herbs to really flavor the butter. While there are many uses for compound butters, I’ll use this one after gently loosening the skin of the turkey breast then taking gobs of it, massaging and slathering it between the skin and the turkey.  As it roasts in the oven, the herb butter self-bastes the turkey.  Enjoy!

My Famous Roasted Chestnut, Sausage & Apple Stuffing (or Dressing)

Here's the ingredients, prepped and ready to go, plus a glass of wine for the cook!
Here’s the ingredients, prepped and ready to go, plus a glass of wine for the cook!

I know, I know. It’s stuffing if it goes inside the turkey and dressing if not. Whatever you call it, mine is seriously without equal.  Here you see the ingredients of what goes into it.  It’s just Spence and I on Thanksgiving and what looks like overkill on the quantity that I make, I call smart.  At least half of what I make I freeze – unbaked in air-tight freezer bags and some in large size muffin tins (once frozen popping them into freezer bags as well).  I make rotisserie and baked chicken throughout the year and this makes the best side dish, lovely to have on hand – simply thaw and bake!

This recipe is flexible. I’m going to list the ingredients and you can make as much or as little as you need:

Cubed leftover bread (I always have a lot in the freezer) I use a mixture some artisan, bakery & grocery store “regular” bread – even cubing up leftover cornbread if I have it on hand.  Place all cubed bread on a sheet pan in the oven overnight with the oven light on to let it dry out. (turn oven on lowest setting for 30-60 minutes the day of assembly if it’s still too soft)

Additionally I use both the Pepperidge Farm seasoned Classic Stuffing & Country Style cubed stuffing

1 lb cooked sage breakfast sausage, use your spatula to crumble it while it’s browning, drain off any grease and blot with a paper towel

Apples – I generally use two kinds and don’t peel them, just chop into bite size chunks

Lightly saute chopped onion and celery (about 6-8 minutes), in several tablespoons of butter, add some poultry seasoning during the saute.  I use equal quantities of onion and celery.

Chestnuts – I roast my own (check my blog for how-to roast chestnuts, link is below) if you want substitute toasted pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts.  (But the chestnuts are what make this special in my humble opinion)

Fresh herbs – flat leaf parsley, thyme, rosemary – adds both a pop of color but also lots of flavor, chop them. I use a mezzaluna (pictured above).

Poultry seasoning

Lots of chicken stock – have more on hand than you think you’ll need, trust me on this.

I assemble this using two very large mixing bowls and put half of the ingredients (except chicken stock) into each, little by little – and adding chicken stock and poultry seasoning along the way, stirring and then building more ingredients, seasoning and stock (you get it) until the prep station is cleared.

I fill a large oval baker and refrigerate this overnight – really packing it in (and fill a second one to refrigerate and bake later with leftovers. Freeze the rest). I take the oval baker (or casserole dish) out of the fridge on Thanksgiving morning to take the chill off. It will have absorbed a lot of stock overnight so drizzle an ample amount over the top. Bake this at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes, uncovered, until it’s browning a bit and there’s some crunch happening on top. If you’re making this and have your oven set at another temp when this goes in it’s not a problem – just watch the top and feel for the crunch.

Bon appetit!

Assembled and ready to be baked tomorrow!
Assembled and ready to be baked tomorrow!

As promised, here’s the link on how-to roast chestnuts:

Roasting Chestnuts

Roasting Chestnuts, a labor of love

The ritual of roasting chestnuts for my annual Thanksgiving Day stuffing is a labor of love.  And as with any labor, there is pain.  But the payoff in flavor and texture make it all worthwhile. So for those who might want to try this, I’ve created a pictorial “recipe” for roasting chestnuts – no roaring fire required.

1. Purchase chestnuts.  I always get two bags since one of the first years Spence and I did this we lost half of one bag that were bad nuts – moldy, dried up, unusable.  Once roasted and chopped, any surplus can be frozen for months in a ziploc bag.

2. Score each nut using a small, very sharp knife in the pattern of a large X.

3. Set your oven at 450 degrees. Lay the chestnuts in a single layer on a pan. Set your timer for 15-20 minutes. Remove them from the oven and wrap them in a towel lined pan or bowl (I use two dishtowels) and cover for one hour to steam them.

Steam baby, steam
Steam baby, steam

4. Get two bowls, one for shells and one for the peeled nuts.  And start peeling – yes with your fingers (and that small knife – in case you need help).  Make sure and check the nuts over to remove any hard membranes. Your thumbs will be sore at the end of this, no sense in sugar coating it.  But these little beauties are so worth it!  When you’re ready to build your stuffing, just give  these a coarse chop!

Want to know how to make my famous Chestnut Stuffing?