Roast Chicken and Stuffing

The month of October has been cold and rainy, the perfect weather for a Sunday roast!

Perhaps it was the martini talking, but a few weeks ago, I offered to cook Thanksgiving dinner for nine (three under the age of ten). Hands down, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday; I usually take those three days off before to plan, clean, cook, and bake. When thinking of this year’s holiday, I am reminded of last year’s Thanksgiving, three days post surgery and nary a thought given to my menu or even food. But this year will be different; ideas have been swirling around my head for weeks around whether I’m going to go with some old favorites or try something new. But I took a step back when my dad asked if I cook the stuffing inside the bird or out. I have roasted many a turkey, but always have cooked the stuffing outside the bird. Even when I asked my brother, who also hosts a big dinner every year, he responded with, “I NEVER cook the stuffing inside the bird.” Growing up, the stuffing always was cooked inside the turkey and no one got sick, but the thought of possibly giving my family food poisoning gave me pause.

Always one for being up for a challenge, I decided to practice for the big day by stuffing a chicken for dinner one night. How hard can it be? I found out, not hard at all! And no food poisoning!

(Full disclosure, several years ago I roasted a chicken that smelled a little funny, but thought it was just me. Turns out it wasn’t, and I was saddled with food poisoning until late the next morning, so I’ve always been wary when cooking chicken. My kitchen manta now? When in doubt, throw it out!)

The below is my go-to stuffing recipe that originated from Cooking Light many years ago and which I’ve melded into my own through the years. This will probably be the one and only time you will hear me say use soft white bread, the kind you can get for $1 at the supermarket and which has no nutritional value whatsoever; I’ve tried whole wheat bread and it just isn’t the same, I think it adds a certain sweetness to it. Before I go to bed the night before Thanksgiving I usually leave the bread out on the counter to dry, but you can skip this step by toasting it in the oven on a cookie sheet. A sauté of celery and onions, dried white bread, some broth or water, and poultry seasoning and you have stuffing! You can fiddle with it and add some dried cranberries or nuts, but I like it just the way it is. I like the crunchiness of the celery and there may be too much for you, so you can certainly cut down on the amount if you like.

Please note, I find there is a certain amount of messiness when making this as I mix this by hand to incorporate everything together. You can certainly use a spoon, but I’ve always found it comes together easier by using my hands. Just don’t forget to take off your jewelry!

I apologize there is no picture for this week, but trust me, this was one for the record books. It wasn’t until I had totally cut it apart that I remembered I never took one! But it was golden, gorgeous, and trust me, delicious!

Roasted Chicken with Stuffing
This stuffing might make a little bit more than will fill the bird; if you have some left over, just put it in a baking dish, cover with foil, and bake along with the chicken toward the end of its roasting for about 15 minutes. Before putting away leftovers, be sure to take all of the stuffing out of the chicken and place in a separate container.

5-7 pound roasting chicken
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the stuffing:
8 slices of soft, white bread
1 ½ cups celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
½ Tablespoon butter
Chicken broth or water
Poultry seasoning

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Rinse off the chicken and pat dry with a paper towel. Place in roasting pan. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil on the bird, rub it all over the skin, and add some salt and pepper.

3. For the stuffing, either leave the bread out for several hours to dry, or place the slices of bread on a cookie sheet and stick in a 350 degree oven until dried. (Note, you don’t want this brown, like toast, cook it until it’s just barely golden.)

4. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt the butter and add the celery and onion, cook for 5-7 minutes until soft but still crunchy. Set aside to cool.

5. Take a large mixing bowl and tear the bread into pieces. When the celery and onion are cool, add to the bread. A quarter cup at a time, add the broth or water, and work it into the bread. With your hands or a spoon, continue adding the liquid until all the bread and vegetables are worked together into something that resembles a sticky cookie batter (think chocolate chip cookies). Add poultry seasoning to taste, about ½-1 teaspoon, I’d say.

6. By the handful or spoonful, add the stuffing into the bird’s cavity.

7. Cook at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees and cook until a thermometer reads 165 degrees in the thick part of the bird. In total, cooking time will be about 90-120 minutes.

A Few Tips for the “Big Day”

I’ve been a cook for two and a crowd, as well as  a guest on Thanksgiving Day. A couple of years ago, after a hiatus from cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I had to step it up to plan, organize, and cook a meal for seven. I developed some advice to make each holiday meal a little bit easier and thought I’d share them in advance of Wednesday this week.

Of course, you feel like a juggler to make sure everything goes smoothly; your guests are enjoying themselves with something to drink and a little something to nibble on so they aren’t dying of hunger in the living room, while the cook is in the kitchen, stirring items on four burners and balancing a turkey! Of course, the goal is to have everything–and everyone–ready to go before the meal gets cold. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. But when you sit and relax with a nice glass of wine and a delicious dinner, everything will taste delicious, so in the end it really doesn’t matter!

Some tips may seem elementary, although to me they made the actual battle of getting everything ready at one time much easier than in years past. I have to admit, some of these aren’t original, just things I’ve collected through the years that work for me.

• On Wednesday, take out your china and all serving bowls and utensils and assign dishes to each one. This saved a lot on the “what bowl is the stuffing going into” questions when you have some ravenous people who are hovering in the kitchen and want to eat soon! I made labels of the side dish and put them inside each bowl or plate, which I found helped me out immensely in the long run. All china and the linens were also cleaned and ready to go, so I didn’t have to do with the table anything Thursday morning except set it.

• A time-table. I took my menu, figured out how long the turkey was going to cook, what I had to do when it came out of the oven. So I had everything down to the time, “9 a.m., turkey in the oven; at 12:45 see if it’s almost done and start the potatoes” etc. For me, this allowed me to easily whisk around the kitchen and wasn’t as frazzled as I could have been, and allowed for everything to be done pretty much at the same time. This method also would be good for any meal you’re cooking while entertaining, as I have a habit of kind of forgetting things once the door opens and the guests arrive!

• A small, old-fashioned relish plate as an appetizer. So many times I’ve made a couple of appetizers, which fill up your guests before the big meal and usually aren’t particularly healthy. How about some carrots and celery sticks, a bowl of black olives, and cornchicons? No dip, that would add extra calories and fill you up. This was just a little light something to tide everyone over before dinner. Sliced fennel with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper is another tasty treat.

• This goes without saying, but prepare some items the day before or even two or three days before. Squash can be made Monday or Tuesday, as can rolls, which can be frozen until Thursday morning. Make and bake your pies late Wednesday evening, that way you’re not trying to find space in the oven with your turkey.

• Instead of putting all the dishes on the table, finding room among the arms and elbows, I set up the kitchen table as the buffet table, people could fill their plates and return to an uncluttered table. I found this to be a much nicer to eat, as you weren’t surrounded by people plus dishes!

With all the great tips I’ve cultivated through the years, there is one thing I’m going to continue to work on–being in the kitchen less and enjoying my guests more. I always find when entertaining, as I am always the cook, that I am tucked away in the kitchen, but don’t get to enjoy our guests until dinner time.

If you have any great tips, I’d love to hear them, and add them to my repertoire!

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all! I hope everyone has a glorious meal and something to be thankful for this year!