To me, Thanksgiving dinner comes down to two things: the gravy and the stuffing. If you nail those, all other sins can be forgiven. The key is layer complimentary flavors. My mom is Italian so our stuffing always had that funny tube of Jimmy Dean's sausage. I like to use pork breakfast sausage, preferably with (a little) maple and sage. Don't kill yourself trying to find it. Sweet Italian pork sausage works equally well. I typically don't stuff my turkey with anything. I just like to bake it separately while the turkey is resting. Make it ahead of time and bring it to room temperature right baking so the timing is right to serve with the turkey. Your knife work is really important with stuffing.
You want the ingredients to be somewhat uniform in size. It just makes for a better mouth feel.
Over the years, I have added dried cranberries, used orange juice instead of cider, added a hit of Grand Marnier. My point is feel free to improvise and make it your own. Just make it special.
sausage + apple cornbread stuffing
for a 14-20lb bird
24 oz. dried cornbread stuffing (or a combination of white and corn)
1 lb pork breakfast sausage (out of the casing)
1 c sliced cremini mushrooms
1 c celery, peeled and sliced
1 c onion, diced
1 c apple, peeled and diced
1 stick of butter
1 c apple cider
2 1/2 - 3 c poultry broth, preferable homemade or organic low-sodium
1 T fresh sage, minced (optional)
3/4 c pecans, lightly toasted and chopped (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
preheat oven to 375º
In a very large pot, melt the butter. Add the sausage and sauté, breaking it up into small, uniform pieces. Once it has browned, add the vegetables/apple and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often.
Turn down the heat to simmer and add the stuffing mix. Toss everything together and add the cider.
Add the broth one cup at a time until the mixture is just short of very moist but not wet. Mix in the sage, nuts and adjust seasoning to your taste.
Bake in a large casserole dish, uncovered for about 25-35 minutes until heated through and nicely browned.