Nina’s Tips & Techniques: Classic Sides

Tart or sweet? How much sugar should I put in my cranberries?

Cranberries are naturally very tart and need sugar to balance their flavor, but typically people make their cranberries too sweet. The reason cranberry sauce tastes so good with your Thanksgiving meal is because traditional Thanksgiving sides are very heavy and rich. Cranberries are tart and acidic, which balances the other flavors on the plate. Think of your cranberry sauce as a condiment more than a side itself. I always err on the tart side, rather than the sweet. Try to get a little cranberry sauce with every bite of your Thanksgiving meal!

Do I stuff the stuffing in the bird or not?

I don’t like putting the stuffing into the bird. While it imparts great flavor on your stuffing, it can cause your bird to come out dry. It can also potentially make someone sick if the stuffing doesn’t get up to the proper temperature. Think of it this way: your turkey is like a giant basketball in the oven. The heat of the oven cooks the basketball from the outside, in; or more simply put, the outside cooks first and the inside cooks last. Poultry or any food that has poultry juices or drippings in it should cook to 160 degrees F. So by the time the center of your basketball is at 160 the outside of your basketball will be way past that, thus leaving you with dried out meat. Here is my solution for BOTH juicy meat AND amazing stuffing: First, follow my instructions for stuffing your bird with aromatics instead of stuffing— these get thrown out after roasting so it doesn’t matter how hot they get, plus it improves the quality of your pan drippings, which are the secret to everything. Second,  make your stuffing with homemade turkey stock and/or use some of the fat and pan drippings from your turkey to toss your stuffing.

And what about potatoes and sweet potatoes? Always so boring…

YES! Always stale your bread. Fresh bread will not absorb nearly as much liquid as staled bread will. If you take the time to stale your bread your stuffing will be moist and amazing. If you don’t, it might have liquid just sitting at the bottom of the pan. Staed bread is really easy to make—just cube it the night before and leave it out on the counter overnight. Ta-da! In a pinch, spread the cubed bread out on a baking sheet and put it in a low temperature oven for 30-40 minutes.

Featured Recipe: Wild Mushroom Hazelnut Stuffing