Much as I believe in from-scratch cooking, especially at the holidays, I've never felt even a shred of guilt for turning to stuffing mix year after year.
I consider it the Thanksgiving equivalent of canned beans — a partial convenience food I'm able to doctor as I see fit. It's a shortcut that lets me keep things fast and easy without crossing my do-it-yourself philosophy.
I never follow the recipe on the package. In fact, I never follow any recipe. I just grab what I happen to have and go with it. And that probably is my only complaint about how I approach Thanksgiving stuffing. Some years the stuffing is better than others.
So this year I decided to plan ahead and craft a still-simple, foolproof recipe using my favorite shortcut ingredient.
The end result preserved the ease I value — there are, after all, so many other things to focus on — but produces a consistently good stuffing that pairs so nicely with all the other dishes crowding the holiday table.
But of course, this dish comes from my whatever attitude. So if you see something you don't like, leave it out. Think of something you do, add it. It will be great.
Start to finish: 45 minutes
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, divided
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
4 ounces cremini mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup cashew nut pieces
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
Zest of 1 large orange
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
12- to 14-ounce bag stuffing mix
2 cups chicken broth
If the oven is not already on, heat it to 350 F. If it is on, it's fine to cook this stuffing at whatever temperature is needed for the turkey or other dishes. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking or casserole dish with cooking spray.
In a large skillet over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter until it melts. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, mushrooms and garlic. Saute until the onions start to brown, about 7 to 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic powder and thyme, then heat for another minute. Add the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter and stir until melted.
Transfer the vegetable mixture to a large bowl, scraping the pan. Add the cashews, rosemary, orange zest, salt and pepper. Stir well, then mix in the stuffing mix.
In a second bowl, whisk together the broth and egg, then drizzle over the stuffing mixture. Mix very well, then spoon the mixture into the prepared baking or casserole dish. Bake for 30 minutes, or until browned on top and 165 F at the center.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 430 calories; 200 calories from fat (36 percent of total calories); 22 g fat (9 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 47 g carbohydrate; 11 g protein; 5 g fiber; 940 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is author of the cookbook "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." Follow him to great eats on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch or email him at jhirsch(at)ap.org.