As much as I love a good turkey, for me, Thanksgiving is all about the sides. Nutritionists say that an average Thanksgiving dinner clocks in at about 4500 calories; I can assure you that the bulk of those calories appear on my dinner plate as buttery mashed potatoes, sweet potato souffle, green beans with frizzled shallots and apricot Grand Marnier Sausage stuffing. It may be blasphemous to take sides with the "sides,"but these vegetable dishes represent family traditions and people find comfort in making and serving those foods that remind them of their childhood. For example, every family has their own particular take on sweet potatoes- we have always served a souffle of sorts with a buttery pecan and brown sugar topping. This dish is a family favorite, so it was particularly unsettling when a three potato gratin ended up on the table one year. It was delicious but it wasn't the sweet potato souffle we had waited a year to devour. Our family has since returned to our "roots" and we're all much happier because when it comes down to it, the traditional side dishes of the holiday are the real stars of Thanksgiving, just don't tell Tom.
Here's my recipe for Apricot Grand Marnier Sausage Stuffing, which is a family favorite. The sweet taste of apricots and Grand Marnier are the perfect compliment to savory fennel and sausage. Try it, you won't be disappointed.
APRICOT GRAND MARNIER SAUSAGE STUFFING
2 pounds of day old white bread torn into 3/4" chunks
1 stick of butter melted, plus 1 tablespoon
1 cup of chopped onion
1 cup of chopped fennel
A bunch of fresh tarragon and sage, chopped
4 ounces dried apricots
1 cup Grand Marnier liquor
1 pound sweet sausage with fennel
2 cups of chicken stock
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Fry the sausage breaking it into small pieces until cooked through, about 7 minutes. Move to a large bowl. Cook onions and fennel in 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add to the cooled sausage mixture. Place the apricots in the cup of Grand Marnier and let it sit for 10 minutes until the apricots are plump. Reserve the liquid and julienne the apricots. Put the apricots into the sausage mixture. Take the day old bread and place into a large bowl. Add the Grand Marnier liquid and half a stick of butter and toss lightly. Season with salt and pepper and add the sage and tarragon. Stir in the cooled sausage mixture and add the rest of the melted butter. Toss lightly and add some of the chicken stock until moist. Turn out into a butter baking casserole and bake uncovered for 40 minutes.