Saturday, November 19, 2011

Side Dish Saturday: Stuffing 2.0

What do you put in stuffing?

Because we were making ours as part of practice Thanksgiving (that non-holiday weeknight when we make a full Thanksgiving dinner -- this year including a turkey -- for twenty-five), Jack proposed we try an agile approach, developing a minimum viable product and then adding features as time allowed.

The minimum viable product for stuffing is box stuffing, prepared according to package directions -- add water, seasoning packet, butter. (Having already tried both this year, I can advise you that Trader Joe's stuffing in a box is much better than Whole Foods's stuffing in a bag, which was all but dust when it reached us.)

Features are any additions to that basic stuffing -- onions, celery, mushrooms, apples, dried fruit, herbs -- which we might prep and add if we had time, according to customer feedback (the guests would be arriving by the time we started cooking it).

To develop a list of possible features, I searched for "stuffing" on Epicurious, copied the ingredient lists for the first fifty recipes, and used Wordle to generate a tag cloud. (I did a little data cleanup first, joining some two-word phrases like "olive oil," and a lot of discarding extraneous words, like "tablespoons," after.)

(See the results larger on Wordle or download the PDF.)

My technique innovation this year was making the stuffing in our giant rice cooker to free up the stovetop (and leave some psychological space in the kitchen). I browned onions and celery in the bottom far in advance, and then, ten minutes before I expected everything else to be done, added apples, dried cranberries, the stuffing mix, butter, and a kettleful of hot water, and turned it on. The rice cooker shut off when the water was gone (no danger of burning; no need to stir), and it kept the stuffing steamy hot until serving time.

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