Mushroom and leek stuffing recipe

When I married my husband over 17 years ago (gasp!), I was more than excited to start hosting some of the holidays at our new home.  But I soon realized that my husband’s traditions were slightly different from the ones I grew up with, especially on Thanksgiving.  What?  No first course of pasta with marinara sauce?  Strange, I thought, but I could adapt!  My mother-in-law kindly shared with me the way things were done on the West Coast.  She liked to serve everyone a salad to start and plate the main dinner for each person in the kitchen.  Turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes and stuffing were all givens, and their stuffing of choice was Pepperidge Farm.  No problem!

My husband and I have hosted every Thanksgiving since 1996 and enjoy the comfort that develops when you do something over and over again.   I have since incorporated my own traditions like buffet – easier and much less waste – and soup to start.  About 6 years ago I decided to examine the ingredients on the seemingly innocuous bag of Pepperidge Farm stuffing.  Holy crap.  I couldn’t believe the garbage that went into breadcrumbs!  One thing I knew for certain was that Pepperidge Farm was uninvited to Thanksgiving…forever!

Actually, if it were up to me, I would drop stuffing from the menu altogether.  I really don’t get it.  With ALL the delicious food on the Thanksgiving table, many of the dishes starchy, we’re going to eat gussied up bread, a food we already overeat on every other day of the year??  I was trying to explain to my husband that mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and butternut squash are all starches, as is the obligatory cornbread.  We should balance out the meal with additional vegetables, like Brussels sprouts!  “You’re taking this health food thing a little too far.  The stuffing stays!”

Although I like to think of myself as the dictator of my kitchen empire, the director of Thanksgiving, I’m really a democratic leader.  I figured my only option was to create a delicious, higher quality stuffing that looked like Pepperidge Farm and tasted enough like it, but even better.  So here’s my take on a good classic stuffing that’s not too gourmet, in fact tastes very close to our old preservative-laden standby.    I usually make two for our dinner, one with mushrooms to suit me and one without for my hubby.

I’ve tried this stuffing with whole grain breads like whole wheat or spelt, but truthfully it tastes a little “wheat-y.”  There was a fantastic bread I used to buy from Whole Foods called Miche, which was a sourdough bread made of a blend of whole wheat and white flours.  That was about as whole grain as my family could take on Thanksgiving.  Truth be told,  I prefer to go down in our family history as the benevolent one who said, “ let them eat stuffing!”

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Mushroom and Leek Stuffing
Serves: 8-10 (although I make 2 for 24 people on Thanksgiving and it is plenty)
  • 1 ½ pounds rustic whole wheat or white bread, hard crust removed
  • 6 Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ pound shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean, stems removed and discarded, caps sliced
  • ½ pound cremini mushrooms, wiped clean, quartered
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage or poultry seasoning or 2 teaspoons fresh sage, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or 3 teaspoons if using unsalted stock
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3-4 cups chicken, turkey or vegetable stock (depending on if you like it wet or dry)
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small dice (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place bread in a food processor and process into large crumbs or cut into ½-inch dice. (I like to do a combination.) You should have 10 cups. Spread bread over 2 large shallow baking pans and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, stirring occasionally and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until completely dry, about 25 minutes. Transfer bread to a large bowl.
  3. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees and grease a 13x9-inch baking dish.
  4. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, celery, onion, leeks, and garlic, and sauté, stirring occasionally until softened, 10 minutes.
  5. Stir in thyme, sage, parsley, salt and pepper. Add vegetables to bread, tossing to combine.
  6. Pour chicken broth over the bread mixture, tossing to coat evenly.
  7. Spread stuffing in a baking dish, dot with butter and cover tightly with foil. Bake in upper third of oven until heated through, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake stuffing until top is browned, 10 – 15 minutes more. Stuffing can also be baked in a well-greased 12-cup muffin tin.
Bread crumbs can be prepared several days in advance.
Vegetables can be chopped the day before.
Entire casserole can be prepared up to the point of baking the day before and refrigerated or frozen and then thawed and baked according to the directions.


Planning a Happy Thanksgiving — 3 Weeks and Counting

Wishing all of you affected by Hurricane Sandy a speedy recovery!  

This post was originally published on Thursday, November 3, 2011.

If you followed the advice in my post last Thursday, perhaps you now have a general idea of how many guests you will be hosting on Thanksgiving.  If not, it’s time to get on the phone and do some inviting!  Do you have a good balanced menu and have you taken guests up on their offers to bring something?   This week we have a few more tasks that we can check off the list.

3 weeks before thanksgiving

  • Order the Turkey  If you eat turkey on Thanksgiving, it’s a good idea to order it now.  I have always ordered a fresh, free-range, organic turkey, because in my opinion they have a tasty turkey flavor and are better for you than most other alternatives.  The only thing that may be better is a heritage turkey, which has a much stronger turkey flavor and supposed to be more moist.  It will have less breast meat though and will be more expensive.  Avoid “self-basting” turkeys which are injected with anything from chicken fat to salt to chemicals.  True, they are easier to cook, but I think they taste more like salt than turkey and they are just full of stuff you don’t want to feed your family.

Here are some questions that will help you decide size:

How many ovens do you have?  If you have one large oven that can accommodate two turkeys side by side and an extra oven to spare (you’re so lucky!), then you have the option of cooking two smaller birds versus one large one.  But with two small ovens, you may not want them both being monopolized by turkeys.

Are your guests dark meat-eaters or white meat-eaters?  You will get more white meat by weight from one large bird than from two smaller.  Likewise, you will get more dark meat from two smaller birds than from one large one.

How big a turkey should you buy?  The rule of thumb is one pound of turkey per person.  So if you are expecting 16 guests, you should order a 16 pound turkey.  That doesn’t mean that you will have 1 pound of meat per person, though.  I think this is a good rule if you don’t want leftovers or if your guests are not big eaters.   So last year I cooked 2 17-pound turkeys for 20 adults and 5 kids and I had just enough leftovers for the five of us for dinner the next day.

Do you have a bad back?  What does this have to do with anything?  A very large turkey is mighty challenging to keep pulling out of the oven to baste.  I find two smaller turkeys much more manageable, if you have the oven space.

  • Planning Your Table Decor  I don’t do anything fancy for my table decorations, but it’s nice to make the table look special.  Now’s the time to check your linens for stains and make sure you have enough napkins, plates and glassware.  I generally like to do something simple with fresh flowers in autumnal colors and add in a few of the kids’ Thanksgiving art projects from years past.   I just adore Jenni Kayne’s table setting at the top of the post.  Check out all her lovely holiday photos and ideas on her blog — beautiful!  But you can put out bowls of apples and pears or gourds and nuts, add in a few votive candles and it will look beautiful.  This year I’m doing something craftsy with the help of my kids and my friend Marcie, who started a very cool line of paper table decor called Mixt Studio.  I’m not sure if her stuff will be ready for Thanksgiving, but if it isn’t, I’m going to copy this cute paper flower and use it as a place card attached with an inspiring quote.  Love that idea!  I have another talented friend, Lee who owns a local flower shop called Growing Wild along with her equally talented (they’re twins!) sister Lisa.  I couldn’t help but admire their lovely arrangements, one of which I pictured below to give you some inspiration.  If tablescape isn’t your thing, you can always order from your local florist or full service market.  Just get on it this week.

  • Make your pie crusts and freeze them  You can freeze them in disc form or roll them out, fit them into pie plates and freeze them, well wrapped.
  • Make your homemade stock and freeze it  I use over a gallon of chicken stock on Thanksgiving for soup, stuffing and gravy.

  • Make your dry mixes for pie fillings, cornbread and other baked goods.  Not only are there never enough ovens on Thanksgiving day, but there are never enough measuring cups and spoons either.  I measure out the dry ingredients, store them in a glass jar and label each jar, e.g. “Dry Mix for 2 Pumpkin Pies.”  I didn’t label them the first year I did this and let me tell you — pumpkin pie spices smell A LOT like apple pie spices.
  • Check your inventory of helpful tools and appliances  Here’s my list of Thanksgiving essentials:
  1. — the only way to know if your turkey is ready.
  2. Roasting pan(s) and racks(s)
  3. Fat separator
  4. Twine for trussing
  5. Baster
  6. Potato ricer— for making the best mashed potatoes
More recipes to come, but these would be perfect for Thanksgiving:
Muhammara (roasted red pepper dip)
Butternut Squash, Beet and Apple Skewers (if you only have to make one thing or if the kids can skewer for you)
Sweet Potato-Coconut Soup (it doesn’t taste like coconut!)

Planning a Happy Thanksgiving — 4 Weeks and Counting

This post was originally published on October 27, 2011.  I adore Thanksgiving.  I love the traditions, the food, the Macy’s parade on television while I am making my pies, the football games.   I love moving the family room furniture after the last football game is over to extend the dining room table.   I love hearing everyone share why they’re grateful.  I have cooked every Thanksgiving for the last 16 years, as well as dozens of Thanksgiving-themed cooking classes.   I have made lots of mistakes and in the process learned a thing or two about how to execute and enjoy  a very happy Thanksgiving.  Every Thursday from today until the big day, I will share my best tips, strategies and a few good recipes to set you up for a successful holiday.  Let’s get started!

4 Weeks Before Thanksgiving

  • Guest list  Now is a good time to invite family and friends for the holiday, even if they are regulars.  I send an email out to all our guests with the schedule for the day, especially when we will sit down for dinner.  We live on the West Coast, which means the last football game is over at 4:00.  Anyone that wants to come for the earlier game is welcome to do so.  There’s coffeecake, fruit and coffee in the morning.  A mugful of soup and cornbread around noon; hors d’oeuvres at 3:00 pm and dinner is at 4:00 or whenever the game is over.  You know that I pray for no overtime!
  • Plan your menu Planning the Thanksgiving menu requires a bit of strategy and balance.   Make sure you have a balance of cooked and raw food (One thing I have learned is no matter how big your kitchen or how many ovens you have, it’s never enough on Thanksgiving!); protein, starches and vegetables (I find most Thanksgiving menus to be too starchy;) and ingredients (make sure not every recipe has dried fruit and nuts in it.)  Know what dishes need an oven and when because if you’re making turkey and you have one oven, you won’t be baking too much in the hours before dinner.
Also, know your audience.  I love trying new recipes, but my family looks forward to the same traditional standbys every year.  There was almost a revolution when I took Breaded Cauliflower off the menu in 2007 ( I now serve it as an hors d’oeuvre.)  So I compromise by making the classics (traditional roast turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie), but I also try out a new salad or vegetable side dish every year.
But just because you’re cooking overtime for Thanksgiving dinner, doesn’t mean your household won’t be needing dinner the night before and breakfast the morning of.  Instead of ordering takeout pizza on Wednesday night, make and freeze a casserole in the weeks ahead or plan for your easiest 20-minute meal.  The same goes for Thanksgiving day, especially if you have young children in the house.  You can save your appetite and get by on a piece of fruit for the day, but your four-year-old cannot.  I always make a pot of butternut squash soup the day before and a pan of cornbread to be served around noon to tide anyone over until the big meal.
  • Outsource    Do as I say here.  Don’t do as I do.  You don’t have to make everything yourself.  In fact, most people would be delighted to contribute something to the holiday which will alleviate the pressure on you.  But you must be specific otherwise you’ll end up with 4 pumpkin pies and no green vegetables and we all know what I think about that.  “Thank you, Caitlin for your offer to bring something.  I think I’ll take you up on it.  We have neither stuffing nor apple pie yet.  Would you like to tackle one of those?”
  • Write out a schedule Take the time to plan everything that you need to do over the next four weeks and put it on the computer so you have it for future holidays.  By taking a little time now, you will save yourself stress, anxiety and HOURS later.  Trust me on this.  You can see my detailed schedule as an example.
  • Photocopy your recipes from books and magazines I remember my first Thanksgiving with a stack of cookbooks and magazines taking up valuable counter space and my wasting so much time looking up each recipe multiple times.  Ugh!  Put your photocopied recipes in sheet protectors and create a dedicated Thanksgiving or holiday binder organized by category.  This just might be the most useful tip I give you.
Here’s what I am probably making this year:
Coffeecake, fruit, coffee and tea
Butternut Squash or Sweet Potato-Coconut Soup and Cornbread
Hors D’oeuvres:
Breaded Cauliflower with Tomato Dipping Sauce
Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes
Sweet Potato Casserole
Whole Grain Stuffing with Mushrooms, Leeks and Herbs
Roasted Green Beans with Lemon, Shallots and Thyme
Harvest Chopped Salad or Butternut Squash Salad
Apple Pie
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
Freshly Whipped Cream
Fresh Seasonal Fruit

Planning a Happy Thanksgiving — 1 Week and Counting

Wow, the last three weeks have gone by so quickly!  Not only am I very excited to celebrate Thanksgiving — we have a super fun crew joining us this year — but I am looking forward to some one-on-one time with the kids.  They are all going to help me this year.  They just don’t know it yet.  I used to get all of them in the kitchen Thanksgiving morning to help me with pies or trimming green beans or whatnot, but two of my beauties have taken to sleeping until noon on days off.  However I had a stroke of genius, which is to tack my Thanksgiving to-do list on the refrigerator and have everyone sign up for three tasks.  I’m asking my husband to help too, to set a good example, of course.

I have a crazy work schedule until Sunday, so I’ll start getting busy then.  Here’s what my schedule will look like from Sunday until we eat on Thursday at 4:00 pm (-ish):


Go grocery shopping for most perishable items, bread for stuffing and food for remaining dinners this week.

Make cranberry sauce (I used to make applesauce on Sunday, too, but my friend Caitlin is bringing it this year.)

Arrange tables and chairs

Write out placecards for table (a good job for one of the kids)

Dinner:  orange and rosemary-glazed chicken, brown rice and broccoli


Make salad vinaigrette

Pick up turkeys and dry brine

Make bread cubes for stuffing

Make ice cream

Dinner:  tacos, black beans and salad


Shop for last perishable items from farmer’s market

Buy flowers and put together table arrangements

Set table (I’ll set one place setting and have one of the kids do the rest.)

Wash and dry greens (salad)

Chop walnuts (salad)

Seed pomegranates (salad)

Shred gruyere (tart)

Defrost chicken/turkey stocks

Dinner:  Spice-rubbed salmon, sauteed spinach, sweet potato fries


Chop onions for soup, stuffing and roasted vegetables

Prep beets (salad)

Blanche green beans (salad)

Slice zucchini (tart)

Make soup

Steam, bread cauliflower

Blind bake crust (tart)

Herb oil (tart)

Make stuffing

Prep vegetables for Maple-Mustard Roasted Veggies

Trim and halve Brussels sprouts

Make sweet potato gratin

Set up for coffee and tea service

Check powder room

Dinner:  pantry pasta with chickpeas

Before bed:  make sure garage refrigerator door is closed!


6:00 am wake and shower

Make cornbread (small oven)

Make pumpkin pies (large oven)

Bake coffee cake (small oven)

Make gingerbread (large oven)

9:15 Take turkeys out of refrigerator

All desserts must be out of large oven by 10:30 am

Make apple pie (small oven)

10:45 turkeys go in large oven breast side down at 425 degrees

11:25 turn oven down to 325 degrees and flip turkey breast side up

12:00 reheat soup and serve with cornbread

tidy up kitchen

get dressed and dry hair (a girl’s gotta look good!)

Put mixing bowl and beaters in freezer for whipped cream

Chop fennel (salad)

1:30 Peel potatoes and make mashed potatoes; keep in bowl, covered, over pot of simmering water

2:15 zucchini tart in small oven

2:30 fry cauliflower and heat tomato sauce; serve hot

3:00 serve hors d’oeuvres; start testing turkey temperature

3:00 – 3:30 take turkey out of oven

Put vegetables in large oven at 400 degrees

Make gravy

Reheat stuffing in small oven

Bake sweet potatoes in large oven

Make Brussels sprouts with turkey bacon and dates

Chop apples for salad, dress salad

Light candles, pour water in glasses

3:50-4:00 Carve turkeys

4:00 Dinner is served

After dinner:  whip cream (do not overbeat!), coffee and tea, sparkling water

Make notes on what to remember for next year.  Next year??!!