Hungry Hound: Cranberry and stuffing tips

It's the one day each year they break out the recipes, pots and roasting pans. Don't stress over the stuffing and the cranberry sauce. Here's some expert advice on those two icons this year.

Every major food magazine has advice for whipping up unique, delicious Thanksgiving meals. And yet I'm always drawn toward the simple recipes. We asked a chef with roots in North Carolina, to show us how to make a tasty stuffing and cranberry sauce this year. The results couldn't be any easier.

Southern traditions are all over the menu at Wishbone, which has locations in the West Loop, Lincoln Square and Berwyn. Every Thursday is "turkey night," which means recreating a Thanksgiving meal.

"Our whole Thanksgiving experience is about many different sides, many different, from chow chow, to black-eyed peas and rice, to sweet potatoes with pecans," said Joel Nickson, Wishbone.

And there's stuffing, of course. In addition to cornbread, Nickson also makes a sausage version. He begins by chopping up white onions, adding them to some melted butter in a large saute pan. While they turn color and caramelize, he slices up day-old bread. The browned onions are removed from the pan, so he can add chunks of sausage, which he breaks up into crumbles inside the pan.

"The key is to really saute the sausage; really the two predominant flavors are the sausage, sage and the thyme," Nickson said.

After it's cooked through, he adds back the onions along with the bread and proceeds to stir everything up until it's fully incorporated. Instead of chicken stock, Nickson adds some heavy cream with a little half and half.

"And the cream of course, makes it rich, but it thickens it and binds it together," Nickson said.

Finally, he adds seasoning in the form of sage, thyme, salt and pepper. And to serve, he scoops it into large, roasted onion rings. Nickson also makes a simple cranberry sauce, which obviously begins with tart cranberries, but then also throws in peeled, chopped apples. White sugar balances the tartness and orange juice gives it a citrus tang.

"I like it on the tart side, but people can sweeten it up or add more sugar if they so prefer. The canned cranberry is a total waste as far as I'm concerned," Nickson said.

After about 45 minutes over the stove, the sauce breaks down into what looks like a puree. Nickson says anyone can make it, without a lot of added stress on Thanksgiving.

"It's that simple, of just cooking it down with some sugar and either apple juice or orange juice or something of that nature," he said.

Wishbone is closed on Thanksgiving, but they also do a tremendous amount of delivery and to-go orders for the holiday, so be sure to call ahead if you want to place orders.

1001 W. Washington Blvd.

3300 N. Lincoln Ave.

6611 Roosevelt Rd., Berwyn

Sausage Stuffed Onions

6 medium to large Spanish onions

With a large spoon, scoop out the center of the onion leaving two layers of the outer ring of the onion. Blanch off in boiling water for 2 minutes then drain and cool off. Chop the center part of onions in small dice for sausage stuffing.

Sausage Stuffing

2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
3 cups chopped onion
¾ lb- 1lb Pork Sausage (recommended-whole hog sausage high in sage)
1 loaf of country white bread cut into ¼" cubes
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 cups of half & half or milk
1 ½ cups heavy cream
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Melt butter, add chopped onions and cook until caramelized dark brown stirring constantly. Remove onion and reserve on the side in same pan. Brown off pork sausage using a wood spoon, crumble sausage as much as you can and drain grease. Add onions back into sausage then add bread cubes and the remaining ingredients. Cook on low to medium heat stirring with wood spoon for 5 minutes and remove from heat to allow time to cool down. With wooden spoon, stuff onion shells with stuffing. Bake in the oven uncovered at 375 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes. Enjoy!

Cranberry Sauce

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
2 Granny Smith green apples (core & diced)
1 lb frozen cranberries
2 cups fresh squeezed orange juice
1 cup sugar
1-2oz Grand Marnier (optional)

Melt butter in sauce pan and add chopped apples. Continue to stir until nice and hot then add cranberries, orange juice and sugar. Bring to a boil then turn down heat to low. Stir or whisk regularly until fully cooked down. If sauce is too thick, blend with fresh orange juice and finish with Grand Marnier. Cool or serve hot

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