Thanksgiving Dressing Wars

Our family has traditionally split the holidays with Herb’s family in Napa for Thanksgiving, and Jennifer’s family in Pasadena for Christmas. For over 30 years, at Thanksgiving all we had to do was make a salad or bring the green beans and the wine and show up at grandmas for football and a full turkey dinner!

Although it was easy, eating at the grandparents’ meant that our house never had the wonderful cooking aromas associated with Thanksgiving. So we were delighted when we were finally able to cook an entire traditional turkey dinner many years ago for a winemaking couple from Central Otago, New Zealand, whom we hosted for two months during their harvest internship. For the first time our house filled with the earthy/herbal smells of the turkey and dressing, the spicy aromas of the pumpkin and mince-meat pie. We feasted at our own table with our new friends for a full-blown Thanksgiving dinner, albeit in October, the bird looking remarkably like the cover of the latest Saveur magazine!

Since Herb’s parents are now getting on, (91 and 95 years old respectfully), we have started the last few years to cook almost the entire meal at our home and deliver it, as in meals-on-wheels, to the grandparents’ home for all to enjoy. Herbs’ love of all things seafood, even though only his dad will join him and everyone else lifts their nose to the smell, has led him to create his own version of the traditional dressing – Oyster Dressing.

Using Jennifer’s Herbed Sausage Dressing recipe, Herb suggests adding about a cup of chopped fresh oysters with a little of their natural juice. (If you can’t find fresh, the next best option is to purchase from the supermarket locally grown oysters in glass jars, not cans.). Chill the Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc (you may have to sample some while cooking) and get ready for a meal to remember!

*Herb’s Oyster/Jennifer’s Herbed Sausage Dressing

(Stuffs one medium sized turkey with extra for left-over turkey sandwiches all weekend long!)
As with all recipes, feel free to add more or less of any of these items per your taste.


6-8 cups cubed sourdough or French bread
*6-8 fresh, or one small jar of processed oysters – chopped into small bites
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 pound ground bulk sausage of your flavor choice (or Italian-type sausage with casings removed)
1 cup chopped celery, some leaves also
1 large tart apple, cored and diced
1 cup chicken stock (preferably home-made)
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup minced flat leaf parsley
2 teaspoons dried (or fresh) diced sage
2 teaspoons dried (or fresh) rosemary
2 teaspoons dried (or fresh) oregano
1 teaspoon dried (or fresh) thyme


Preheat oven to 300 degrees – cook the bread cubes in a single layer on a sheet pan for 5-7 minutes, or until evenly toasted. (This can also be done days in advance by putting them into an oven that has been turned off after you’ve finished cooking a meal. Save in a plastic zip-lock container.) Dump into a large bowl.

In a large pan, melt the butter and cook the onions, celery, apples, parsley, and herbs, adding salt and pepper to taste, over medium heat until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add to the bread crumbs in the bowl.

In the same pan, cook the sausage until browned and cooked through, breaking it up into smaller pieces as it cooks, for about 10 minutes. Add to the bowl of bread cubes and vegetables.

Add the chicken stock and cranberries to the mix. (At this point, you can also add the finely chopped, cooked gizzards and liver from the turkey if you like). *Add chopped oysters here, folding into the dressing.

Mix all ingredients lightly but well and loosely stuff the turkey cavity. (The oyster dressing should probably be cooked in a separate pan, unless you are sure that everyone around the table likes oysters!) Extra dressing can be baked in a bread or pie pan about 30 minutes or until browned on top. (Cover with foil the last few minutes if it gets too brown.)

Serve with a chilled bottle of Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc (if there’s any left!)