Cuban Stuffing


I’m a holiday traditionalist. Each year I look forward to the tried-and-true dishes, seasonal favorites, and family specialties. While I love thumbing the pages of cookbooks and pinning new holiday sides, I always go back to the classics. One of these classics is my abuela’s Cuban stuffing (relleno) that everyone craves around this time of year. Scribbled on the back page of my mom’s beloved Cocina Criolla cookbook is my abuela’s recipe that she makes each year for the holidays, especially thanksgiving.


I have to admit I’m a sucker for the bready and soft American version with plenty of butter, celery, and onion, but my abuela’s Cuban stuffing is a thanksgiving and holiday favorite. The mixture of beef, pork, and ham with warm cumin, plump raisins, crunchy almonds, and Spanish olives makes Cuban stuffing a blend of deliciousness with familiar flavors and comforting aromas. My mom makes the stuffing each year for Thanksgiving, but I think it would be great stuffed in small cornish hens for fancy dinners, baked in pastry, or just by the bowlful atop white rice.


I made this Cuban stuffing for the first time ever with my mom this year. The stuffing was easier to make than I imagined, and oh so flavorful. As the years go by, my appreciation for my family’s traditions and favorite dishes has only increased, and I’m happy I get to document them and share with younger cousins, baby brothers and sisters, and future generations.

Cuban Stuffing (Relleno Cubano)

  • 2 lbs ground beef (not low fat)
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 lb ground ham (do not use smoked or flavored hams)
  • 1 large onion diced (about 1 ½ to 2 cups)
  • 5 garlic cloves minced
  • ¾ cup raisins
  • ¾ cup Spanish olives with pimientos sliced in thirds
  • ¾ cup sliced almonds
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 tbsp oregano
  • 2 tbsp Cumin
  • ½ tbsp ground black pepper or more to taste
  • 1 ½ packages cornbread stuffing
  • 1-2 cups turkey/chicken/ or vegetable stock

Dice the garlic and onions; grind the diced ham. I have made the mistake of purchasing smoked, honey, or mesquite diced ham. This totally kills the flavor of the relleno and does not work. I grind the diced ham in the food processor. Add the pork, beef, onion, and garlic to the pan all at the same time. Stir well and cook until just browned. Make sure to buy ground chuck or sirloin and avoid leaner cuts of beef. You do not want to overcook the beef because it will continue cooking in the bird if you choose to stuff it, or it will heat in a crockpot for serving, and do not drain the fat.


Once browned add all of the herbs and spices and mix well. Do not add salt. Both the ground ham and the olives add plenty of natural sodium. Trust me on this!! Next add the package of cornbread stuffing and combine thoroughly.  At this point you can finally add the ham stirring to combine, and then go ahead and toss in the almonds, olives, and raisins. You can always add more to taste (of everything) and this part is really up to you- that’s the fun part of cooking and tasting =P. The raisin, almond, and olive trio really does add lots of flavor and is reminiscent of delicious picadillo.


If you are making the Cuban stuffing a day in advance allow the dish to cool before placing it in the refrigerator. If you stuff the bird with the Cuban stuffing it does not require any stock to keep moist, but when you are reheating for a thanksgiving or holiday meal, you will want to slowly add hot stock of your choice and blend well. If the Cuban stuffing becomes too wet simply add more of the cornbread stuffing. I always buy two bags just in case. This year we placed the Cuban stuffing in a crockpot on low to warm a few hours before everyone came over and it was perfect and delicious. I’d say this version makes around 16-18 cups. Cuban stuffing is surely to become a holiday staple and thanksgiving must.


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Mom’s Best Apple Pie


On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving my mom pulls out the tattered and worn 1983 Betty Crocker’s Cookbook and turns to page 295. Worn and stained, these pages reveal years of memories, baking follies, Thanksgiving triumphs, and epic battles over the last slice of apple pie. For me Thanksgiving is always about the warm apple pie that my mom bakes with love each holiday season. Covered in crunchy streusel topping and piled high with fresh tart apples, this is seriously the best damn apple pie you’ve ever had.



My mom has been making this apple pie for nearly three decades, and it is a timeless family classic that we all look forward to and fight over every Thanksgiving. It has gotten to the point where my mom makes an extra apple pie just for our (nuclear) family to dig into late night after everyone has left, when our bellies are still full, but one more bite of apple pie is all we crave.


I am thankful for my mom’s patience as I took one million photos for this post. I am thankful for her years of pie baking and deliciousness making even with a house full of small kids. I am thankful for the years of tradition my family has kept alive. I am thankful for my family and friends that make the holidays worthwhile and wonderful. Burnt pie crusts, bone-dry turkeys, and broken dishes happen to the best of us- all that really matters is that you take a look around the room and realize how much goodness and love is already in one place. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!


Mom’s Best Apple Pie

Modified from the Betty Crocker 1983 Version

  • 1 pie crust (homemade or store-bought, you decide!)
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • Dash of salt
  • 7-8 cups of apples thinly sliced tart apples (around 1 bag)

For the streusel topping:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup cold butter

Heat oven to 425F. Peel, core, and thinly slice your apples. I used an apple corer and then sliced each segment again in half. Do not slice the apples too thin. Mix the sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and stir in the apples till well coated. If you’re feeling awesome and have plenty of time on your hands go ahead and make your own pie crust. I myself am not that cool, so I bought a premade pie crust, and I think it tastes pretty damn delicious with the shortcut. Place the pie crust into the 9 inch pie dish. Add the sugar and spice coated apples. The apples will form a large mountain, but fear not, the apples will become smaller as the pie bakes and it will settle even lower as it cools.


Mix the streusel ingredients until nice and crumbly. My mom taught me to use a cheese grater to grate the cold butter into the sugar and flour. Do not over mix, the crumble should be just that- crumbly!  Top the apples with the streusel topping. Make sure to wipe any of the delicious gooey sugar apple coating that might have gotten on the edges of the pie crust. The sugar will turn black and burn parts of the pie crust. Simply use a moist paper towel or clean fingers to rub it off. Fold a large square of aluminum foil in half and cut out a large circle. Place the remaining square over the pie which should perfectly cover the crust. The thin crust can burn easily so it will be a perfect golden brown if you cover it during the entire baking process.


Bake the apple pie for 50 minutes, but take a peek around 20 minutes to see how golden brown the streusel topping is. This step is crucial as the topping can sometimes get quite crisp. If it is looking golden early on (as it usually does) fold a piece of aluminum foil in half and tent it over the pie. Do not place the aluminum foil firmly against the pie or try to fasten because this can cause the streusel to become soft and soggy.


After 50 minutes take your beautiful apple pie out of the oven and allow it to cool somewhat. Serve the apple pie warm with vanilla bean ice cream, vanilla sauce, or with a nice big dollop of whipped cream. This apple pie will become a staple in your home for years to come; I know I can’t have Thanksgiving without it!


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Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese


Butternut squash mac and cheese topped with golden crunchy panko bread crumbs and rich aromatic rosemary makes for a creamy, nutty, and healthy(ier) Thanksgiving side- or just a nice fall dish. One that makes you feel cozy and comfy as nights become cooler and forgotten warm winter coats are reluctantly remembered. Since I was a kid I have been making the macaroni and cheese recipe from Betty Crocker’s Cook Book for Boys and Girls. I have mentioned this tattered and loved cookbook before, whose recipes I still use in modified extent.


For the butternut squash mac and cheese I replaced the macaroni for roasted butternut squash, added a bit of depth with spices and rosemary, and crunch with the toasted panko bread crumbs. The butternut squash was perfectly tender and well-coated in the sharp cheddar cheese sauce. I like to use a shallow dish to maximize surface area for lots of crisp rosemary panko. Roasted butternut squash mac and cheese is fitting for a feast like Thanksgiving or if you’re feeling fancy, just a nice Tuesday night dinner.


Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

  • 2 lb butternut squash peeled, cored, and diced
  • 2 tsp melted butter or ghee
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 small diced white onion
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp dried ground mustard
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups milk (I used 2%)
  • 12 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese, 2 oz set aside for topping
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 sprig rosemary chopped

Preheat the oven to 400F. Peel the butternut squash, cut it in half, and core out the seeds. Dice the squash into nice little cubes for your butternut squash mac and cheese. Toss the diced butternut squash with the butter or ghee and sea salt. Roast the butternut squash for about 20 minutes or until almost done through. I opened the oven at 10 minutes and stirred the squash so it wouldn’t stick to the cast iron skillet. I like to use the skillet for aesthetics, but this would be easily done in a glass pyrex dish 9×13 would probably work best.


While the squash is roasting make the cheddar cheese sauce starting with the roux. I didn’t get to take great pictures of this step because my kitchen lighting is dismal. Melt the butter on medium to low heat and cook the onion until soft and tender. Add the flour and stir well, add the spices and allow the roux base to toast slightly for 2-3 minutes. Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly. Stir in the zebra white and yellow shredded cheddar and cook over low heat until sauce is thickened. Grate the nutmeg into the sauce and stir.


Add the butternut squash to the cheese sauce and gently stir. You want to keep the squash in neat little cubes. Add the butternut squash and cheese back into the cast iron skillet (or pyrex you roasted the squash in). I hate doing dishes so I try to use as few as possible! Mix the panko bread crumbs, rosemary, and the extra side of cheddar cheese. Top the butternut squash with the bread crumb mixture and bake for an extra 10 minutes until nice and golden brown on top. Butternut squash macaroni and cheese is a great Thanksgiving side dish.


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