Nov 17, 2010

Turkey Day is approaching, but the Washington Post Food section is here to help. Be inspired by new recipes, share your favorites and get the advice to keep you sane for the holiday.

Greetings, cooks and eaters, and welcome to Free Range. Today we're in serious T-day mode, of course, ready to answer any and all questions about your holiday cooking plans. We'll take other questions, too, but we give priority to the panicked turkey-countdown crowd.

Did our All-American menu (above) give you ideas about how to spice up your table, flavor and color-wise this year? Vegans, I hope you enjoyed our take on a vegan holiday party where the turkeys eat rather than get eaten, recipes included. And barbecue fans, if you haven't seen Jim Shahin's video on smoking a turkey, you gotta do that ASAP. Fun stuff.

What else is on your plate?

We have some fun giveaways today: In honor of our main menu, we have "Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions" by Fernando and Marlene Divina. And for a few other chatters we pick, we'll have pairs of free tickets to a screening of "Kings of Pastry," which follows 16 French pastry chefs in a competition in Lyon. It opens next week at West End Cinema and runs through Dec. 2.

Let's chat!

 

I love love LOVE my stuffing recipe, which I found several years ago in a Gourmet Nov issue. It's attributed to James Beard, uses torn up bagettes, a boat-load of shallots sauted in butter, tossed together with fresh herbs and moistened with stock and Cognac. And I'm a devotee of stuffing IN the bird. This year I found a turkey preparation in Bon Appetit that sounds good, but I'm wondering if it will go with my stuffing. It's the Salt-Roasted Turkey with Lemon and Oregano. You make a rub of 1/3. kosher salt, chopped organo, grated lemon peel, garlic and black pepper. You're supposed to rub this on the bird 18-24 hrs prior to roasting. And put 4 Ts inside the bird. Will this make the stuffing inside the bird, too salty? Would it work if I cut all the salt out of the stuffing, thinking it would pick up needed salt during roasting? Do you think it would make sense to skip the salt inside the turkey, what with the stuffing? Looking for your thoughts. Thanks so much! I'm getting ready - I can't WAIT! I love Thanksgiving!

I love Thanksgiving too!  (Although testing the vegan "turkey" recipes nearly took the stuffing out of me this year.) Sounds like  your stuffing will have plenty of flavor and aromatics to help the inside of the bird, so  skip the heavy interior salting.

The Cognac intrigues me. Check out the stuffing recipe we're running on Sunday, from Molly Wizenberg (a k a Orangette).  It has brandy. I'm thinking I might add a bit of something high-powered to my annual hazelnut and sausage stuffing.

I'm bucking tradition and decided to do pork tenderloin this year for T-day. My recipe says to sear it in an oven-safe pan for 10 minutes (turning, so all sides get brown) and then putting in a 450 oven for 10 minutes until temp is 145. (1) is 10 minutes really enough (it's 1.5 lbs)? and (2) is 145 ok (that seems a little high to me)? thank you...you will save my T-day if I make a perfect pork (since people will probably already be cranky that they're not getting turkey).

Don't know why it wouldn't work. If you have an instant-read thermometer, you'll be golden. You can also press on the tenderloin....it should be springy yet firm. I'm used to recipes that transfer it to the oven at a lower temperature for a longer period of time (350 for 25 mins or so), so feel free to do that instead.

I like to keep the oven at 425 degrees myself. I'd check on that temp. People aren't used to eating pork at 145 degrees anymore. Some of your guests may feel it's underdone.

As a life long vegetarian, I can't tell you how excited I was to read an article on a vegan Thanksgiving. You don't know how many people have asked me over the years what I eat for Thanksgiving (as if the idea of NOT having turkey was impossible/unthinkable). Kudos for looking out for us vegetarians and providing recipes that we can actually use!! I read this Q&A weekly and love it, but this week was the icing on the cake!

Glad you like the look of those recipes! Let us know if you make any of them and how they turn out -- and make sure to rate them in the Recipe Finder.

Last week's croissant question was this:

I've been working on baking my own croissants, but the inner layers tend to mush rather than bake fully. I've tried using double pans so the bottoms don't brown too quickly, rotating pans, etc. What am I doing wrong, and/or do you have any suggestions?

 

And here's the answer from baking instructor/cookbook author Nick Malgieri:  If the dough with the butter rolled into it has been chilled before you roll it again, let it soften slightly at room temperature before rolling and folding it again.  If you roll the dough when it is too cold it can break the butter into pellets rather than keeping it in thin, even sheets in the dough and the butter can leak out of the dough and make the inside of the croissants mushy.
 
Try rolling the dough a little thinner and making slightly smaller croissants that don’t have as many layers rolled into them.
 
Make sure they are well risen before baking them.
 
Try lowering your oven’s temperature at least 25 degrees – it sounds as though the croissants are getting too dark before the inside is fully baked.
 

Hi--I made the sweet potato rolls last year (using the make-ahead tip and parbaking/freezing them). They turned out just as advertised and were a big hit. Getting a jump on things, I made them again this weekend to freeze for Thanksgiving. They rose and puffed beautifully. However, when I put them aside to cool, the three rolls at the center of each pan collapsed. Are these salvagable--i.e., will they bounce back? Or would you recommend I start over?

Mu guess is that the interior of the rolls never got cooked through. I'd toss them, but the others should be fine.

Do you know a metro-accessible source for curry leaves? Moreover, what plant are they? Thanks for the assistance!

Our pal Monica Bhide says you probably can find them at the H-Mart near the Dunn Loring Metro (could be fresh or frozen). Or order them online through  Amazon.com.

The leaves come from the curry tree (Murraya koenigii; Rutaceae family), native to India.

 

Can egg whites be frozen, and then thawed for use in cookie frosting (nothing fancy like meringue)?

Yes!

Not together of course -- just my two topics! First, thank you for that recipe for scrambled eggs with ricotta. My husband is one of those eggs-for-dinner lovers, and at least one or two nights a week I make them for him. I will definitely be adding this recipe to my rotation -- it sounds delicious. Second -- I will be making a ham again this year for Thanksgiving. My marinade is different every year -- basically using whatever sweet/savory components I have in the pantry, but always with cranberry juice as the main liquid, as a nod to tradition. The problem is that I can always still taste that slight cranberry bitterness through the other notes. Any suggestions for getting rid of it?

Butter -- yes, butter -- does it. That seems to be the antidote for bitterness in cranberries.

And here's another holiday cookie question/answer from last week's chat:

I wanted to turn my favorite cut-out sugar cookies into frosted and decorated holiday cookies, but putting a glaze on them made them turn soft. Same problem when I tried it with gingerbread cookies -- they became so soft they fell apart when picked up. What am I doing wrong?

 

And here's the answer from baking instructor/cookbook author Nick Malgieri: You need to make your glaze a little thicker and heat it to about 110-120 degrees before brushing or spreading it on the cookies.  The heated glaze will dry quickly and not be absorbed by the cookies.

I finally want to get a rice cooker. Any recommendations? I f you have a 10 cup rice cooker can you cook smaller amounts in it? Would a three cup cooker only be large enough for one or two people? Tell me it is too early to stress out over Thanksgiving!

I love love love my Zojirishi rice cooker. It's pricey but worth every penny. One warning, the cup measure that comes with the cooker is smaller than a standard U.S. cup.

Check out this piece on rice cookers Bonnie and I did a couple years back. You can indeed cook smaller amounts of rice in a 10-cup cooker.

Just wanted to say I love the new look of Free Range. it's been several months since I sat in, and this format with prettier fonts and callout boxes and stylish photos is very inviting! Dare I say appetizing?

Good! You also don't have to do that infernal refreshing.

Hey there! I am bringing a little something different for Thanksgiving: a cheesecake! I have a tasty go-to recipe that I've used for years but I've been noticing lumps in the batter the last few times I've made it. What can I do do prevent the lumps or get them out? Should the cream cheese be cold or at room temp (if room temp, how long should I leave it out)? What about the eggs, any special temperature? Thanks a lot!

Use all-room-temp ingredients; the cream cheese should be just cool to the touch  (68-72 degrees, if you have an instant-read thermometer). Maybe the lumps are created when you add flour? Try sifting in or add sifted dry ingredients a little at a time.

I need a suggestion for a green vegetable dish that travels well (I'm about an hour away from the hosts), and that might be eaten by a relative who never met a green vegetable he didn't hate. Any ideas?

I vote for Guatemalan Potao and Fresh Green Bean Salad. Since it could also be seen as just a potato salad with extra stuff in it, maybe this relative will be fooled into eating those beans, too!

 

 

I agree. Loved the flavor of these and they can be served at room temperature. If you do, keep the spuds, beans and dressing separate till you arrive.

I'm hoping you can help me settle a family dispute: If two turkeys are prepared and cooked in the exact same way but the first was brined and the second (which was NOT brined) was cooked in a roasting pan a cover, which turkey would be more moist? Thank you!

The cover idea sounds like I'd be missing out on some crispy skin.  I'll go with a) brined.

Thank you, thank you, for the vegan feature! All the recipes look marvelous, especially the no-turkey puff pastry. I live in Canada so we've already had Thanksgiving here, but I will try some (or all) of the recipes for Christmas dinner!

Excellent!

Every Thanksgiving my aunt would make corn pudding so good that it almost made you forget about the turkey and stuffing. But she's older and not into cooking anymore so we are fending for ourselves, but also watching calories & fat. Does anyone have a corn pudding recipe that is tasty, but not so high in calories?

This Soul Food Corn Pudding has only 125 cals and 3 fat grams per serving. And it tastes good.

Just go out to Lotte or Super H in fairfax and buy one. I thnk we've had the same sanyo model we bought at lotte maybe 12 yrs ago. Always works and yes, you can cook as little as one cup up to 10 cups. A couple tricks - 1 rinse the rice very well (until water runs clear). Then turn it on, but don't start the cookng for about 5 min - the rice will get slightly softer this way and avoid any under cooked grains.

We've typically had pretty large (30 lbs) turkeys and this year I may finally actually cook it (this has been "farmed out" to other family members). Do you think it's realistic to cook it the day before since our family doesn't seem to care about carving at the table (the bird's too big :))? Any sense on if I should cook it a little less than the normal per pound time to take into consideration the fact that it will be reheated. I'm willing to get up at 6 Thanksgiving am but not earlier. We do have a convection oven so I can use that feature to cut down the time a little. Help me not have dry turkey!!

Could you? Yes. Should you? Probably not. You'd have to cook the bird, cut it into pieces so it would cool quickly, refrigerate and then reheat the next day. To make it taste good, you'd have to slice and reheat in broth. Would it taste good? Yes if you reheat in broth. Is it worth all this trouble? You have to decide for yourself.

Here's a thought: It might be too late this year, but why not switch to two smaller turkeys? So so so so so much easier to handle, to cook well. Think about it!

Loved the video!! It makes me want to try to smoke my own...occasionally it seems the fire goes out, though, mid-way through. Any tips on how to avoid that and what to do when it happens? Also, how do I know when it's done?

Ah, the ol' fire-sustain problem. Lots of grills/smokers have sections of grates. When you cook using indirect heat, you simply remove the grate over the fire before even starting. Makes adding coals easy. 

If you have a Weber kettle, or something similar, you can buy a grate with "wings" on either side. You just pull up one side, add charcoal or wood, and set back down. No fuss, no muss.

If you have a kettle and a regular cooking grate, you will need a pair of good oven mitts and a station on which to set the griate. Add the charcoal or wood. Set the grate back on. 

The turkey is done when an instant read thermometer stuck in the thickest part of the breast reads 170 F. 

I've never brined my turkey (breast actually), but I'm considering it this year, since I've been reading about it for years and maybe it's time to give it a go. The maple brine sounds fantastic, although I'm not sure where I'll find all the berries for it. More pressing matter though is the gravy. Will the drippings off this still work to make a good turkey gravy?

Juniper berries and allspice berries are dried, and I think you can find them on the spice aisle of a well-stocked grocery store. The drippings are kind of sweet/salty, so if  you can add a healthy splosh of dry sherry, vermouth or Madeira to your gravy recipe you should be fine.

prevent bottom crust of pumpkin pie from being soggy?

Love our Sifted experts. Nick Malgieri's answer posted online today was: Add 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder per cup of flour to your pie crust recipe. Bake the pie in a Pyrex pie plate, and bake it on the bottom rack of the oven. It should be fine.

I host every year with an average of 20 people attending dinner. My best lesson to date is to make a big pot of soup -- usually butternut squash and potato based -- so that while I am finishing up the last few things I can get my well intentioned guests out from under my feet in the kitchen and sitting down to a warm first course at the table. Guests have commented that having the soup takes the edge off their hunger and helps us have a leisurely dinner instead of everyone diving in because no one has eaten for hours.

Good idea. It's also something you can make the day before.

I'm with you. I always do this, too. Last year I made this Silken Turnip Soup, and people oohed and aahed.

Hi. I want to enjoy fresh cinnamon rolls on Sunday morning. But certain 2.5-year-old in my house diminishes the time we have to wait for them to cook (as does an early church time). How much can be done the night before? Everything? Then just bake in the morning? Thanks!

There are plenty of recipes online like this one that allow for a slow rise in the fridge overnight. But then there's the half-hour of coming to room temperature (you'd have to be preheating the oven, anyway) and the 20 minutes or so of baking. Do you need it to be faster than that?

 

Maybe our chatters have shortcuts....

Hello, Rangers! I made some butternut squash soup on Friday night, but forgot to freeze it before I left on Saturday morning for a trip. Is it still okay to eat today? If yes, is it still okay to freeze? Thanks for the advice. Happy Thanksgiving!

No. The rule of thumb for soups is 3 to 4 days and then out they go. Soups, especially those made with a chicken-based broth, are particularly rich environments for bacterial growth. Good news is that many soups freeze beautifully.

Hi there, throwing a baby shower & the space is a little small, so we were thinking appetizers/finger foods would be more appropriate. We're expecting about 20-25 people, how do I calculate how many different types to have, as well as how much food total I need? Thanks!

I thinking you want to feed the guests. Generally, you can figure 6 to 8 pieces per person (assuming no other food is being served) and 3 to 4 different options. I like to put some nuts, olives, etc. out in bowls as well.

Another question on the smoking....what types of sides would you particularly want to pair with that? And...any special wine recommendations???

Sides: I love chopped brussels sprouts in brown butter. So easy and very tasty. You just coarsely chops the sprouts, bring the butter in a pan till it begins to brown, add the sprouts. Cook till the sprouts brown, but retain a little crunchiness. Salt and pepper. That's it. You can fancify it, with apple cider and/or bacon. But, that alone is beautiful. Oh, and you can make it in a cast-iron pan over the charcoal fire while the turkey is resting, if you want. 

Wine: the smoke gives the turkey a bit more robust flavor than a regular roasted turkey. I like a Gewurtraminer for its sweetness; plays well with the smoke. For less contrast, go with a hefty pinot noir. 

My partner and I are opting for a small Thanksgiving this year with just the two of us. Would a small turkey still be too much for two people? I'm thinking of doing a turkey breast - any thoughts on good recipes? Thanks!

It's hard to find an 8 lb turkey, but that's what I'd get, because I'm a dark-meat fiend and the turkey breast option is therefore lacking. You will have leftovers, and that's a good thing: sandwiches, soup, enchiladas and a quick pizza recipe that will run in our special second Thanksgiving edition on Sunday.

Speaking of, that section has a story on cooking the holiday  meal for two -- with 3 side dish recipes and a dessert. Loved them all.

If you decide to go the turkey-breast route, look at this recipe for a Brined Turkey Breast with White Wine Pan Sauce.

 

There's also this simpler Chipotle-Rubbed Turkey Breast.

I'd like to buy myself (or suggest to my husband for a gift) a kitchen scale. I know I want one with a tare function so I can re-zero after adding each ingredient, but do you have any recommendations on top of that? Thanks!

I have a Salter scale which I got at Bed, Bath and Beyond, but I'm sure is available elsewhere. Very easy to use, especially to zero out. I hope Santa's taking notes....

Scales are in the "Beyond" section, btw. ;-)

Hello! I just bought tahini for the first time to try a seitan dish to test before thanksgiving for my vegetarian friend. The recipe only calls for 2 Tbs. What else does one do with tahini and how long is it good for in the fridge? Thanks so much and I'm a big fan of the chat!

Lasts for months, properly contained and refrigerated. You may see some oil separation after a while, so remember to stir before using.

As I've mentioned before on the chat, I learned to drizzle tahini over vanilla ice cream and that is an easy, two-snaps-up dessert. Add tahini to hummus, vegetable stew, to dress a cold noodle salad, in a marinade for kebabs, on top of sliced bananas, blended with chocolate for a dip...chatters, what do you do? Plus, we've got some very, very good sesame tahini cookies in our upcoming cookie issue (Dec. 8).

Trying to get the kitchen knives ready for this weekend's pre-Thanksgiving dinner. Any ideas on where I can get my knives sharpened in the Northern Virginia area?

Pack 'em up and head to La Cuisine in Old Town Alexandria.

Friends also recommend KnifeSpa, an online service that facilitates shipping back and forth. They said the job was done beautifully.

Okay, great tip about the butter... but how do I incorporate it into the process? I can't really add it to the liquid, since the ham will be marinating in the fridge....baste it as it cooks?

Oil might work as well, but I'd go woth the basting option. A few well placed pats of butter make a HUGE difference.

I'm hosting an early-holiday cocktail party next weekend and recently notices that my menu of things to munch on (not to mention the eggnog! and the sweets!) is very rich. Do you have any suggestions for hor d'oeuvres that won't leave my guests feeling like they gained 5 pounds? Vegetarian options would be great!

Hey, Jim, saw your video on smoking a turkey and downloaded the recipe, and loved it!! Now how about an easy, quick and not too spicy recipe for a pork or beef rub to be cooked in the oven (what heresy, I know)!!! Thanks. Jojo

A good all-purpose rub for pork or beef:

1/3 cup table salt

1/4 cup paprika

3 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons black pepper

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon cayenne 

1 tablespoon ancho powder (optional; for a smoky flavor)

Rub till the meat is coated. You may have some leftover. It holds well. 

With the cayenne and chili powder, you might think this is too spicy. But the meat takes to it well. If you want to slow, though, try a little less of both. 

 

I have a delicious pecan pie recipe - the usual Karo, sugar, eggs, etc. Please do not roll your eyes at me, but I have always used frozen Pet Ritz pie crusts. Lately, I cannot get an intact piece of pie out of the pan; the crust sticks to the pan. Can you tell me how to keep this from happening? It does not happen with other (less sugary) pies that I bake in these crusts. Should I prebake the crust a bit? For some other pies I use the Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts you unroll or unfold. Would those work better? I will not make a pie crust from scratch. Please do not mock me or judge me. Please suggest a way to allow me to present a beautiful, intact slice of pie using the tools that I am willing to use. Thanks!

No eye rolling, promise. When the pie crust is still in its frozen state, try gently removing it from its pie pan. Spray the pan with nonstick cooking oil spray, then return the pie shell to the pan.

Buying a variety of cheeses (triple cream, blue, goat, etc.) for Thanksgiving. Any difference in quality between buying them this weekend vs. the day before?

Not really -- as long as you're getting them from a reputable cheesemonger and you ask to make sure they're properly wrapped for the storage. (Many cheeses benefit from being wrapped in special cheese paper that allows for some breathing, rather than being suffocated in plastic wrap.) But a few days shouldn't make much difference in either case, actually.

In my family, we actually have another Thanksgiving dinner on the Sunday after the actual day. My mother insists on a fresh turkey, but when we went to buy one last year, after the holiday, all that was left at the local grocery were Butterballs, unsuitable for brining. So how far in advance can we buy a fresh turkey? If we buy this weekend, will it last until next Sunday (11/28)?

The turkeys come labeled with expiration dates. If you find one you can keep, make sure your refrigerator is below 40 degrees to keep it fresh and safe at home. You could also ask the market to keep one for you for pick-up later in the week. Their refrigerators are cooler and hold meat longer.

What is the difference between anise and fennel? Can I substitute fennel for the anise called for in the Pain Petri recipe featured in last week's Food section?

Great question. Both evoke licorice, but anise seed has a sweeter cast and is used more for sweets and baking; it's native to the Middle East. Fennel seeds are actually tiny fruit. Those seeds are used more in savory dishes.  I find anise seeds smaller and not as hard to chew through as fennel seeds.  Sure seems they could work in that lovely challah recipe.

We don't eat much turkey at home so we decided to give it a twist in honor of our Latin traditions, so we will be having our bird stuffed with mofongo, which is a delicious blend of smashed fried green plantains with garlic and other spices. The turkey will be seasoned with the same rub that we used back home when roasting a pig. This delicious dinner will that take us back to our roots for a while, its Thanksgiving after all!

Where is my invitation?

I made Joan Nathan's pain petri recipe from last week and was quite pleased with the results! I would like to make it with my preschool class, but one kid is allergic to eggs (and soy and dairy, which limits substitutions even more!). Do you have any suggestions for substitutions for eggs in this recipe that will still keep the process quick? Thanks.

Happy to hear you made it! Is the kid allergic to egg substitute as well? Challah's an egg bread, and I'd be loath to stray too far from a main ingredient. You could try that EnerG Egg Replacer product, which is mixed with water...you'd only need to replace the 2 large eggs. The 2 egg yolks are for brushing the loaf to promote even browning, and you could use a honey/water mixture instead.

I would like to make these rolls for Thanksgiving, but given how much time they consume in the kitchen (the multiple proofs!), I would love to make them ahead, freeze, and then bake-off right before Thanksgiving dinner. Can I freeze them after the final proof, at the point at which they are to go in the oven?

What I do is freeze before final proof (after shaping). As they defrost they proof once again. I like to defrost overnight in the fridge and then finish proofing on the counter before baking. Happy baking.

I put the tahini in my blender or food processor and blend it all together - no problem with separation from there on in. Good luck. Tahini is also good mixed with jams or jellies for a spread. Jojo

Good point!

I used to smoke my turkey in the regular weber kettle grill, but finally went out and bought a weber smoker. Its the smaller (18.5" grate), but you can actually do two 15-16lb birds at the same time (has two levels inside). You basically fill up the bottom with coal, dump some lit ones on top along w/ some wood chunks and it will maintain a 250-350 temp (depending on how many vents you open) for 6-10 hrs. I've done brisket overnight (12 hrs) and never had to add fuel. The turkey and smoked gravy is out of this world. If you can find it, use fruit wood since hickory or mesquete is too harsh for poultry.

Thanks for the suggestions. I have also found that the Weber is pretty good at sustaining a fire. But it's good to be ready for those times when it doesn't. You are so right about the smoked gravy!!!

So I've decided to try and make preserved lemons. I did some research and will try the simplest recipe I've found: stuff a couple of lemons with kosher salt, put in a clean jar with coriander seeds, bay leaves, and enough lemon juice to cover the lemons; let sit for several weeks. Most recipes just say to use a clean jar, but a couple have recommended using a sterilized jar, like one would do when canning. Home canning kind of intimidates me; do I really need to sterilize the jar before adding the lemons and then seal it? Or are the salt and lemon juice sufficient to kill any "bugs" that might develop as the lemons pickle? I really don't want to serve my friends and family a plate full of botulism...

Did you look at our Quick Preserved Lemons recipe? It takes 5 days, uses a clean jar. I think it's the easiest one I've read. And it works! As for the botulism, usually a less-than-airtight container and a low-acid mixture are elements that cause concern -- neither of which you will have.

I find setting the table the night before Thanksgiving is a great organizing tool. I remember to find all the china, stemware, gravy bowl, etc. BEFORE I panic Thanksgiving Day. Setting out all of the serving pieces, and other items, gives me a sense of calm when I finally settle down for sleep.

I do that too.

I want to make a baked vegetarian pasta dish, but that can be served with a meat sauce on the side. I am looking for something where the meat sauce would integrate well with the main dish (not seemed as an after thought) but where the main dish also stands alone.

I need a stellar vegetable recipe. The sides so far are apple-onion stuffing, winter squash casserole, and lemon-mustard green beans. Maybe something leafy. But no salads--needs to be room temp friendly.

You're right at the tipping point of making too many things. If you MUST, how about asparagus with a mustard-vinaigrette that can be ahead of time and served at room temperature.

I am making chocolate meringue and lemon meringue pies for T-Day. Do you need to refrigerate the leftovers?

Yes, unless you plan on them a few hours later. The meringue will weep once refrigerated, but it'll still taste okay.

Thanksgiving-related, but not about cooking -- about transporting. I want to take some NYC treats to my family at their request. Bagels, sure, and maybe some rugelach, that's easy -- but what's the best way to transport corned beef and pastrami safely? In carry-on luggage only, so a cold pack probably won't work, since they're liquid when they thaw. Do you think I could throw a bag of frozen peas in there to keep the meats chilled and not get anything confiscated? Is it safe to have the meat out of the fridge for the 5 hours it'll take to get from place to place, which would be a lot easier?

Dry ice might be the answer but is it worth the trouble? You'd still have to pack it and send through baggage claim. I have a better idea. Ask the store if they ship and pay to have it sent under optimum conditions. You can arrange to have it arrive the same day you do.

This year we're trying to be more creative with sides and color. We are having mashed potatoes, roasted root veggies (with beets, parsnips, carrots and sweet potatoes). But we have nothing green or yellow on the menu yet! Can you suggest something (NOT green bean casserole, my husband hates mushrooms).

Why not some OTHER way of making greens beans like cooking them in salted water for 6 minutes. Drain, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and freshly grated lemon zest. They'll stay at room temperature for hours and are delicious.

Hi. I am wondering if someone can help me figure something out. I was given a set of 3 skillets. They are marked MSE (Martha Steward Everyday, I think). They are heavy like my Lodge Cast Iron Skillet, but instead of being black they are a dull silver. In a few spots it looks like the silver has rusted away. Does anyone know what these are? What is the silver coating? Is it safe if it rusted away? How do I treat them? Thanks!

I'd contact the manufacturer, or place where you bought them. I scanned Martha's product Web site and didnt see a quick answer.

I don't like turkey. There, I've said it. This probably makes me anti-american or something, but I just don't like the taste or texture. Chicken and duck are far superior fowls. I'm hosting Thanksgiving this year, so I can pick the menu. I'm serving 5-8, and I'm doing the main meal myself. My husband, who is an excellent cook, is working that day and will be home just in time for dinner. Do you have any ideas of a non-turkey entree to serve many, something that is easy to make and doesn't require last minute prep? It will be following a hearty soup that I know we all love. In a previous year I roasted two chickens, and that was tasty. I'd rather do something else, though. No food restrictions, though certain members of the group don't like to branch out in terms of ethnic flavors. BTW, I'm known to be unconventional so I don't think there will be rioting in the streets if I forgo turkey. But I can't be too crazy!

Cornish hens? Not turkey, not chicken, but in the same family and really easy to make. 

The writer Calvin Trillin campaigned to make spaghetti carbonara the official Thanksgiving dish. You might try that. Pretty easy. Or, along the same lines but easier to make in advance, lasagne. And Italian is not ethnic anymore (is it?). 

Hi! Thanksgiving at my parents' house always involves a lot of appetizers, because we usually don't eat dinner until 7 PM or so. We have the same appetizers (pigs in blankets, chips and dip, shrimp cocktail, etc) every year. Any ideas for something a little more original to hold us over until the main meal? Thank you!

I have lots of ideas but does everyone else want something different? If so, roll puff pastry around fresh spicy sausage and cut and bake pigs-in-the-blanket style for an upscale version of what they already love. Serve baby balls of mozzarella (widely available in supermarkets) wrapped in proscuitto and drizzled with olive oil and black pepper. Roast veggies and place on slices of toasted Italian bread.

Any idea where I can find sorghum syrup locally? I've seen some places online but and I'm hoping I can find it SOMEWHERE so I don't have to go that route.

I'm coming up with nothing, sorry! I have ordered online through J.W. Dobbs; call 877-582-0891. You could also order it from the Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue.

I'm pretty sure I've never eaten a turnip in my life, but that soup looks so warm and comforting. What does it taste like?

It's a little sweet, a teensy bit bitter, creamy. It's really great.

Thanks for this recipe, it is wonderful. I froze it in individual servings to take for lunch. This is another one of my favorites that freezes well.

You're welcome, and thanks!

We may have a Thanksgiving "stop and snack" for a set of friends who aren't from the US. Rather than make a sit-down meal, I'd like to have Thanksgiving-oriented snacks that folks can munch on -- to make a meal or not -- and that won't keep me in the kitchen. Any suggestions?

I have something I like to do for pre- and post-Tahnksgiving get togethers. Sweet potato biscuits with ham and corn muffins with turkey and cranberry sauce. They have all the flavors of the holiday in a bite-size cocktail item.

I'm intrigued by this one but the submitter didn't say how to bake them. What temp and for how long?

350 degrees for 2o to 25 minutes.

Thanks for acknowledging that not all of us stuff a turkey for Thanksgiving! I grew up in a vegetarian family where we still use a 50 year old cashew roast recipe instead of a bird. Even nowadays when we sometimes have a turkey for the non-vegetarian members of the family, the roast has more holiday sentimental value to us than the turkey ever will.

Nice!

Anyone there have a recipe for homemade mincemeat - my husband LOVES mincemeat pie and it would be great to make one for him for either Thanksgiving or Christmas. Tilly

Mincemeat strikes me as exotic.

You might try this recipe from Alton Brown.

Rangers, any other thoughts?

My family has requested that I include a chocolate selection for thanksgiving dessert. I have already planned a sweet potato pie, an apple pie and gingerbread cupcakes. I need a chocolate dessert that I can make this weekend that can be frozen or otherwise will keep til turkey day. Any suggestions?

You could do brownies or even freeze layers of your favorite chocolate cake.  But it's such a pie-rrific holiday, why not stick with something that looks like a pie/torte: French Silk. Could be a new family fave.

Brussel Sprouts cooked with Bacon Just dice raw bacon, cook in a pan like you normally would, use the rendered fat to cook the sprouts - add the Bacon back. This does not work if you have a Vegetarian coming though (as we do, so I can't use it)

I'm all for healthful eating but, on T'giving, that mantra goes the way of multiple carbs, sugar-laden cranberry sauce, cream enriched soup, salty ham and pasta dishes (because SO's family is soooo Italian). Our merged families enjoy this day without guilt because, as my father-in-law likes to say, "turkey is a lean meat." Dig in. Enjoy. Whatever your preferences.

why not just get some nice boxed chocolates as a nice change from pies and pies. People can have a small taste of chocolate and still have another dessert.

Just want to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!!! What are you preparing at your homes?

Funny, my sister just called to ask what we're making. We'll be having pies, that's for sure -- apple, pumpkin and chocolate cream -- because I love to make them.

I will be at my sister's in Maine, and we'll yet again butterfly a turkey and roast it in her wood-fired brick bread oven. It'll be one of their own -- and this year I might just be there for the slaughter. (Sorry, vegans!)

I also plan to make the Baked Pumpkin With Corn and Apple Pudding, the aforementioned Silken Turnip Soup, several other sides TBD, and pies galore. Some will be made with fruit she's frozen from their own harvest (blueberry, no doubt), but I'll also do my favorite pecan pie of all time, from Virginia Willis: Mama's Pecan Pie, which has a beautiful high pecan-to-goo ratio.

Isn't it gorgeous?

Just last night I told my wife that the one thing I hope we don't have is smoked turkey. I absolutely love it, but I've made it now three times in the past month. Alas, friends who are coming for dinner that dinner tasted it one of those times and want it. So, maybe it'll be on the table after all. If not, I may smoke a ham. Or smoke a crown roast of pork. Whatever I do, I will probably use the grill. 

We will have cornbread dressing, pureed sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, creamed onions. and a couple of others. 

Dessert - bread pudding, pumpkin pie, and - a plug here for the organization - a pie from Food and Friends, which helps feed homebound folks. 

I add dishes every year, but my husband says I cannot subtract from a 1987 menu in Gourmet: a partially boned  turkey loaded with a hazelnut-sausage stuffing; some version of pearl onions; a root vegetable puree; a sherried apple-pumpkin soup; a crunchy salad; and  hazelnut cornucopias in addition to all those other good pies for dessert.

I offered to make something fresh and yummy to offset the plethora of "vegetable casseroles" that I'm sure will be at my stepsister's for TG. I wanted to incorporate butternut squash since there is no squash on her menu. It needs to be served cold or room temp bc of lack of oven/stovetop/microwave space. Was thinking of roasting some squash, maybe tossing with arugula, pomegranates or cranberries, walnuts or pecans for a very hearty salad. Does that sound like it will work? How should I dress it?

Sure, you make a green salad (use dark greens like arugula), top with chunks of roasted squash, toasted pecans and make a cranberry vinaigrette. To make the dressing: In a blender, process 1/3 cup of sweetened dried cranberries (Craisins) with a little mustard, chives, salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar and 3 tablespoons of a good white wine vinegar, slowly pour in 6 tablespoons of olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Is Jason with us today? I'm hosting Thanksgiving in the mountains this year and would love an idea for a cocktail to serve with appetizers before the main event!

Thanksgiving in the mountains? I don't know why, but I'm thinking apple brandy. How about an Apple Brandy Old Fashioned or a Jack Rose?

Any ideas for making a vegan pumpkin martini?

Wow. I believe you have officially won Stump The Columnist. Anyone have any ideas? Email me...

Jason, is Ricard available around DC? I know that Pernod is the same company and the difference is probably in my head, but un Ricard before dinner evokes that Proustian moment for me.

Sadly, Ricard is not widely available, and will be nearly impossible to find. Thus, I think your Proustian moment will difficult to come by... But I agree with you that it's superior to Pernod. You could, of course, look for the real Pernod Absinthe, which is available.

Bake pie shell, let cool. Cook Chocolate Blanc Mange from scratch (almost as easy a mix, but so much better -- I use the "Fannie Farmer" recipe). Pour thickened pudding into baked pie shells, top with lots of Chantilly Cream at serving time (whipped heavy cream with a bit of powdered sugar and vanilla extract).

For the person with the rich hors d'oeuvres...I recently made the following that were fantastic and not so rich. Take shrimp and cook in a court bouillon (I used the ATK recipe for their shrimp salad (lemon, basil, parsley, salt, peppercorns, sugar), chop up the shrimp, put into a scoops corn chip with a sprinkle of shredded cheese and bake. Easy and light. I also made some with cooked chorizo and cheese (take the chorizo out of the skins and break up into ground meat as you cook). They were wonderful, easy to make and very popular. And the shrimp were lighter than many appetizers.

The butcher in Springfield does them - he's across from the Buy Buy Baby and Trader Joes.

Chocolate pecan pie? This one's really good.

Hi Jason - my response from last week didn't make it in time. Recap - there is a cocktail contest between myself and my brother in law. Family members are the judges. They are cocktail people but have always leaned towards gin as their base. I have a wide range of liquor/bitters, so if you can give me two cocktails that will win, that would be great! Thanks!

Hi, I think I made a late response to that. I think I need more to go on... Who's judging/drinking? What do they like? What time of day will you start? Feel free to email me about this!

Only one of my 14 or so guests is a vegetarian. Should I make something special (e.g. fish) for this person. Will it be inappropriate to serve this person only the 4-5 side dishes, which will all be vegetarian?

I think as long as you have true-no-meat sides, it should be enough. Thanksgiving is the one holiday when a vegetarian can usually make a meal of what served to everybody, just be sure to lay off the chicken broth in your sides.

This cake freezes well, IME, and is popular with the chocolate fiends.  I serve with whipped cream and berries.

The earlier query reminded me of a favorite recipe.

Well, you've transferred us to a cutting board, discarded the onion mixture in our cavity, and let us rest for 15 minutes before carving, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today -- hope we helped you with some good a's.

Now for the giveaways: The chatter who wrote in about adding a Latin twist to T-day with a mofongo-stuffed turkey (yum!) will get "Foods of the Americas." And two chatters will get pairs of tickets to see "Kings of Pastry": The one who wrote in about a pecan pie crust problem and pleaded for no judgment or eye-rolling (sweet); and the one who asked about avoiding lumpy cheesecake.

Send your mailing information (in the case of book winner) and just your names (in the case of the movie-ticket winners) to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your prizes.

Remember: We WILL be chatting next Wednesday at this same time, for all you with last-minute questions. Until then, happy cooking, eating and reading.

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