Free Range on Food: Thanksgiving

Nov 14, 2012

It's Thanksgiving, Part 1 here at Food section central. This week we're talking about White House traditions, heritage turkeys, food science and a local couple crazy enough to make the meal twice.
Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions. Past Free Range on Food chats

Thanksgiving is nigh and we. are. ready! How about you? Hope you've had a chance to check out our first of two holiday issues, where you'll find Manuel Roig-Franzia's revealing story on White House Thanksgivings; mysteries of holiday cooking, explained by former Food 101 columnist Bob Wolke; our heritage breed taste test; how to make a grand entrance with squash; why a pair of D.C. bloggers host an annual Fakesgiving; a generous list of where to pick up Thanksgiving desserts; a turkey primer; wine pairings for a White House-inspired menu; and all those recipes -- with more to come on Sunday, in our special second issue. Whew. 


We've invited reinforcements to field your questions today: editor Tanya Steel couldn't join us after all, but she sent Lauren Salkeld, a senior Ep. editor, instead. Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, veteran of many a Food section holiday issue,  is here, as well as staffers Jane Touzalin and Becky Krystal. Hope to bring Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and Spirits columnist Jason Wilson onboard as well. 


Prizes for two lucky chatters: A signed copy of "The Epicurious Cookbook," and a copy of Fine Cooking's "Thanksgiving Cookbook." We'll announce winners at the end of the session. Wings are flapping for takeoff....

(Dinner in 25 Minutes: Pork Paillards in Parmesan Crust)

These sprouts sound like a great appetizer. For the sauce, could I just use olive oil mayo and stir in some mashed garlic and paprika (I might use smoked paprika)?

Fried Brussels Sprouts With Paprika-Spiked Dipping Sauce

Zach Patton, one half of the Bitten Word duo with his husband, Clay Dunn, says

Yes, that would be great!  You wouldn't want to use raw garlic, because it would taste too pungent.  But mashed roasted garlic would be great. Also, simply stirring in smoked paprika into olive oil mayo would work great.

I can't afford a fresh bird from the butcher this year. Any suggestions for best brands, or what to look for in a frozen, supermarket turkey?

Hope a few of us weigh in here.  I'd read the label to see what was added to the bird in terms of a sodium solution and/or flavoring. "Self-basting": fuhgeddaboutit. And I' look for a local producer; I'm pretty sure that Maple Lawn Farms turkeys are available in grocery stores (I've seen them in Whole Foods, MOM's, maybe David's and even Giant.  They scored high in our taste test a few years back. 

We find that unless you're buying a farmers' market or organic or heritage bird, there isn't much difference between fresh and frozen birds. This is because the U.S.D.A. allows turkeys designated as "fresh" to be chilled as low as 26°F—well below the freezing point of water—which allows ice crystals to form and the meat to begin drying out just as it would in a fully frozen bird. Bottom line: Though fresh supermarket turkeys cost more than frozen, you won't get much more for your money.

In terms of brands, when we've done taste tests of supermarket birds at Epicurious, Bell and Evans, Eberly, and Murrays fared the best. 

Also, if you're worried about the flavor of a bargain bird, a dry or wet brine will likely help.


Is a frozen turkey potentially better than a thawed one? it sounds easier, and maybe the slow cooking helps it not to dry out?

You might be onto something. Read what prof Bob Wolke had to say about it, in today's section. 

It's time to start Christmas Cookie planning and one of the recipes we plan on using this year is the Lime Thai Basil Shortbread With Passion Fruit Glaze cookie that was published last year. My daughter made these for her county fair and they were considered for the champion award. However, we had a hard time finding passion fruit concentrate. We finally used a passion fruit juice from a supermarket that was mostly passion fruit and cooked it down. I have found a frozen passion fruit concentrate on Amazon but the shipping for one container is $40. Do you know of any local places to find the concentrate. Welch's sells a frozen one, but it has grape, apple and lots of sugar in it - not what I'm really looking for. Thanks!

Lime Thai Basil Shortbread With Passion Fruit Glaze

I lovelovelove those cookies. Yep, Rodman's carries it (Daruta brand) and I think it's a fairly common item at Latin markets. Shoppers Food & Pharmacy also carries Goya brand passion fruit puree. 

I was talking with my Mom last night about possible vegetable side dishes for Thanksgiving to balance the turkey and the twice-baked potatoes we will have. She doesn't want to serve any roasted vegetables because she says "they are not healthy as they need a lot of olive oil to be good". I disagree, but she's the chef and my Mom so I'd like to make her happy. Could you suggest some healthy vegetable sides? About half of the family is adventurous, the other half is not. I was thinking something like Catalan spinach, but I welcome other ideas. Thank you!

It can be tricky to incorporate healthy green veggies into your Thanksgiving menu. But, there are lots of great options, such as sauteed kale or a raw kale salad, or shaved or sauteed Brussels sprouts. And green beans are really versatile. You can blanch them ahead and then quickly saute before tossing with fresh herbs, toasted nuts, even a little cheese. 

Remember that salads are a good way to go; they add color and crunch to the beige-brownness of this holiday table. Here are 17 recipes from our database to pique your interest. 


Ladies and germs: Jason Wilson is in the house. Bring on those Spirited questions! 

Someone asked in last week's chat about where to buy Thanksgiving dinner in advance. Society Fair in Alexandria has the full feast available. I can't vouch for the feast, but I can vouch for the golden beets in harissa vinaigrette (a new obsession) and the giant chocolate cake.

Thanks for the suggestion.

Due to a complicated holiday schedule, I'll be traveling right up until the holiday. I've had good success preparing stuffing in advance, freezing it and then baking it on T'giving but what about pies? Will freezing a homemade pecan, apple or pumpkin pie affect its flavor and texture?

Most pies and tarts (except for ones with meringue) can be frozen. To do this, chill until firm, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and seal into a freezer bag or container. Wrapping is really the important part to prevent freezer burn and also to keep your pie from picking up any other food odors. Good luck!


I want to make a sweet potato dish for Thanksgiving, but not the really sweet puree with marshmallows--something more interesting, perhaps with herbs or paired with an unexpected ingredient. Any suggestions?

How about Rosemary-Roasted Sweet Potatoes?

Smoked Sweet Potato Mash With Hickory Syrup would also be something different.

Smoked Sweet Potato Mash With Hickory Syrup

And the sweet potatoes with bourbon and maple -- coffee glaze! -- from Bon Appetit that I mentioned in the Fakesgiving story were really, really good.

An African-style sweet potato soup with peanuts/peanut butter would be a lovely starter, I'd think.

OK, I was all set to purchase a heritage (Bourbon Red) turkey (fortunately, free-range, small farmer raised, and less price per pound than the one you sourced :-) BUT after reading the review, I'm a little worried. Is this turkey -- even cooked low and slow (thanks for the notice!) -- going to be outside the limits of what one would expect a turkey to taste like? I don't mind that it tastes different from the traditional overbred turkey (in fact, glad it will!) but I also don't want to pay so much for something that my (traditionalist) husband and guests will leave wondering "where was the turkey?" Am I being overly concerned? thanks!

I guess it depends how game (hehe) you think your guests are! I'm not much of a fan of game meat, but I appreciated the stronger flavor of the dark meat on the heritage birds. More complex than, say, chicken dark meat, which I tend to dislike. It's different, for sure. Not off-putting, though. Plus, there's always the white meat.

Just wanted to let you know we tried this recipe last night and truly enjoyed it ~ the combination of flavors and textures really hit the spot. Thanks for sharing it!

Brussels Sprouts California Style

You noted the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie in a chat recently. It looks so good I want to make it for Thanksgiving. If I make it Wed, will it still be good on Thurs or do you recommend I make it on Thurs? I'm always so fearful that things will taste...old if not made on the actual day. Also, whipped cream. How far in advance can I whip cream? If I were to flavor that with bourbon, would you suggest a ratio of bourbon to cream? Thanks for your help!


Sure, this pie can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.  As long as you whipped a little sugar into the whipping cream or used a stabilized whipping cream, you could beat it a day ahead and refrigerate that too. 

Last year I ended up trying a Popeye's cajun turkey at someone else's house and it was actually really good (it comes pre-cooked and you just heat for about an hour). I host about 30 people myself and in years past, cooking my turkey(s) takes the entire day and leaves no room in the oven for anything else. So, I decided to just go the Popeye's route and have time/space to make a bunch of wonderful sides. Problem - how do I make gravy if I am not cooking the turkey? I am guessing I can buy giblets from a butcher = but will there be enough drippings from a pre-cooked turkey? Are there any good gravy recipes that don't require drippings or even giblets? I am not sure what to do and could use some advice. Thanks!

Such an easy problem to solve. Pick up about 3 to 4 pounds of turkey parts and make a roasted turkey stock. Put the parts in a large roasting pan with a couple roughly chopped carrots, celery stalks and 2 onions. Toss with a tablespoon of oil and roast in a 375 degree oven for about an hour. Transfer to a stockpot, add water to cover by about 2 inches, pepppercorns, fresh parsley, dill or rosemary of you have any or dried thyme, 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns and about 1 tablespoon salt (you can salt later if you prefer). Bring to a slow simmer and cook for 2 hours. Strain, cool in an ice bath. Once cool, spoon off fat into separate storage container. Refrigerate for 2 days or freeze for later use. The fat provides the start of the gravy. The broth finishes it off and also makes a great start to a turkey soup the day after.

So a dressing of a shallots, lemon juice, red wine vinegar and olive oil sounds pretty fantastic. What would be the proportions? Shallots diced and raw? Or would they be sauted in the oil? What about a little bit of garlic?

I think you're talking about the kale salad referenced in Manuel Roig-Franzia's story, correct? Lucky for you, we have shared that recipe for White House Kale Salad.

White House Kale Salad

1, 2, 3 or all the above. Traditionally, raw shallots are used on dressings, but don't let that stop you. Sauteing shallots or garlic just until soft adds a wonderful depth to a dressing.

Thanks so much for this article. It was entertaining to read. I wonder, though, how you could have mentioned persimmon pudding, but not included a recipe. That was the most offbeat dish noted in the article!

Exquisitely cruel are we. As equal-opportunity offenders, we nixed possum recipes as well. Would you settle for a persimmon tart tatin instead?

Just wanted to say I loved your section today. You guys did a great job. I really liked the food flubs article - now I know why my mashed potatoes are never light and fluffy when I use my stand mixer! Wow, I feel stupid.

When Sam Sifton was in town a few weeks ago on a tour for his Thanksgiving cookbook, he told Tim Carman that he uses a mixer. I think the key is to stay at a low speed, if you want to go the mixer route. I'm a potato ricer person myself. 

Do you know of a way to remove the skin after the turkey cooks, crisp it and then lay it back on the bird for serving? A guaranteed recipe for moist bird, crispy skin would work, too. Thanks.

In her book "Comfort and Spice," Niamh Shields crisps chicken skin by wrapping it around skewers, suspending it over a baking dish (the skewers are resting on each side of the dish) and roasting for 350 degrees. (She also jazzes up the skin with Chinese five-spice powder, chili flakes and salt, but you might not want to do that for your turkey.)

For a guaranteed moist bird, you can brine it first. I can assure you that the White House Thyme-Roasted Turkey recipe in today's paper produced very moist meat and nicely crisp skin. 

We're headed to my in-laws for Thanksgiving this year and I'd love to bring a dessert. With a newborn, though, something that's easy to put together is a necessity. I was thinking of a cookie - any ideas for one that's worthy of Turkey Day? Thanks!

I think any cookie or bar that incorporates seasonal ingredients such as pumpkin, cranberry, or pecans, would be terrific. Pumpkin works surprisingly well with chocolate so you could try a rich chocolate brownie with a swirl of pumpkin puree. Or, just try adding cranberries and pecans to your standard chocolate chip cookie recipe so seasonal spin a classic. 

I'm hosting 12 for Thanksgiving dinner and most of us prefer dark meat. What do you think the best option is for giving everyone what they want: 1) a bigger turkey (size?) 2) 2 smaller turkeys (sizes?) 3) regular sized turkey plus turkey pieces. If I go with option 3 how would you suggest I cook the parts? Thanks!

I'm for two smaller turkeys. (12 pound is ideal, but sometimes hard to find, so I settle for 14 pounds.) They're easier to cook than a big bird and you'll get four legs, 4 thighs, etc...Don't forget to strip the bottom of the bird, the best dark meat is hiding there.

If that's still not enough dark meat for you guys, buy leg quarters and start roasting them about 60 to 75 minutes (the timing depends on the size) before you think the bird will be done.  Good luck!

Hi, can I take a recipe for a pumpkin quick bread, normally cooked in a loaf pan, and use it to make a layer cake? I know I will have to match the volume for the two pans but will the cake be strong enough to layers? Basically, is there something about quick breads that make them always baked in loaf pans and not used as the layers in a stacked cake? thanks

It depends on the recipe, but generally yes. I use the pumpkin bread recipe from "Joy of Cooking" to make muffins, bread, cupcakes and layer cakes. The same batter works in all applications. It's the frosting that turns it into dessert. A simple cream cheese version works for a layer cake. A confectioners' sugar glaze made with milk and vanilla works great on the cupcakes.

This Halloween season we went a little crazy buying blue pumpkins, white pumpkins, yellow, enormous Cinderella shaped, etc. Are they all edible? Should we be hacking them up and cooking the flesh for pies, muffins, etc.? I hate to just toss them. AND ... what's up with the crazy butter prices this year? What determines the high cost of butter?

I've heard that the drought had an effect on the dairy market, so butter prices are likely to be high. 

It's a great idea to roast pumpkins and squash for soups, curries, breads, butters, and various baking. If baking with fresh pumpkin, keep in mind that it will be wetter than the canned variety and most recipe are written for canned so you'll likely need to adjust the recipe. Also, when peeling and cutting, be extra careful as the skins can be tough! 

I have a pomegranate. One pomegranate, and one person to consume entire said pomegranate. What do I do?

You could halve these recipes for Pomegranate and Apple Salad and Citrus, Mint and Pomegranate Salad.

Citrus, Mint and Pomegranate Salad

I am in the mood for soup, but I'm tired of the usual soup (tomato, beef, chicken & noodle, butternut squash). If you have had an amazing soup lately, can you please pass along a new idea to get me out of my rut. Thank you.

We've had good feedback on this Spicy Carrot, Tomato, Chorizo and Cilantro Soup, featured in the batch of Make It, Freeze It, Take It recipes in last week's section. 

I love roasted vegetables - sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots, onions, etc. However, they take a long time at a high heat at a time when my turkey is in the oven. How can I fix the timing of this? Can I do anything in advance? I put some in the pan with the turkey, but they get more steamed than roasted since they sit in turkey juice. I would appreciate any advice!! Thanks!!

You can bake them ahead of time, just don't get them too browned.  After you remove the turkey from the oven, pop them back in to reheat and finish. You might want to experiment this weekend reheating a pan of vegetables to get your timing down.

Woohoo! We just got a TJ in our PA town! I've heard much about it from readers of the chat, so I would love to know: What is the "big deal" about Trader Joe's? What are they known for, that should make me want to shop there (vs., say, Wegmans?) Is there anything there that is a "must try"?

I will 'fess up to being a Trader Joe's partisan. Their prices are good, particuarly on items such as chocolate, flour, nuts and canned beans. Their prepared frozen foods are on the whole decent. And their employees are so darn perky! We have a ton of TJs stuff in our house. Silly as it sounds, we love their frozen naan. I've made many attempts at making my own, and nothing comes close to it. We eat a lot of Indian food, so it's a staple in our freezer!

I ordered my Maple Lawn turkey from the MOM the other day, and every year when I do that, I think great thoughts about the food section. Seriously, that was one of your most useful articles EVERY! And now, every year's recurring question: This is not like other turkeys. It seems to cook faster than other turkeys. Is there a good source of cooking instructions for this sort of turkey? Or do we continue to estimate by using a regular turkey recipes and assuming it will be done about 30-45 minutes early?

Why not turn to the Maple Lawn folks who raised that very bird? Their Web site has a page of cooking suggestions -- looks like a pretty good blueprint for you.

Last year at our Thanksgiving dinner, everybody was drinking stone fences. This year, we have tested out this one  and it's ok but not quite right. Any thoughts on a good Thanksgiving cocktail?

That recipe is not a Stone Fence. A Stone Fence is a simple combination of "hard" cider and either apple brandy or bourbon. Here's my Stone Fence recipe. It's a pretty good call for Thanksgiving. In fact, I think cider is a great match and a good alternative to wine with the holiday meal.

First there was roasting, then brining, then grilling and then deep frying. So...has anyone tried to sous vide a turkey yet? (Want to take bets on whether that will emerge as a trend?)

I saw Melissa Clark (love her) tweet that she thinks brining is O-V-E-R. Chefs have been sous-vide-ing turkey parts for years. They tend to finish them off in a way that revives skin crispness. I think I noticed that more people are comfortable with deconstructing the bird before it hits the table. That ol' Norman Rockwellian painted scene is not in everyone's heads like it used to be.


So let's take an informal poll right here and now: Do you cut up your bird in the kitchen before it comes to the table? Or cook it that way?  

Easy, send it to me in a bowl and I'll eat it all.

The original poster suggested that s/he is tired of "the usual" beef soup -- but perhaps a pot roast soup would be good? We had leftover pot roast in the freezer that I just made into soup at an inspiration so ephemeral I can't remember it (It was only last week. Maybe Pinterest, but I am not sure). It was easy to do and delicious. I included a can of diced tomatoes and some frozen corn as well as egg noodles, but next time I might be inclined to use barley instead as I like that combination. Also, any bean soup can work as a chili or vice versa (sorry, Joe), as can a chicken-white bean chile become a great soup if you don't thicken it.

Jason - I've got some cranberries infusing in both whiskey and vodka in preparation for Thanksgiving. What would you think about mixing them with?

I'd be interested to taste that whiskey-cranberry infusion. Why not just make a classic Manhattan with that?

trying to get ahead of my cooking for turkeyday, can I make dinner rolls (with yeast) ahead? I was thinking I'd let the dough have it's first rise and then form the rolls and freeze them. then let them defrost and rise again in the fridge and then bake them the day before. Or would I be better off freezing them already baked?

I suggest baking the rolls and then freezing them. You shouldn't have a problem using a recipe with yeast. I do recommend using a recipe that has plenty of ingredients to keep it moist, such as butter, buttermilk, honey, or puréed pumpkin, squash, or sweet potato. Hope that's helpful!


If you want to freeze and bake, you can. The rolls aren't as fluffy but they're still good. King Arthur Flour's web site has a good recipe for just what you're looking for. I've made them for my family and haven't complaints. Try substituting some white whole wheat flour for the white flour to give the illusion of nutritional value since once the kids see they rolls, they abandon the vegetables.:)

Wow. You all always put together a really great Thanksgiving section, but you really outdid yourselves this year from the White House story to the science story and the "fakesgiving." I really appreciate that you approach the Food Section not just as good food journalism but as a resource for home cooks. I look forward to reading it every week, but this week most of all. Happy Thanksgiving!

[Insert jpg of big smile here.] We do it all for you. 

Who can we contact about T-giving questions that arise between now and next week as we start to plan and prep our menus?

Mighty glad you asked. E-mail us at every day. We'll be here for an extended session next Wed, Nov. 21, right here. Same bat time and channel. 

we have some family coming in from out of town, arriving around noon on Thanksgiving day...any good ideas for lunch? Turkey sandwiches are out...

Why not serve a make-your own-chef salad buffet? You can have everything cut up ahead of time (less work for you on T-Day) and they can assemble themselves as they desire.

Is there anyone that eats the can of cranberry sauce?? it just sits on my table year after year with the can rigids on it. We have it because its part of the spread. I'm curious to know if anyone likes it.

If you grew up eating it, chances are you'd like the taste. But once you make your own -- and check our Recipe Finder database because we have some  fine versions -- and no one who had the $$ to spend on a bag of fresh cranberries would go back to the can. 

My dad loves that stuff which was a disappointing revelation to me after I spent valuable time and some effort making fresh cranberry sauce. I've recovered but I still don't buy it unless he's coming to dinner. To me it's a bad version of jello.

I bought a bottle of Cynar recently, since I heard it's the latest and greatest thing in cocktails. What do you think of it and do you have any cocktail suggestions? Thanks.

Haha, I guess you've been listening to those star-tenders/mixologists. I love Cynar. So much so that I wrote my second column about it in 2007. It does have rather limited uses, but it works great in the ones that call for it. One of my favorite cocktails of 2012 has been the Casino Soul (with aged rum, bianco vermouth, and Cynar). Cynar also works well with sherry, both in the Dunaway (Cynar, amontillado sherry, maraschino liqueur, and orange bitters) and the Trident (Cynar with sherry and aquavit, another spirit that doesn't show up in too many cocktails). Finally, there is a now-classic variation on the Negroni, called the Cyn-Cin (Cynar, gin, sweet vermouth. I would also amend this older recipe to include orange bitters instead of Angostura).

I've been tasked with making gravy. I have some nice farmers' market wings, but I won't have the rest of a turkey. Help!

Can you get the giblet packet? The recipe we ran today for White House Turkey Gravy calls for wings. By the way, we had a correction to that recipe -- please note it now has listed 1/2 cup of flour.

White House Turkey Gravy

Also, see Stephanie's advice above.

Can it be done? How far in advance? I know mashed potatoes will stay warm for a while, but I'm trying to minimize the number of dishes to be dealt with in the last hour before the bird hits the table.

You can do them a day or two in advance. If you'd rather not stir in additional liquids or butter to get them to the right consistency again as they warm up, reheat via double-boiler method: place the mashed spuds in a heatproof bowl that's just large enough to fit over a saucepan of barely bubbling water (bottom of the bowl should not touch the water, though). Cover with foil or a lid so they can steam a bit. 

Lauren Salkeld wrote, "a dry or wet brine will likely help" a supermarket turkey. What is dry brine? If you have a recipe, thanks for giving it.

A wet brine is just a mixture of salt and water but you can add additional ingredients for flavor, such as peppercorns, citrus zest, bay leaves, dried herbs, etc. You can also use other liquids like beer in place of the water. 

A basic brine formula is 1/2 to 1 1/2 cups kosher salt for every gallon of liquid (whether water, juice, stock or beer).


On the radio this morning, they were discussing how cooking a turkey breast side down was the way to go. My questions: 1) is this true; 2) how do you keep the bird from looking ... well, ugly, when you serve it; 3) would a rack in a roasting pan work and should you butter foil to put on the turkey while upside down and then peel off at the end to brown the skin (since I assume you flip it at some point)? Many thanks for this chat!

OK, so there are some different schools of thought. Jane thinks it's too dangerous, Bonnie says if you don't care that it might not look perfect after flipping (and if you have a pet to clean up any mess), go for it. I'll quote from the new Cook's Illustrated book, "The Science of Good Cooking":

Starting the breast side down shields the white meat from oven heat and helps solve the fundamental problem with cooking any bird -- dark meat should be heated to a higher internal temperature than white meat. To crisp the skin on the breast, turn the bird breast side up for the second half of the roasting.

Cooking the turkey in a V-rack allows heat to circulate around the bird and promotes even cooking. Line the rack with foil so the metal bars of the rack don't tear the turkey skin. Cutting slits in the foil allows the turkey juices to drip into the roasting pan and mix with vegetables that will be used to enrich the gravy.

It's non-traditional, but I really love the Hot n Sticky stir-fry sauce on just sweet potatoes - could be a fun option for the poster who wants something besides marshmallows

Good thought! I love that recipe.

Hot and Sticky Vegetable Stir-Fry With Honey and Ginger

Help - I followed the suggestion in another newspaper that called for simmering turkey drumstick sand wings overnight(!). I guess while I slept it must have boiled rather than simmered and is very unappealingly cloudy. Should I throw it out and start over (with a better recipe) or can I use it in the dressing and gravy. Right now, it is residing in the freezer.

I'm assuming it tastes good, or you wouldn't be asking about salvaging it?

So, yes, your stock must have boiled and that's why it's cloudy. Because you're not making, say, a consomme where you'd want the broth to be crystal clear, I don't think it matters that it's cloudy. When you pour it into the dressing or add the flour to the gravy, any cloudiness shouldn't be evident. 

If you do want to clarify the broth, it's easily done with egg whites and egg shells; some Googling will take you to a detailed explanation of the technique.

Do you approve of using Gravy Master or caramel coloring to make a blah colored gravy pretty? When I used a method for pan gravy without a whole turkey like you just posted, the stock diluted almost all the color out of it. I've never used either...

How does the gravy taste? If it's pale and blah-looking because it's pale and blah-tasting, then no amount of coloring will solve that problem. If it tastes terrific but just looks a little wan, then what the heck, go for a little coloring agent. But turkey drippings from the roasting pan (or a darker roux) will do a better coloring job and add flavor, too, so that's the way to go if you can manage it.

My husband has been on quite the pork trend, he's not gaining weight, just cooking lots of pig. He's now moved his way to the head. He saw a whole pork head at a store and is considering some sort of grill, smoke, etc. Any thoughts, Jim?

Well, okay. A pig's head, y'say. 

First, take it to Art of Shaving. There is hair all over that thing. You need to take a razor and basically give it the hot-towel treatment - even in the ears. 

After thoroughly cleaning it, you smoke it for a long time - roughly 8 hours at around 275 degrees or so. You might baste it from time to time. 

You can pull much of the meat off the face (this, I have to tell you, is just not an appetizing thing to be writing before Thanksgiving, but, well, you asked) - the cheek meat, the tongue, even, yes, the eye - and make tacos or just eat plain. 

Think I'll go see if someone has a basic smoked turkey question now.

Hi Rangers! Love the chat, really brightens up my Wednesday. This year I am hosting a Thanksgiving brunch for my family because my kids have other obligations in the evening. I am actually excited to do something for Thanksgiving that is a bit different. So far I have a turkey strata, breakfast potatoes, and pumpkin muffins planned. I would like to make a Thanksgiving-inspired fruit salad to complement the meal. Any suggestions? There will be no food allergies and 7 adults and 3 children in attendance. Thanks so much for the chats!

You are so welcome!


Does it have to be a salad? I like these Baked Apples With Ginger and Cranberries. Or if you want to free-style it, try a blended bowl of Asian pears, seedless red grapes, pomegranate seeds, a little fresh mint, maybe some broiled pink grapefruit sections; make a simple syrup and infuse it with your favorite fruit, let that cool and toss into the mix. 

I grew up with it. My mother got rid of the ridges with a cookie cutter in the shape of a turkey.

Ha. I like that. 

One of us gravy-lovers is on a low-carb regimen so I'm wondering if there's a low-carb way to thicken the gravy. Thank you.

I'd just serve them a "jus" made of turkey broth enriched with sherry and cooked down a bit so it's slightly thickened. It won't be thick like gravy, but it will do the trick. That way the rest of you get to have a good gravy, made properly, which is far and away my favorite part of the meal.

I think miso would work, or mushroom powder. Check out this recipe and riff away. You could use celeriac puree, maybe. 

Hi Foodies! A couple of questions came up this week when my partner and I put together a side dish for our Community Thanksgiving celebration this weekend. We prepared this wonderful dip, with chopped green onions, carrots, onions, bacon, and cheese in a tasty creamy salty base. I elected to chop all of the vegetables - and boy let me tell you it was a lot of work! is there a better way to finely chop vegetables than using a knfe and cutting board? Also, we added some variety by making three batches (one each with white, sweet yellow, and red onions), so we had three half onions to store. Everything in the refrigerator smelled and tasted like onions for three days! Is there a good way to store onions because I would hate to waste food! Ciao!

Do you have a food processor or even just a mini food processor? I use my mini one all the time for mincing and chopping onions, garlic, shallots, and carrots, especially when I have a lot to do -- it saves time and effort! (And if you don't have a processor at all, those mini ones are pretty cheap and very useful.)

I saw a bag of fresh cranberries at Rodmans for $1.59. I totally did a double take.

Well, buy in bulk and freeze! They're good for a year. 

Garlic soup. I don't have a recipe handy, but it's delicious.

I think TJ's got famous because of their "2 buck Chuck". The $2.bottle Charles Shaw wine. The price has gone up a bit; but, not much and it is decent wine. I really like their dairy selections - especially the cheeses! I also really like their dried fruit and nuts - they offer dried fruit with-out all the chemicals and nuts with-out salt - for a good price.

Oh my gosh, how could I forget about the cheese? 

How do you guys limit yourselves when it comes to figuring out which Thanksgiving meals to make? There's so many delicious looking options out there! Plus, it's one of the few days of the year in which I get to show off my cooking skills to someone other than my husband. I also feel stuck between wanting to try new recipes and feeling like I have to make sure people have the standard dishes they all love. Is making a potato dish, glazed carrots, a green bean casserole (from scratch, no icky creamed soup here!), stuffing, a corn dish and a spinach and rice dish too much for six people, on top of turkey? So far my only rationalization is that we will need to eat for the rest of the weekend, so leftovers? Oh, and how sacrilegious would it be to not have mashed potatoes? I love them myself, but I also love the looks of a recipe calling for roasted new potatoes dressed in vinegar and herbs.

I'm facing this dilemma myself today as I realize the hoiday is fast approaching and I haven't done a menu. Usually I make a list with everything I want to include and then I start removing ideas until I get something I can actually accomplish with success. I recommend you do the same. It's not whether it's too many dishes for six, but whether you can make that much and make it well. I'm for startegic reduction.

As for the potato question, it's up to you, but my crowd will mutiny if I leave out the mashed potatoes. Still they add the challenge of something best made at the last minute....

Hi guys! Posting early because I can't participate in the live chat. Last year's apple pie had a very watery filling, which I suspect was from some rogue apple varieties we used while living abroad. Back Stateside this year, we're going with regular old Granny Smiths, but I am still nervous about having another drippy apple pie. Any tips that you can impart? Or should I just pre-cook the filling? If so, should I adjust the baking time? I'm using a double-crust pate brisee for the crust, if that matters. Thanks!!

A cooked filling eliminates weeping (on your part and the apples'). Do like Tiffany MacIsaac (love her) does in her Double-Crust Apple Pie

I'm going to buy a 15 to 20 lb. turkey. My plan is to cut it up and brine the breasts before roasting all the parts. This way, I can let the breasts and legs each cook to the correct temperature, take them out when done, and nothing will be overcooked. What do you think of this plan?

That's a great plan. I'm still stuck on the idea of the whole bird sitting there, but your way ensures that each part is cooked right. Truth be told, I never bring the whole bird to the table anyway.

It is magazine fund raising time at my niece's elementary school. What cooking magazines would you (or the chatters) recommend? I do cook, but my confidence on ad libbing is limited. So I guess my ideal would be a place to find recipes that both tell you exactly what to do and also recommend ways to go off course if such a thing exists.

Cook's Illustrated getting votes overhere, and Saveur and Bon Appetit. If you wanted to really up the ante, check out The Art of Eating.

any good, make-ahead, appetizer ideas for Thanksgiving?

What about something with frozen puff pastry. You can assemble it ahead and keep it in the fridge for several hours (or you can even wrap it really well and freeze it). 

Here's a really basic and very delicious way to use frozen puff pastry. Roll the pastry into a 10-inch square on a lightly floured surface, then brush it with a thin layer of pesto (store-bought or homemade) or tapenade (again, store-bought or homemade), and top it with shredded Parmesan cheese. Roll the pastry inward from both ends (like a scroll) so that the sides meet in the center. Using a sharp knife, cut the roll crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices (you'll have about 20 palmiers). Bake them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet at 400°F for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked throughout.


Do you or chatters know if one can freeze cooked, pureed squash? Or freeze it before it's cooked? Thanks!

Once it's cooked and pureed, go ahead and freeze away. As for raw squash, I have bought frozen squash and I haven't been happy. It's watery in a way the fresh stuff isn't, so I can't recommend going to the trouble of freezing it yourself.

Thank you for this chat. This is my first year hosting Thanksgiving for a family who expects all the traditional trimmings ... to that end, is there a recipe for a tasty version of that gawd-awful goopy soup and crunchy-onion topped green bean casserole? They want it but I want to be able to enjoy it, too. Second, does free-range organic really matter in a turkey (versus, say, Butterball)? Many thanks!

The only variation of that type of green bean casserole I can find in our database is for a vegan dish. Maybe that would work? Bonnie suggests making your own cream of mushroom soup-style sauce, using a bechamel (such as in mac and cheese) mixed with mushroom powder or mushrooms. Then top with fried shallots from the Asian markets, which she finds less greasy than the onions.

As far as your question, I think we all agreed that the free-range -- or pasture-raised, as farmers like to call them -- birds that we tasted had more character than a Butterball. The farmers I talked to said that's partially because of what the birds eat when they roam.

If you're willing to stray far from the original, try this Green Bean with Herbed Mushroom recipe from my Nourish column. It's everything the casserole isn't-fresh tasting beans with good texture, lots of garic and mushrooms, no creamy sauce. It may not satisfy your parents addiction to the original, but it's delicious.

What does cardamom taste like and how crucial would 1 tsp of it be in a chocolate cookie recipe? I am having trouble finding cardamom. I did find it in one store for something like $13. I don't want to spend $13 for 1 tsp of it! Anything I can substitute with or will leaving it out be ok? Thank you.

Cardamom has a kind of floral, anise-like flavor. It can be pricey -- I find that the cheapest place by far to get it is my local Indian grocery store. Much less expensive than the regular grocery store. I don't know how crucial it is since I'm not familiar with your recipe, but you could try substituting a mix of cinnamon and nutmeg.

I used to love the jelly with the ring marks from the can. Now I think it tastes terrible and I love the stuff at Chicken Out with citrus and walnuts. Is that an improvement, nutritionally? And might you have a similar recipe?

Cranberry relish is one of the easiest Thanksgiving-type foods to make, and we have a really simple recipe right here. It doesn't include walnuts, but go ahead and add them (try toasting them a little first for more flavor). Without knowing Chicken Out's recipe, I can't tell you whether ours is a nutritional improvement, but since you make it yourself you'll know that it contains no funky additives, preservatives or other stuff. It can be made up to a week in advance.

We are having a small pot-luck at work but due to many restrictions in our workplace, we cannot bring anything in that must be reheated (we will not have access to any type of kitchen area). Basically, everyone is bringing some sort of finger food and & was thinking of making hors d'oeuvres-size knishes. I have the meat filling down pat but wanted to also bring in some potato knishes for the vegetarians. Would I be able to use mashed potatoes maybe seasoned with a bit of spicy mustard as a filling? Thanks for your assistance.

My family's favorite hors d'oeuvre is homemade bite-size knishes. Add some eggs to the filling to act as a binder and you'll be golden. I make a few versions, cheddar and chive, roasted garlic and browned onion.

Er, I think they'd taste better warmed up, don't you? Maybe you can bring them packed up in layers of newspaper or in a cooler. 

I am thankful to YOU for printing this Thanksgiving Food Section! I, for one, know exactly what I'm cooking and never need new recipes (and am absolutely flabbergasted at how you and the food magazines are able to whip up hundreds of new recipes among you every single year!), but I absolutely love the holiday so really appreciate your stories on White House Thanksgivings and the science side that applies to any meal you're serving. Gobble gobble!

Well, we appreciate the shoutout. I understand the "never need new recipes" issue. In my house -- and I'm sure I say this every year -- I can add to the menu but not subtract. 

I found few good and healthy side dishes from realsimple magazine some year ago...there was a brussels sprout with grapes.

Jason, Last year, I ordered a Stone Fence at Bourbon in Adams Morgan, and I got a combination of bourbon and fresh (sweet) apple cider, with some other subtle flavorings. It was terrific. You say alcoholic cider, they use fresh cider. What's a simple bourbon drinker to do? (Other than have fun sampling both?)

I think you've answered your own question! Try both! You should always drink what you enjoy, not what is ahem "correct."

So - dry brine is a bunch of spices rubbed on or under skin without any liquid?

Many people find dry brining easier than the salt water solution approch and some even argue it's more effective.

For a 14-16 pound bird, use  a base 1/3 cup kosher salt (adjust for different size birds). Using that base, add additional flavor by mixing in 1 1/2 teaspoons each of dried rosemary, sage, thyme, marjoram, celery seeds, 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and 2 crumbled bay leaves. You can also add additional ingredients such as lemon or orange zest or Sichuan peppercorns.  

Start by removing the giblets, neck, and excess fat (near the tail area). Sprinkle the salt mixture all over the turkey, inside and out. Place the turkey on a roasting rack in a roasting pan and refrigerate it, uncovered, for one hour per pound. The open refrigeration will dry out the skin a little, which is good becasue it helps the skin release more fat during roasting. Just before roasting, rinse the bird very well with lukewarm water. Pat the bird dry and cook it according to your recipe or favorite method. There's no need to salt and pepper the skin but you can still give it a rub with softened butter. 

Hope that's helpful!


i don't plan on making gravy but would like to serve the turkey with the juices that are in the bottom of the pan. I bought a fat separated last year, but the liquid was so warm it took too long separate, and I just served it as it. Should I try again this year and maybe throw the fat separator in the fridge while the turkey rests?

If you pour the drippings into the fat separator as soon as you can and let them settle during the half-hour the turkey is resting, you should be able to get quite a bit of separation. Even if it's not perfect, it'll be better than just leaving all that fat in the juices.

Just sending the luv for having The Bitten Word team online today. Thanks, WaPo, and thanks Zach and Clay. Always enjoy your blog as it is intelligent, well-written, focused and entertaining without being overdone. SOmehow you fell out of my regular rotation, but now you're back in thanks to the WaPo reminder. Happy Thanksgiving!

How nice! They are pretty great. I'll pass along the kudos.

That chocolate cake mentioned in the Fakesgiving article sounds so tantalizing I'm tempted to try it myself for Turkey Day - I especially like the fact I can make a lot of it ahead of time. However, I don't have a lot of experience with layer cakes. I remember there was a decadent cake recipe from earlier this summer (a blueberry lemon confection, I believe) that called for a type of cellophane or plastic to be wrapped around the base and to help hold it all together until it had a while to meld. Do you think that would be a good thing to use with this six layer chocolate and caramel icing cake? I would probably put the cake together the night before the big meal.

Ah, you're remembering the Lemon Berry Crunch Cake. My thinking is the wrapper on that cake was needed because it had fillings that might slide around more and because you were shaping cake into a round shape. I don't think the salted caramel chocolate cake will fall apart. If you read the guys' blog post, you'll see that they made the cake a few days ahead of time with no collapse.

My kids want to start a new tradition. They each want to make something new for our Thanksgiving dinner, likely side dishes or desserts. They are 9 and 11 and mainly have been kitchen helpers in the past. Any recommendations for easy to make recipes that I can supervise but are more special than mashed potatoes or chocolate chip cookies?

How about a Thanksgving-themed fried rice? You could pre-cook onions, carrots, peas, mushrooms and rice. The kids could stir fry it all together just to reheat. They'll think they've done all the work. You could even have a mix of rices, such as brown and wild rice, so they'll be making a medley.

No, I know that recipe is not a stone fence. Last year's drink was a stone fence. We were trying the new recipe for this year, looking for something new and different and fun. So I could do stone fences again - your recipe is very nice - but I was looking for a new thought.

Oh, ok. Why not try something with apple brandy, which is so nice in autumn. Here are a few ideas:

- Apple Brandy Old-Fashioned.

- Della Mela (apple brandy and Chinotto Italian soda)

- Apple Sunrise (apple brandy, orang and lemon juice, creme de cassis)

For the reader looking for new soup ideas, here's one of my favorites from the Washington Post archives.

Cook's Illustrated has a great redo of it, with fresh mushrooms and green beans. Even if you don't have a subscription to the website (which is one of only two that I pay for) you can get a 14 day free trial to get the recipe.

I am a newish cook and am having a blast transitioning from reheating Trader Joe's entrees to making things from scratch. Usually, my forays into following recipes are at least reasonably successful, but several have been bad! I've learned some secrets-- with cooking magazines, be selective about which recipes you try. There is a difference between something submitted by a celeb chef and something thrown together untested by a staff writer. (Food and Wine roasted broccoli soup DISASTER, I am looking at you!) Also wise not to debut an entree for guests; I try to audition recipes for my immediate family first. With that said, we live on a very tight budget and it's depressing to invest a bunch of time and money in a meal only to have it turn out badly. (Last night's dinner involved several spendy ingredients and was so gross my husband and I couldn't even force ourselves to eat it.) With Thanksgiving coming up, I am in charge of sides for the big meal. Part of me really wants to experiment, but I am scared of showing up at the family meal with bombs and/or blowing a lot of money on nice ingredients only to have the final dish seem unremarkable... or worse. Can you steer me toward a couple really solid, hard to screw up side dish recipes? I am making a standard green bean casserole, and would love a couple other veggie options please. Thanks!

Here's my shout-out to If you pick a recipe from that site that has a top rating, scan the reader comments and weigh any suggestions/warnings you find there, you really can't go wrong. 

And, of course, every recipe in The Washington Post's Recipe Finder database is delicious and has been carefully tested to be no-fail!

I'm not hosting this year! (But last year when I did, I used that excellent clay pot beans recipe you all featured and it turned out great.) Anyway, I want to bring some pies to father's house--a traditional pumpkin and something a little different for the fruit pie. Or, a traditional apple pie and a pumpkin pie with a twist. Have any good recipes kicking around in the archives?

Make Tiffany MacIsaac's apple pie we linked to above. Then for pumpkin, try this Tourte au Potiron (French Pumpkin Pie) or the recipe for Mamie Eisenhower's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie we ran today. 

Mamie Eisenhower's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

I have some puff pastry in the freezer and I'm too intimidated to use it. What's something easy that I can try?

I want to do a stuffing/dressing for Thanksgiving that's just a little bit different, but not crazy. I do a white bread (which I'd like to stick with), sauteed mirepoix and traditional spices. What can I do to add a little oomph (no oysters please). Thanks!

How about adding some nuts--hazelnuts, pecans, and chestnuts go well with many traditional Thanksgiving flavors. Dried fruits such as cherries, prunes, cranberries, and even apricots, can also be interesting. You could also try adding some greens such as spinach or kale, and mushrooms are a great addition too!

I made this a few thanksgivings ago for a crowd that likes the "traditional" green bean casserole (in fact, it's at most all family get togethers!) and it went over very well. It's from Alton Brown.

Sure looks like we should have extended our chat time today as well! Take heart; we'll be here next week, and we can hang onto the questions we didn't get to this week. Thanks for joining us, dear readers, and to Lauren from (and congrats on the new cookbook), and to Jim and Jason and Stephanie. 


Prize winners: The chatter who asked about make-ahead rolls wins the Fine Cooking cookbook; the chatter who asked about crispy skin gets the Epicurious cookbook.  Send your mailing info to Becky at and she'll get those right out to you. Till next week, when we're all brining and trying to find room in our refrigerators and helping others who are less fortunate, happy cooking and eating! 

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie Benwick is interim editor of the Food section; joining us today are interim recipe editor Jane Touzalin, editorial aide Becky Krystal, Spirits columnist Jason Wilson and Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin. Guest: Lauren Salkeld, senior editor at
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