Free Range on Food: Our tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving, cranberry cocktails for the holiday, pumpkin custard (no crust!) and more.

Nov 15, 2017

Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to the first of our two Thanksgiving-themed chats! We have lots to talk about -- Julia Turshen's fantastic stress-free menu and strategies; Bonnie's lovely and simple pumpkin custard (no crust to fret about); Carrie Allan's take on cranberry cocktails beyond the Cosmo; Dave McIntyre's suggestions for how to pick a wine (or wines!) for the table; my own call to stuff small pumpkins with a fragrant biryani for the plant-based eaters at the table; and more.

Julia will be our special guest today, helping answer any and all questions about how to handle the holiday meal. And as a special enticement, we'll have a SIGNED copy of her new book, "Feed the Resistance," for one of our favorite chatters. We'll also give away a copy of "Friendsgiving" by Alexandra Shytsman. So make your questions/comments good!

For you PostPoints members, here's today's code: FR9677 . Remember, you'll record and enter it at the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

Oh, before I forget! One more thing: Our colleague Tanya Sichynsky is collecting readers' stories of their most unforgettable dining or drinking experiences in D.C. Tell us the memory of the bar, the takeout joint, the four-star restaurant, the quirky dive that you love or loathe using this form. She may feature your story! 

Let's do this!

Hi free rangers! So I bought a gadget that supposedly would grate ginger root, as I see a lot of recipes lately that use it. However, all that happened was the ginger root got stuck in the little holes, so i barely had any I could use. Can you recommend a good gadget for doing this? If you can give an exact model or brand even better. Thanks!

Yes, I can. This Kyocera Ceramic Ginger Grater was given to me by a friend many years ago, and it's one of my most prized kitchen gadgets. I'm generally of the Alton Brown no-one-use-tool school of thought, but when you use something frequently and it does the job so effectively, I make an exception. 

You just rub a chunk of peeled ginger on the center teeth, and it pulls out and keeps all the fibrous stuff, pushing the juicy pulp out into the "moat." Amazing.

Just chiming in here to say I use and swear by my microplane grater for grating ginger. And use it for so many other things too (garlic, parmesan, etc) so it's not just a one-ingredient tool.

I convinced my family to do a spatchcocked (butterflied) turkey this year and I am in charge of the stuffing. My plan is to cook the stuffing directly under the bird and then finish it on its own while the turkey is resting. Being a stuffing newbie, do I still need to add broth to the stuffing mixture since it's cooking under the bird and getting all of those juices? Also, do I need any barrier between the stuffing and the bird? Thanks!

Good for you! Hope you are using our recipe, which is tried and true. Stuffing beneath still should be prepared the same way -- it won't get drenched by juices, just wonderfully enhanced. And no barrier is needed. 

Half of my guests coming to Thanksgiving are vegetarian or vegan. I'm going to have a turkey breast for the meat eaters and lots of vegetables and side dishes made without animal products so everyone can eat them. But I feel like I should have something that is more substantial than the side dishes for the vegetarians and don't think I will have enough time to tackle Joe's mushroom Wellington. But I like how substantial portobello mushrooms are. Can you suggest some ideas for stuffed mushrooms that the vegetarians and vegans could both eat? Or maybe something with mushrooms other than stuffed mushrooms?

You saw the Biryani Stuffed Pumpkins, right? I know you want mushrooms, but these are gorgeous -- and substantial. And the aroma that will fill your kitchen is absolutely incredible. 

Here's another stuffed-mushroom idea, if you'd rather! (Or make them both!)

Portobello Mushrooms With Tuscan Kale and Sweet Potato

My thanksgiving this year will look the exact same as yours...lots of vegans, vegetarians, and a few other restrictions and going to make a turkey breast and lots of vegetables! and I am planning on making stuffed mushrooms with a mixture of ground walnuts, garlic, and parsley....tasty and substantial and satisfying and good for everyone inc vegans.

I’d add one thing to Julia Turshen’s ultimate guide for a stress-free Thanksgiving dinner, and that is when you decide what to delegate, consider purchasing a cooked item from a restaurant you like. The grilled rosemary zucchini at a restaurant near me is a favorite of my family, so I made arrangements to pick up a big pan of their zucchini for Christmas dinner last year. It was the easiest holiday dinner I’ve ever put on the table: ham, wild rice dressing, the zucchini, whipped sweet potatoes, and Bailey’s Irish Cream cheesecake for dessert. The vegetables for the dressing got prepped a couple of days before, and the no-bake cheesecake got made on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, the ham went into the oven and only the sweet potatoes and the dressing needed to be cooked on the stovetop. This Thanksgiving we’ll be going to a family potluck rather than having dinner at home, but I’m still getting another pan of the restaurant’s zucchini so there will be at least one delicious vegetable to offset the dessert I’m making (flourless chocolate cake with freshly whipped cream).

love this idea! and a nice way to support a local restaurant too.

I'd like to make your brown sugar shortbread as holiday gifts. Can I decorate it? Are there texture or moisture issues I should consider? Would frosting overpower the flavor or be too sweet with the brown sugar? I am thinking about something simpler, such as stamping a pattern then using a very thin glaze, or even just using holiday sanding sugar before I bake them. Thanks.

Sanding sugars and your glaze idea would be a good way to go, or even a pattern created by arranging nut halves on top. These aren't especially sweet, but they are mighty rich and buttery-tasting, so your concerns re the frosting are well founded. (Gosh, does that answer sound like it's been lawyered? #oy)

What are some thanksgiving sides that you haven't seen very often. Someone told me they always have mac and cheese which seems odd and out of place but who's going to pass that up. We seem to stick to traditional in my house, but got to put the marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes.

Mac and cheese is really traditional for lots of families. I also love a bright, beautiful salad to offset all the rich stuff on the table, like this All Red Salad I offered last year. And/or the Roasted Gingery easy but also unexpected.

Hi, I'm planning on making the Tiny Tim cranberry tarts (looks like a great recipe to do with my kids!) except my spouse detests nuts of any kind. Can I just leave out the walnuts in the filling, or should I substitute with something else? Thank you very much!

Yep, they are really fun to do with kids, and yes, you can omit the nuts. Or maybe sub in some mini choc chips? 

This popped up last week, which I read after the fact: "What about those people who can't peel a hard-boiled egg? If I had more time, I'd lurk, just to see who really buys them." I think they are referring to the bags of already peeled hard boiled eggs in stores? I buy them. Every week. Of course I can peel an egg. I can also hard boil one. And I am well award that buying regular ol' eggs and hard boiling them and peeling them is cheaper than buying those bags of already peeled hard boiled eggs. Money isn't the limiter - it's time. There are days when I barely have time to breathe, much less boil an egg. Hard boiled eggs are great snacks and quick breakfasts - high in protein, portable, don't require refrigeration if you're not gone long. I pop an egg in my girlfriend's bag for her breakfast, I put one in mine for a healthy afternoon snack (especially pre-workout). Yes, I could cook a batch when I do have a slower day, but that requires me to do something I really don't feel like doing on my rare time off. It's a chore, not cooking for fun. I could also boil them when I'm making dinner, and I have done this when money has been tight. But it's just one more thing, and I'd rather just not bother. I've - weirdly - had multiple people including the grocery store cashier question this purchase. I don't care. This makes my life easier. Why does it matter to anyone else what is in my grocery basket?

Hear, hear! To each his own (dinner), I say.

Hi! Our family is (hopefully) temporarily eating dairy-free, as we have an infant who is intolerant to milk proteins. As we think about our Thanksgiving menu, I'm confident about everything but dessert. I saw today's recipe for the dairy free apple gingerbread cake, so we are going to give that a go, but do you have any recommendations for a good dairy-free pie recipe? Thanks!

so glad the cake looks appealing to you! try serving it with a non-dairy ice cream. instead of a pie, you could also do these gingery roasted pears with a crumb topping made of equal parts flour, coconut oil, and brown sugar...could add some unsweetened coconut flakes and a shake of cinnamon too...could be delicious!

Here are two vegan pie recipes I like!

Bourbon Pecan Pie

Vegan Pumpkin Pie With Coconut Cream

Hi there, I have a 3 oz jar of good quality juniper berries. Any ideas on how to use them? I was just planning to flavor my homemade kombucha and maybe there is a ferment or pickle that I can add this to. Any suggestions?

This soup is delightful. 

Apple Soup With Juniper

RECIPE: Apple Soup With Juniper

As the headnote says, it is a pretty thin soup, so go lighter on the broth if you'd rather.

Another few options: 

Grilled Trout in Juniper-Fennel PasteGlazed Brussels Sprouts.

Glazed Brussels Sprouts

Also nice to add a tablespoon or so to sauerkraut and apples.

And if you eat meat, that trout rub would be nice on some venison, I bet.

I purchased the krocera Ceramic Grater based on Joe's recommendation at Sur La Table's and it's priceless. It helps if the fresh ginger is frozen before grating. Use a teas poon to scrap the peel.


My husband's birthday is the day after Thanksgiving, and I want to make a really special cake for him (it's one of those "milestone" birthdays). He is partial to fruit flavors (particularly lemon and raspberry), and prefers lighter frostings than buttercream. Any recommendations?

This one is special, alright -- bells and whistles, with just the flavors he likes! 

This one is simpler and one of my favorites -- you could serve it with an easy puree of fresh raspberries (blender, then strain out the seeds)


What is the best was to reheat sides? I'd like to make the stuffing, mashed potatoes, and roasted brussels sprouts the day before Thanksgiving.

I always reheat everything in baking dishes in a 300 oven...all of those side dishes would reheat beautifully. could dot the top of the potatoes with a little extra butter :)

Your suggestions to use thermometers to determine when meat is at the right temperature has been a godsend. I'm not the family chef, my mom and sister do all the cooking. Two years ago at Thanksgiving, I was talking to my sister about how I hated the white meat and only ate dark. My sister told me that it was because my mom overcooks it. So after listening to your suggestions on this chat, I bought a thermometer and started using it whenever we cooked meat throughout the year, and my mom was able to see the difference. Finally last Thanksgiving, about two hours before dinner, I inserted the thermometer into the turkey, and it was already done. I turned the heat off in the oven, and took it out with over an hour to go and wrapped it up in foil. It was still hot when it was served, and absolutely everybody said it was the best turkey we had ever cooked. Thanks for your help!

Yes, I always, always recommend thermometers when cooking meat, no matter how skilled you may be with other methods for testing doneness. 


Just a reminder to other chatters: With a turkey, the best place to insert your thermometer is between the innermost part of the thigh and the wing. I aim for a temperature just above 150, which is well below the USDA recommended of 165. The key is that you need to keep the turkey cooking at 150 degrees for at least four minutes, to kill off bacteria. 


One final piece of advice: NEVER TRUST A POP-UP TIMER!


ARTICLE: This gadget was built to help you cook turkey. Why do kitchen gurus hate it?


I was looking at the recipe for the Maple and Pumpkin Custard, and I noticed that it called for two cups of buttermilk. I usually hate buying buttermilk because I never use it up, so I sour the milk with vinegar instead. It seems to work well. Are there any applications, though, where I really need to use actual buttermilk?

That's a good question. By using an acidic ingredient like vinegar or lemon, you would perhaps introduce a flavor you might not want or need in certain recipes. And I think your clabbering would not produce a milk that is as thick as cultured buttermilk -- and that might make a difference in certain recipes.  Pints of buttermilk are relatively easy to find this time of year, so that's one reason why this particular recipe would not leave any unused portion....

Why do so many recipes call for green peppers when red (yellow, orange) peppers taste so much better?

A question for the ages and one that I heard Vivian Howard wondering aloud on a recent installment of her "A Chef's Life" tv series. Might be because they are firmer/crisper and not sweet-tasting. Chatters, thoughts?

Green bell peppers have that, well, peppery bite, and even though I generally like red (yellow, orange) peppers better (as I wrote about here), I do use the green ones sometimes -- primarily when they're part of the "trinity," or aromatic base used in many Southern recipes.

I want to make the Three Sisters Mini Tamal pies for Thanksgiving- main for my teen and myself, side for everyone else. However, I don't have any ramekins and I would prefer to not buy any to store later. Can I use some sort of disposable container or make something larger?

Any well-stocked party goods store will have disposable aluminum ramekins like these . . . . I just used a bunch to make individual coddled eggs for a brunch. They are inexpensive and I bet even though you might not use them in 50- or 100-count quantities, you'll find ways to use them. #notapaidadvertisement

You could even make these in a muffin pan, I'd say! They popped out of the ramekins so easily, I think they'd do the same in muffin tins. I mean, a little harder to maneuver since you'd be popping them out all at once, but could be worth a try...

We went to Succotash the other night and my husband loved the milk punch. It even smelled pretty good to me as a non-drinker. He described it as a pineapple dum dum pop that was liquid with alcohol. I'm also fascinated by this whole clarified milk part of the equation. Any way you could get the recipe or figure it out? :)

I contacted Edward Lee, chef and partner in Succotash, and he said he'd be happy to share the recipe. But it might take awhile to contact the cocktail manager and pull it together. If you email me at, I will pass it along once it arrives.

I don't have Succotash's recipe but I can refer you to this one, which I've used and which works nicely (I think I played around with the seasonings a little bit, but the clarification process worked for me.) I will say that it is a pain to make -- not so much difficult as it is time-consuming and mess-making. But the end results are pretty darn cool and quite delicious -- it's not so much that the drink tastes like milk, exactly, but it has this silkiness that's reminiscent of it. A fab thing to prep for special occasions. Once every five years. If you love your guests. And they help you clean up.

** Adding a thought here: Along with the seasonings, you can play around with the booze you use. When I made this, I really wanted the pineapple to shine, so I think I used some of Plantation's Pineapple Rum. Fantastic stuff that really shines here.

We have been tasked with bringing breakfast items for the morning after Thanksgiving, since our out-of-town hosts seem to have the day-of under control. Any thoughts as to what we can bring that can preferably be made in advance and travel (by car)?

what a wonderful assignment! These Gingery Pears can be served room temperature or cold (they can withstand a car trip) and be served with oatmeal and/or yogurt. Can top with granola (homemade or store bought) if you'd like, too. Muffins are great, too. You could substitute chopped apples or pears or even fresh cranberries for the nectarines in these muffins.

I find them essential for certain recipes like black bean soup, and that sauce or whatever it is that's pureed onions, green peppers, and fresh herbs. Red peppers are sweet, but they're so totally different from green peppers in taste that I can't compare the two.

of any shade are manna from Hell.

First I'm thankful for all of your energies expended on behalf of good food every week. And "Small Victories" is wonderful -- another thank you. My question: I know that 1 1/2# per person of turkey makes lots of leftovers... but I've an 18# for 14 (4 last minute adds and turkey is ordered and next size available it 22#). Is 18# enough without leftovers for more than a sandwich or two? Or should I add a half turkey breast or a couple legs poached in duck fat? I've got a couple jars of Epic duck fat. Couldn't do six, but could do two.

hey thanks re: small victories! Are you looking for all 14 people to have sandwiches the next day? If so I would add an extra half turkey breast or better yet those duck legs....yum...but if it's just 14 people for Thanksgiving with an 18# turkey and lots of side dishes and then just looking for a sandwich or 2 for yourself, I think you;ll be fine.

I am fed up with pie crust. My husband makes an all butter dough in the food processor and chills it. I take it from there for the pies. Doesn't matter if it's prebaked or filled, the walls shrink down. Today was about the last straw. I rolled out and placed the crust in the pan, building up the walls and doubling them at the top higher than the rim. I put on the egg wash and warmed the unbaked crust in the preheated oven as-per instructions. Minutes later I opened the oven to pour in the custard (pumpkin pie) and ALREADY the walls had collapsed below the rim and the egg yolk wash hadn't even set yet. Doesn't matter if the shell is chilled in the pan in the fridge (for other pies), I lose height and structural integrity. What are we doing wrong? I know the dough is not overmixed, there are visible chunks of butter. I try not to stretch when I roll, but I can't promise since I can't tell. I don't remember this happening a few years ago, but I've never been great at pie crust making and used to think my husband was the better at it. It leaks, too. But it's the same brand of butter I've bought for years now (Costco unsalted).

We feel your pain, honest.


What crust recipe are you using? Maybe it just doesn't have enough flour in it.


Unless you leave a generous overhang of pie crust over the rim of your pie pan -- a la "Great British Bake-Off" contestants and trim it post-oven bake -- you almost always need to thoroughly chill the dough [read FREEZE IT] until is is quite firm once you've got it in the pan. 

Soon we will post a very good tutorial on pie crust, with this recipe, by ace pastry chef Bill Yosses. I think it will help you. And we also had NO shrinking issues with this Stella Parks no-stress all-butter pie crust recipe

Dave! You weren't supposed to tell people about Old Vine Red! Now everyone will love it! I am happy for Marietta Cellars; their wines are wonderful and VEGAN to boot!

This was in the stress free T-day article. Please define "tall" for the 9 inch cake pan. I have regular pans that are 1.5-2 inches or should use a springform?

when i tested it, mine worked well in a regular cake pan that measures nearly 2 inches tall. hope that helps!

I would like to duplicate my mom's non-vegetarian version. She didn't use a recipe, but improvised and perfected it over the years through trial and error. What I recall is that she would make a pan of a non-sweet packaged cornbread. (I mention that because some packaged corn bread contains sugar and is very sweet.) While it was baking she would fry together a chopped onion and celery. This would be added to the cornbread, once it was cooled enough to crumble. The mixture would be placed in a large cake pan and topped with a mixture of turkey drippings, chicken broth and poultry seasoning. There might have been a beaten egg or two in this mixture, but I'm not certain. The finished product was a cake-like texture, moist on the inside with a slightly crunchy top and bottom.

that sounds delicious. 

Yes! I think you'd be fine with mushroom or vegetable broth instead of the chicken, and good olive oil instead of the turkey drippings.

I'm not sure what berlotti or cranberry beans are. Is there a common substitute that I can pick up at Giant?

Yep, pinto! I'd say that qualifies as "pinto-style," as noted in the recipe ;) 

Bean and Winter Squash Gratin

RECIPE: Bean and Winter Squash Gratin

My dad gave me a pound of a very nice, locally made lemon-basil dried pasta. I'd like to prepare it in a way that shows off the pasta, with a sauce that isn't too heavy. Any suggestions?

How bout just butter and Parm, maybe some pine nuts for texture, and some lemon zest and juice to play off the pasta flavor?

IMHO green bell peppers are an abomination and should never be eaten.

I'm tired of pumpkin pie - actually anything pumpkin - and we've made/had enough apple pie this fall so that isn't appealing either. Any suggestions for a different Thanksgiving dessert?

I got you. This one is always a crowd-pleaser, and it's stunning to boot, IIDSSM.

Persian-Spiced Sweet Potato Pie

The tenet underlying it all comes from Julia Child - she said she never apologized for what she served, whether it turned out poorly or not.

I've been doing the turkey this way for a few years. I make two smaller birds so we have double the wings and thighs. I put the stuffing in cheesecloth, make it into a roll and put it on the rack, then put the turkey over. This way it get some of the drippings, but not soaked in fat. And I have drippings to enhance the gravy.

Put them in any stew/soup, they add just the right background tartness. Especially any game meat!

For starters, make a simple pie-crust using vegetable shortening instead of butter. Any standard fruit filling (apple, blueberry, etc.) is also dairy-free.

A non-holiday question, but a quick one! How do you bring honey back to life? I use it fairly regularly (a couple of teaspoons in oatmeal most days), but it still crystallizes about halfway through. I buy the medium-sized bottles and hope there's a way to salvage it, rather than paying more for the little ones. Thank you!

From what I understand, crystallized honey is still perfectly good and the best way to bring it back to its liquid state is to put a jar directly in some hot water to loosen it...if it's in a plastic bottle, maybe best to scrape it into a small pot or something like that first. When I have just a tiny bit of honey left in a jar or bottle and it's impossible to get out, whether or not it's crystallized, I just pour a little boiling water into the jar/bottle and shake to dissolve the honey and then use the mixture to make a cocktail or lemonade...

Agreed. And if the bottle is plastic and you're not sure if it's heat-proof, you can still put it in pretty hot water -- just not boiling (or recently off the boil.) I do it in a pan with water an inch or two up the side of the bottle, and warm the water very gently, and then leave the honey in for awhile. It usually works pretty well.

I make this for my daughter (after altering it for my MIL). Make the cornbread, add vegetable stock and eggs to the right consistency. Our cornbread dressing is really egg heavy--needs eggs in cornbread and dressing. We make cornmeal only cornbread, so it's dairy and gluten free as well as vegetarian. I have contemplated making vegan dressing, but it's a step beyond. The eggs are binders and make it custardy.

I just picked up some sweet vermouth and cassis made at Mt. Defiance in Middleburg (a cute little distillery I visited for the first time last weekend, and which I now highly recommend). I'd love to highlight one or the other in a holiday cocktail that allows the local spirit to shine. Any suggestions?

cassis and sparkling wine couldnt be simpler or more delicious! i also like sweet vermouth mixed with seltzer and you could do a splash of apple cider as a nod to fall...

Hey there! Mt. Defiance is great -- I wrote about their absinthe a while back, in case you're interested. The Kir Royale is a classic festive drink with cassis, and I sometimes use cassis to substitute for creme de mur in the Bramble. Here's a tasty, punch-ified riff on that drink (pictured below), too. As for the vermouth, gosh, so many drinks it's in! Try an Adonis, which will really show off the wines.

I was in Kennett Square recently and picked up a bottle of "mushroom ketchup" which was not a thick sauce but a dark liquid looking like vanilla extract. Adds a lot of savory flavor.

Must. Have. This.

I'll be 38 weeks pregnant on Thanksgiving...I won't be able to travel to the extended family celebration (too far), and I'm not really up for a full day of cooking. Where are the best places to order a Thanksgiving dinner for four in North Arlington? We're open to either ordering from a restaurant or Wegman's/Whole Foods/etc., and I'm ok with having to cook the turkey. I just don't want to be putting together the whole spread. Thanks!

I've never tried it personally, but Boston Markets offers Thanksgiving meals for takeaway. The issue for you is that it's designed for parties of 10 or more. Perhaps you could invite others over? Or have lots of leftovers for the weekend?  There is a Boston Market, by the way, on Columbia Pike in Arlington. 


You could also look at the pre-made T-Day dinners at Harris Teeter. They served 8 to 10 people.  But you need to order five days in advance. There are locations in Arlington. 


Either way, there will be leftovers. Is that a problem? :)

I love green peppers. My wife adds chopped up green peppers to several of the dishes she makes, as well as on salads. They're great on pizza, also. But my favorite is just sliced with a carrots, celery and other rabbit food and some blue cheese dressing for a dip.

I'm looking for a cranberry based punch recipe for a pre-Christmas brunch buffet, one that tastes great without alcohol but could also be ready for a big of spiking, for those who prefer it that way. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Absolutely -- Gina Chersevani's punch is one that I make over and over again this time of year, and the syrup in it is so good that you can definitely use it to make a kid and/or teetotaler-friendly version. The gin adds a nice note, but if you're going boozeless, just up the ruby red, add some cranberry juice cocktail, or go for a bitter lemon/orange soda (you won't want to skew the punch too sweet).

To save time, and try something new, I would like to break down the turkey and roast it. Is it difficult to break down a raw turkey? Do you have any new ideas for what will be my turkey pieces?

Not difficult at all. Raw turkey = big raw chicken. See this handy guide for breaking it down.  

I lovelovelove this way of cooking turkey legs (confit). You get succulent meat and crisped skin. Then again, I am a dark-meat hound and like having that extra amount at the table.  If you have light and dark meat in the same pan, figure the dark will still take longer to cook - but not quite as long, because they won't be sitting on the underside of the bird. Stuffing a breast is also a nice way to go; pretty, and the meat stays so moist. 


Found myself with two gallons of fresh apple juice so decided to reduce one to a syrup, then saw the butternut squash waiting to be used, so peeled & cut up the squash, cooked it in the apple reduction and pureed. It was almost too sweet and intense, and I'd like some advice on how to turn the quart & a half I still have into a pie or cake? Can I use an applesauce cake recipe and reduce the sugar by a lot? Or used eggs & evaporated milk to help it set into a pie or custard?

Is its texture/density similar to canned pumpkin puree? If so, I'd bet you could use it interchangeably, but reduce the sugar as needed. 

To check that sugar amount, you might try mixing up a simple custard (like this one, but reduce the sugar -- maybe a half batch?), baking a small amount of it in a ramekin or small dish until set, then tasting it and seeing if it needs more sugar (and then mixing some in to the rest of the custard mixture) if so. 

That puree also sounds like a tasty base for a rice pudding...

Pumpkin Brown Rice Pudding

A few weeks ago I wrote in about my difficulty peeling hard boiled eggs, particularly the super-fresh ones we get in our CSA. Someone (Joe, maybe?) suggested steaming them and WOW, this is a game changer! I followed the Cook's Illustrated approach and the shells slipped off SO easily.

Yes! So glad you are a convert. I never do it any other way, now.

Food Hacks: How to steam eggs to hard-cooked perfection

Hello! When I was growing up, every Thanksgiving, my aunt used to bring two loaves of homemade bread for leftover turkey sandwiches. That stopped; I'm hoping to start that tradition again on my end because that was one of my family's favorite parts of Thanksgiving--having turkey sandwiches with that homemade bread at the end of the night. However, I don't really bake or even cook all that often. I made a no-knead bread the other day and it was fine I guess, but not great. Other than going out and buying a bread making machine, do you have any recipies or tips and tricks for how to make a great loaf of white, homemade bread? I used to try making it when I was younger also but it never really rose the right way--it ended up being really dense and short almost every time I made it.

I'm a really big fan of this book and its feature's SO EASY!!

I'm sure this has been asked before, but I'm looking for a make-ahead dessert to bring to Thanksgiving dinner. It needs to be made about 2 days before, and withstand some commuting on public transportation. I'd like to make a pie or cake, something basic, yet flavorful.

This Apple Gingerbread Cake is so easy to make and tastes great a day or two after its made (give it an extra dusting of powdered sugar before serving!!)

Long time reader, first time Thanksgiving host here. 20 guests. They're bringing the sides/apps/desserts. I'm worried I'll mess up the turkey. Don't want it to be dry and flavorless. Did a practice run on a chicken, and it took forever because it ended up being frozen, even though I bought it from the refrigerated section...sigh. Need something fool-proof and low maintenance. I'm sure I'll be distracted by my children and cleaning house the day of..

I thought everyone ate turkey sandwiches for Friday breakfast? Just us?

If the honey is in a glass jar, the no-hassle method to decrystalize it is to close the jar tightly, put it in the dishwasher (top rack), and run it through a normal cycle (with the dirty dishes is fine).


I almost never have buttermilk, so to thicken the milk I add lemon juice to, I add some heavy whipping cream to my skim milk. Only about a tablespoon, but you'll see the clabbering work.

Thumbs up.

I've never even heard of this. Does it come out too much like a strata?

A couple/few eggs in a pan of dressing will just make it nice and cakey, like a corn bread. It would take a LOT to make it really eggy, but...

I hosting a veggie giving with one friend who just moved back to DC but whose wife and adopted daughter are still in India and another family who is my son's 3 grade teacher. I'm not doing a special main but lots of colorful veggie and grain sides. I thought I had my menu set until I watched "What's Gaby Cooking" and she whipped up spicy green beans and then sauteed brussel sprouts and I thought I had to have those too. Now I wonder how many side dishes is too many? Is there a count of how many dishes per adult that I should have? I don't count kids as they often feast on mashed potatoes and dessert only.

I think the only number of sides that is too much is whatever number feels overwhelming for you....the more the merrier sounds good to me, especially if you're not having a big turkey or anything like that. 

It's soupier. Thanks for the custard recipe, I'll save that and try. I have a quart & a half!

In that case I'd definitely try a rice pudding, too. Or...could you cook it slowly on the stove-top to evaporate some of the liquid?

I'm the OP reporting back. I used the same recipe as last week but changed the meringue recipe to white vinegar and cornstarch (ran out of arrowroot) and reduced the heat to 225. I cleaned everything to make sure they was no grease anywhere. And it worked for the most part. They held, didn't melt, but they were crunchy throughout, not crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Any vegan bakers out there to diagnose what I can do to get the chewiness? If not, I'm not worried. They'll soften a bit when I put the cream and berries on it, and I'm sure she'll appreciate the effort to include her in the meal!

Great! Thanks for letting us know!

Thank you for the bake sale ideas last week. I made the pickle corn bread into muffins and they were amazing. I also made Greta cookie bars and World Peace Cookies. Thanks for giving readers so many great go-to recipes!

I also learned from her show that she preferred to roast turkey NOT stuffed, and instead to make dressing in a casserole. She found that both bird and dressing turned out better that way. And after watching either my mother or aunt struggle unhappily with a stuffed turkey every Thanksgiving and Christmas while I was growing up, I found making the dressing as a casserole reduced my stress level significantly!

I know this ground has been covered before but I want to rant. I ate at a new Irish pub/restaurant in our city. I ordered a fish pie which was great but the shrimp still had their tails. So, I was fishing the shrimp from the sauce and using my fingers, a knife and a fork to remove the tails. I personally think that if I order shrimp cocktail and the shrimps are nicely perched on the rim of a glass then it's ok if they have their tails. But, if they're buried in a saucy casserole it's really annoying to have to mess with them. Am I off base on this?

You are not alone in your rant. Diners far and wide have registered similar complaints, including our former multiplatform editor Jane Touzalin. She hates shrimp with their tails still attached. 


Last year for her weekly Chat Leftovers feature, she tackled the topic, head on. 


ARTICLE: The great shrimp debate: Tails, you lose

Hey Joe- loved the flavors of this recipe but after chilling for one hour, they still fell apart in the pan- I ended up baking them in the oven for 20 minutes each side(stayed together-but dry). They were still good. When you make this recipe do you try to give it the full 24 hours? Thinking this would also be a terrific stuffing for peppers or zucchini.

Sorry to hear they fell apart! Did you use fresh bread slices, by chance? I heard from some readers that they substituted dried breadcrumbs, which, well, you can imagine how that went!

I haven't chilled for the full 24 hours, but longer is certainly better. And yes, a great vegetable-stuffing idea!

Quinoa Cakes With Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Many years ago Alton Brown taught me that stuffing in the turkey's cavity is evil for a number of reasons. So, we've been making different dressing recipes over the years but none taste as good or as moist as real stuffing in a turkey that I remember from growing up. We've tried turkey sock, we've tried extra liquid and while almost all of them have been great they just aren't the same. Any ideas on what to do to mimic real stuffing?

Pour the turkey pan juices over the stuffing that you reheat after the bird is out of the oven? Roast a few turkey parts before hand, and add some crisped skin bits and/or roasted turkey meat to the stuffing recipe? Use turkey stock instead of some other liquid to make the stuffing from scratch?

I can't face putting it back in a pot. The juice boiled over when I wasn't looking, according to proverb, and I've been scrubbing the stovetop ever since....

If I'm making a smallish batch (e.g., with no more than 4 cups of flour), I just mix the dough in my food processor, and let the machine knead it!

Never too many sides. There's no such thing. If you're hosting a crowd, some people will prefer one dish and some another. My vegetarian sister always did fine out of the side dishes (to which, of course, she contributed).

I know it's the Thanksgiving prep week, but I recently started working in an office with no microwave or way to heat the leftovers I usually bring for lunch (other than soup I can keep hot in a Thermos). Any great/healthy lunch ideas? My alternatives are chips and Oreos every day or going out and buying something equally unhealthy. Thanks in advance!

Grain salads are great (like this brown rice one) since they're hearty and filling and can sit in a container for a while without any problem and are really good at room temperature. You add leftovers like cooked beans, chicken, etc....throw in extra vegetables...when I pack food to go, I like to put the dressing on the bottom of the container so stuff doesn't get too soggy and then just shake it before eating.

Suggestions for using my new bottle of balsamic glaze in the Thanksgiving feast? Perhaps an appetizer?

Could be delicious drizzled on bacon-wrapped + roasted dates!

If it contains egg whites and cream, it's not Vegan, but Ovo-Lacto. "Vegan" = containing NO animal products whatsoever.

Cool your jets. It contains neither. Here's a link to the original chatter last week.

Just have to say that I thought the whole column was delightful. I read it when it first was published and recommended it a few people just based on how funny it was. Cape Codders are my go-to drink, which I've stuck with as it's reputation has gone up and down, but this column might inspire me to branch out with my bottle of Ocean Spray.

Thanks so much! The Cosmo will probably never be my go-to drink, but at least I no longer think those who love it are insane ;)

SPIRITS: To make an excellent Cosmo, don't mess up the key ingredient

Hi Rangers. Hope I'm not asking a stupid question here but I'm making a peach pie using frozen peaches plus (maybe) one of canned peaches. I should let them thaw and drain before adding the other ingredients, right? I'll add brown sugar, cinnamon, a pinch of salt and coriander and let it macerate a bit. Should I cook it down a bit to concentrate the juices before pouring into a pie shell and baking? I don't want it coming out too soupy.

No such thing as a stupid question. I would do what you said...thaw and drain both the frozen and canned before baking the pie. I don't think you have to cook them down before baking, but I would add flour or tapioca starch to thicken their juices.

Is there any resource about how many side dishes you should have for Thanksgiving? I'm always worried that I won't have enough or options for those with food restrictions. I have two types of potatoes, 2 or 3 warm vegetables, 1 salad, and rolls. Is that enough for 12?

Exactly two. No more, no less.


JK. I don't think there are any rules about the precise number of sides. Personally, I think Thanksgiving is about indulgence (oh, and being grateful, blah, blah, blah). In other words, the more sides, the better. 


I like a table overflowing with potatoes (mashed, scalloped, baked, you name it), dressing/stuffing, rolls, crudites, gravy, salads, beans, etc. I'll even tolerate that wretchedly tart cranberry sauce (which drowns out the lovely savory flavors of Thanksgiving).


Chatters, what's your take?

My daughter's kids cookbook has a carrot soup recipe she loves to make. I'd like to punch up the flavor by roasting the carrots and onions. What do I do about the celery? The potato is the thickener, do I roast it as well? The soup is blended to a smooth puree before serving.

If you're going to roast some of the vegetables, I say roast them all so it's easier and also more concentrated/roasted flavor throughout. Roasted celery is underrated!

Any suggestions on something memorable and easy to take to a Christmas party for an Italian car club event? It has to be either an appetizer, salad or side.

This salad is both memorable and easy!

It is available in the baking aisle of big stores, and if you mix it well enough with the liquid they recommend works pretty well as a sub for real buttermilk. Which I happen to love. So send me your leftovers, ok?

I used to keep a can of that around, and would forget I had it -- then come home with fresh. #doh

You guys must be burned out.

Not at all! I'm cooking. Can't wait!

I tend to regroup in the few weeks between when #allthattesting ends and my own guests arrive. I love the all-day smells and warmth of a Thanksgiving Day kitchen. I doubt I will ever get tired of it. 

Heading to the in-laws, where they do most* of the cooking. #blessed

*but last year I ended up making three pies so who knows what will happen this time.


Maybe my colleagues are, but for me, Thanksgiving is one of the few days in the year where I can, in good conscience, avoid restaurants and cook at home. Carrie and I are hosting the family this year, and we're really looking forward to it. 

Thanks to the poster who suggested stuffing that recipe in peppers! I am stuffing peppers tonight, and had planned on quinoa, some pureed tomato, and sun-dried tomato. This sounds perfect!

That cake looks so delicious! Will it ruin the texture/rise if we make it with applesauce instead of the egg, so our daughter can eat it? And can the gingered pears which also appeal be made without the coconut oil (not a family fave)? Thanks!!

hi! I haven't tried it with applesauce instead of egg but I bet it would be totally okay. You could also do any of the go-to vegan egg replacement products or hydrated chia seeds or ground flax mixed with water would work well, too. And are you talking about these pears? If so they call for olive oil, not coconut...but maybe you're talking about something else?

My husband makes perfect piecrust Heaven in a Pie from the NYTimes. Mine are usually from the new Joy of Cooking. I'll try one of your suggested recipes next and see what I can manage. I built up the walls about half and inch beyond my 9" glass pyrex pan. BUT I've also never frozen it- only chilled it. Thanks! Still think I'll make the cranberry tart from a few years back (hazelnut crust I can do) and something else instead for Thanksgiving, tho.

Positive attitude, like it. That hazelnut crust = yess. 

I get so busy on T-Day I forget to eat beforehand. What do you have on hand for nibbles while cooking?

Ritz crackers topped with ketchup, a slice of pepperoni, a sprinkling of dried oregano, and a little shredded cheese and then baked just long enough to melt that cheese. They're called bambinos. Do not judge, please, they are tradition and they are perfect. 

Or, you know, an assortment of pickles and sliced apples with baked brie or something.

Thank you so, so much for the FDR stuffing recipe. I think it might be the basis for the stuffing my father made every Thanksgiving -- He learned it at Harvard, where FDR also went, and the FDR ingredients are awakening sensory memories. I've missed my dad's stuffing every Thanksgiving since he died. He'd roast the chestnuts in the fireplace but I'll do like you and buy them in a jar, already roasted and peeled. Here's hoping!

That's a good one, for sure. You might like using the vacuum-packed or dry-packed chestnuts even better than the jarred ones.

I find that using potato water I've saved from boiled potatoes (for dinner a night or three before) in place of plain water seems to improve both texture and flavor. And sometimes I even toss in a half-cup of leftover unseasoned mashed potato.

It looks like most recipes I find call for sourdough in stuffing but I was wondering is there a better option or is that really the best way to go? I also have a question around the best way to prep the bread. I freeze a lot of fresh bread and toast it when I'm ready for a slice. Can I follow this same method for stuffing or is it better to just buy bread a few days before T-Day and leave it out to stale naturally?

I like a mix of bread...some soft and eggy like challah mixed with some sourdough too...basically any and everything with the exception of cinnamon raisin (though that might not be terrible!). I would use whatever bread you like to eat. I think following that method is totally fine...the dryer the bread, whether through being left out so it's a bit stale or light toasting, the better for stuffing because then it won't fall apart completely and can better absorb all of the flavors you add to it.

The type of buttermilk that is widely available is a cultured milk product, where a bacterial culture is introduced to milk, unlike true buttermilk which is the whey that remains after sweet cream is churned to make butter. When a recipe calls for buttermilk and I don't have any on hand, I thin out yogurt with some skim milk and use that. It provides the dairy liquid and lactic acid that is needed for the recipe.

Good cultured stuff works for me!

Also cultured tends to last longer, I've found. Like months past the sell-by date.

I'm almost 30. When I was 3, I declared to my aunt that the cranberry jello she made was the most delicious part of the Thanksgiving meal. She still makes it every year. I got sick of it when I was around 10 but if I don't eat any, she says "I specifically made that for you because you love it so much!" So every year, I have a slice of that cranberry jello...I love my aunt but that cranberry jello...I'm trying to convince my nieces and nephews that it's their favorite food so they will eat it and absolve me of that duty this year.

Ha! I think it's sweet that you recognize her effort. 

Oh wow, I bet this would work if I just left out the maple syrup. The apple reduction should replace it perfectly. Thank you!

Report back, please!

A try-cake!! Thanks for the memory. My farming grandmother used to do that with her coal/wood range to see whether the oven was hot enough, and we kids got to eat the try-cake.

Someone told me that all lentils are the same. She uses brown lentils whenever lentils are called for in a recipe. I am one to go with the colors, red, black, brown, green, yellow. I find some are firmer than others. Does it really make a difference?

They're so not all the same. The red/orange ones turn into a gorgeous mush. Black beluga and little green Le Puy stay very firm and separate. Brown and the bigger olive green ones get soft but don't fall apart.

That pie looks good, but I have a relative that is allergic to coconut. Do you have a different way to make a vegan pie crust without using coconut oil?

Sure, you can use a vegan butter instead, like Earth Balance, as long as that doesn't contain any of your relative's allergens.

Not a question. Our Costco is selling Crown Bourbon Barrel Maple Syrup which is amazing. I'm sometimes reluctant to buy things until they have a free sample. They had the samples on Saturday and that sealed the deal. So good.

When confronted with the wine dilemma of so many dishes (or some people who simply don't like red because of headaches or whatever), I always put out some cider - hard for the grownups, soft for the kids. It melds with just about anything on the Thanksgiving table. I even use it in some of the cooking - a splash or two in the stuffing, even in the gravy if you are so inclined. It's sad that we don't have near the range of hard ciders available here that you find in England (many pubs have several on tap), but it's getting better here in the US for ciderheads.

Amen to this. I didn't really understand the cider thing until I lived in the UK, where you can get a delicious one on tap at virtually every pub. 

My wife and I have ordered the turkey dinner from Giant every Thanksgiving and Christmas for years. It's just the two of us, but it makes enough for two meals. We add a couple of packages of Bob Evans mashed potatoes and stuffing for a couple of more meals. It's fast and easy and my wife doesn't have to spend the entire day in the kitchen - she can nuke the sides while I'm carving the turkey.

Thanks for writing in. It sounds like another option for those who don't want to cook this year.

Thank you for the olive oil and broth suggestions. Should I add an egg substitute? My mom used a lot of broth so that the dressing entered the oven almost like cake batter. Since vegetable broths don't have the fat content that chicken broth and turkey drippings do, should I use more or less?

Wow -- this is a dressing the likes of which I haven't seen! But I'd be tempted to take inspiration from corn bread recipes. Maybe add baking powder for the eggs? And coconut oil or vegan butter to add more fat? As for how much broth to add, you're going to have to go on the thickness/consistency here, I'd say.

was Watkins brand, so you could probably find it on line. Although a trip to Kennett Square is always fun.

So we have to travel on Wednesday evening. We can't avoid it because of work and the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. What snacks do you suggest we bring for the car trip from hell? We'll have a cooler and a bunch of pies, but we'd like to not eat them before THanksgiving!

If you want to get in the Thanksgiving spirit, these breakfast cookies would be nice:

Holiday Breakfast Cookies

RECIPE: Holiday Breakfast Cookies

But my favorite travel snack is store-bought trail mix. Like stuff from the bulk bin section. Also wasabi peas, if you're into that. 

What do you have at the center of your table? I see all these beautiful, elaborate centerpieces and "tablescapes" online and on TV, but where do they expect the food to be placed? I'm curious how other people do it, because I normally have a medium-sized flower arrangement that gets moved before we sit down to dinner.

Ah, don't get psyched out by those settings. Much depends on the width and girth of your table! And whether you have a sideboard or buffet setup. Each year I tend to go simpler, and have a few things march down the center of the table, like pomegranates and beautiful small gourds interspersed with votives. Flowers in several small vases add up to a nice centerpiece, too -- you can shove them around where you need to.

Very excited for this year's batch. Last year I went out and enjoyed some, this year I'd like to buy a few bottles to enjoy. How readily available is beaujolais nouveau? Is it super expensive to buy at home? Do I need to go to a specialty wine store, or will most grocery stores be carrying a few bottles?

Beaujolais Nouveau is readily available from the bigger producers - Beaujolais Nouveau King Georges Deboeuf exported around 85,000 cases in 2016, for example, and because of the annual hype, you should be able to find bottles in the $10-$12 range. (If you see Bouchard Aîné et Fils, which is around the same price, I preferred it to the Deboeuf last year.)

Specialty wine stores might have the Nouveau from smaller (and frequently better) estate and family producers, such as Domaine de Foretal or Jean-Paul Brun. Even then, though, you shouldn't pay more than $13-$15 a bottle.

Hi all, My friend has about 4 bottles (beer-sized) of a "fall-spiced" hard apple cider we both find undrinkable due to the overwhelming amounts of cinnamon, possibly nutmeg, etc. We realized it might be useful for cooking, for example braising some kind of pork in my slow-cooker. Only problem is I don't eat pork, so I was wondering whether you have any other suggestions. Something we could put in the slow cooker while we go shopping for holiday gifts would be awesome, but we are open to anything that will let us usefully (and deliciously) get rid of this dumb cider. Thanks so much in advance!! P.S. Submitting early today because I won't be able to chat in real-time, but will be reading the transcript afterwards!

I wonder if it might be fun to take a slightly different route than the slower cooker and put the cider's sweetness and high spice level to use in a baked good...I would substitute it for Guinness in a classic Guinness cake. That might not use up as much as you're hoping for though so my other suggestion would be to use it with chicken thighs in your slow cooker...perhaps throw in some other autumnal flavors like butternut squash and/or parsnips. 

You can get cartons of whites, and powdered whites. But I've never seen powdered or separate yolks. Are yolks so demonized by the Cholesterol Patrol?

You wont find separate yolks, but there are cartons of pasteurized liquid egg yolk (refrigerated or frozen). Check out this suppliers' list.

Tastes vary, but if I take pasta out of my refrigerator in the morning and bring it to work, I'm happy to eat it without reheating at lunch time.

Once I started making my own Thanksgiving dinner, I dumped both pumpkin and mincemeat pies from the menu (they were de rigueur in family) in favor of Pecan Pie, which is so much easier to make and we like it so much better. Serve with a massive dollop of Chantilly Cream, or for even less work, a scoop or two of the best premium Vanilla Ice Cream you can find.

I vaguely recall seeing recipes that used nut butters -- could zing up a pie.

Interesting. I wouldn't be tempted to do this, given the stickiness of nut butters, but if you find any of these recipes, please come back and share so I can take a look?

Pie crust is my nemesis, but I still try every year -- even with back-up store bought crust in the fridge or freezer just in case. I just came across this article (which is a couple years old) from Serious Eats: The article has tips on type of pie plate, and recommends using sugar instead of pie weights and a longer blind bake at a lower temperature. I'm going to try this method for my umpteenth attempt at blind baked pie perfection.

During last week's chat, someone asked about vegetarian stuffing options. I am generally NOT a stuffing fan, but this mushroom/leek stuffing is amazing: Also the stuffed kabocha squash looks really good- typically when we go to my parents for Thanksgiving I subsist on sides because trying to make a veggie main after travelling all day on Wednesday is just too much, but that looks fairly easy so I might have to give it a try!

I'd like to buy a fresh (not frozen) boneless whole turkey breast, sized about 6 pounds. My plan is to make a roulade with it. I'm not enamored of deboning one myself. What is the best way to obtain one? I see that Butterball makes a "READY TO ROAST CLASSIC BONELESS TURKEY BREAST." They also make a "BONELESS FROZEN BREAST MEAT ROAST." Do you know the difference between these two products? Which one is closer to just the rolled up breast?

To me, "roast" suggests meat that has  been formed together somehow, although the product details on the Butterball page for this product do not specify. Call the Turkey Talk-Line! (1-800-Butterball)

Hi! Thanks so much for the great article with all the stuffing recipes. I'm in charge or bringing stuffing to the family dinner for about 20 people. I was thinking of doing two from the list - maybe one with meat and one without. Any favorites you would recommend? They all sound good to me!

More to come on Sunday, accompanied by a terrific Tim Carman story! 

Well, you've let us rest for at least 20 minutes before transferring us to a cutting board, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and many thanks to Carrie and Julia for helping with the a's!

Now for our giveaway books. The chatter who asked about how much turkey will result in sandwich-sized leftovers will get a SIGNED copy of "Feed the Resistance." And the one who asked if we on the staff are burned out after all this pre-holiday work will get "Friendsgiving." Send your mailing info to, and she'll set you up!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading! And don't forget: We'll have a special Thanksgiving section this Sunday instead of next Wednesday, but we will have a marathon, two-hour chat next Wednesday to help you with all your last-minute questions!

Keep calm and cook on...  

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick is Deputy Food Editor and recipe editor at The Post. Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Kara Elder
Kara Elder is the Food section editorial aide.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
Fritz Hahn
Fritz Hahn has covered bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003.
Julia Turshen
Julia Turshen is the author of "Small Victories," (Chronicle Books, 2016).
Recent Chats
  • Next: