Thanksgiving cooking help: Free Range on Food

Nov 16, 2011

Today's topics: It's Thanksgiving central. Ask us any and all questions about getting ready for the biggest food-centered holiday of the year.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range! Hope you enjoyed today's section, devoted to all things Thanksgiving, including Bonnie's profile of a couple who cook on their open hearth in Maryland, a California-style lighter take (dairy free!) on the holiday (shown below), Sara Goo's tale of her Hawaiian turkey, Tiffany MacIsaac's primer on the perfect pie crust, and recipes galore.

We have Tiffany (pastry chef at Neighborhood Restaurant Group) in the house today to help us answer your holiday baking queries, and also have Stephanie "Nourish" Sedgwick coming to offer suggestions for all manner of holiday dishes. Do you have a strategy yet for next week?

We'll have giveaway books, naturally. Their identity will remain a secret util the end of the chat.

Let's do this!

I keep kosher so the typical brining method would leave my chicken/turkey inedible. I would still like to add a little moistness/flavor to my poultry sometimes. Is there a way to brine without the salt?

The bird that Jewish cooking instructor Linda Sendowski grilled for us was plenty moist. Some people inject flavored liquids  (seasoned or maple-flavored broths) into the bird, which isn't the same thing as brining.  You can also think about moistening after the fact -- I remember a chef's tip from last year's NYT that mentioned dunking slices into warm broth just before serving.

Hi there! If you can believe it Christmas has already started in Germany! With no Thanksgiving to kick off the season, Germans go full throttle Christmas celebrations. So I realize my question is a bit early, but I wanted to get some advice on Christmas cookies. A group of my German girlfriends and I are getting together in a couple of weeks to bake Christmas cookies. Here it is a big holiday tradition to make Plaetzchen which are flat and thin- everyone has their grandmother's recipe. We bake and them pack them up to give away. Can you suggest something for me to make that would represent American Christmas Cookie traditions? Preferably one where I can get necessary ingredients here and doesn't require prep work (i.e. long refrigeration times) so I can make them together with my friends. I know everyone has their mind on Thanksgiving but I hope you can help me out. (And for sympathy votes, I have to work Thanksgiving Day) Thanks!!

I'm seeing a few ways you could go with this. First would be traditional sugar cookies you could cut into festive shapes. Here's a recipe for Flooded Butter Cookies we ran the other year from -- whaddya know -- today's guest, Tiffany MacIsaac. You could also move in the direction of Gingerbread Cookies or even a spin on chocolate chip, Chocolate Chunk Cookies With Nutella.

Flooded Butter Cookies

I have 32 people for dinner and need to make 4 pies. I wanted to know if I could cook the pies the day before and will they be ok if they sit out at room temperature. I'm making 2 pecan pie and 2 pumpkin. Thanks!

Way to go! Love the ambition. You can definitely bake them the day before, so you are not chained to the kitchen. They are actually best served at room temperature or slightly chilled. Either way they sound delicious.

Thank you for the brussel sprout recipes! I love the little spheres of greeny goodness and am always looking for new ways to prepare them. The recipe from a few weeks ago, with apples and onions, was wonderful and now I can't wait to try the new one!

You're welcome, and you must be referring to Stephanie Sedgwick's healthful Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Sweet Onion and Apple of Nov. 2. I tell you, she's managed to turn me into someone who eats bsprouts -- and that's saying a lot.

Thanks, I'm took me a long time to love Brussels sprouts, but I'm making up for lost time. Glad you enjoyed the recipe. For true sprout lovers, here's a delicious recipe for one of my favorite braised sprout dishes.

We would like to do Turkey empanadas and we need to have a vegetarian option (is our Thanksgiving with a Latin-American twist). I'm planning to do the turkey empanadas with roasted turkey and I will add some traditional empanada ingredients (boiled egg, perhaps raisins etc); but what is getting me thinking is which filling I will use for the vegi-empanada, I was thinking in some concoction of beans, or a mixture of mushrooms (no cheese) but I don't have much time to experiment so I need a good recipe. Also, in order to shorten my cooking time; which dough will you consider will be best? I've heard that pie crust can get really dry, but that's an option. I'm thinking puff pastry but I've seen some recipes calling for crescent rolls or biscuit dough, even pizza dough! Suggestions?

How about stewed sweet potatoes with feta and dried cranberries? I vote for puff pastry -- splurge on Dufour, which uses butter.

If you wanted to go vegan rather than vegetarian, there's this recipe (see photo below), which uses textured vegetable protein in the filling and wheat gluten in the dough. You could sub roasted or stewed sweet potato chunks for the filling and use Dufour for the dough. 

I do like beans, of course, so black beans would also be great, or even chickpeas -- combined with chopped kale or chard or spinach, a little feta or queso fresco, some crushed red pepper flakes.

Hello, I'm thinking about going with a smoked turkey this year. What are your recommendations about where I should consider getting one? Bonus points for places in Montgomery County! Thanks!

Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company, Wintergreen Shopping Center in Rockville (and all four of its area locations) will smoke your raw turkey. The Hillandale location of Urban BBQ will smoke a turkey by pre-order. Other barbecue restaurants will also oblige; you might call one in your area. 

You can also order one online from Greenberg Turkey, from Texas, at 

Hill Country BBQ is also selling whole smoked turkeys this year.

I am looking for a savory recipe for T'giving sweet potatoes, preferably one that can be done ahead (at least mostly). Mashed white potatoes are an absolute must, so I'd rather not do another mash or puree. Any ideas?

Have you ever thought about doing something nontraditional like sweet potato biscuits or rolls. I just baked up a batch this past week and what I especially love is that they can be done up to a week in advance and held raw, wrapped up in the freezer and baked up the day it is served. Plus nothing sounds better than leftover sweet potato biscuits and turkey gravy. Yum!

I second the sweet potato rolls idea. I usually make this version from an old James Beard recipe, to good effect.

I'm having Thanksgiving with a huge extended family of amazing cooks and bakers who make a ridiculous amount of dishes and desserts and even bake their own bread, and have invited me along. Most of the adults are vegetarian and don't drink booze or coffee. I feel a need to contribute something to the meal. Not sure if someone's making soup as a first course, but I could ask. Otherwise, I figure my best bet is appetizers, especially since the family appetizer-specialist won't be there, for the first time -- She traditionally makes maybe two gallons of a creamy dip good with chips or crackers, that I don't want to try to replicate but would be glad to try to replace with a different recipe. (Someone else always makes a bean-guac-cheese dip, so that's out.) What can you recommend? It'll have to withstand about an 8 hour car ride the day before, as ingredients or in finished form. Do you think I should forget preparing something and instead buy a bunch of fancy cheeses and crackers? Or, since it's already been snowing there for weeks, is there some local produce you'd recommend I schlep from here? Or something else? Thanks so much for your suggestions. I wish you a good Thanksgiving, too.

I vote for soup. Easy to transport -- could keep it in a cooler if needed -- and it's such a nice start to the meal. Gets everybody to slow down and contemplate before the pile-on. Here are some ideas.

My husband's birthday is on Friday. His favorite cake is German chocolate. I was thinking about doing some sort of variation with those same flavors. I looked for a German chocolate cheesecake (he is a big cheesecake fan as well), but the first recipe I found used a box mix. Do you have any ideas for a "German chocolate" dessert?

I am personally obsessed with German chocolate. We have a couple different German chocolate items in our shops at all times to satisfy my cravings. I also love cheesecake. One thing that is fun is to use an apple core to make a few small holes in the cheesecake and fill it with classic German chocolate mix (caramel, pecans, coconut). Then top with a glaze. The finished product will leave your husband with delicious surprise bites of German chocolate.

Another easy alternative: pecan brownies topped with German chocolate filling and drizzled with dark chocolate.

Moral of the story: if there is German chocolate filling involved you can't go wrong.

Hi guys. Need advice on apple pie for Thanksgiving. I will make the dough for the crusts early next week, but am struggling with what is better for assembling / baking the pie. Should I: 1. assemble and bake on Wednesday night, 2. assemble the pie on Wed., but bake Thur. (put in fridge overnight?), 3. assemble and bake on Thursday morning? I'd prefer to do #1, but can do #3 if it will be meaningfully better. Thanks!

The last thing you want to be worrying about is baking apple pie on Thursday. You can bake it as early as Tuesday with no consequence to the flavor. Just wrap well in plastic and store in the fridge. And send me a slice if you have any leftovers!

Not a question (for once!) but a tip: I picked up Michel Richard's "Sweet Magic" cookbook and in flipping through it, noticed that several recipes, including the Buche de Noel, call for almond flour, or no flour at all, which makes those desserts gluten-free. (No wheat flour -- no gluten). It's strange to think that classically based French cooking might be the answer to an increasing dietary problem, but there you go! (BTW, I made the Flakiest Apple Pie recipe from this book, and the filling is phenomenal!) Happy Thanksgiving to a great group of food professionals!

I know what you mean. French recipes that use nut flours are the secret of many a Passover baker. You don't sacrifice anything, the cakes and cookies are delicious.

I need a recipe for green beans that does NOT include Cream of Anything Soup (although I can make my own white sauce if needed) that will survive being transported 30 miles and then reheated in the manner least likely to tie up the kitchen that our host (my son) and hostess moved into this past weekend, so none of us are used to moving around in it. I still have a pot of Rosemary growing on my deck and unless the weather turns really ugly, will probably have some fresh Basil and Parsley that might be nice to use. There is also Thyme, but I can't picture it with green beans.

Funny you should mention green beans, our hard-working web producer Cara Kelly just rounded up a number of recipes from our archives. They include recipes by Julia Child and White House chef Cristeta Comerford. Many can be prepared ahead of time; others can be prepped ahead, with some finishing required at your destination.

Hi Tiffany - Thanks for all the great tips and recipe for the apple pie! Can't wait to try it out next week! Most pie crust recipes I've seen recommend to refrigerate the dough before rolling it out, but I see you suggest leaving it out at room temperature for an hour. How do you think that difference leads to a better crust?

Often pie doughs can be wet, so putting them in the refrigerator for a bit makes it easier to roll them out. My pie crust recipe has just the right amount of liquid to hold everything together, so if it is cold it becomes brittle. It's not really a right or wrong thing method. Just depends on the recipe.

Made a lemon tart yesterday (yum!) and now have five leftover egg whites, exactly half as many as a tradtional angel food cake calls for. Do you think using a smaller pan with an upside-glass glass to serve as a tube would work, or am I better off making something else? I am *so* very open to suggestions, as long as it's not an egg-white omelette!

The question last week about the finish on anodized pots changing color made me wonder: I have a stainless-steel pot which is lightly pitted. Some online research revealed that this was probably due to incompletely-dissolved salt settling on the bottom and reacting with the finish on the pot. What nobody appeared to want to discuss was whether the pot was safe to use. So ... what's under the finish of a stainless-steel pot? Am I OK to keep cooking in it, or am I risking some obscure metallic overdose?

The risk seems low, but if you know the manufacturer, it's best to start your research there.  The stainless steel can be formed from a number of alloys.  Put a new pot on your holiday wishlist.

I don't know about overdosing on stainless steel, but I do know how to avoid pitting. Don't add any salt until the water is near or at a boil.

I know that kosher cooking means no meat and milk together. Is the same true for halal cooking? I ask because I love skewered, marinated meat in the Afghan tradition, but I'm lactose intolerant.

I don't believe that having meat and milk in the same dish/meal is forbidden in halal cooking. You're talking about marinating meat in yogurt, right? Maybe a soy yogurt or silken tofu could be substituted.

I am thinking of making a "vegetarian wellington" for a meatless entree this Thanksgiving. I plan to make a duxelle and use goat cheese to simulate the pate, and maybe saute some swiss chard to put in there, but can you suggest anything else to bulk it up? A lot of online versions I've found suggest butternut squash but that and eggplant are things a few of the vegetarians attending the dinner do not like. Thanks so much!

Sweet potatoes!

I like the fudge recipe that uses marshmallow cream. This year, I'm thinking about making it with peanut butter chips instead of chocolate chips. Has anyone ever tried this? Any reason it wouldn't work?

Peanut butter chips contain some or all of the following: palm kernel oil, whey powder, soy lecithin, sorbitan tristearate.  Wondering whether  some of those ingredients would keep the chips behaving properly.

After a trip to the grocery store I can barely close my fridge door but my freezer is pretty much empty. I'd like to stock it with some basic items to help save time when cooking dinner. Right now I have some beans and chicken stock, but am looking for other suggestions of items I can prep and then freeze. Thanks!

The pie crust certainly looks easy, but why is crust divided into two blocks, one for each bottom crust and then use the scraps from each of the bottom crusts to roll out the two top crusts later? I would think the rerolling would make the top crusts less tender, so why isn't the dough divided into four and then the scraps are gathered for decorations?. Or am I just misreading the directions?

The recipe calls for a reroll as we want to try and be cost effective and it seems a shame to waste all that good dough. Certainly the more you fuss with the dough the less tender it becomes, so feel free to up the recipe in order to have enough for a bottom, top and decorations.

any box of cake mix can be turned into cookies. lots of recipes on the web. when the cookies are cooled, match up the ones that are the same size and make sandwich cookies with the frosting as the filling. here's one recipe:

My electric range is as old as my husband, one burner is gone, and it constantly hums. When we buy a new one, we're thinking about switching over to a gas burner. I was wondering what experiences others have had with their gas range (particularly if it's rather new). They just seem to make them like they used to. Are there any features that you love, or wish you hadn't gotten?

I like cooking with the adjustable nature of the flame, love being able to char the skin of a pepper or wail high heat under a wok. If you have to put in a gas line, that might be expensive. I do think there are some snazzy electric/convection options these days, so you wouldn't be settling for less in terms of cooking performance. Being able to boil water in 90 seconds, as the commercial says, seems like a great feature. Chatters, the floor is yours...altho keep in mind that this could very well be a good thread for Terri Sapienza and Jura Koncius, those Local Living mavens who chat on Thursdays.

Love, love, love cooking with gas. Instant adjustment of heat levels will floor you if you're used to waiting for electric coils to heat up or cool down. I recommend looking for a stovetop or range with burners of varying heat levels. It's really nice to have a simmer burner that lets your soups and stews cook at a low temperature and a high heat burner for stir-frying.

If you're looking at a range, you'll want dual-fuel: Gas on the stovetop and electric in the oven (maintains a steadier heat). Ranges typically come this way becuase it's the best of both worlds. Happy hunting!

Tiffany, what type of flour do you use for the crust? All-purpose, pastry flour or...? Thanks.

I use all purpose, high quality if you can find it. My preference is King Arthur.

I will be making a pumpkin cheesecake for our Thanksgiving dinner next week. Every time I have made it, a big ol' crack has formed in the middle. I've tried different things to prevent that from happening--I've done the water bath routine, I've sprayed the walls of the oven with water, I've placed something over the springform pan right after I turn the oven off, etc. Nothing seems to work. I remember seeing an aritcle in the Post about cooking cheesecake at a low temperature for a longer period of time, but cannot locate it. Do you have a link to it? And, do you have any other suggestions for what I can do to prevent the cheesecake from cracking during/after cooking? The cheesecake is a family favorite, and no one is turning down a piece because of the crack, but I'd like it to look a little nicer when it's brought out to be served. Thanks!

Definitely baking lower and longer will help. I bake my cheesecakes in a water bath covered in foil. Checking in on it every 20 or 30 minutes or so. It will take quite a bit longer, but it is a much more controlled environment. If you do get a crack, make a mixture of sour cream or creme fraiche and sugar and spread over top of the cheesecake and bake a few minutes to set. This will make it pretty, delicious and hide any little secrets. Plus, in my opinion, even with a crack in it cheesecake is delicious!

I know I can find a kosher turkey at Trader Joe's. Unfortunately, they only have birds starting at 12 lbs. I need one slightly smaller than 12 lbs. Any idea where to get one?

Wegmans may have them. Give them a call. With a few days notice they can order you one if they're out.

I'm a vegetarian and make empanadas regularly. I rarely follow a recipe, but I have some favorite fillings: truffled mushrooms with garlic, sweet potatoes and black beans, and there's one that has a creamy corn filling (used a recipe from Viva Vegan).

Nice -- thanks!

When making stock from a chicken carcass, do you include everything that's left over, including skin and fat? I had heard once they don't make for good stock.

I throw the whole bird in, though there's usually not much fat or skin left. You can skim the fat off the soup as it cooks or wait for it to congeal when the soup cools in any case. And, if you haven't make soup from a cooked chicken, you're in for a surprise: it makes a wonderful stock and you feel very frugal in a great way.:)

This an especially good thing to do with the turkey carcass. Break the carcass into a few pieces that will fit easily in a stock pot. Add coarsely chopped celery, carrots, onions and whatever fresh herbs you have hanging around. Cook for 1 1/2 hours. You could also add odds and ends of mushrooms, tomatoes or other root vegetables like parsnips. Strain, cool and freeze for delicious broth.

Quick, easy recipe is as much butter as sugar and twice as much flour; i.e. 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup sugar, beat, beat beat until white, then add 1 cup flour, and mix well. Refrigerate a couple of hours, roll in small balls and make a little indentation with your thumb, then bake at 325 for about 20-25 minutes. They should NOT brown. LEAVE ON COOKIE SHEET UNTIL COLD. Can add candied red/green cherries in the indentation after baking if you want a little Christmas color. Good luck!! c

I am attending Thanksgiving with my boyfriend's family and I am the only vegetarian. I would like to bring a vegetarian main dish to share. Any ideas?

I think they'd love this Roasted Mushroom Lasagna. Who wouldn't?

I really enjoyed this article. A couple of questions: Is the mincemeat recipe adapted to eliminate the fermentation step? My mother undertook to make her own one year in the '70s; it required 6 weeks of resting in a chilly room. I enjoyed visiting it to hear it gurgle as it fermented. No tasting, though! I remember there was some liquor added at the beginning (a joke in our mostly tee-total family), but most of the preservation came from later fermentation. I found the result too pale, and her recipe too depended on citron, which I don't particularly like. As to the green beans: Do the young grocery store beans we buy today actually work for this recipe, or do they turn to mush? Wouldn't farmers have been using late season beans that were ready for shelling ("shelly beans"?), with tough pods and beans ready to dry? These required long cooking, but they're not the green beans sold in the grocery store produce aisle. Are those what Sally uses, or does she have her own late season beans?

Thanks! Did your mom's recipe start with cooked meat? In this one, you're really just heating through the already-cooked filling as the pie bakes.  You can definitely taste the liquor here.

As for the green beans, she uses late-season ones, or sometimes she uses green beans that she has strung and dried (they were called leather britches in olden days, I think).  I did  a version of this recipe in the oven with ones I'd gotten at the Giant and they turned out tender. Maybe that bacon fat does the trick.... Hope you try it and let us know how it turns out.

I have between 15 and 27 each year for TG. For the baking pies in advance dilemma, I make up the pumpkin pie custard on Wednesday and referigerate. I place the pie crusts in their pie dishes and refrigerate them, empty. Then, early early on TG Day I bake the pies themselves. And then leave to cool till dinner time, no further refrigeration necessary. (except for the rare leftovers). I do think pumpkin is better baked the same day. We do bake our apple pie and pecan pies on Wednesday, however, to free up Thursday oven time. Also, I replace some of the sugar in the traditional pumplin pie recipe with some dark the flavor more depth, I think. Happy Baking!

I don't care for all the added sweets (marshmellows, sugar) on sweet potatoes, they are so sweet naturally. I have two way to prep them that the savory lovers and sweet lovers both like. First is to bake sliced with apple butter between the layers, and second is baked with ginger ale, which carmelizes.

It's Thanksgiving! Yay!!! Any thoughts on a good Thanksgiving appetizer? I'm planning to serve a vodka cocktail with sour apple liqueur and ginger beer and a sweet finger food (pine nut and rosemary brittle). I'd like something more savory to serve too. I was thinking of bacon-wrapped figs, but I decided to serve Brussels sprouts with bacon and figs during the meal instead.

How this Winter Squash Dip that calls for breadsticks instead of chips? It'd be easy to eat with a cocktail in your hand.

If not that,  I love these little mini-pumpkin cheese balls. They're cut and, I suspect, pretty tasty. Plus, your sour apple and ginger will cut right through all that cream cheese and spice.

Hello free-rangers, I'm hopinng to get some advice that will help my wallet and my health... I generally don't like chicken, and have mostly avoided it in the last few years. However, I recently discovered that I really like chicken salad (I am partial to the napa almond chicken salad at panera) - somehow the smaller chunks of chicken with spices and grapes negate my dislike of the bird. Anyway, I'd really like to make it at home, but am NOT up for cooking a full chicken. Can I make it from the frozen breast or thigh cutlets? How? THANK YOU!

Absolutely, you can avoid using a whole chicken. I'd poach some chicken breasts to keep them nice and moist, as in this recipe or this one.

Help, this year's Thanksgiving is the first year of our new foster son....we were advised to ask him what he wants from his family traditions at our Thanksgiving dinner table and low and behold he requested a dish that I am absolutely clueless on how to make it; sad isn't it. He requested Sweet Potato Pie with graham cracker crust and whipped cream (I know how to do the crust and the cream...yay me!). The recipes I have found most contain an alcohol component. Given his age of 17 and the other underage diners...would like to avoid the alcohol. HELP!!!! Thank you!!

Congratulations on the addition to your family! Sounds like you have a lot to be thankful for.

Alcohol is generally added to enhance flavor, so if it is a small quantity you can generally substitute in something else. For example, if it calls for brandy, you can sub in apple cider.

My sweet potato pie is very similar to a pumpkin pie filling with less milk (sweet potato tends to be wetter than pumpkin). In a pinch you can try subbing  in sweet potato in your favorite pumpkin pie recipe.

Ms. Macsisaac says: One thing that is fun is to use an apple core to make a few small holes in the cheesecake and fill it with classic German chocolate mix (caramel, pecans, coconut). Please tell me that you meant "apple corer" and that last "r" was misplaced somewhere? I'm not a great foodie, so I'm seriously asking...

Yes, corer!

Peanut butter cookies with chocolate kiss pushed into the top


A question for Tiffany Macisaac: I love baking pies and want very much to do holiday cookies but I have a tiny kitchen and very limited rolling space. About the largest space I have is my dining room table. What are some resourceful ways to get around this? e.g. can I put down parchment paper or something like that on my dining room table, do I need a big marble board and what is a good source for this? If you say "move to a house with a bigger kitchen" I'd like you to speak to my husband for me!


I have worked in some professional kitchen in NY that had about the same amount of space from the sound of things...  You can do lots of things to make-shift a work space for rolling doughs.  All you really need is a flat clean surface (no tile.)  A coffee table, diner table, even a cutting board will do.  You can certainly roll on or between sheets of parchment if youa re worried about the butter from the dough getting on the table but a little flour will do the trick too.

Or just ask your husband for a kitchen renovation for Christmas.  Sounds reasonable to me :)

Actually, I'm bringing the potatoes to make the mashed pots. Not sure how many pots to bring. For instance, how many people does a 5 lb bag serve when they're made into mashed potatoes? Love the chats!!!

If you use this Basic Mashed Potatoes recipe as a guide, you can expect to get about 6 to 8 servings per four pounds . That, of course, depends on how big your potatoes are and how hungry your guests are.

You should easily feed 8 people with those five pounds of potatoes.

Have seen lots of apple wood and hickory wood for smoking, but not much about cherry - is that a possibility also? We have a couple of cherry trees that need to be removed - could we use the branches for smoking?

Yes, you can use cherry wood, but...

Before I get to the caveat, let me say that one of the reasons that you don't see a lot of cherry wood mentioned is simply because it is not available in the stores as hickory and oak and apple wood. That simple. 

Now, to the caveat. The other reason is that cherry wood can tend to be a little strong (though I would argue no stronger than hickory, but with a different flavor). I used cherry wood recently while smoking Cornish hen; I used chips and went very light with them (a little less than a cup). The wood flavor was great, but I'm glad I didn't use more of the wood. 

As for the trees, you generally want to use seasoned wood (cut down a year or more before using) because fresh wood can give food an acrid flavor. So, if you have dried limbs lying around, use those.

One final thing. Because a turkey takes awhile to smoke, I'd suggest using cherry wood at first, then adding apple or oak (the former for light sweetness, the latter for mellowness) or mixing the cherry wood with one of those two throughout. 

I was very interested to read the article on tips for pie crust. Cooks Illustrated also calls for vodka. Also very interesting is the comment on the fat content of the butter. What I was disappointed with was the actual recipe. It makes no mention of the preferred fat content of the butter, which to me seems key to its success since this is a precision recipe that balances fat, water, gluten content of flour, etc. Why was this not included in the actual recipe?

Oops the clarification made it into the article but not the recipe. I've rarely met a butter-filled crust I didn't like, but my preference is 82-83% fat.

Sorry to disappoint.  We've included that info in the online recipe now; it'll take a few minutes to reload/update. Thanks for pointing that out. 

Here, look at the pretty pie (in color, instead of how it printed in black and white today!). I brought one in on Monday for my colleagues and can attest to the fact that a home cook can make it look this good.


I used a recipe for my sweet potatoes last Thanksgiving that I absolutely loved - it wasn't too sweet, but I am having a hard time finding it for this year. A unique identifier is that it used about a tablespoon of whiskey - the raw sweet potatoes were diced into approximately .5 inch cubes and baked in the oven after being covered with a "sauce" that included the whiskey. Does this ring any bells for anyone? I would be so grateful. Thanks for your consistently helpful chats.

Hmm. I'm seeing a few of these out there in Googleville. Here's one that seems close.

We do a Thai-style sweet potato dish. Don't know the exact recipe off the top of my head because mom makes it every year, but it involves roasting the sweet potatoes and then mixing them with onions, curry, and dried coconut. Different, and delicious. Diced and roasted gives you a lot of options too - curry powder, fall herbs (thinking sage, thyme, plenty of salt and pepper)

For all the vegetarian questions, I'm going to suggest generally, that for a main course you look for something that has a nice presentation. In my mind this usually means something stuffed, layered, or rolled. For example: a stuffed squash, a lasagna, or rolled & filled crepes. I've been a vegetarian for many years and my family follows their own Italian variant of Thanksgiving foods. You can find many recipes of the types I mention in Italian cookbooks.

I'm sure you are bombarded with Thanksgiving questions so thanks for taking my question. My mom and I make a fairly traditional drip-pan gravy (browned bits+broth+flour+alcohol), but ever since we've switched to an organic, free-range bird, we've noticed there are less 'browned bits' for flavoring our gravy, presumably because there's less fat. Any suggestions?

Make a little turkey stock in advance and you'll be set. Just buy a few parts (wings, legs or thighs) and add carrots, onions, celery, peppercorns and a little salt. Cover with water. Bring to a slow boil and cook for 2 hours, spooning off any accumulated fat and reserving it. Strain, cool and refrigerate or freeze, using the broth and the accumulated fat for your gravy!

Hi Tiffany, I am not a huge dessert eater, but I loooove your chocolate cookie at Buzz Bakery. Any time I am at Rustico, I need to walk across and get a couple of those with a good cup of coffee. Sometimes I even make a detour from National Airport to get those cookies. Thanks a million for making some rainy days sunny!

Thank you so much! That just made my day. Also glad to hear I'm not the only one who eats multiple of those.

Why not go to a kosher market for the kosher turkey?

Shalom Kosher in Wheaton, part of the Shalom Group, has kosher turkeys. They tell me they have enough for whoever wants one.

Here are couple of my all time savory sweet potato recipes: 1 Peel and cut them in cubes. I normally mix with 1 or 2 regular potatoes cubed the same way. Add crushed garlic, salt and chopped rosemary, and plenty of olive oil. Put in a pan and bake you can parbake earlier and finish with the turkey or just bake while the turkey is baking. Another one is Sweet potato gratin, just replace sweet potatoes with the regular potatoes in any recipe. And the third one is a soup, I replace pumpkin with sweet potatoes. Or simply saute onions garlic, curry, cardamom etc. spices, and add baked sweet potatoes. Puree with immersion blender. You can add cream or milk before taking off the fire.

I make a dish of chopped, sauteed sweet potatoes that my husband loves. The night before I'm going to make them, I microwave whole sweet potatoes for about 4-5 minutes. Enough to get them close to done but not done or else they'll end up mushy. Refrigerate overnight. The next day, skin and chop them and sautee them in olive oil with chopped onion, sage and thyme - until the potatoes are heated through and the onions are sauteed. Add salt to taste. It's very simple and quick. You could probably do the microwaving and refrigeration early the day before, then chop them and the onion later that same day and put back in the fridge in a tupperware container. The next day, sautee everything.

Oatmeal-raisin cookies - you should be able to get all of the ingredients. It may be hard (and expensive) to find good peanut butter and chocolate kisses in Germany on the local economy. Or snickerdoodles - ingredients should also be easy to find.

After a fight with my boyfriend this morning, I will now be spending Thanksgiving alone in a city where I don't know many people and it's too late/expensive for me to book travel home to my family . Cooking will be a reliable mood booster, but I don't want to make a huge feast for just myself. Any recommendations of what I can make to form a cohesive Thanksgiving meal for one?

Throw yourself on the mercy of your co-workers. Turkey for one is a downer. I know I 'd take a lone diner in, I'm sure the few people you've met will feel the same way. If not, find a small restaurant with a bar and a friendly bartender. The food community is a warm one; all the employees will become your fast friends.

If you do decide to cook, check out this piece we had on a Thanksgiving meal for two. That would leave you with some nice leftovers.

I feel like the green veggie is always the hardest part of Thanksgiving. Usually I do glazed brussels sprouts but I'm tired of them. A lot of other recipes are gratins and I already have a potato gratin. Right now a shredded sprouts with shallots, currants and pistachios is in the lead, but any other ideas?

Here's a simple but delicious green beans with sweet onions and herbs that can be made earlier in the day and served at room temperature. It's also quick!

Beginning stock maker here. People seem to recommend throwing all sorts of veggie and herb odds and ends in with the carcass to make stock, but I was wondering, is there anything I shouldn't put in there? Can I add lemons? What about herbs that were used to stuff the cavity? Has the flavor already been absorbed into the meat and it's therefore useless?

Those herbs will likely be spent.

The thing to remember about stock is that you want subtle flavors. You want the stock to be versatile, so that it can be used in a number of different recipes. This is why salt is typically not added to stock. You want to be able to add the salt as you're constructing the dish. If you start with too much salt, your final dish could be too salty.


Is there a substitute for the coconut oil? I really don't like the taste of coconut at all, even in small amounts. Would butter or crisco work?

I really don't think you're going to pick up that flavor at all in this preparation. But yes, shortening would work.

If you want a variation, add a little curry and oregano to your chicken salad. Or a chopped up boiled egg.

I used to. It was terrific, but it's a bit of a pain to make with all else going on. Now, we get one from Praline in Bethesda. Fantastic! Friends we've sent echo our review. Strong Hint -- call them and reserve one!

I've baked in both continents. Hershey doesn't sell in Germany, so unless the chatter has access to the Post Exchange at a US military base, peanut butter and Hershey kisses will be impossible to source. Also, flour in Europe is different from flour here (to ensure my cookies came out as I expected, I used to take Gold Medal with me to the UK or Belgium).

Just got my CSA box, and I'm overrun with pears. Is there a dessert I can make with them this week that I can freeze for Thanksgiving?

Love this Pear Harvest, from pastry chef Roger Potter.  It has components: a compote, sauce and sorbet; even though the headnote says 1 day in advance for the latter, it'd be fine a week ahead.  The subtlety and pure pear flavor of all the parts can't be beat. And if you have any pear leftovers, I'd suggest this Roasted Mashed Apple-Pear Sauce -- maybe going with all pears.

They may sound simple, but these are so delicious! And definitely easy to prepare in advance. Simplicity can be wonderful sometimes...

I enjoyed reading the primer on pie crusts--I count myself as a husband who greatly enjoys the pies my wife bakes. On Thanksgiving, my wife usually bakes pies and brings them to dinner with her relatives. This year, however, she's pregnant and on doctor-prescribed bed rest. I'd like to pick up th slack and I'm somewhat proficient in the kitchen, but don't know anything about baking. Can you give a couple basic tips on how to successfully turn the butternut squash in my pantry into a good pie?

First of all can I start by saying this is incredibly sweet and she'll love whatever you make.

You can roast the butternut squash, puree it and then just follow your favorite pumpkin pie recipe using the squash rather than pumpkin.

Please be mindful of those with allergies and let them now what is in a dish. You may have just made a desert gluten free but the person with a nut allergy is not expecting that they are allergic to the modified dessert.

Not all of live in near Bethesda, LOL. Can't order one.

Assuming the chatter who asked about stocking the freezer is looking for prepped ingredients to help with cooking rather than a full dish: peel fresh ginger and chop into 1 inch segments. Store in a plastic bag in the freezer. It doesn't take up too much space, but it does come in handy if you make a lot of Asian recipes


Sorry I should have clarified more, I'm not looking for recipes that freeze well but rather ingredients for recipes that require some prep time (like cooking beans or stock from scratch) that I can make in big batches and pull out when I need smaller quantities for a recipe. Thanks!

I like to freeze leftover rice (brown and white), beans in their cooking liquid (black, pinto, garbanzo, and more), soup bases (sweet potato, black bean) and stock (chicken, veggie, sometimes shrimp). Divvy them up into quart-sized freezer bags so you've got a portion or two at a time. For stock, of course, freeze in ice cube trays first, then into the baggies.

I'm making myself crazy over Thanksgiving dessert. We're having 20-30 people. I've had requests for chocolate cream pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie, and gingerbread cupcakes w/ cream cheese frosting. My personal favorite is pecan pie (although I could make it for myself another time). I'd like to be ambitious and make all of them, but I don't want to make myself crazy (I'm also in charge of making rolls)....Anyway, I guess the question is, (1) how many desserts do I need for this many people? (2) I'd love any advice on narrowing down my choices. Thanks!!!

WOW!  That is a lot of requests. 

The great things about pie is that you can cut it into as many slices as you want.  I recently did an event and each pie became 16 slices.  This is a great way to let everyone taste everything. Just remember no matter how much you make it will always get eaten. General rule, 1 1/2- 2 pieces per person will leave you with more than enough.

To narrow down your choices I would do one fruit, one chocolate, one seasonal (pumpkin, pecan or gingerbread). Out of curiosity, what kind of rolls are you making?

I wrote in a couple weeks ago about freezing milk for a trip with a toddler and someone suggested the shelf-stable organic milk. I was a bit concerned since it was 1% and my son has only had whole milk, so I wasn't sure he'd like the taste. But I wanted to give the person a HUGE THANK YOU! It was the perfect solution and my son didn't notice (or at least mind) the different taste. I will be suggesting it to all my friends with kids!! I also have a question, now that baking season is upon us. I tend to keep the 'granulated' brown sugar on hand since it doesn't harden like regular brown sugar. Should I use it just like regular brown sugar or should the proportion be slightly different? And when it calls for 'packed' like in today's pie crust recipe, how do I do that?

Our chatters make this such a helpful forum -- hope that person's following along today. As for the granulated brown sugar, there's no need to pack it down the way you would with regular brown sugar. The packing refers to gently pressing it into the cup, compacting any clumps, etc. No need to go all compactor-strength on it or anything.  (I keep my reg brown sugar in a Ziploc bag; never seems to harden. But putting a slice of apple in for a day or a slice of bread can help keep the sugar in orig. condition.)

A group of neighbors have gone to the Fairfax Ronald McDonald House for the past several years on Christmas morning to prepare a holiday lunch for the families there. The place where we usually get the ham and turkey on the day before Christmas is no longer in business. Christmas is on a Sunday this year. Do you know of any place that will deliver a ham and turkey to me at home in Fairfax on Saturday or Friday? I don't want to go near a grocery store those days- way too crowded. Please help! Thanks very much.

I just checked with Amphora Catering, which was in my Thanksgiving takeout list today. They'll be offering hams and turkey, but they do have a $100 minimum for delivery.

Read your blog re new restaurant in Northern Virginia - what kind of food do they serve and what are their hours. Can't wait to hear your experience - hope it's a good one.

Hope it's a good one, too. Impossible to say what they'll serve at Memphis Barbeque in Crystal City. I have been unable to get that info, despite repeated attempts.

To avoid many pie crust dough scraps, I roll out my crust in a 14"-diameter 1"-high pizza pan. That way my crust comes out fairly circular, and the rim keeps the flour from flying everywhere! What few scraps of dough remain, I sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake, in order to eat piping hot and fresh out of the oven, and wash it down with cold milk (just like when I was a kid).

That is one of the seminal taste memories of my childhood, too. My mother would sprinkle the pieces and roll them up before baking. A fabulous way to keep the kiddos from poking into those irresistible pies.

Southern Living has a delicious pumpkin cheesecake recipe in this month's issue with a praline topping that covers any potential cracks.

We usually just keep it simple -- rub big whole sweet potatoes with a little oil, wrap in foil, roast until soft. Everyone can scoop out however much they want and add butter, salt or pepper to taste. Sweet potatoes are delicious on their own!

I know this is a Thanksgiving chat, but I have been trying to get this in the last few weeks so please help. I make a really nice key lime pie (regular limes), but I find that the filling weeps through the crust some and is a little looser than I would like. I pre-bake the graham cracker crust for about 15 min. and then it bakes again once the filling is in for another 15 min. or so (both at 350). Any suggestions? Do I need to add unflavored gelatin to the filling?

First you could try adding a little extra butter to the graham cracker crust. After baking (15 min sounds about right) allow the crust to chill so the butter can set.

It sounds like you probably need to bake it a touch longer or take out a bit of the liquid. If you are worried about the filling browning, try a slightly lower temperature and cooking a bit longer.

Hope that works! I absolutely love key lime pie!

Can you suggest a stuffing for a celiac person? We had rice last year, but really prefer something bready. If I can find a non-gluten corn bread I can make it work, can I replace the flour in corn bread with any other type of flour? I have chickpea flour, soy flour, buckwheat flour.

Here's a great-looking g-f stuffing from our friend Shauna James Ahern. If you're going to make the g-f cornbread, I'd suggest using a gluten-free flour mix such as those made by Bob's Red Mill or King Arthur Flour.

Smitten kitchen has a recipe for a pear cranberry crumble with gingersnaps. I'm planning to make it this weekend...

Roast sweet potatoes; mash (once cool enough to handle). Add at least a cup of sour cream and sliced up green onions, pretty much to taste. YUMMY!

Do I boil the potato and drain then puree? Or is the sweet potato canned?

You want to incorporate as little water as possible so the pies set nice and firm. I individually wrap each sweet potato in foil with about a table spoon of water and a little olive oil. I roast at 300 degrees until very soft, flipping over half way through cooking.Once they are done, remove the skin and puree.

You can probably use canned sweet potato in a pinch, just make sure to drain them well.

So, what am I missing? I know homemade stock is supposed to be so much better than store-bought, but mine tastes bland! I start with bones from a nicely seasoned roast chicken---a few chickens, actually--plus the raw backbone, which I save whenever I spatchcock. I add whole onions with the skin, carrots, celery, and peppercorns. Let it simmer for hours. And still, the taste concentration is nothing like the store-bought. Help!

A few  possibilities:

1) You need to add salt. Go easy at first, but when I make a pot a pot of large stock with a whole chicken and vegetables I usually add about 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt. Still, remember you can always add more salt, but you can never take it away.

2) Your chicken's scrawny and you should boost the flavor with some extra chicken thighs or legs for a richer stock. (You'll know you've done good if your cold stock is like a loose gelatin.)

3) You're putting too much water in. Fill the pot with the chicken and vegetables, herbs and spices and then add water just to cover.

Do you think quiche fits into a Thanksgiving meal? I don't eat turkey and am perfectly happy with eating all of the sides, but my mother seems to think I'll starve to death without an entree. Quiche seems tasty and easy to make, but I don't want it to stand out in a bad way on the table.

Given that you eat quiche, I'm assuming you're not a vegan. So you may or may not be interested to know that this Sunday, we're publishing a special section that will include an overview of six different imitation meat products. A couple of them are pretty good, including the Field Roast Centennial Roast.

But back to the quiche question: I feel your pain. As a child, I hated turkey. Sometimes my folks would take pity on me and prepare me something else -- but it had the effect of making me feel more like an outsider.

You will no doubt take some ribbing for eating quiche on Thanksgiving, but who cares?

You might try this crustless Green Quiche that has the added benefit of looking like potatoes au gratin. You might not even stick out at the dinner table. (See the photo below.)

Hi foodies! We're looking for a full-service caterer for our wedding next year and were wondering if you have any suggestions from personal experience. We're both vegetarians and like the idea of having an all-veggie wedding, so we're looking for someone that is creative (e.g., has options beyond the token-pasta dish) and offers good value. Even without meat in the menus we're getting quotes for $90/person, which is just way out of our price range (more like $60-70 person, excluding alcohol). Any suggestions for a lesser-known caterer or restaurant that caters? We're open to ethnic cuisines as well. Thanks.

This seems like a good question to throw out to the peanut gallery. Chatters?

My favorite way to make savory sweet potatoes is a riff off Kim O'Donnel's awsome "Naked Chicken" recipe (found here Whenever I make the chicken, I double the rub. I throw about a tablespoon of brown sugar into the 2nd half. I peel a bunch of sweet potatoes and chop into chunks. I mix the rub + brown sugar into the chunks. Into the oven it goes, and these are always a huge hit. Basic recipe is: Mix in food processor: Juice of one lemon Approximately 1 teaspoon salt 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped 3 cloves garlic, chopped 2-3 fresh chilies of your choice, chopped (I like the medium heat of serranos) 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin 1 teaspoon ground coriander 1/2 teaspoon turmeric (for color; optional) Freshly ground pepper, to taste

I have used this app many times and it is better the next day. I know you said that your host provides a creamy dip but this is cheese and lemon and has an entirely different taste than most cream dips and it is easy to make. It tastes best at room temperature. Lemon Cheesecake Dip 10 oz. cream cheese 2½ tbsp. sugar Zest of 1 large lemon 4 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (3 graham crackers-if you want a cheese ball.) Combine the cream cheese and sugar in a bowl. Stir together with a spoon or spatula until well combined and smooth. Mix in the lemon zest and lemon juice until smooth. Chill until two hours before using and then let warm to room temperature. If you want it as a cheese ball continue with directions below. Transfer the mixture to a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a ball, wrapped tightly. Refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours. Reshape if necessary once firm. Coarsely crush the graham crackers and transfer the crumbs to a plate or bowl. Roll the cheese ball in the crumbs until evenly coated. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

I get those frozen green beans that you can microwave. After they are microwaved I drain them and sautee them in olive oil and garlic. Add a little butter at the end. It's so easy and fast, and really dresses up what would otherwise be a bland sidedish.

Brian & Michael Voltaggio have a show that's been running on the Food Network (or the Cooking Channel--I forget which) in which they prepare a Thanksgiving dinner together. One brother rubs his turkey with mayonnaise before roasting to keep it moist. They also made some delicious looking roasted Brussels sprouts and very silky mashed potatoes and lots of other good things. You should be able to catch it between now & Thanksgiving.

Saw it. I've been meaning to contact brother Bryan -- and in the meantime, I have been conducting a totally unscientific, random poll of chefs and cooks, none of whom had ever seen or heard of that mayo slathering for turkey. (Fish on the grill, yes.) He explained that the egg acts as a binder to keep the mayo's oil basically in place.  The chef was also basting every 15 minutes (with what -- melted drippings, I guess?) . I bet that slowed things down a bit, turkeytimewise.

As for those silky potatoes, all it takes is a potato ricer and more butter than Paula Deen keeps in her freezer. This recipe will get you there. 

You can make pear butter in your slow cooker

I have spent many thanksgivings by myself. I cook a turkey thigh and a sweet potato. Maybe some brussels sprouts in a mustard sauce. Pie for dessert. Also whole foods have prepared things like stuffing and gravy that you can by for a single serving.

This year we are not really doing a proper Thanksgiving, with no family available to visit, and a close family member in the hospital. It will be very toned down. I was thinking of skipping the turkey and just making a couple of sides, for dinner, but in the Thanksgiving spirit. I was hoping you could give me a couple of ideas that were simple enough to prepare (no meat please). We decided we would only cook what we could manage for that evenings meal, so no exhuasting preparation that needs to be done ahead.

If you are looking for a quick sweet treat to end your meal, apple pie turnovers fit the bill.

You can use the same crust recipe from today's Post. After rolling, cut in to large circles, fill with the cooked apple filling and crimp shut with a fork. Bake until golden brown and enjoy your quiet, special evening!

Have always had gas ranges, except for 1.5 years in a furnished apartment. Personal preference: I'd never get an electronic ignition again. While it's true that it eliminates the need for a pilot light, the huge disadvantage is that when the electricity goes out one must light the burners with a match (and who keeps matches at home any more, now that smoking's been found unhealthful?), and the oven can't be manually lit at all.

My favorite alternatives for any of these is to make a creamy soup. Pumpkin being the easiest but sweet potato isn't that hard either.

One of the reasons we are switching to gas (turns out the gas line is already there from a previous owner) is that we lose electricity frequently through the winter, and with kids, it's a real bummer at meal times.

So true. During snowmageddon, I made beef stew for dinner, which we ate in front of the fireplace. We then used a traditional espresso maker for the morning's coffee while the kids watched movies and drank hot chocolate in the car we had running while parked in the driveway. Not ideal, but we were well-fed during the blackout thanks to our gas cooktop.

I've found the best traveling green bean treatment is perfectly cooked beans at room temp. dressed with olive oil and lemon zest. They're such a nice contrast to the usual T-Day gray beans.

I made a vegetarian dinner out of green beans with penne last night, which was fine but not overly exciting (aka. rather bland). I blanched the green beans then sauted them with onions and garlic, salt, olive oil and tossed them with the penne. How could I have made this more interesting?

Feta cheese would go a long way to boosting the pasta dish and it would pair well with your other ingredients. Some  chopped fresh parsley would help as well. Nice thing about feta is you can buy it in tubs with expiration dates far in the future so it's easy to have on hand.

Good luck!

I usually use butter, because any deficiencies in the texture are compensated for by the flavor. But my mom, an excellent pie baker, always used Crisco, except for the time we had some lard on hand, which made a pie crust extravagantly praised by my father (with my mother frantically motioning for me to keep my mouth shut about the lard). So my question for Tiffany MacIsaac is: did you experiment with all the other kinds of shortening?

I don't use shortening in much of cooking, but I definitely use lard and love the flavor and texture it gives to the dough. I've even been known to use a small amount of bacon fat when cooking for my friends.

I substituted the butternut squash with sweet potatoes in this recipe. It was delicious.

Just started to cook through 'Serve Yourself' and loved the Turbot recipe. I used swordfish and italian herbs instead of za'atar. Steamed over Japanese rice in my rice cooker. Turned out great. Thanks Joe!


And some of us are allergic to gluten AND nuts! I will never forget the Thanksgiving when I swelled up like a ballon after being assured by everyone who made a dish that their dish did not contain walnuts. Turns out one woman dressed the salad with walnut vinegar. When we figured out what I reacted to, she kept apologizing - I didn't know you were allergic to walnut vinegar, I thought it was just walnuts!

I am thinking of doing the Torrisi turkey (brined turkey breasts cooked in a water bath for several hours and then finished with a garlic-honey glaze) this year instead of the Whole Turkey but am wondering what is a good source for turkey breasts (recipe calls for boneless but I might like the bones for stock.) Recipe calls for 2 3-4 lb. breast but I might do an extra 1 or 2 for leftovers. Of course I would love free-range or local but not sure who can accommodate this. Thanks! Alternatively, if Jim Shahin is on the line can you ask him the recommended temp/cooking time for a smoked turkey? Two years ago I salted a turkey and left it overnight, rinsed it and smoked it in my charcoal smoker (it is the kind where the turkey and wood chips go inside and the charcoal burns around the outside) and it was succulent and delicious. I tried to replicate last year and the bird was too dry, very disappointing. I might do both this year if I can find a turkey on sale the day after Thanksgiving!

There are so many factors that can impact barbecue, from the moisture in the wood to the temperature in the air. If you can keep your fire steady at about 250 degrees throughout the cooking process, you should be okay. The cooking time depends on the size of the turkey.

If you want to try it, here's my recipe for bourbon-brined smoked turkey from last year.

Whole Foods sells a frozen gluten free corn bread that is pretty good. If you don't want to cook the cornbread yourself, give that a try.

I'm throwing together the appetizers and a garnish platter for our family Thanksgiving dinner. I wondered if anyone here had ideas beyond the usual carrot, celery, olive, pickle tray and what cheeses you'd put on for cracker/cheese appetizers possibly with nice dark grapes?

This dip's  made with green grapes but you could use dark ones instead. It's a little different and totally addictive.

Whole Foods and My Organic Market (MOM) both sell gluten-free stuffing cubes, which you can use in your regular recipe. This year I'm doing my usual cornbread stuffing (ok, Bradley Ogden's cornbread stuffing--google it) but with those GF cubes and GF cornbread from Bob's Red Mill mix. I'm hoping it comes out well--no reason it shouldn't.

I had my wedding reception catered at the World Headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring just off rt. 29. Their cafeteria serves lacto-ovo vegitarian food and did a fabulous job at my wedding. Even the carnivores left satisfied.


Two questions about the soup I am apparently being served on Thanksgiving. The hostess told me she has already made it and frozen it. It is a pureed spinach and pear soup with leeks and blue cheese. Question 1 - This sounds so awful. Am I missing something? Question 2 - Can you freeze a soup made with cheese?

I'm sure you can freeze soups with cheese, but I agree that the particular soup as described is less than appetizing.....

How early can I bake a pecan pie and a pumpkin pie, in advance of Thanksgiving? I'm trying to minimize my stress on the actual day! Thanks...

Two days before is no problem at all. Just make sure to wrap it in plastic and store in the refrigerator. If you make it the day before you can store it at room temperature. The pie crust can be frozen raw up to a week in advance to cut down on the last minute prep.

Hmmm - I do a roasted pumpkin with cream cheese (all blended together) and it never cracks. I just bake it in a regular piecrust. It uses a full package of cream cheese and tastes very cheescakey. I imagine that's simpler than doing a springform cheesecake.

Hi free rangers, My friend is getting married this weekend and there will a large group of us in a hotel suite before hand helping her get ready. I was thinking of bringing some champagne so everyone could have one drink to calm their nerves, but I was thinking that booze on an empty stomach might be a bad idea. Any suggestions of snacks that people could nibble on? My main concern is avoiding anything colored/greasy that could stain. Thanks!

I couldn't get enough of these Dates Stuffed With Goat Cheese. Or how about some Smoky Almonds? If it's a morning or afternoon wedding, some scones might be appreciated too.

Dates Stuffed With Goat Cheese

Can a sweet potato gratin be accomplished without a mandoline? I don't know if I'm proficient enough to just do it with a knife. Any similar dishes I can make without requiring extra tools?

As the dude who makes the gratin each year for Thanksgiving, I can tell you that I'd go crazy without a mandoline. The tool creates thin, even slices, which you want for gratin. You could, I guess, do this with a knife, but you'd need hands of steel -- and the patience of Job.

You might try this delicious brussels sprouts recipe instead. It's not as rich and luxuriant as au gratin potatoes, but it doesn't require any special tools -- and it has a lot more bright flavors to counter all the traditionally heavy dishes on Thanksgiving.

I'm serving turducken for Thanksgiving - puchased of course. (Building one seemed a little ambitious.) It's just the breast as opposed to the whole bird, er birds. Any chance I'll be able to make gravy from the drippings? Any other suggestions? I don't care much about gravy, but some may.

Do yourself a favor and make the gravy ahead of time

Hi there! I had this same problem and was told that one way to help avoid cracks is that when the cheesecake is done, that you NOT pull it out of the oven immediately. Rather, turn it off and open the door a bit (I prop it open with a chopping block) to let it cool down slowly. I do that now and it helps a lot!

They are wonderful when you treat them just like a baked potato - with butter, salt pepper and lashings of sour cream. I was surprised at how delicious the sour cream was with them, especially when nestled on a forkful of ham

Why not just buy a rotisserie chicken? That makes it super easy!

Thanks -- and yes it does, but sometimes we crazy people also like cooking!

I was intrigued by the coconut oil pie crust (California atyle) since I also have to bake dairy-free. What is the flavor like -ie can you detect the coconut?

Absolutely no coconut flavor here.

I'm wondering, does the beginning of everyone's Thanksgiving meal include each person saying what they're grateful for? How would you answer, this year?

It's not a tradition in our family, but we performed this ritual around the table a time or two.

What I am grateful for? I'm grateful for many many things: My wife, my job, my health, my ability to sneeze like Donald Duck. The list is endless.

My husband's family always puts a serving spoonful of mayo in the mashed potatoes...ALWAYS!!!

Makes sense to me. Mayonnaise is mostly oil with a little egg and vinegar. It's adds richness. I don't know that I'd choose to use it when I can use butter, cream or milk, but I guess family tradition shouldn't be tampered with.:)

I was making Thanksgiving dinner with a friend several years ago, and he rubbed mayo all over the chicken just like his mother had always done. It was the moistest turkey I have ever had, and I have done the same thing ever since.

When I was married to a guy who didn't really like turkey leftovers, I used to buy turkey breast tenders and fry them for Thanksgiving. They were a delicious alternative to roasted turkey and I still miss them! That would work perfectly for one. I think pretty much everything else associated with the holiday can be scaled back pretty easily. The other possibility, of course, is to volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen that day. Nothing like giving to others to take your mind off what's bothering you!

Do you have a suggestion for an interesting drink that I could serve with pre-dinner appetizers on Thanksgiving? I was thinking something cranberry, but wondered if that would be too much since there will be cranberry flavors with both the appetizers and dinner.

a nice mulled wine would be a great way to great your guests. It is so aromatic and tastes delicious. Plus you can use a less expensive wine and save the good stuff for later.

That sweet potato/squash bake the Free Rangers posted a few weeks ago to this chat may fit the bill. The other option is to slice thin, toss in olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme and place in a single layer and bake. So tasty. That's a riff off of this recipe (

Green grapes, swiss cheese, crackers.

Those would work too.

I love tarts. I am afraid to make them. Can I just use pie crust dough in muffin tins? How long should I cook them? How can I downsize a big recipe?

Is the 3 1/2 cups of sugar a misprint -- eek! it makes my teeth hurt to think of it.

The recipe is actually for two pies not one, which might be why you are flinching. The beauty of cooking the apples in advance is that you can alter the sugar depending on what kind of apples you use. Some such as honey crisp might not need as much, where as granny smith you'll want to add it all.

I love salmon and tuna, but it can be pricey some weeks and I'm looking to expand my fish cooking to white fishes (tilapia, cod, perch, etc.) A lot of recipes that I've seen online call for breadcrumbs and frying, or smothering in a very rich sauce. Any suggestions for a healthier way to prepare? Thanks!

I'm way into my white fish. Here's a recipe for a simple fish stew with cod, tomatoes and fennel that I really love.

If that's not your thing, here's one for a panko-cristed cod.


I'm intridged by the reflector oven. Do you have to have a big hearth-type fireplace, or will it work with a smaller one? While I have no plans to cook a turkey in one, it could be useful for when the power is out, especially if the house is cold, and I will be using the fireplace anyway.

Bonnie has left the building, but she tested the recipes in her fireplace at home, which looked like a normal-sized one to me.

Sounds good, and feta would be a nice addition. But I'd have tossed in a few chopped-up sun-dried tomatoes for extra color and flavor as well.

They still use butter and steamed milk with the mayo.

I make a chocolate torte with a coconut macaroon crust for Passover (no flour) and the crust is awesome. You take 10 oz. of coconut macaroons (not the french version, the ones that look like haystacks) and crumble them in a food processor, press into a pie plate, bake at 350 for 10 - 15 min. until it is lightly brown.

Not a question but a brief T-Day pie anecdote. When I was in high school on a base in Germany, my mom made her traditional pies - one pumpkin and one mincemeat. Since the kitchen in the house was tiny, she set them on a shelf in her small sewing room to cool (and be out of the way), covered with a clean dish cloth. On T-day, we went to fetch the pies and discovered that a cat had walked across the top of shelf and the pies. In case you were wondering, pie with paw prints tastes just as good as "normal" pie.

Well, you've dislodged us from the spit and transferred us to a cutting board to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks to the chatters for such great q's, as usual, and thanks to special guests Tiffany MacIsaac, Stephanie Sedgwick and Jim Shahin for helping us tackle them. 

Oh, and keep a lookout for this Sunday's special Thanksgiving section. We do that in lieu of a section the day before the holiday, to help give you a little more shopping/cooking/planning time. We'll be back here next week with an extra-long chat, though, for those last-minute questions.

Now for the giveaways. The chatter who initially asked about savory approaches for sweet potatoes will get "America's Test Kitchen TV Show and Cookbook 2001-2012." The chatter who asked about refrigerating pie dough will get Michele Stuart's "Perfect Pies."

And, for a special treat, the chatter who asked about what order to prep an apple pie will get ... an apple pie from Tiffany at Buzz Bakery! (Never hurts to have an extra one, right? Woo-hoo!) 

All three, just email your info to Becky Krystal at, and we'll get you your books, or point you to Tiffany, whatever the case requires.

Happy T-giving planning, everyone. We'll be here next week with more answers!

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