Free Range on Food: Thanksgiving, "Farm Kings" and more

Nov 20, 2013

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 Free Range!

We've got Thanksgiving on the docket today, because, well, duh. So what's your plan? What's on the menu?

Bonnie did a fabulous job curating another selection of recipes that we hope make it onto your holiday table. She spent the day with the King family (of "Farm Kings" TV fame) and came out with great tips and tricks from Lisa King & Co.

I tell the tale of cooking my very first all-veg Thanksgiving last year in Maine, complete with a centerpiece-worthy stuffed polenta dish.

Paula Shoyer writes about her take on the Thanksgivukkah mania, with a fabulous babka recipe. And of course there's more.

Today we'll have all our regular participants in the chat -- plus special guests Lisa and Elizabeth King. So throw whatever is on your mind our way, and we'll do our best to help.

As always, cookbook giveaways are in order. Today it'll be "The Washington Post Cookbook" signed by Ms. B herself -- AND Alice Waters' new "The Art of Simple Food II."

Let's do this!

I've been assigned to bring dessert for Thanksgiving, but pumpkin and apple pies are already spoken for. I was thinking about doing something with pecans that's not pie - any suggestions? Otherwise I may try Lisa King's zucchini-carrot cake in muffin form...

I liked this cake -- it's very moist and not too sweet.  Might I suggest Tiny Tim Cranberry Tarts? They're in "The Washington Post Cookbook: Readers' Recipe Favorites" -- and near and dear to my heart. Been making them for almost 30 years. I brought some in to the office today! 

I thought your bourbon brined turkey sounded fabulous. But I would not be following through with the grilling/smoking part. Do you think this brine would still work if I just roast the turkey in the oven? I so want to try it! Thanks!


I don't see any reason why Jim's Bourbon-Brine Smoked Turkey wouldn't work in the oven, too. The only thing you'd be missing is the interaction between the smoke and the brine/rub ingredients. I suspect Jim created the recipe with those flavor combinations in mind, but I suspect the bird will be pretty tasty even without an application of wood smoke.

Is it necessary to baste if you bard the turkey? If yes, how often? Can you bard with turkey bacon?

To bard or not to bard ... that is the question. Sorry.

No need to baste if you bard! (For those not in the know, barding is draping strips of fat over the item in question -- with turkey, people often use bacon.) You CAN bard with turkey bacon, but that doesn't mean you SHOULD. It doesn't have nearly as much fat as most regular (i.e., pork) bacon, nor is it usually as smoky.

I'm signing a friend up to take a bread baking class for their birthday, but wanted to give them some sort of essential bread-making "tools" as well. I'm not a baker, so I have no idea -- any suggestions?

A few thoughts -- hope chatters weigh in, too:

A bench stainless steel bench scraper (inexpensive); a dough hook for a mixer (inexpensive);  baking bowls (brotform) for making boules (midrange); baking stone (getting up there); "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. 

A lame! To score the bread.

For a two-ingredient recipe of which one is water? (Basic Millet) Come ON.

I assume you're talking about in the database, right? You must have just caught it before the nutritional numbers popped in. They're in there.

This looks >fabulous< except that my sweetie is allergic to mushrooms. Do I just bump up the squash, or can you suggest something else with the savory note that the shrooms would bring?

Glad you like the look of my Polenta Stuffed With Squash and Mushrooms. You've got lots of options for the filling. Yes, you could do more squash, or you could add simply sauteed/seasoned greens -- kale, Swiss chard, etc. Or you could even think about something like roasted cubed eggplant or cauliflower. Or how about cooked white beans?

isn't there a danger of this?

Funny. Nah, no oil paint or gouache involved. 

Hi -- I wanted to punch up this year's pumpkin pie, so I tried out a crumbled gingerbread cookie crust. It was ok, but not great. I know those are probably better for no-bake pies. Do you have another suggestion for how I could get a more interesting crust, than just the typical pie crust?

How about one with some cream cheese mixed in? Here's our classic, much-admired Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust.

Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust

It's fun to play around with pumpkin dessert this time of year...we like to keep it simple with the pumpkin pie especially if you already have a great recipe. The gingerbread crust I have had before with pumpkin cheesecake delish!  My mom does Pumpkin Pie Cake!

I really want to try the eggplant meatballs mentioned in the last chat, but I never seem to have luck with eggplant. I always seem to get bitter ones. Does salting really work to get rid of the bitterness? I love eggplant, but I worry about laboring for a while only to have an inedible result. Also, that babka recipe looks great! I may finally try and make babka - and a non-chocolate one at that!

Soaking slices of eggplant in salt water , overnight reduces bitterness.  Eggplants are either male or female.  A mark on the bottom reveals its gender.  Males have a circular mark and are less bitter.  Females have a  oval mark and are more bitter.

Also, smaller eggplants are less bitter than larger ones.

For the questioner last week about injera--there are 5 Ethiopian groceries within one mile of my house (and a mile from Van Dorn Metro). I live in Cameron Station in Alexandria. Three alone are on S. PIckett St.

There are also a number of Ethiopian markets in Silver Spring, which is becoming the real Little Ethiopia of the D.C. metro area. I go to Arat Kilo Market at 818 Easley St, which is right off Fenton St.

How can I determine how many calories are in the food I prepare at home? And what the appropriate serving size is?

We use a licensed software to make our calculations. It uses data mostly from the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. I know this has come up before, and other chatters have mentioned sites they like to use for this purpose. Anyone care to chime in? might be able to help with serving size.

May I please get your help in finding really flavorful bacon to cook with? The grocery store stuff doesn't seem to go beyond fatty, salty and crisp. I am looking for something that's more smoky and meaty. I have access to upper MoCo farms, an Amish market with a butcher on-site and all the major grocery stores. Are there things I should be looking for (thick cut, particular hard woods?) that will make a key difference?

Benton's, from Tennessee. It's medium-to-thick cut and imbued with so much smokiness you can smell it through the plastic. Choice of chefs. It's sold at the butcher shop at Union Market, or you can (and should) order many packs of it online. It will change your life -- and I'm not exaggerating. 

Hosting Thanksgiving for the first time this year, so I've planned everything out as much as I can. Husband asked if I could make a side that was "real vegetables, not vegetables with cream and butter," so I was thinking of dicing up some carrots, parsnips, turnips, etc. and roasting them. The only problem is that the oven is spoken for from start to finish. My thinking was to cook the veg at 350 (during the end of the turkey's cooking time). I need to cook a casserole dish for 15 minutes at 400 after the bird comes out, so the veg could be in there for that, too. How long do you think the veg will need to be in the oven, since they'll be cooking at only 350?

I like to roast vegetables at a higher heat, to get those crispy edges and nice caramelization. If I were you, I'd roast them at 450 or so the day before, then reheat them while the turkey's in there.

I'd like to make a large batch of cranberry/apple or cranberry/orange sauce and put it up in jars like applesauce. How can I tell if it is suitable for water bath canning or if it needs to be pressure canned?

Cranberries and oranges are both acidic and suitable for water-bath canning. But you're working off of a reputable canning recipe, right? If not, I suggest you find one. No risk-taking in canning, please!

Your pie is drop-dead gorgeous, Joe. Have you ever considered incorporating nuts in it, either in the crust or as a topping? Pistachios or walnuts would continue the Persian theme, but pecans might satisfy some T-day traditionalists.

Thanks! So glad you like the Persian-Spiced Sweet Potato Pie.

I did consider your not-so-nutty nut idea -- and you should feel free -- but I wanted to keep the focus on those sweet potatoes so decided against it. You could certainly tuck pistachios in here and there among the sweets, yes!

I just got invited to a cookie exchange party. Do you have a cookie guide in the works? Any superstar recipe from past years you can point me toward? Any other tips on cookie exchange success, etiquette, etc.?

Not too early! Our annual Cookies issue is Dec. 4. As for the exchange, check out this Food section article with tips. Superstars we have come to know and love -- not including the ones this season:

Salty Chocolate Nutella Thumbprints

Almond Buttons

Cardamom-Brown Sugar Snickerdoodles (from Editor Joe!)


Lime Thai Basil Shortbread With Passion Fruit Glaze

Gingerbread Cookie Trees

Gingerbread Hazelnut Rum Balls

Sesame Poppy Crisps

White Chocolate, Cherry and Pistachio Chunkies


Any idea how long Greek Yogurt will stay fresh in the fridge after the Sell By Date?

Um, a while if my experience is any indication. I haven't actually taken notes, but the smell and/or taste test should guide you.

Joe, for the budding vegetarian in my house, I'd like to buy a couple cookbooks for Christmas. Apart from yours, of course ("Eat Your Vegetables" -- free plug! :), is there a good complement? What do you think of the new Mollie Katzen book? Thanks.

I like Mollie's new book, "The Heart of the Plate"! (It was the source of the Mushroom Popover Pie I wrote about recently.) I also adore "River Cottage Veg" by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall; such great flavors. Can you say Baby Beet Tarte Tatin?

(And thanks for the free plug!)

Hi there! Hope you all can lend us some advice: My husband and I are cooking a 3-pound turkey breast for our early Thanksgiving meal together. Do you have recipes that you recommend for the smaller piece of the bird? I love your bourbon-brined recipe, but we don't have a grill available. Think that could be modified for oven use on a smaller cut? Any recommendations are appreciated! Thank you in advance.

    Yes, that brine can be modified for a smaller bird or even a smaller cut of bird. I just did it myself this past week. The problem is, I did it off the cuff and can't give precise direction.

      I'd say this: cut everything back in proportion to the weight you're using. For a three pound breast, I'd reduce the recipe to about a quarter of what it calls for, pretty much across the board, although, me, I'd probably use half the onion and garlic (because I like those, and they don't really penetrate all that much). I also wouldn't brine about 8 hours (as opposed to overnight); I think the considerably smaller weight might end up taking too much of the brine flavor and be overly sweet and salty and might also change the bird's texture. Oh, and, yes, you can cook the bird in the oven.

This year I am finally breaking down and making sugar cookies with royal icing. They are just too fun not to! Do you have any recipes that don't taste horrible? I would like them to still taste delicious, and not like something that was thrown on there to look good. Also, I saw a Bon Appetit article where you mix luster dust with lemon juice to essentially "paint" on the cookies. Where can I find some? I can't say I've ever seen it at Safeway and I can't think of any specialty stores.

For a cookie recipe, we put a lot of stock in Friend of Food Nancy Baggett. Here's her 2012 recipe for Good and Easy Rolled Sugar Cookies.

Good and Easy Rolled Sugar Cookies

Another recipe: Flooded Butter Cookies -- with royal icing -- from local pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac.

Flooded Butter Cookies

For icing, Bonnie likes the one that goes with Raeanne's Gingerbread.

Beryl's (5520 Hempstead Way, Springfield, 703-256-6951) carries luster dust.

I don't think you necessarily have to soak overnight - some eggplant recipes we follow instruct to salt for a couple hours then rinse and that usually takes care of it (yes - salting can make a big difference!) Also, at least with eggplant parmesan, it seems some recipes work with or mask bitterness better than others. For example, I love the grilled/broiled eggplant parm recipe in Mark Bittman's "Best Recipes in the World", and that doesn't involve salting or even breading and it's great.

My favorite part of a turkey is almost always the skin. I saw the King family recipe completely destroyes the skin. Would their method work if the the skin was removed precooking and then roasted seperately?

Yes, we do have  customers that remove the skin from their bird before roasting. Recently saw skin fried up as an appetizer in a food magazine...I guess it depends on how you take your bird skin :)

I tried your method of suspending a large-ish piece of ginger in a glass of water with toothpicks. No roots are appearing. Nothing is happening. Any ideas?

How long has it been in the water? I think mine took a couple of weeks to root.

You don't  have the entire root suspended under water, right? Just part of it.

I feel ridiculous for asking this, but help a newbie out! How do I know when to throw stuff away (oils, vinegars, dried seasonings)? With the holidays coming up again, I'm realizing I have items in my pantry that have been there a year! Is there a resource I can use or a general rule of thumb I'm lacking? Thanks!

Great question. Vinegars should be fine -- if they are flavored, you might want to smell and take a taste just to be sure. For spices, figure if they're whole and stashed away from extreme temps and heat, they can last for at least 3 years. Ground spices, maybe 2 years max -- and that doesn't mean they're not good to use, but merely that some potency and freshness has been lost. For dried/ground herbs and spices, I'd say 6 months, keeping that previous consideration in mind.  Oils:  The ones made from nuts or coconut or canola last about a year; peanut oil lasts up to 3 years, tho.  Vegetable oil can go even longer.  I've become particular about olive oil, and prefer the freshest stuff I can find with dates on the label. But technically it can last a good long time, too. 

Hi all, I've been charged with bringing pre-Thanksgiving snacks to my family's gathering. There will be 7 adults and I want to bring things that are already prepared to not get in the way of my master chef MIL. I was thinking maybe olives, breadsticks, roasted chickpeas... Any ideas for easy, not too heavy snacks?

Alright, here is your challenge: I need a side dish that 1) is vegetarian, 2) contains pretty basic ingredients (nothing too crazy for my family, sigh), 3) can be easily made the morning-of or frozen beforehand, and 4) can withstand being cooked and left to sit until everyone finally arrives. I'll likely get little room in the oven, and I can't do anything that needs to be pulled out right before serving. Cudos if it comes in a casserole dish and isn't too heavy on the butter.

My MIL moved this spring, and with her went her house with three ovens. How do you suggest timing the baking of things with only one oven? I need to do sweet potatoes, pie, and rolls. Thanks!

Bake the pies the day before. They're better when they have time to sit, anyway. I'm not sure what your recipe is, but the sweet potatoes can also be roasted/baked the day before and then finished on the big day and reheated. Rolls can be baked almost all the way but not quite and then held in the fridge (or even frozen) and then finished off right before serving so they're warm. has a recipe analyzer. You need to register for the site, but it's free.

I'd like to try a spice cookie recipe from a cookbook published in 1955. It calls for 3 teaspoons of pig fat. What can I use instead of that? Someone recommended Crisco, but it's not something I keep or use, and therefore don't wish to buy an entire can just for the 3 teaspoons. The basis of the recipe includes honey, molasses, sugar, butter and flour. Suggestions? Thanks!

Are you against using lard, in general? It does not impart a piggy flavor.  I use it sometimes to make pie crust and find it creates such a tender flakiness. More butcher shops are selling small amounts of it these days. Vegetable shortening would be a fine substitute. You should be able to buy single/double sticks of Crisco, so that'd be 8 or 16 tablespoons, max. The stuff freezes well. Failing that, maybe borrow a tablespoon from a neighbor -- in exchange for a cookie or two?

Sometimes when I go to a restaurant, and I really love something, I want to see if the chef would be willing to share the recipe or maybe a tip of the ingredients he used (for example, the white bean/pumpkin salad at Ghibellina). is there any etiquette rule on this? Or best way to go about it? Do you guys ever do that, or just try to recreate something at home with your best guess?

I think chefs love it when customers are so interested in their food they ask for a recipe. Some are more open to sharing than others, but it never hurts to ask -- politely, of course! Just be prepared for a recipe that's not scaled/suitable for home cooking, depending on the chef. (That is, very cryptic instructions, or huge quantities, or references to restaurant equipment.) We ask all the time, of course -- but I also sometimes just riff on something at home if I'm confident I can figure it out.

How do I achieve crispy skin on the turkey? Should I avoiding basting and covering with tin foil?

Several ways to go.  You can baste and still end up with crisped skin, so don't worry about that. I don't use the Martha method any more but I had great success with her cheesecloth technique, which eliminates the need for basting:  basically soak a good swath of it in a mixture of melted butter and white wine. Drape over the top of bird. Roast breast side up; check every now and then and perhaps pour extra butter-wine mixture over the cheesecloth if it looks dry.  In the last 30-40 minutes of oven time, remove the cheesecloth and the bird will brown beautifully.

I'd only cover with foil, loosely, to keep the skin from getting too browned (is there such a thing?)


Chatters, what do you like to do?

I had good results (back when I did that sort of thing!) with air-drying the turkey in the fridge, uncovered, after brining and before roasting.

Would orange juice work in place of the liqueur? I would like to make for a work event, and alcohol as an ingredient is verboten (yes, even if it bakes off).

Sure. Give it a shot. I haven't made it that way, but I can't imagine why it wouldn't work. Might be a little more orange-y in flavor, of course, but I don't think that will be a bad thing.

Cranberry Apricot Pie


I don't know how well this would work for pumpkin pie crusts, but for apples pies I use apple brandy as the liquid and add various spices to the flour and salt before adding the butter/shortening. Maybe whiskey or bourbon in the crust would go well with a pumpkin pie.

Interesting! Reminds me of the America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated suggestion for vodka in the crust. 

Hi Joe, the recipe for Persian-Spiced Sweet Potato Pie looks delicious but would it be okay to omit the rose water? I don't have it and don't plan on buying it anytime soon. Out of curiosity, what exactly does it even add to the flavor?

Yes, you can omit it. When I made this pie originally, last year, I used a Persian spice blend I bought at Sofra, Ana Sortun's fabulous bakery/cafe/market outside Boston. The blend includes ground rose petals, and I really liked the haunting floral hint it gave things, but I didn't want to tell people they had to source out this particular blend, so we tested it with individual spices and that bit of rose water.

I have a 23 lb turkey and am going to buy a 8-10 lb turkey breast....will that be enough? When do I start defrosting both? Thank you!

"Chef's Book of Formulas, Yields & Sizes" says a 22-pound bird will yield 22 servings, or 40 when on a buffet with other items. It says a 12-pound breast will yield 28 servings. Soooo, I think you should be fine. Here's a tip sheet from the USDA on thawing turkey. Don't start thawing too late -- it says a 20- to 24-pound turkey can take 5 to 6 days to thaw!

I really like "The French Market Cookbook" by Clotilde Dusoulier. She has the Chocolate and Zucchini blog.

Yes, I like that one too! Here's what I said about it, with a recipe for Green Bean, Red Rice and Almond Salad.

A kitchen scale!! I always, always weigh my flour. A probe thermometer is a great thing to have. Sometimes, I make monster-size loaves (or teeny baby-sized loaves), and using a thermometer helps me ensure that the bread is cooked through. Nothing worse than cutting in to freshly baked bread and discovering that it's still doughy inside. And I second the baking stone.

Of course! Thanks.

We are in the midst of a kitchen reno, and I fear I am about to lose my stove. Between the cost of the redo, and having two toddlers, we are not in a position to eat out every meal (as has been suggested to me!), but I also still want to have good food to eat. Any survival strategies from the group? I will have my fridge and microwave, and am happy to cook up a bunch of things that can be frozen and reheated in the microwave. But I have to get going now, or I'm afraid it will be chicken nuggets and cereal in the near future.

Microwaving vegetables is considered, by many  sources, to be the best way to maintain their nutritional content. Here's a little video on how best to cook your veggies in their own water via the microwave.


In fact, come to think of it, our own Becky Krystal offered a good primer on how to cook your corn in the microwave. (Not that it's a great time for corn!)


With all this in mind, here's a source for some microwave vegetable recipes.  If you want, you could supplement the veggies with dry cured meats like prosciutto or hard salami. You could even pair the veggies with pastas prepared in the microwave.


And lest I annoy the boss, Joe wrote a column a couple years ago on microwave cooking for one. But it may not work for your needs. His approach is more of a hybrid-style.

I'm looking for a great basic recipe for tea cookies (like they used to sell at old-fashioned bakeries!) which I can use as a basis to add flavorings, fillings, etc. Any recommended recipes?

You mean something like these Blackberry Thumbprints?Blackberry Thumbprints

Can you share the name of the software program?

Sure! It's NutriBase, and it looks like it starts at about $400.

No question, just thanks for the suggestions on the Thai Massaman. I went with potatoes/carrots/mushrooms and, not Romano beans, but simple green beans. Overall, it was OK to start; the flavors came together better as leftovers. It will be better next time, and I look forward to trying yams. Thanks also for the lentils/ham/apples recipe of a few weeks ago, unexpectedly awesome to this not-much-for-lentils guy; it's moving into the regular rotation.

If the original poster is in northern VA, Fran's Cake and Candy on Main Street, Fairfax has it.

if its a little too sour to eat straight, you can use it in baking still

HEARTILY seconding popcorn! I heated some butter with rosemary and roasted garlic last year and poured it all over some of my homemade popcorn with some grated Parmesan and it was a hit! (It was only outshone by the bacon-wrapped-feta-stuffed-dates that I made...)

In addition to juice for liquid, add orange zest and/or orange oil. There won't be enough of the orange flavor with just the juice.


The best thing I was given was an oversized bowl with rubberized feet (to hold it still for mixing) and a lid (not airtight, for covering the bowl during the rise). It came with a spatula and a brush, but it was the bowl I used all the time. Another gift I got and use all the time was a good bread knife.

Try bacon-wrapped water chestnuts - (just do a web search - lots of variations but most involve the main ingredients plus brown sugar, ketchup, and worcestershire for the sauce). You can prepare ahead of time and just throw them in the oven when you get there. Simple but really good - people will be eating the toothpicks... (I bet it would be even better with the Benton's bacon mentioned above!)

Not sure what to buy! I have an all-clad Dutch oven, two sauce pans, and three frying pans. What do you think of covered saute pans? Or is that redundant given the Dutch oven?

I love my L.C. roasting pan/lasagna pan. Check it out here. I think you should look into that instead of the saute pans.


Hi Rangers, how would you define a classic fruit cake? Do you have your oldest recipe?

I'd say it's a dense, assertively spiced cake studded with candied fruit and nuts. Heavy on the fruit and nuts, not so heavy on the cake. Brandy is often involved! I wrote a story about fruitcake last year that included several recipes, but the point was to highlight cakes that were not traditional, since the classic ones get such a bad rap. Of all the ones I tested, I'd say that Lisa Yockelson's Luxury Cake came closest to the classic, though it was pretty labor-intensive. But the one I liked best was Nathalie Dupree's White Fruitcake.

microwave, plug-in skillet, slow cooker. we did fine.

It's been less than two weeks, I think, so I'll just sit tight and see what happens. Yes, only partly submerged. Thank you!

I made the zimtsterne and have one tip: To dust your board with confectioners sugar, make a cheesecloth sachet filled with flour then pat, pat, pat. Handy for flour also.

Clever. Might have wanted that tip when I tested the Zimtsterne last year!


One of my kid has become a pescetarian and no one has ever been all that fond of turkey anyway. So this year we are thinking of a fish or shellfish main dish -- but we LOVE all our side dishes, including a pumpkin soup first course, cranberry compote, mashed white potatoes and sweet potatoes, and of course stuffing (generally cornbread+sausage+oysters). Not everything has to be meatless, but what's a good main protein/dish to go with all our sides?

I bought some fresh thyme to use on Monday, but I'm not going to get through the rest of it while it's still good to use, so want to freeze it for later. I tried freezing basil in the past but failed badly. What's the right way to freeze herbs?

I need to make a chocolate dessert for Thanksgiving. No dietary restrictions. I'd prefer something warm (i.e. not a chilled mousse). Any suggestions?

These brownies would be hard to beat, served warm, as would these Oaxacan Chocolate Cookies. Also fab: Chocolate Spice Bread and Chocolate Bread Pudding --- I mean, take a look at how that last one turns out. 

Am I reading the recipe wrong, or is that a layered ice cream loaf? I'm not sure I understand how it will toast well (but it looks delicious!)

I grabbed the wrong recipe. See corrected answer! 

What worked pretty well was a method I learned watching America's Test Kitchen, simply taking the (brined) bird out, checking the temp and turning the oven up to 450/500 degrees then popping the bird back in for 10 or 15 minutes, checking periodically. You may want to baste the bird with a little melted butter but do it lightly.

I have lots of Le Crueset and the one that I always use is the rectangular roaster. I have the oval gratin, the big roaster, a fish skillet (rectangular with a handle), and a round frying pan. I use the roaster at least once a week. The fish skillet hasn't been used in a year.

Yep, my thoughts, too. Love the roaster.

For a cole slaw option, your Slaw with Fresh Pineapple is a crowd pleaser. The group we have T-Day with are politically liberal but food conservative, so I use green cabbage and leave out the chili sauce. I also chop the cabbage rather than just slice 'cause it's easier to serve and eat that way.

Give that fan a contract. What a great idea -- and it brings color to the table. 

Can I peel, slice, and season fresh apples, and then freeze them in containers to be used for pie filling at a later date? Or should I semi-cook them first? Thank you.

Yes, fresh, prepped, and seasoned apples can be frozen. for later use...don't forget a bit of lemon juice to  keep their color. Put the correct amount of apple/spices in freezer bag for each pie...make it easy on yourself when you pull it out of the freezer.  We assemble the entire pie and freeze it to bake later.  If you have the room that's even easier. 

Was there a $20 Diner this week? I don't see it on the Food webpage. (Incidentally, I LOVE the Post Food section, but no newspaper makes it harder to find our favorite columns. And I have like 15 must-read columns from the entire paper, so no, I'm not going to bookmark them all.)

Thanks for noticing its absence! My understanding is the column is supposed to automatically appear on the Food home page each week. But you know how software systems work, right? I'll check on that.


In the meantime, here is last Friday's column: I went long on a pollo a la brasa joint in Langley Park. (Looking at that photo again, just makes me hungry.)

Tim's column goes online on Thursdays, and it pops up on the Food page then. But as new things get pubbed, it gets pushed down.

But there are easy ways to find it. The easiest is to just type "$20 Diner" or "Tim Carman" into the search field at the top right of every page on the web site!


Also, can you tell me how it should be done?

    I'm a briner, yet, to me, the whole brine thing is a little over-rated. I have eaten fabulously juicy poultry that wasn't brined.     

     So, I don't think brining is mandatory. But I do think that it is so relatively effortless and  so increases the chances that the meat will be moist and more flavorful that it's worth it. There are countless brine recipes out there. At the risk of  over-dosing on me (Tim answered a question and linked to my recipe earlier), here's mine. The apple juice and bourbon give the meat a lightly sweet flavor, which is balanced by the savory of onion and garlic and peppercorns, etc. But, as I say, there are a lot of them out there. Try one that appeals to you. The answer to your question will be in what you think of finished product. 

While this isn't Thanksgiving related, I hope you'll take my question anyway! I recently got a cast-iron skillet. So far I've made cinnamon buns (which were great), but I would like to try dinner recipes too. Any favorite recipes, or general suggestions or ideas for how I should use it? Thanks so much!

Scroll up to Joe's recipes for the mushroom popover and beet tarte tatin. Those would be good for cast-iron. Check out his paella dishes too. I get the most use out of mine for frittatas.

I learned about Vodka in the crust from Good Eats. I have since tried a variety of alcohols to impart more flavor in the crusts and in the fillings as well. I would not suggest using just whiskey in a pie crust. a mixture of vodka and whiskey may work better for a pumpkin pie.

what about Bourbon?

corn pudding

Cryptic, but I gotcha. And if you're looking to save a few calories -- and I don't mean you, personally -- might check out Nourish columnist Stephanie Sedgwick's Sweet Onion and Corn Pudding

Any chance you can borrow a toaster oven from someone? Between that and the microwave my mom did a pretty good job of feeding her 3 kids during their reno.

replace teh mushrooms with artichoke hearts

cover the pumpkin filling with a layer of cranberry relish

I volunteered to cook a turkey for my church's annual Thanskgiving Potluck (this Sunday), even though I've never actually cooked one before. No sure if I'm brave or crazy - you guys can decide : ) Turkey has to be done by 10:30/11 a.m. on Sunday. Any cooking suggestions/recipes that would be easy for a first-timer? Preferably something that won't take too long so I'm not up at 2am wrestling with a turkey. Thanks!

Repeat after me: It's just a big chicken. It's just a big chicken. You didn't mention what size bird you're cooking. You can easily get a 12-14 pound bird done if you get in in the oven by 7 am. Other things on your to-do checklist: Make sure to remove any packets of giblets etc in the cavities (check the neck opening, too). Dry the bird thoroughly with paper towels. Season inside and out with salt and pepper, maybe toss a bunch of poultry-friendly herbs in the main cavity. If your turkey has a popup timer stuck in it, take that sucker out, too. Only beneficial for desert-island cooking.  Here's a basic recipe. Good luck! 

A pumpkin roll is always the first desert eaten by our extended family and pretty easy to both make and transport.

Consider an electric skillet to do quick sauteed veggies, thin cuts of meat, eggs, etc. A crock pot is great for stews, of course, but also for polenta, beans and that kind of thing. Our kids love polenta, "mush" sauteed in butter and served with maple syrup and a side of bacon or sausage. Either of those appliances should be readily available for $30-$40 and you could score a good deal at a thrift shop or in the "pre-Black Friday" or other sales.

Oh Food Gurus, with the once-in-a-lifetime mash-up of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah this year, I'm going to make latkes to go with the Thanksgivukkah turkey. There will be 9 people at the table, including 2 pre-teen boys who could eat enough for 4. I'm so bad at figuring out portions -- how many pounds of potatoes to make latkes to feed all these people? Is a 5-pound bag enough? Too much? Thank you as always for all your good advice!

I'd say you need only 2 or MAYBE 3 pounds of potatoes. Check out this recipe for Crisp Latkes: makes 6 side-dish servings with just 1 pound. You could triple just to be safe, but you'll have other side dishes, right?

Two or three weeks ago, I saw a recipe that used a white cake mix and put white cake mix on my grocery list. Well, I have the cake mix but cannot find the recipe and don't even remember what type of baked good it was for! The only thing I distinctly remember was the note that "we tested this recipe using Pillsbury Supreme Classic White Cake Mix." I've looked for a bookmark, searched the cooking sites I frequent, yadda yadda and cannot find it. Did I get it from the Washington Post? I know it was from someone I trust because I'm not fond of a lot of the doctored up cake mix recipes. (Told you it was a long shot) Thx

Yeah, it wasn't us! Anyone else familiar with this?

I'm usually super-excited about holiday cooking, but I've got a major deadline the day before Thanksgiving this year and haven't even started planning, other than ordering the turkey. My MIL will make the stuffing and pie, and I figure I can easily throw together mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts with bacon, and cranberry sauce. So what am I missing? What's the one other thing that the table really needs? Bonus points if you've got a recipe that doesn't involve 48-hour prep requirements or special shopping.


I'd argue for dinner rolls (recipe here) and for another vegetable dish, preferably one with a little acid to help compensate for the carb-loading nature of the holiday meal.  How about something simple like this recipe for balsamic root vegetables with flat leaf parsley?

What are good things to let generous guests bring? I only have have one oven, I need stuff that isn't too cold or frozen if I'm going to get dinner on the table in time and finish dressing and mashed potatoes. But, I do want people to feel included and it's a lot of cooking for one person.

Wine or dessert. Maybe bread and snacks?

I usually make a garlic herb butter to go under the turkey skin using about 1 tablespoon each of fresh sage, thyme and rosemary. I have a ton of dried herbs and would like to use those instead this year. What would the dried herb equivalent be? 1 tsp of each or more?

The standard equivalent's usually 1 tablespoon fresh = 1 teaspoon dried. 

What about pecan pie? It's the only time the year I eat it and I really look forward to it.

But of course. Here's my favorite: Mama's Pecan Pie, from Virginia Willis.

If I want to use butter instead of dairy-free margerine in the today's Thanksgiving Babka recipe, would the substitution be one-for-one? Would I need to alter anything else in the recipe?

I think it'd be fine. Paula bakes kosher, so that's why she calls for the margarine instead. 

Hi, all! About that tip for bagging prep scraps to freeze for stock: I thought everybody used scraps in stock, but I've noticed some authors flatly stating that if you want good stock, you have to use best-quality fresh veg, not trimmings. What do you recommend, and what goes into YOUR pot (or doesn't)? Please give examples. Thanks!

I disagree. If your vegetables are high-quality to start with, using their trimmings to go into stock results in something delicious, even if they're frozen. I use the papers and ends of onions (except for the really dirty part of the root), mushroom stems, asparagus ends, garlic papers, carrot and celery ends. The only thing I really try to avoid are bitter things, like kale, radicchio, eggplant. Tomato cores give a nice color.

Here's my Scrappy Vegetable Broth.

I love your idea of have a condiment people can apply to spice up the traditional thanksgiving fare. My family has vetoed a cranberry chutney (though I may make it anyway as a surprise in addition to the sauce) and we are cilantro averse. Is there another herb or sauce you think could round out todays recipe or another all together? thank you for the ideas! There is always room for one more thing at thanksgiving (like latkes!)

    Lots of things you can do. One of my faves is - here I go again - one of mine, smoked sweet potatoes with hickory (or maple) syrup and cayenne

Was it this?

What about a crockpot - just cut up meat, veggies, and it's good to go.

Assuming you're not in a condo, who say's you can't grill in the wintertime? Lots of veggies and potato recipes you can do on the grill as well. Grilled salmon leftovers reheat beautifully in a microwave (I think that's actually the best way to reheat fish or shrimp anyway). Also, there's nothing as good and simple as microwaving a bag of green beans and tossing with minced garlic, salt, and some good olive oil. If there's one vegetable made for the microwave, that's probably it. Spinach and corn do well in the nuker too.

I second the microwave, crockpot, and suggest grilling. Cook in advance. Make a meatloaf, slice into individual slices, freeze. Microwave only what you need for dinner. I made stews that can be frozen and then reheated and served over rice. (Rice can be done in a microwave or rice cooker if you have one.) Microwaved frozen veggies, definitely. We survived two kitchen renos (two different houses) with a toddler each time, so it's doable.

Just wanted to give a shout-out to the sous-chef at Kellari on K St. He was very generous in sharing his eggplant soup recipe with me. He said he was going to have to start writing his recipes down, because no one had asked him for one before.

And you will share it with us, correct? Email to! Would love to see it. (And would of course ask his permission if we wanted to publish.)

I had 2 questions about your instant mashed potatoes experiment: 1. why did you not make a batch or "real" mashed potatoes to use as a control. 2. Given that some of the judges were complaining about thinnes or thickness, wouldn't that have been easy to change and cause identical problems with "real" mashed potatoes? I have had real mashed potatoes that are watery and others that are so thick they sit up.

Good questions. My thoughts on them:


1. We thought of this, but a little too late, I'm afraid. Had we done it, however, I wonder if the scores might have dipped even lower. In some ways, the purity of the test was that we did not have the real thing to point out the flaws of the instant potatoes.


2. Bonnie cooked all the instant mashed potatoes strictly according to each box's directions. (As they say in Texas: Bless her heart!) While you might have fixed the texture problems at home by adding more butter or cream (or making real mashed potatoes!), we needed to follow the directions precisely.

I've got a decent amount of horseradish root that I dug up from the yard last weekend. I'm keeping the roots (about a half dozen 6 inches in length, 1/2 to 1 inch thick) in the fridge wrapped in newspaper for the time being. I did make some mustard with a couple of grated teaspoons of it yesterday. I'm trying to figure out what to do with the rest and/or how to best preserve it for future use. Do you have any ideas? Traditional and modern ideas are both welcome. Thanks!

From-Scratch Horseradish Sauce

Bonnie also makes a killer horseradish thing for Passover. Maybe she'll share!

My grandmother loves fennel, and so every year I make a fennel dish just for her. Can I make this ahead? Do you think I could go as far as baking it the Wednesday prior and just re-heat?

You betcha. This would be a great Thanksgiving or Christmas side dish. 

Hi there - I'm a Maryland native with many fond memories of recipes and other great food writing from the WaPo around Thanksgiving and Christmas. I live near Philadelphia now, and this weekend I'm coming to DC for the first time in many years with my wife and son to see a play at the Kennedy Center, and I'm looking for a kid-friendly place for dinner convenient to the KC. (Someplace closer to Dupont Circle is OK, too -- that's where our hotel is.) It's been a while, so I'm not very familiar with the local offerings, but my son is 6, almost 7, and is a cooperative but sometimes distracted eater. We'd be eating on the early side, between 5 and 6, following the performance. Many thanks!

How about GBD in Dupont? Fried chicken, doughnuts (it's vacation, right?) and in Tom Sietsema's Fall Dining Guide!

Hi Rangers, I know you're talking turkey today, but since I'm hoping to make said Christmas cookies over Thanksgiving weekend, I hope it will be an acceptable Thanksgiving-related question...! For various reasons, I need to do my cookie baking over the Thanksgiving weekend, but I've never done it so early. If I plan on distributing around the 13th-16th of Dec., should I freeze what I make? My planned cookies are: gingersnaps (the soft kind, not the crisp kind); basically a butter cookie rolled in sugar, sliced and baked (made from Parkay only, butter doesn't actually work); and the third is from a flyer I got a few weeks ago that involves Funfetti cake mix and sprinkles and making some kind of sandwich cookie with them. (I forgot the recipes so I can't provide more details, unfortunately). Would those hold in airtight containers for two weeks, or should I freeze them? If freezing, do I freeze the dough or the baked cookies? Thanks!!

I think two weeks is too long to hold at room temp for most cookies. I'd freeze the cooked gingersnaps and Funfetti cookies (not the sandwiches, though -- I'd assemble them fresh). You could freeze the dough for the butter cookie.

Team, I am mourning the loss of the CapMac truck. I haven't been able to re-create the creaminess of their mac at home without it being TOO cheesy (yes, it's possible), or slightly greasy, or just not tasty enough. They also did a fajita one one time that knocked my socks off with their green salsa. Any chance that you have a connection with their chef, and we could get a recipe, or some background on why they closed?

If you haven't heard, the CapMac truck called it quits last week. It's a huge loss to the food truck scene. As is today's news (from City Paper's Jessica Sidman) that Cirque Cuisine is also leaving the streets behind.


But if you want to make excellent mac 'n' cheese at home, you need only one thing: Jane Touzalin's comprehensive look at the many ways to make the dish.

For the potato taste tests, it looks like the article is just a slideshow of the pictures of the bags, a description, and the final rating. Am I not seeing the part that you actually described why each spud got their rating? For example, did they lose because it was more clumpy than creamy, or lack of taste?

Yes, our Web team created two different files online for the taste test. You clicked on the slide show. There is also the main story, which you can read here.

I've been trying to reorganize my kitchen cabinets. I know enough to have things that I use often during actual cooking (like olive oil) in the cabinet closest to the stove (helps that the lowest shelf is very tall, presumably for just that reason), but after that I start to lose organization skils. I'm very short, so I was thinking about putting "one" or a few of each item also on a lowest shelf. And spices need to be low, but not too close to the stove. Any other recommendations? I keep a step ladder in the kitchen, so it isn't too painful to get stuff off a high shelf, but still. And obviously, some things (liked canned tomatoes) are used much more often than other stuff. Is there a general rule or set of rules to follow?

Hmm. You might want to rethink the oil storage -- next to a heat source is not so good. If you do want it to be close at hand, perhaps use  a much smaller pour-spout container (opaque, with lid) -- in fact, gather small containers of what you use a lot and put it on a tray (salt cellar, pepper grinder, vinegar, sugar)  somewhere not too close to where you cook.  Stuff that can go up high: platters, big serving bowls, extra glassware and plates. Think about putting heavy cans in a bottom/under-counter cabinet -- maybe see whether you can install those pull-out drawer kits. It'll save your back and keep you off the ladder. Our use the in-vogue peg system for stacking plates in pullout lower drawers, then your upper, eye-level cabinet can be freed up for much-deployed ingredients. 

I am trying to make a gluten free green bean casserole and haven't been able to find pre-existing fried onions, so I plan to make my own. Can I make them ahead of time? Would making them the day before be too early?

Sure, you can make them a day ahead. Do not store on paper towels -- that will make them soggy.  You can recrisp for a few minutes in the oven just before  you need them -- or if you're baking the casserole a la minute and they're on top, they'll crisp up anyway. 

Also, I've found those plastic containers of fried shallots (Asian aisle) are really, really great for just such a job. 

Bonnie mentioned this a few weeks ago, and I see the turkey breast recipe is now in the database! Is this something that only works for the breast, or can you do it for the whole bird? Some internet searching suggests that slow-roasting a turkey overnight is dangerous (bacteria breeding, etc), while others swear by it. What's the deal with this?

We're running outta time. Come back next week!

I have tried, and failed, four years in a row to make gingerbread cookies. The dough is always too soft and...runny. I've used various recipes, and always chilled everything. No matter what I've done, I just can't make it work. Do you have a foolproof recipe?

Try the aforementioned Raeanne's Gingerbread. It supposedly has a firmer texture. If you start feeling like your dough is getting to soft as you're rolling and cutting, you can always cover it and let it chill in the fridge for a few minutes.

Those guests who insisted on bringing something are bringing me wine and bread. I'm not very knowledgeable about wine, and the thought of making bread on Thanksgiving (after a failure last year!) was too much for me. They could bring you a vegetable side dish, a salad, or a great app.

Exactly. Although in my rushed-reading, I totally misinterpreted "app" as something on your phone and not an appetizer. That would be different!

I grew up hating sweet potatoes, having only eaten them in the marshmallowy casseroles. Now that I am older and realize there is more than one way to cook things, I am trying again with the much-healthier version of my beloved white potato. I had some success last night with a simple garlic-mashed recipe, essentially making a sweet potato exactly as I make my regular mashed potatoes. I definitely think I can eat the sweet potatoes in savory recipes. However, I noted that the consistency is not exactly the same. For future tries, is there anything I should know about substituting sweet potatoes for white ones in my regular recipes? General adjustments I should make, like changing proportions when I use brown sugar instead of white? Also, I'd love any awesome savory recipes I should try.

The sweet potato is so much more nutritious and doesnt have identical physical properties as whites may I   suggest halving the use of white potatoes substituting recipe with sweet potatoes.  The texture you want without lack of nutrition. A friend of mine does it all the time for mashers...she uses a ricer as well :)

I've found flavors increase significantly if you crush any vegetables you want to add to a brine. Instead of slicing onions for example, chop them up and crush them to release their juices (or process them to a mush.) You can even bloom some spices in a bit of oil before adding to the water, the flavor note becomes more pronounced.

Love this idea! 

Well, you've roasted us, shaking the pan every 5 minutes or so, until we are crisp and browned, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for all the great q's, and thanks to Lisa, Liz and Jim for helping us answer them.

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about cooking during a kitchen renovation will get "The Washington Post Cookbook" (as a way of inspiring ideas for the post-renovation meals to come!). The one who asked about freezing herbs will get Alice Waters' "The Art of Simple Food II." Send your mailing information to Becky at, and she'll get them to you!

Oh, and before I forget: Remember to check this SUNDAY's paper for our special pre-Thanksgiving section, the one that we do INSTEAD of publishing the day before the holiday. And come back next Wednesday for the live chat! It's always a lively one.

Happy cooking, eating and reading!

What would you suggest for grow-your-own if we only have a 4' x 8' raised bed to plant in? Would prefer something that is either not too overwhelming in season, or is good to put up by freezing or canning.

Tomatoes and herbs!!!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, Spirits columnist Carrie Allan, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and editorial aide Becky Krystal. Guests: Lisa and Elizabeth King of "Farm Kings" on Great American Country.
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