Free Range on Food: Thanksgiving

Nov 21, 2012

It's Thanksgiving, Part 2 here at Food section central.
Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions. Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, Free Rangers! As promised, we're including the questions from last week that we didn't get to answer, and we'll keep on blabbing till at least 1:30 p.m. Since last we exchanged bon mots, Tim Carman has filed his Immigrant's Table column on a Cuban feast for post-Thanksgiving; Terri Wuerthner added gems to our roster of holiday leftover recipes; and Spirits columnist Jason Wilson provided liquid alternatives to the pumpkin pie routine.  So bring on those questions -- even if they're not remotely related to a holiday with stuffing.  The regular gang's all here, plus Jason, Bayou Bakery chef-owner David Guas, Cathy Barrow of Mrs. Wheelbarrow fame and Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick


For giveaways today: The chatter with the most entertaining -- and we hope, true -- story about Thanksgiving side dishes will win either "A Year of Pies" by Ashley English or "The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm" by Sam Beall. We'll announce winners at the end of session. 

(Dinner in 35 Minutes: Shrimp and Scallops With Tomato and Feta. At least one reader e-mailed to say she was distressed to see this dish in B&W, so here you go, ma'am.)

A big shout-out of thanks to the Washington Post food section and chat participants for being such an excellent resource all year 'round. I hope everyone has a delicious Thanksgiving. And looking forward to the next holidays, can you please tell me when the Washington Post cookbook will be avialable for purchase? Thank you!

We're blowing a big "Dating Game" mwah right back atcha. Cookbook's scheduled for a spring 2013 release. Working on finishing touches now! We couldn't have done it without our readers' great input. 

I bought a frozen turkey breast (3lbs) from the grocery store last week. It's thawed and ready to cook tomorrow (Thursday).... I see all these things about brining a turkey but they all call for 1 gallon of water and 1-2 cups of salt... I can't see needing that much for a little 3 lb turkey breast. What's the best recipe you have for a turkey breast brine?

Here are two recipes that involve brining the breast, and they call for either 8 or 9 cups of brine, no more, and far less salt. See if one of these meets your needs:

Brined Roasted Turkey Breast With White Wine Pan Sauce (photo below)

Chipotle-Rubbed Turkey Breast

I have a ten year old wonderful Circulon wok, which I use at least once a week for stir-frying. I usually make tofu and vegetables in it. I'm recently concerned about my hunch that it's non-stick, and may be leaching chemicals that are harmful. Do you think my Circulon wok is non-stick and is leaching harmful chemicals, and also do you have suggestions of another great wok I can replace it with?

Why go on a hunch? Try calling Circulon at 1-800-326-3933. But stir-fry queen Grace Young likes a well-seasoned carbon steel wok, which you can get from a variety of sources.

Hi, I know this isn't a Thanksgiving question but I was hoping y'all or some of the chatters could help me. I was recently diagnosed with gestational diabetes and am struggling to find a good, easy breakfast food. It turns out that any carbs at all in the morning sends my blood sugar skyrocketing. I had previously made little 'muffins' of eggs, sausage and cheese to reheat in the morning, but I was hoping for some more delicious suggestions or resources for recipes. Thanks!

We have a bunch of breakfast recipes in our database, but I picked out a few for you to consider: Potato QuesadillasRed Flannel Pork Hash and Mushroom and Asparagus Hash.

Mushroom and Asparagus Hash

Thankfully she is not opposed to the rest of us having turkey. What can be served that is substantial but is not a lasagna (not too many of us coming to dinner and don't have the oven space for the lasagna); we don't want her to eat just sides.

You could make a simple vegetable and bean stew for her and the others who want to enjoy as well.  Onions, chickpeas, tomatoes, lemon and cumin or curry powder is one idea. Or, you could do tex-mex with black beans, tomatoes, corn, jalapeno, scallions and tomato.

can you make a dressing a day before and then just rewarm while the turkey is resting?


Good news! You can make FDR's Chestnut Stuffing a day ahead, if you cover and refrigerate it, then bring it up to room temperature.  (Now that's a president who knew, ahem, how to serve his country.)


You can also make Brother Timothy's Stuffing a day ahead, should you not want to support FDR's approach to dressing. Same goes for the Corn Bread Apple "Sausage" Stuffing.

I've ended up with a much bigger group coming for Thanksgiving than I had anticipated. I'm desperately trying to figure out what I can prepare ahead of time (i.e., time) since the oven will be occupied with a big turkey. I was planning on making an apple pie, a pumpkin pie, and a coconut custard pie today. Do they all need to be refrigerated until I serve them tomorrow afternoon? I also would like to roast some vegetables in advance; will they still be as tasty if I do it today, refrigerate them, and let them return to room temperature? Thanks.

Space: The Final Frontier on Thanksgiving!

It's cold storage for the custard pie, for sure. The apple pie probably doesn't need refrigeration. Food safety types recommend refrigerating the pumpkin pies we make at home (as opposed to the store-bought ones which may have preservatives or use pasteurized eggs, etc).


Do you have a big cooler, or even a well-constructed cardboard box? You could rig up a stacked pie storage system using your wire cooling racks and gel ice packs. Roasted vegetables would be fine to reheat, perhaps with a little broth. 

I have a small amount of steel cut oats and wondered what else, aside from oatmeal, I can use them for? I learned I'm not the biggest fan of the steel cut oat in oatmeal form so if there's an alternate option, I'm open. Along those lines, and just tossing this out there, what about Cream of Wheat? I grew up eating it and loved it, however I've moved on to Old Fashioned Oats so this hardly gets any use. Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving!

Oooh, the best use I've ever made of steel-cut oats is this Chocolate Coconut Porter Cake we ran earlier this year.

Chocolate Coconut Porter Cake

I'm only turning up one recipe for Cream of Wheat, which is Cream of Wheat With Berries from Michel Richard.

Cream of Wheat With Berries

I recently discovered fennel. We love slicing the bulb thin and roasting it. I've sauted the stalks with olive oil, garlic, a little red wine and mushrooms with great success. What else can I do with this delightful vegetable? What do you do with all the little leaves? I hate filling my compost with them!

LOVE fennel, raw and cooked. Pls check out these Post for the fronds: Use them as you would herbs;  place them inside a whole fish with lemons then grill, baby, grill; dry them and use them as aromatics IN the grill; chop and add to poaching liquid for fish or chicken breasts;  in vegetable broth; for bouillabaisse; blend into a paste or rub with garlic and salt for any application. And that's just for starters. 


Chatters and Free Range guests, what do you like to do with them? #friendswithfronds

I'm hosting a vegetarian Thanksgiving for my in-laws. Last year I made a veggie lasagna that seemed to be quite goopy out of the oven. Maybe I should have let it sit for an hour before serving. So this year I have come up with the following menu: - green bean casserole - brussel sprouts - twice baked stuffed potatoes - rice stuffed peppers or rice dish with currants and herbs - cranberry sauce Can you think of anything else I can add to dinner? Will this be sufficient amount of food for 6 adults and 2 children? The only stipulations that I have been given is to not have too much cheese or mushrooms, they don't care for it. I suppose I don't need a gravy as I have nothing to pour it on.

You're missing the protein here. Would you'd be willing add a bean salad? Here's one of my favorites, a Black and White Bean Primavera Salad. Feel free to make it as much as a day ahead of time. Or, if you want something hot, try this warm Cumin-Scented Chickpeas with Spinach and Rice.

Some of our closet friends welcomed their first baby a few weeks ago. Their out of town visitors are winding down and I'd like to provide some meals that can be easily frozen for some of the sleep deprived weeks ahead. Since I haven't been through this myself yet, what would be the most welcomed items for the new parents?

Look at our Make It, Freeze It, Take It recipes. A bunch of winners in there.

When I was fresh out of college I took an internship in Washington D.C. Like many others, I could not afford to go home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, thus elected to stay in the District for Thanksgiving. A friend of mine hosted a Friendsgiving where everybody brought side dishes and she made a turkey. My friend did not assign side dishes so about half the guests brought dressing. It turned out to be a happy accident because stuffing varies greatly by region and many of them were on display. It was great to experience the same dish in many different formats. And definitely worth the carb loading.

Our first side dish entry! Keep 'em coming. 

So if you separate the fat for making gravy, what do you do with the turkey fat that's left?

If you ask me, the best thing to do is make a roux. Place three or four tablespoons of turkey fat into a saute pan, mix in an equal amount of flour and then cook until golden and you can no longer taste the flour. Stir in your pan drippings, broth, seasonings and any other flavoring agents and -- voila! -- you have gravy. Mmm, gravy.

I am making my first-ever fruit pie for Thanksgiving! Do you have any hints for me - especially how to tell when it's done? (It has a top crust so I won't be able to see the filling)

While this may not be the tidiest of answers, I usually wait until the filling burbles through the vents in the top crust. Pies cook for a long time - at least an hour - so let that crust get browned and wait for a spill! Pie-Maven Kate McDermott swears by the listening technique. Listen for the bubbling filling!

FYI, the link to the chat does not appear on the FOOD section home page (it's on the WaPo home page, but I usually look for it on Food when I am reading all your great articles.)

Yep, we're aware. But you found us, right? 

Thank you for doing this chat. Two questions please: 1) Can I make my sweet potato and sorghum chocolate pecan pies today and leave them on the counter lightly covered? 2) I couldn't find sorghum but have molasses. Can this be used instead? Thank you!

I usually make my crusts the day (or several days) before, then bake off the pies over breakfast. Have your fillings all ready to go and it's really quick to put together.

After my parents' divorce, the role for making Thanskgiving dinner fell to me. So I dove into this task, ready to make a mindblowing meal for my family. Except that I didn't realize that you can't just quadruple a recipe for pie crust, and you really can't use a Kitchenaid mixer to make it. What a disaster. You also can't thicken a gravy using cornstarch if your gravy isn't on the stove. I kept adding cornstarch, knowing it would eventually thicken. Nope, it went straight from thin to goopy and stringy. STRINGY. I didn't even know that could happen. The upside to that disaster is that I read up on what I did wrong for the following year. My sister commented that after ruining the gravy the previous year, I came back and beat everything into submission. I now understand the magic of pie crust and I make a faaab pan dripping gravy. Yay! Happy thanksgiving to all y'all at Free Range!

I'm totally with you on the can't-quadruple-a-pie-crust thing. In what I can only claim as temporary holiday-prep-induced insanity, I tried to triple one the other night. Not good.

Do you know if salting vegetables to remove moisture (e.g., cabbage, eggplant, zucchini) has the effect of significantly reducing their vitamin content? thank you

Checked with prof Bob Wolke, author of our food flub article: He says probably not. Salting removes water by osmosis, but vitamin molecules are too big to through an osmotic membrane (that's the vegetables'  cell walls, for us non-science types).  The only water-soluble vitamins are C and B-complex; he couldn't find any studies that measure their amounts in the extracted water. 

How many days in advance can I boil my green beans before assembling it into a casserole or adding a sauce, or sauteing it with other? Also, can brussel sprouts be boiled a day or so ahead and then sauted with butter the day of? Can the filling of a stuffed potato be made a day ahead and then stuffed and baked the day of? I'm guessing the flavors in cranberry sauce would meld nicely if they sat for a day?

Both the beans and Brussels sprouts can be boiled a day in advance. Plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking, lay them out to dry and then pat them dry to store. I like to wrap mine in several paper towels, then stash them in plastic bags, like the ones in the supermarket produce department, then refrigerate.

Yes, you can make the potato filling a day ahead, too. And the cranberry sauce is a definite advance project -- it develops flavor as it sits.

Okay, I see you're trying to get a head start. First, a big no to cooking Brussels sprouts the day before. They will get too cabagge-y. The cranberry sauce, on the other hand, go ahead and make, cool and refrigerate. Stuffed potatoes are good to go as well as long as there is no egg in your filling. That would have to be added right before cooking. Green beans can be coiled in salt water (5 to 7 minutes, shocked in a bowl of ice water, drained and refrigerated for up to 8 hours. You can probably get away with more, but I wouldn't push it.

Not a question, more a rant to all the people who see no problem with changing the timing of the Thanksgiving meal at the last minute: Please think before you do this. People put a lot of prep work into this meal and have a schedule set up so they don't crazy on the day of. If you say the meal is actually going to be on Friday and that we're leaving for your parents on Thursday, stick to it! Don't tell me at the last minute we're now leaving Wednesday night (when I had planned to bake) and having the dinner on the actual holiday. Ahhh!!! (I still love my husband, he just drives me nuts sometimes.)

Feel better now? Any further problems, though, and we may need to direct you to Carolyn Hax's chat.

Can you recommend a marinade for a turkey breast? I want to make sure it's moist, and I was going to brine it, but I'd prefer less salt.

Unsweetened, fresh apple cider works remarkably well. Toss in some bay leaves or a bunch of thyme, some whole black peppercorns, as much salt and/or brown sugar as you'd like. 

Just to be different: What's the worst thing you ever were served for Thanksgiving dinner? Mine would have to be undercooked sweet potato casserole. Wishing all a great holiday from sunny Baton Rouge!

Like it! We may have to toss in another prize cookbook if this prompts a riot of good responses. 

The year of no mashed potatoes. That was a disaster.

My mixed radish seed pack was very heavy on daikons. I need new ways to use them up beyond just raw in salads/sandwiches. Saw tomato-kimchi-chi, but will that be lackluster in tomato off-season? Also saw the daikon slaw recipe, but I hate sour cream. The other recipes that popped up in a daikon search involved ingredients that are going to be hard for me to find where I live in rural MD. Any ideas? Huge bonus if I can somehow use them for Thanksgiving!!!

I loved the Kimchi-chi (but I wouldn't call it Thanksgiving-friendly). Since the ingredients end up essentially pickled, you probably could get away with using a decent supermarket tomato, such as Campari, or farmers market tomatoes (which probably are from hothouses at this point in the year). 

Did you see the recipe for Celery Root and Apple Salad? Yes, it's another salad, but it looks delicious, and the ingredients are readily available. (Maybe not the prosciutto, but that's a garnish so you don't necessarily need it. Also, if your store doesn't have Boursin, you can buy Rondele.)


thank you for the special Thanksgiving focus--I'm freaking out. We have 15 people, some vegetarians, some in-laws (special class of their own). Everybody wants their own stuffing, etc. How many side dishes is reasonable? And it can be Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes, right? What's your favorite non-starchy side? Can I serve a carrot slaw? How many side dishes would be ridiculous? If people complain, who can I blame? How can I convince my mother-in-law to stay out of the kitchen?

OK, first, deep breath.

Now, of course everyone wants their own stuffing! You can accomodate them! Make a basic stuffing with bread cubes, some herbs, stock and butter. Chop and cook onions, celery, apples and whatever everyone is screaming they Must Have. Now, mix up baseball sized stuffings, each with a unique combination of ingredients, and bake in a greased muffin tin.

Make as many side dishes as you want, but hold the quantity served to six or eight, as people will take smaller servings.

Mashed potatoes? Must. But that's just me.

No blame is necessary, just serve more wine.

As to your mother in law, I'm not sure what to say. It's a nice day to visit the Zoo?

I had NO idea you couldn't multiple a pie crust recipe. I love this chat and thanks for averting THAT disaster for me :)

I'm making apple crisp and have always made it with Jonathan apples. However, I can't find any nearby (we're in the South and my mother can always find them at Publix, but the closest Publix is 40 minutes away from me!). Any good substitutions? Thank you!

Might be better to tell us what selection you've got and we'll go from there.  First suggestions: Jonagolds or Galas. 

Anyone know of a delicious, no fail recipe for vegetarian and/or vegan stuffing! It's one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving, and I hate when I can't partake!

Yes, I have a vegetarian stuffing! Here's the link.

And we had a recipe for Corn Bread Apple "Sausage" Stuffing two years ago.

No question, just a comment. I like the Food section a lot, but I miss Robert Wolke's column. It was a great pleasure to see his work in last Wednesday's paper! Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Made us happy too.   Here's an archive of some of his Food 101's for those who might not know them. (He did NOT pose for the illo, below, I have it on good authority.)

What are instructions for flattening out a turkey to cook? I read about it somewhere...suggesting taking out the backbone and flattening the turkey to cut cooking time down to about an hour and retaining juice. Mary Ellen McWilliams

Magic word: spatchcocking (or butterflying). 

This Herb-Crusted Roast Turkey recipe has the directions.  And here's an  (audio slide show) in case you want to reassemble the bird for display. 

we have a fairly small group (7 people - 2 of whom are elementary school aged boys). Everyone will be there early to help with the meal and hang out, and so I need several appetizers and nibbles to keep everyone going until dinner. What are some fun, crowd-pleasing, and fairly easy things I can make? thanks!


Funny, but we were just having this disucssion yesterday: What to serve before the big Thanksgiving meal that a) won't fill people up but b) will keep them out of the kitchen while you cook?


You might try these Grovery Cleveland Parsnips Fritters, which would make excellent snacks (pictured above). You could also serve oysters, which are excellent this time of year and are low-calorie to boot.  You might also consider something like this pumpkin dip recipe, which is lighter than those gut-busting pates often available before dinner.


Here are two more ideas: Deviled-Eggy Crab Spread and Pumpkin Seed Brittle (which might keep the kids happy while they wait).

Any recipes that use a microwave or stove-top or that don't require cooking, just shaking?

How about Hot Mix? It's tasty and slightly unusual. 

I always love looking through those and I can't find them this year...thank you!

They will unfold like the petals of a healthy poinsettia in our ongoing Holiday Guide

Hello! My father was recently diagnosed with diabetes, so I'm scrambling to find good recipes of his favorites that we can all enjoy. First on the list is a pumpkin and/or apple pie. Second, a creative cocktail that's low on sugar, but high on fall flavors. Anyone have any idea where I can start to find *good* recipes? I've found lots of low-sugar options, but would love something tried and true that's guaranteed to please!

Does your father like "spirit-forward" (ie. boozy) cocktails? If he doesn't, maybe give them a try? Plenty of cocktails don't rely on fruity sugar syrups. Maybe he'd like a Manhattan?

Help I am at a loss. I need a non diary dish that I can use for my open house, that can be made ahead of time and is kid friendly. I would like it to be a warm dish. No pork or soups please. Thank you

Sounds a little odd, but I promise it's good: Pasta and Tomato With Honey-Mustard Sauce.

Hello all, Posting early as I am abroad: I recently discovered buckwheat kernels and really love it! I am a bit hard pressed though to find a lot of recipes and am keen to try new ways to incorporate the filling and nutty flavor. So far I have made Indian daal with buckwheat (subbing for rice), Moroccan style salad with tomatos-onions-cucumbers, vinegar, and bw, and bw with fried onions, walnuts, and parsley. Any other ideas? Sorry this is not a thksgiving topic!

I just happen to have a box of buckwheat groats, which are dehulled buckwheat kernels, on my desk right now. It has recipes for pilaf and tomato soup. Go to the Web site for the maker, Burkett Mills, and you'll find buckwheat products and recipes there. They also sell a buckwheat cookbook. 

I have been making pies for nearly 40 years. I use our supermarket brand butter flavored shortening, flour, salt and ice water in the recipe from my Betty Crocker cookbook. I use a fork to mash the shortening in until it is in pieces the size of peas. I roll it out on a dishtowel and put it in the pie plate. My crust is always flaky. I have never had it get soggy, even when my fillings were less than stellar. But for years now, every recipe I see calls for some elaborate mixture of butter and/or oil, sometimes along with other odd ingredients and complex procedures, like refrigerating the crust before rolling it out, or using a food processor. I feel like I am as trendy as the next guy, always looking for new, good recipes, but I just don't understand it. Why mess with simple and good? It makes me feel like an old fogey!

Here's what I think: You have The Touch [insert sound of angels singing here], and I mean that sincerely.  You might not have had it when you began, but your hands know what to do by now.  It might be more important than the ingredients. You know how not to overwork the dough and obviously this endeavor's not  a source of stress for you.  Bet you have a trusty oven.


Mightn't you be curious though, about how the other methods compare? When vodka's added to reduce the moisture or someone riffs on a way to roll out the dough (Alton Brown's, using a pastry cloth, etc.), those help to eliminate or reduce some of the difficulties that home cooks encounter in the process of making pie crust. 


I'm kind on the fence about whether an all butter or butter/lard combo is best for the crusts I make (kinda depends on the filling, I'm thinking lately). In any case, I salute you. 

From one pie lady to another, I think the most important thing is speed. I just keep moving. Flour to pie dough takes me only about 10 minutes. I only go to chill it after the dough is rolled out and in the pan.

Been poring over smoked turkey recipes, but I sure could use a basic guideline - what should be my target temp, and is there a risk of oversmoking for a 12-14 lb. bird? If it matters, it's a heritage and I'm planning a dry brine treatment before smoking.

You want to bring the turkey to 155°, as it will achieve the 165° internal temp you want as it rests. Yes, there is a risk of oversmoking. Plan on 15 minutes per pound, and make sure the turkey has time to dry if you are rinsing off the dry brine before you start smoking. I use a mop to keep the meat moist.

In my younger days I used to enjoy buying a jug of hard cider (or was that cider that kind-of fermented on it's own?) and a flask of southern comfort and mix the two while camping in my mug. Good memories. Not sure if I'd like the combination these days... For after dinner, I have a bottle of Braulio from a recent trip where I drove through Valtellina. I'll probably drink some straight - any thoughts on mixing it?

I love Braulio. I was actually told this past summer that it will  soon be available in the U.S. (when? idk). You could insert Braulio into a number of different cocktails calling for an amaro. Maybe try it in a Negroni in place of Campari? Maybe sub out white or dry vermouth for sweet in that case?

As for the Stone Fence, I think you might still enjoy it as adult. Get a high-quality cider such as Farnham Hill from New Hampshire or from Domaine Dupont in Normandy, and a good value bourbon or apple brandy. Here's my Stone Fence.

I'd like to run into a Stone Fence right about now. Gonna be a long day/night in the kitchen. 

Hello, Rangers, I'm sooo glad you're here to help!! On the White House thyme turkey recipe, we have the following doubts -- What to do if the thyme/sugar mixture doesn't melt the 3 gallons of ice? Should the garlic be peeled or just cut in half? If the turkey's more or less than 20 pounds, what needs to be adjusted? Gravy boat-loads of thanks -- And best wishes for your own meals!

Your goal with the ice is to cool off the brine mixture as fast as possible. If it stays warm, you can do what I did: Put some in the refrigerator (or freezer) in smaller containers and put the rest outdoors in the cold air. It will cool fairly soon. Then go ahead with adding the turkey.

Don't peel the garlic -- just cut it in half horizontally and drop it in.

If the turkey is within a few pounds of 20, no need to adjust anything. If it's way more or way less, just make more or less brine, multiplying or dividing equally for all of the ingredients, including the water. You want the same brine solution, just a different amount of it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hi. I'm making two pies this year: apple and pumpkin. I saw some decorative pie crusts and thought they would be awesome! Because I'll blind-bake my crusts, do you have any suggestions on how to work shapes or fun edges into them? Or is it as easy as adding the embellishments, blind baking, regular baking, and everything turning out just fine? Thanks!

Why not bake off the embellishments when you blind bake the crusts? Pie crust needs about 40 minutes to cook through, so if your pie recipe is in the oven for 40 minutes to an hour, you can add the embellishments as you bake the pie.

Thanks for the Mamie Eisenhower recipe! I grew up eating pumpkin chiffon and so did my mother. Turns out, we've been using that same recipe for years but had lost it in a move somewhere along the line. My grandmother had clipped it from an article when my mom was a kid. Now it's back again!

Go Mamie! I was happy to test that recipe. Very light, with a nice balance of spices. I'm doing little pots of the  filling for those at my table who want/need to skip the crust. Plus, serving it is making me a feel a tad more American

As a health-conscious senior, I'd like to know the sodium content of brined turkey. And if you make gravy from brined turkey drippings, doesn't that compound the problem? Would the gravy be palatable?

Gravy fixings can indeed be too salty, depending on the brine used and length of time the bird is brined. I think Cook's Illustrated and Harold McGee have tried assess the true measure of brine solution within the meat.  There are ways to get around that....roast wings ahead of time, for example. 

Happy almost thanksgiving! My husband has requested a parsnip and carrot puree. Something he said his mom used to make when he was a kid. Unfortunately she's no longer around to share her recipe. Any idea on good recipes or places to look? Confused on what the parsnip/carrot ratio should be and if I should just boil and smash like I would potatoes.

Have a look at this recipe for carrot puree we have in our database. I don't see why you couldn't replace some of the carrot with parsnip. Not sure about the ratio, though, but experimenting shouldn't cause too many problems. It will probably affect the color more than anything else.

Take a look at this root vegetable puree; on my table every year. 

I received a last minute request to make gluten free cornbread stuffing for Thanksgiving. I've made the cornbread base, but I would love any suggestions for how to put it all together. My normal recipe comes from a box, but that won't work with the allergies this year.

Try adding some caramelized onions, celery and crumbled crisp bacon. Moisten with butter (or the bacon fat, be decadent!) and chicken stock (gluten free) and then bake at 350 until it's nice and crispy, about an hour.

My mom made a pumpkin pie last year for the first time (she normally buys them). She forgot to add any of the sugar! Let me tell you, that was an...interesting dessert. Blech.

I feel so bad for her. Give her a hug from me. I've had my share of disasters.

Last year my family was being difficult about hosting Thanksgiving and clear direction was not given about what to bring. Everyone assumed that someone else was bringing the sides, so they would be nice and bring dessert. You can never have too much dessert, right? We ended up with a pie per person, but no stuffing, green bean casserole, or cranberry sauce! This year we are coordinating better.

Did you read that Slate piece about a mom who makes 19 pies for a 20-guest Thanksgiving dinner? 

My girlfriend cooked eggplant parmesan just to be "different". She slaved and sweated, finally placing the main plate on the table in triumph. Two bites in I realized she was the worst cook ever. The eggplant was tough as leather strops, the sauce was a gooey super sweet koolaid mutation. When she got up to powder her nose, I quickly gave 80% of my meal to her ridiculously obese dog that had been sitting under the table, probably accelerating its demise two months later. She then spent the rest of the night in a phone fight with her ex-boyfriend. Ahhhhh, to be young again...

Do the pro's here call it stuffing or dressing? I'm a stuffing person, even though I don't actually like it and can't eat it because I'm gluten-free.

My understanding is that technically stuffing is baked inside of something and dressing in a separate dish, but I think it's more of a regional thing. What you call the stuffing has more to do with where you come from. I'm a stuffing girl myself.

I'd be concerned about the potatoes in the (otherwise lovely) recipes you suggested if the person is having blood sugar spikes from carbs in the morning. Check into the extensive resources from the university-research-based for foods with low GI -- that is, the have little or no sugars and digest more slowly without causing blood sugar spikes. And, while the diabetes part needs attention, Mazel Tov on the gestational part.

OK, thanks for that! Seems like a nutritional counselor or physician could help too.

I want to make sugared/candied cranberries for gifting, do you know where I can find superfine sugar?

Superfine (also known as caster) sugar should be available at a lot of grocery stores. Or if you have a food processor, make your own -- 1 cup plus 2 tsp granulated sugar will get you 1 cup of superfine.

It's in most well-stocked supermarektes. If you can't find it in the baking aisle, look where the bar mixes are shelved.

Can chef Guas please explain what yuca is and what it tastes like? Is it the same thing as yucca, spelled with two Cs? (I don't know what that is, either.) I've never had it but am tempted to try it, because the recipe looks fairly simple.

Yuca is a root, a starchy root. It looks like a dark, waxy thick skinned long root. Once it is peeled and segmented, then either boiled in salt water, or boiled then fried it is the best. Very special, not your typical potato. Yes, Yucca and Yuca, you see it both ways.


I know this question is a bit akilter, but I just can't get a good answer anywhere. Jason is my last chance. I was at a very historic, upscale bar in Washington with my lady. She ordered a chardonnay, and I ordered an expensive single malt Scotch neat. The bartendar brought my friend her wine, and brought the bottle of Laphroig and an empty glass over and set it in front of me, and walked away without a word. I mean, he actually left the bar (only one other couple in the place) for about 5 minutes, during which time I could easily have poured myself generous servings, that is if I weren't a genteel man of manners. How should I have handled this? Just poured willy nilly, and told the bartendar how many drinks I had? Or was I supposed to wait for him to pour the second drink? It was like a Dodge City bar where the barkeep plops a bottle of rotgut on the bar with a dusty shot glass and walks away. Help!!!!

Wow. That is kinda weird. Please tell me where this bar is because I will become a regular! No, no. As a gentleman, I guess I would have waited a moment to see if he'd return, but I mean...he left the bottle there, right? I guess at some point, I would have poured a 1.5 oz (or 2 oz) serving. And then when he returned -- after asking him where the hell he went -- I would tell him what I poured. Odd.

The entire meal was beige (tukey, gravy, some sort of instant potato nonsense, etc.). Nothing green in sight!

Do you have recipe for whole cranberry sauce? A little sweet, not tooo juicy? Thx

We have several. The one I'm making this year (and every year) is Cranberry and Fig Sauce, which is very thick. But you'd need to make it today since it needs to sit awhile to pick up flavor. There's also Cranberry and Golden Raisin Sauce and Cranberry Tangerine Sauce.

Cranberry Tangerine Sauce, in progress.

Last week someone posted about wanting to make the cranberry sauce from Chicken Out. I agree it's great and I've made something similar for years. Make the basic sauce as directed on the bag of cranberries, let it completely cool. Add (canned) mandarin oranges (amount up to you) and chopped pecans or walnuts. If you add the oranges when it's hot they'll fall apart.

Thanks for following up.

As a Korean I just needed to say that we have kimchi on our thanksgiving table every year right alongside the turkey. It would not be the same without it. A better accompaniment to the turkey than cranberries any day!

Another country heard from, as they say!

I do love that Tomato Kimchi-chi, and I'd eat it with anything.

Becky's suggestions sound good but the person said that carbs need to be avoided and all three recipes contain potatoes....

Yeah, I flubbed, I'm sorry. Sometimes we read things too fast. Thankfully, you all are sharp enough to correct us.

I plan to bake a bunch of mini caramelized onion quiches in a muffin tin. Can these be done ahead and reheated or at least assembled the day before and baked off before everyone assembles?

Quiches are best made ahead of time, so the custard can thoroughly set. Go right ahead and bake them, then reheat. 

While he's visiting for Thanksgiving, my nephew (14) wants me to teach him some simple recipes for meat and fish. I was thinking basic stovetop steak, burger, and fish techniques, but wonder if you have some good simple recipes that I can give him. He's kosher, so no meat and dairy. Thanks for your help! He's a great kid and I love that he wants to learn about cooking.

Our former Gastronomer, Andreas Viestad's, way of poaching fish is a winner: good explanation, good recipes. Especially this bit about fish prep. It takes a few minutes but makes a big difference. 


"Fish should, of course, be fresh -- preferably very fresh. It should be firm-fleshed and should not have what is often erroneously referred to as a "fishy" smell: the odor of triethylamine and of fish fats that are starting to spoil. (Fish is healthful because it contains higher levels of unsaturated fats, but for the same reason, it will oxidize more easily.) 

If you soak the fish in ice-cold water, the flesh firms up nicely. If you also add a little salt, you will get a mild brining effect and a more juicy result. A teaspoon or so of vinegar or lemon juice will help neutralize triethylamine and its offensive smell. Those techniques are not enough to make an old fish seem brand-new, but they will make an acceptable store-bought fish a whole lot better. 

Method: Fill a container 2/3 full of cold water. Add salt (about 2 tablespoons per quart of water) and 1 to 2 teaspoons white vinegar or lemon juice. Add the fish and a handful of ice cubes. Let soak for anywhere between 15 minutes and several hours. To soak for a longer period, place the bowl in the refrigerator and refresh with a few ice cubes about a half-hour before you cook the fish."

Chatters, what else should we lay on the young man? 



Hi Rangers, I'll be working on Thanksgiving, & all weekend, which makes it work well to have everyone else off for family visits. I'd like a nice meal nonetheless. Will have some time to prep Wednesday, & Thursday morning. There will be pie. But what else? Great ideas for a reasonable amount of bird, for interesting sides, that might feed me into the weekend? I'm a passable cook, rather than a good one, with a limited kitchen. Thanks for your help.

Roasted sweet potatoes, with fresh rosemary and caramelized onions, one of my favorites. You can roast the potatoes skin one in a 325* oven for 1 1/2 hours. Peel them, add a butter, salt, a pinch of eitheq brown sugar, cane syrup or maple. Saute sliced sweet onions with chopped fresh rosemary and butter, then add to the peeled potatoes. Using a wooden spoon stir together, and there you go.

Hello, I'm invited to a early thanksgiving-esque dinner this weekend. I've volunteered to bring either a soup or a salad. It's going to be about 12 or so people. Any thoughts for a soup or salad for a somewhat experienced novice cook. I go to farmers markets regularly. I can also follow a recipe well and have a blender as well as medium-size Kitchen-Aid food processor. The only request is that the salad contain apples or pears. Thank you.

I make Sherried Pumpkin Apple Soup almost every year. It's rich-tasting and complex; you don't need big portions, so it can be served in a cup or dessert bowl.

Hi Rangers, So, on a whim, I took the plunge to buy and make my first turkey this year, with a plan to brine. Unfortunately, I bought a butterball, which I'm gathering isn't good for brining. It's a 20-lber; any suggestions on how to make this a juicy, flavorful turkey since I can't brine it? Or am I better off donating it?? Thanks!

The Butterball folks say it's not necessary to brine their "pre-basted" birds.  It's been a few years since we did a taste test with a B-ball turkey, but as I recall it ranked fairly well. Why brine if you don't have to? (I would take out that pop-up timer thingy, though. Almost worthless.)

Do you have a recipe for an Iranian type rice dish with lots of yummy things in it?


Oh, I love Persian rice! I learned how to make it recently with the help of chef Maziar Farivar from Peacock Cafe. I made a version at home that included no extras (delicious on its own), but you could also try Persian cooking instructor Najmieh Batmanglij's Saffron-Flavored Steamed Rice (pictured above), which includes cardamom and cumin.

I'm constantly buying avocados, letting them ripen on the dining table, putting them into the fridge when ripe, and then throwing them away the next week when they are brown in the center. Does the fridge do bad things to avocados?

The Hass Avocado People recommend refrigerating the whole, ripe fruit for 2 or 3 days max.  Did you know that you can freeze avos? by cutting the avocado, removing the pit, rubbing the cut sides with the juice and then wrapping tightly in plastic wrap (with the wrap directly on the surface). 

I think the problem with the fridge is that you forget about the avocados, especially after a day or two. Best to use them up. I like to add cubed avaocado to salads and I'll make a snack of sliced avocado with lime, a little drizzle of oil and a sprinkling of salt.

We are hosting a progressive dinner in our neighborhood. What would you recommend serving at the entree portion of the night? We'd like the hosts to attend the appetizer portion of the night, so we were thinking of crock pot dishes or hearty stews/soups. Any other more inventive ideas?

Lots of ideas, but how many people are you serving?

I love roasted Brussel sprouts and I have had them in restaurants with bacon so I wanted to re-create for thanksgiving. However, all the recipes I am finding online with bacon are actually sauteed on the stove top. Is there a reason adding bacon to the roasting Brussels wouldn't work or should I just trust that the stove top will give a similar effect?

No, I think the oven will work just fine. You might need to experiment with the roasting time, but I'm betting halved sprouts and diced bacon will need to roast for about the same amount of time. Stir once or twice during the roasting time. Brussels sprouts-roasted, steam or braised-are a favorite of mine too.

No reason at all. In fact, here's a recipe that follows the exact process you describe.


I should note that I recently winged it for a large, family-style dinner party: I roasted the sprouts in the oven and added the mix-in ingredients later. There wasn't a sprout left. Plus, I got all that delicious browning/char that makes oven-roasted sprouts so tasty.

We love our Silpat Hate that it never seems clean Don't have a dishwasher

Join the crowd.  Silpat manufacturers allow that the "oily feeling after washing is normal."  Use warm soapy water (soap used to clean dishes in the sink) and dry thoroughly. 

For the newbies, this is a super simple recipe that my mom taught me. In a pot combine one cup of sugar, one cup of water, and one bag of cranberries. Cook on low until everything pops. To add more flavor, add a splash of Cointreau, raisins or other dried fruits, zest of lemon and/or orange, chopped apples. The sky is the limit!!

Happy Thanksgiving! My husband is making a pecan pie for tomorrow and I'd like to make the crust. It's my mother's recipe and she always just bought a deep dish crust. Does a homemade crust recipe need any adjustments for deep dish? Thanks!

Most recipes make more dough than you need anyway so you should be fine with a deep dish. You'll just have fewer trimmings.

Instead of an apple pie, I decided to make an apple strudel this year, mainly because I found a box of frozen phyllo. How much of this dessert can be made ahead of time (ie. day before)? In some recipes, cookie crumbs are added between each layer of phyllo and butter, and in other recipes the cookie crumbs are mixed into the apples. Does it matter, or is it a question of the apples being cooked, as some recipes use raw apples and others sauteed apples. Please advise.

The cookie crumbs are a riff on the classic streudel filling which uses bread crumbs between the layers of phyllo, keeping the layers light and crisp. You could make it ahead and reheat to serve, or serve at room temperature.

Any recommendations and where I can pick it up. Looking for something besides the usual recommendations and preferrably from the Highlands to toast my collie puppy girl who passed away unexpectedly! TIA

Sorry to hear of your loss. Since I'm not sure what price range you're looking in -- the 10-yr-old Glenmorangie, at around $45, is a classic, great value...and then a 50-yr-old Dalmore will set you back $1,500. It's even hard to define "beyond-the-usual". While Oban might be old hat, for instance, the 18 yr old bottling at $125 is something special. Perhaps a Dalwhinnie 15 yr old, at around $85? Such is the range of prices with single malts.

I follow the ketogenic diet (very low-carb), and some of my favorite breakfasts are cabbage and caraway sauteed in butter, eggs and bacon, spinach omelets, ham steak, broccoli and leftovers. You can also make fantastic pancakes out of coconut flour and other LC goodies; check out the blog I Breathe... I'm Hungry.

More suggestions for the mom-to-be.

I'm traveling a couple hours to my parents' and I've agreed to bring appetizers. I'm planning on making a fancy dip and then maybe some mini-spanakopita with puff pastry. For the spanakopita, if I bake them halfway and then finish in the toaster oven at my parents', will they turn out nice and crispy or dry and tough? If they won't come out delicious, what (vegetarian) appetizer alternative do you suggest?

Make the spanakopita and then freeze them solid. Put them in a cooler for your trip, then pop them, frozen, into the toaster oven. They'll bake up perfectly.

I've been making my own ice cream for a few months now and am thinking of giving pints to neighbors as a gift. Do you have any suggestions on where i can buy inexpensive pint containers?

A restaurant supply store might carry them. Do you mind doing some online ordering? Sweet Bliss has some inexpensive options.

You could ask a local ice cream shop or even a Chinese takeout place. 

I'm sure we're not the only people who do this, but for those who mentioned not having enough oven space on Thanksgiving, consider kicking the turkey outside to the grill. We put ours in the usual roasing pan and cook it using indirect heat as if it were in an oven (works even better now that we upgraded to a grill connected to the house gas line). Frees up the oven and as a bonus, makes the neighborhood smell great!

Good suggestion. That's what Zach Patton and Clay Dunn, based on a Cook's Illustrated recipe, did for their Fakesgiving I wrote about.

According to a recent magazine article (Good Housekeeping? Better Homes?) dressing is not only cooked outside the bird but is traditionally a Southern U.S. term and denotes something creamier (often with eggs... gah). I believe the source for this info was the Southern Foodways Alliance. Nobody use me as a source, but if you're really interested I bet our friend Mr. Search Engine could help. Or your local library! According to the OED, the use of dressing as stuffing emerged in the early 16th century.

Well, that could be the most erudite thing posted in this session. (We have not set aside a prize for that, however.)

Chili, black bean soup, chicken soup, tacos....

Cream of Wheat? My family used it to make light, fluffy dessert dumplings. I can't find a recipe though, since they're all in Hungarian! I've used fennel fronds and bulbs to make stewed lamb: slice the bulbs and sautee with onions, add the seared lamb, barely cover with water and squeeze in orange halves. Put the cut-up orange rinds in too, and season with salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Let stew for a couple of hours. Try baking daikon radishes with some ginger and five-spice. The worst thing I ever served at Thanksgiving... a failed attempt at a mushroom stuffing. To this day I don't know what went wrong, but it tasted earthy --and not in a good way! After trying unsuccessfully to choke a few mouthfuls down, into the trash it went!

I have to say, I have been generally lucky in Thanksgiving food, but.... There was the year of the ham. I truly dislike ham. As a matter of fact, all of us do. Only 2 of the 12 there ate it. And no, there was no turkey. There was the year that all the rolls were those crescent rolls from the can. I hate those, and I love bread of many kinds. The year of Cool Whip and no whipped cream.

I baked an apple pie two weekends ago and popped it in the freezer. What is the best way to warm it tomorrow? Thaw or not thaw before putting it in the oven? Thanks!

Bake it frozen, starting at 425 for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 375* until the filling bubbles - about 30 minutes more.

Good afternoon and happy Thanksgiving! I loved the article about the Cuban feast with roast pork shoulder. I have tried to make this twice now (slow roasted in a low oven with an oil, garlic, and herb rub). The roasts have been really delicious, but my husband and I find that the fat content of this cut is too much for our digestive systems to handle (to put it as politely as possible). There is only one functioning gall bladder between us and the dish just ends up being too rich. Can you suggest an alternative cut besides pork shoulder for this type of roast? Maybe a pork loin? I understand that tenderloin probably wouldn't work. And yes, I did trim off all exterior fat down to 1/8 inch before cooking.

I would use a loin, but you would want to brine it first. 1/2 cup of salt, 1/4 cup sugar and 4 c water, soak overnight, then remove the pork and marinate in herbs, olive oil and garlic for a few hours in a zip lock bag. 400* for the first 20 minutes, then lower heat to 325* until the loin is 170 internal temp.

I've just been asked to bring stuffing for Thanksgiving. Fine, but it's a couple hours' ride away. Can I assemble it the night before, refrigerate it, and bake it when we get there? I'd transport it in a cooler. Or is it better to just bring the ingredients, prepped as much as possible--that is, everything chopped and measured--and assemble AND bake at our destination? It's this recipe, so the prep work isn't very involved, but I'd rather not have to ask for a pan and space on the stove top if I don't have to. Thanks!

Should be fine to assemble and bake there. It doesn't have eggs in it. Or to avoid any sogginess issues, bring the cooked onion/butter and broth in one Ziploc bag and the cubed cornbread, parsley, seasonings and celery in a separate one. 

Came back from Israel with a quart of "date honey" (which I think is probably syrup) and am wondering how to incorporate it into recipes that otherwise would use sugar. It ought to be awesome in a pumpkin-date bread!

My understanding is that you can use the "honey," which is derived from pressed dates and not bees, to sweeten drinks or to drizzle over pancakes and ice cream. Traditionally, the honey has been used as a dip for apples as part of Rosh Hashanah. 

Hi rangers - have a question about pumpkin pie. I'm making my first one this year, and can't pick a recipe. Most recipes are pretty similar (pumpkin, eggs, spices, sugar), but then differ in the dairy. I've seen recipes for evaporated or condensed milk, and some for cream - can you tell me which would be better? The last pumpkin pie I ate (someone else baked) had a chemical taste that I hated, so I'm wondering if that's coming from the canned dairy - do you guys have a view / preference?

I don't know when the condensed milk thing started with pumpkin pie, which is really just a custard flavored with pumpkin. I prefer milk, sometimes with a little cream. One year, I tried eggnog (not recommended.)

I'm challenging myself to use up some of the items in my pantry that have been there a little long. We have a potluck Thanksgiving dinner for 50+ people, so I'd like to make some "bonus" dishes with this stuff to bring on top of our regular contributions. Do you have any suggestions that would use any of the following? I'm kind of stuck on these except for maybe pineapple upside down cake using some of the cherries. A bag of mini marshmallows, 2 jars of marichino cherries, a bag of cocoa nibs, unsweetened coconut flakes. I'm open to any kind of dish!

Sounds more like a list of ingredients for holiday cookies. Stick to your plan for Thanksgiving and go wild with some cookie dough and your pantry items at the next holiday.

I am traveling 6 hours by car from work on Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I've offered to bake a pumpkin pie for the day. Could I bake the pie on Monday night and wrap it in plastic wrap until Thursday?

Sure, stashed in the fridge, right?

I always add a little to whatever dish has fennel in it and then sprinkle a few on top for "looks."

Loved the poem in the All You Can Eat post yesterday. Thanks for sharing it. Sometimes poetry seems so esoteric, but that poem was lovely: beautiful, evocative language and memory. Do you know anything more about the poet and does he have any more poems about food?

Jim Shahin's on the road today, but he was able to answer your question in advance. He says Jake Adam York teaches English and creative writing at the University of Colorado-Denver. He's written three books of poetry, and he worked on a critical study of artistic responses to the Civil Rights Movement. Check out his site.

The recipes for leftovers sounded interesting, but I was wondering if the ones using sweet potatoes were actually using leftover sweet potatoes. Both the soup and the side dish called for freshly mashed sweet potatoes. Most leftover sweet potatoes contain sugar and other ingredients. For instance, mine have bourbon, brown sugar, orange zest, and cinnamon. How could I get this to work in the soup?

They would still work fine in the soup -- it would just be a sweeter, spicier soup. Taste first before adding any more seasoning, and use your judgment about whether more is needed.

I'd like to recommend that the woman looking for carb-less breakfast suggestions check out some low-carb or "paleo" recipe sites. I'm on a low-carb diet and there are a million delicious breakfast options. The egg/sausage/cheese breakfast muffins can be varied with any number of veggies and/or spices (I love wrapping bacon around the muffin tin before adding the egg), or cooked in a pie pan instead of a muffin tin and turned into quiche. I've recently become a huge fan of stuffed mushrooms for breakfast (1 roll of sausage cooked with a small onion, 1 bar of cream cheese, 1 cup of mozzarella spooned into regular-sized mushroom caps), and they can be made ahead and reheated. The possibilities are endless. Good luck!

Good suggestions.

Happy Holidays to all and I hope everyone remembers that there may be a vegetarian and/or vegan at their holiday table and don't relegate these people to the side dishes only but expand your horizon and cook a dish that they and the carnivores will enjoy. I am bringing a butternut/macaroni casserole to share with my meat eating family that will serve as a main dish for me. I also learned how to make pie crust and have an apple pie that I made and will take with me (so proud). Safe travels to everyone.

Yes, I agree. It's clear more people are moving to vegetarian and vegan diets, and it's important to make everyone feel happy and welcome at the Thanksgiving table. (The holiday should never be a macho, meat-heavy exercise in exclusion; that's so not in the spirit of Thanksgiving.)


Last year, Becky compiled a great list of vegan and vegetarian dishes for Thanksgiving, and I led a taste test of mock-meat turkey alternatives for the holiday.

My mom had her golden days as a home cook during my childhood. (With her kids out of the house, she keeps it very simple now.) But this led to a lot of weird experimentation with holiday foods. Hallmarks were the year that she became obsessed with rosemary (or, as she referred to it 10x/day, "Rosemary: The Spice of the 90s.") Every single Thanksgiving side was suddenly overrun with little spiny rosemary leaves. My teenaged brother and I were totally grossed out. She had similar bad luck when she "discovered" cilantro and decided to make it a major player in every Christmas side dish... and in the tacos she made for an entree instead of our more traditional turkey or ham. Once again, we kids totally revolted, announcing loudly that she had "ruined Christmas." (Ah, the problems of privilege.) As an adult, I look back with a lot of fondness on those times and SO appreciate having had a mom who exposed me to new ingredients and cuisines!

The very first time I hosted there were only 6 adults and 1 child. I carefully planned out every side dish and researched recipes ahead of time to get the best variations. I had around 10 side dishes including stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted roots, brussels sprouts, gravy, pickled eggs, rolls and others. Sister-in-law walks in the kitchen holding a box of Minute Rice to make some for the child "in case she doesn't have enough to eat." I was livid.

I've always been a 'coffee' person by frugality. I received the Nespresso Lattissima Plus machine as a gift. I LOVE it as much as I love my Blendtek, amazing machines. Anyhoo, my question to you is I want to broaden my espresso drink-making chops any ideas where to get smart?

Counter Culture Coffee has a coffee cupping (open to the pulic) every Friday at 10am at its location in Adams Morgan. Or come over to Bayou Bakery and order a cap and talk to Kyle our coffee director.

My SIL must be related to your MIL, she loves to help in the kitchen but really just gets in my way and questions everything so much that I double guess myself. This is what works for me: have a list of things to do nearby. Account for weather and time, so provide walking paths, books, movies, games, and other things like setting the table. One year I made a "welcome pack" of a trinket each person would like and a game where everybody wrote down 2 truths and a lie about themselves and people had to guess the lie. This cleared the kitchen for me and helped people get out of the what-is-new-with-you and how-about-the-weather conversation rut.

Great ideas! We can always use tricks to get people out of the kitchen and keeping each other busy.

The question is can I make the pies today and keep them covered. Unfortunately, tomorrow is not an option. Also, I asked if sorghum can be replaced by molasses. Thank you.

Yes, you can make pies today. Custard pies, like pumpkin, should be kept cool. Covering them may cause condensation on the top - easily masked with whipped cream! Fruit pies, without eggs, can be kept at room temperature. If you have a cake dome, that's a good option.

Sorghum and molasses have very different qualities. Without the recipe, it's hard to know if it would make a suitable replacement.

Hello! I tried the parsnip soup recipe from a few weeks ago and even though I am not a fan of parnsips, this soup was amazing! I loved the holiday dessert guide (I need to cheat and buy a dessert for a work holiday potluck) and was disappointed that many of the places that had a pumpkin cheese cake were outside of the metro DC area! I guess I need a plan B...

Agreed -- loved that soup.

You're running out of time to find desserts, but I imagine there are bakeries all over that would be delighted to sell you one.

Programming note: We're going to keep answering for another half-hour or so; keep those questions coming! 

I am trying to incorporate more green tea in my diet, but sometimes find the flavor a bit bitter. Do you know if I can use green tea to sub for water in soups without losing the nutritional value? I make soups a lot and can easily add in a few cups.

Are you talking about using brewed green tea? No reason to think it would lose its nutritional value, since it's meant to be steeped. 

I still remember the first Thanksgiving after I stopped eating meat (it wasn't really a decision, it just happened). I had to go from Ohio to Wisconsin that weekend for a family wedding, and stopped in Michigan to visit a high school friend. I told him ahead of time that I wasn't eating meat, but he assured me that the couple hosting didn't cook the stuffing in the bird, and that there would be all sorts of sides - mashed potatoes, salad, etc. Unfortunately for me, the couple had just had a baby. No mashed potatoes, no salad, the stuffing, which was not cooked in the bird contained sausage. I had a baked sweet potato and some broccoli casserole. And LOTS of dessert. The bright spot is that I thought I didn't like sweet potatoes before this, and now I love them.

Definitely looking on that bright side of that situation. 

Here is a fantastic recipe we have used in my family forever - originated from Spring Mill Inn in Mitchell, Indiana. Now Texas transplants we still enjoy this every fall. Persimmon Pudding 1 1/2 cups buttermilk 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon baking powder 2 cups persimmon pulp 2 cups granulated sugar 3 eggs, beaten 1/8 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1 1/2 cups flour 1/2 stick butter or margarine Mix buttermilk, soda and baking powder together; set aside and let foam. Mix pulp, sugar, eggs, salt, vanilla and cinnamon together. Add to buttermilk mixture and add flour. Mix well. Melt butter or margarine in 9"x12" pan; coat pan; combine buttermilk and pulp mixtures and blend well. Pour mixture into pan and bake at 325°F for 45 minutes.

For the chatter looking for a recipe last week.

One day during my last deployment to Iraq, someone (I think one of the local's who worked with us) brought in a huge bag of something... that looked like a gourd seed, but didn't have a shell. They were bigger than pumpkin seeds, I think they were brown, although that might have been from being cooked. And they were delish! But I have no idea what they were. Any ideas?

Let's throw this one out to the chatters. Ring any bells?

Have a friend who has insisted on bringing the dressing for many years as she and her husband like her kind of dressing. Is it rude if I also make dressing? I kind of want to make a non-meat, herbed bread dressing with veggies in it rather than pork sausage/livers. Will it seem rude? I have a vegetarian coming and a couple who don't eat pork. Plus, do I need salad? Or is it ok to serve an undressed salad with dressing on the side so I don't throw out soggy dressed salad?

It would not be rude at all, especially considering the other guests' dietary preferences (and you can mention that if your friend gets hurt feelings).

I always think salad is the least-appreciated dish on the Thanksgiving table, so I've given up making it. If you feel like you need to have it, the undressed salad is a good idea. People can add as much dressing as they want to their own portion.

My best friend's mother was not Italian, but her husband was. Every year as a first course she served a dish of the best red sauce meatballs and pasta you ever ate. Every year there was a new guest who couldn't figure out why everybody was holding back. They understood when the whole huge turkey came out next. Finally the cook gave in and made even MORE pasta and MORE sauce. everybody was stuffed. And then she brought out the next course...a small roast chicken. No turkey that year.

Many years ago we invited a new acquaintance to TG dinner and she brought a sweet potato side dish. Except it looked like dessert--it was in a beautiful dish, topped with bruleed brown sugar and pecans. She was initially offended that we didn't bring it out with dinner, but agreed it was great served cold with whipped cream for dessert. It's now a favorite TG dessert in our circle.

So using a hand mixer is akin to throwing kittens and puppies out of speeding vehicle on the interstate! I prefer my mashed taters made with a hand mixer. If you want to use a ricer go for it. For Turkey day I choose the hand mixer. And why is it so many folks have trouble with gravy. As watched my mom make gravy for for 35 years and if her son the jd ( juvenile delinquent not lawyer) can do it I am sure a bunch of overeducated DC dwelling lawyers and MBAs can.

Mash note: I assume you're referring to my wielding of the kitchen appliance on The Fold segment? I don't use a mixer, but I think folks who avoid gluey issues by beating at a LOW speed.  Gravy's a matter of science and coating particles; again, I think a little time and patience is involved. If  you got to watch a master do it for decades, you're a lucky jd. 

My family has always celebrated Thanksgiving, but with a Korean twist: our only traditional sides were cranberry sauce, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. Everything else was the Korean stuff: kimchee, rice, panchan dishes. When we started inviting our non-Korean friends over for Thanksgiving, our minds were blown away: you can make cranberry sauce for the same cost of a can? Gravy doesn't come out of a jar? Why are there marshmallows on top of sweet potatoes? However, our best side is actually the one my newly immigrated to the US aunt makes: Korean bbq kebabs with roasted peppers and shitake mushrooms. She only made it for us on Thanksgiving, and it goes to show that everyone and everything is welcome. Thanksgiving is awesome.

Hmm, I like the idea of mixing Korean panchan sides with the Thanksgiving meal, especially kimchi, which I wrote about recently. Personally, I think a little kimchi makes everything taste better -- well, almost everything. to convince the relatives of this?

I plan on roasting sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots and cauliflower (my favorites). What are the tricks to making sure they are all cooked at the same time? Is it better to nuke ahead of time, cut the carrots and sweet potatoes smaller, or add the cauliflower in at the end? I'm guessing I couldn't do this tonight and reheat tomorrow? It would probably lose it's crunch and caramelized taste, right?

Okay, that's a good question or two. First, don't make them tonight. Tomorrow, you can roast the vegetables until just done and then reheat, but only a hour or two in advance. To cook properly, you can add in stages, starting with the veggies that take the longest to cook and then after so many minutes adding the faster cooking ones or you can use a large pan and keep the vegetables separate in case you have to remove one before the other. I'm also thinking you could simplify your list. If you have squash you don't really need the sweet potatoes and so on.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in Central Africa with fellow Peace Corps members was always interesting. It's where I learned to make gravy from turkey wing drippings (that's the only part of the bird that was available). We also had some interesting approximations of traditional dishes - a squash turned into a pseudo-pumpkin pie, mashed manioc tubers as faux mashed potatoes, etc. The feast was usually much better than what we were eating day to day and the celebration with friends was as traditional as it comes.

In your professional opinions, when is the best time for pies to be made? Day of? Day(s) before? Are some better left sitting and flavor-enhancing while others are better fresh? Thanks.

I ama stickler for making the pies the day of, but the crust can easily be make ahead. I try to make the pie fillings the day ahead, particularly with apple and other fruit pies. The overnight rest in the refrigerator makes the flavors combine wonderfully.

What's the trick to cooking rice stuffed peppers? Do the peppers need to be baked ahead of time? Should the rice be fully cooked before stuffing?

Here's a recipe I love for Stuffed Peppers. It's a little work, but it's worth it.

My first Thanksgiving with my husband's family for Thanksgiving was a really interesting one. I brought my Mother, single at the time, who is one of the most accomplished home cooks I know. We brought homemade pies and I made a sausage chestnut stuffing and I promised my Mother would make some amazing gravy. All was going ok, until my MIL deciding her turkey was to dry poured some water in the bottom of the pan. My Mother looked at me in sheer terror, what was she going to do now. My MIL also isn't the type to save the neck and other items so my Mom couldn't use them to make her gravy. My Mother's gravy is the stuff of legends, pure perfection. I tried to reassure my Mother that his family never had gravy like that and would think it was really good even if not up to my Mother's high standards. My family is a pretty tough bunch of gourmands. We as secretly and politely as possible scoured my very Southern and sweet MIL's kitchen for bouillon, herbs anything we could do to get some flavor into the gravy. My Mother, reputation ruined in her mind, thinking about how to prepare for the immediate shunning that was certain to happen, poured her pitiful gravy into the gravy boat. It was the hit of Thanksgiving with my husband's family. They thought it was some of the best gravy they had ever had. My Mother was in sheer shock not understanding what was happening, thinking that her culinary reputation would never be rebuilt. I think all the gravy was gone after the meal, I don't think there was any leftover.

Love that story. I hope you have her gravy recipe? The real one, not the one from that particular Thanksgiving, I mean.

The first Thanksgiving after I got married my husband and I hosted his parents and his sister and her family. Everything came out great except for dessert. I decided to try and make a pumpkin cheesecake in a springform pan. When it was time for dessert I had the cheesecake on the table and with a flourish removed the pan. The entire cake started to flow like lava off the bottom of the pan onto the table. Not my most shining moment! Thankfully my sister-in-law also brought a pecan pie so at least we had something for dessert!

This is approximately the same thing as date molasses. check the marvelous website Arabic Bites (don't have the URL handy) for several baked goods that make fine use of it. Or sub for regular molasses.

Thanks for the suggestions. Here's the site.

So should the apples be pre-cooked before baking in the phyllo?

It's not necessary to pre-cook the apples. If you are adding dried fruit, plump it first in warmed liqueur or water. Cut up the fruit into very small pieces - it will help when you cut portions.

Sorry, the pie is the Martha Stewart chocolate pecan sorghum pie from your Fakesgiving article. I didn't have time to order the sorghum but have molasses. Do you think that will work. Many thanks.

Because the sorghum is sweeter than molasses, but the consistency is important for the pie, increase the sugar in the recipe to 3/4 cup, and substitute one-to-one sorghum and molasses.

I just wanted to say how plum pleased I am with myself for making the Caramel Pumpkin Pie from the Gourmet magazine and not burning the caramel. Just had to toot my own horn.

We welcome that type of behavior in this forum -- and the samples brought in to back up those claims. 

Great story, and I bet those Southerners were being truly polite. They probably ditched the gravy privately. Or maybe they had just been subjected to terrible gravy all their lives.

I'm making a sweet potato-pecan pie tonight for tomorrow (based on Paul Prudhomme's recipe). It calls for heavy cream, which was out at the store. I went with light cream as the next best option (frankly, because it had more calories than half & half), but don't know if that was the right substitution, or if I should go back out again this evening when I get home. Thoughts?

Your light cream will work just fine. Although you know being from New Orleans, Paul would not agree. Our secret.

What does lemon juice do in the apple mixture if it is being cooked, because then the apples are not being kept white?

It brightens the flavor. Really. If you don't have lemon juice, add a little orange juice or even a touch of apple cider vinegar.

We're going to a potluck style Thanksgiving and I'm bringing a vegetarian side dish (being a vegetarian myself). I was planning on making a simple dish I've made at home before - roasted butternut squash and sauteed kale with garlic, tossed with olive oil, balsamic, and some goat cheese. I'm worried it's not "fancy" enough, though I love those flavors. Thoughts? If you think I need to jazz it up, what would you suggest? Thanks!!

It sounds great to me. Take it in a nice casserole/dish and make sure to give it a good-looking garnish -- some of the goat cheese, crumbled, maybe some toasted pecans and/or dried cranberries. It will look nice and festive.

once you are ready to eat it, what now? do you just let it defrost in the fridge or on the counter? would you rewarm it (i'm thinking apple pie).

I'd defrost on the counter and then rewarm just before serving. Heating the apple pie will make a world of difference.

I find the recipe on the bag to be far too sweet. I made a yummy sauce using 1 bag cranberries, the zest of 1 orange and juice of 2, 1/2 cup cranberry juice, and 1/2 cup sugar. I cooked everything together on low for about 20-ish minutes.

To each his own, as they say! Speaking of cranberries, anybody notice how darn big the Ocean Spray ones are this year? Totally messed up my batch of Tiny Tim Tarts, where only 3 must be used in each well. It's a law.  

Last year, I went to my husband's grandmother's house for Thanksgiving. Upon arrival, we discovered that she had cooked the turkey the day before, removed the skin, carved it and reheated the slices with some canned stock in the oven. It was so dry, and there was no crispy skin (the best part!). I almost cried. That combined with boxed mashed potatoes just killed the whole meal for me!

I have volunteered to bring the turkey to my in-law's Thanksgiving the past 2 years because I prefer a locally-sourced bird. Last year when I brought in the roasted turkey, my father-in-law took the turkey away and hacked it to pieces with his electric knife. I did not say anything, but I felt his carving sort of ruined the bird. He cut with the grain of the meat so we had stringy hunks instead of tender pieces. This year, I would like to carve my turkey at home before bringing it to their house (they only live 20 minutes away) but have limited experience with this. Is the idea to cut it up as you would a chicken, only slicing the big pieces (breast, thighs, leg) into smaller pieces for everyone? And will it work if I cut the pieces up and sprinkle a little bit of stock on them so it stays moist in transport? I am making lovely turkey stock now with the neck. OR, should I just go ahead and let my father-in-law have at it with the electric knife, if it doesn't make too much difference? I am not willing to bring the whole bird over and insist on carving it myself, I think that would be uncomfortable.

Just an opinion, but I think it's going to be uncomfortable when he's standing there with his electric knife as you enter will the pre-carved bird. If you're set on your way, roast a bird for yourself the next night and carve as desired.

Jason, do you have an easy recipe for Sangria? Having a mob over for T'day and would like to make a pitcher of Sangria for all to enjoy...thanks

Jason had to roll, but I bet he'd have directed you to this Holiday Red Sangria Punch. Fit for a crowd. 

Didn't realize that the grocery store in my new hometown closed at 5 PM on Wednesday...didn't buy the turkey yet. Ended up with fish sticks and boxed mac and cheese!

Holy crap those Tiny Tim Tarts sound amazing. Christmas baking marathon, here I come!

They are the best, really.  I wrested the recipe from former Journal Food editor Jane Mengenhauser. 

thanskgiving is going to be the first day that I care for both my 3 year old and my 3 month old by myself. My wife will be working and family and friends will be elsewhere. Do you have any suggestions for easy Thanksgiving like recipes I can make for a dinner for myself and my 3 year old daughter?

What if you just roast a small turkey breast, or a large roasting chicken? Much easier than a turkey. Check out Easy Roast Turkey Breast -- it doesn't get much simpler than that. Instead of putting together stuffing, fix a flavorful, herby rice pilaf, maybe with nuts or dried fruits. Add an easy vegetable like peas, and you'll be all set.

I'm not a big potato fan. Would mashed turnips be a good substitution for the Thanksgiving table? Do you think they might go well with turkey and gravy?

I think it would pair fine, as long as you buy smaller, sweeter parsnips and not the large, shriveled woody ones. You could try this recipe for garlic mashed parsnips, which should fit right into your T-day spread.

Take honey crisp apples and cut matchstick size and also do the same to some manchego cheese. Add chives and enough olive oil to moisten it. wonderful. I wanted to bring to thanksgiving but its "not on the set menu" so I'm making a chocolate pecan pie instead.

That salad sounds great -- but so does the pie.

A tip I learned in a cooking class: cut the longer cooking veggies thinner, and the quicker cooking ones a little thicker.

Does it matter what color (red, yellow, green) bell peppers are used in a stuffed pepper dish?

Green is going to be stronger in flavor, while its cousins (red and yellow) will be a bit on the sweeter side. I like red, but was raised on green.

Re using the already-sweetened sweet potatoes in savory ways, the leftovers author/recipe developer Terri Wuerthner says you could prepare extra (plain)m sweet pots in advance, or you could use the seasoned sweet potatoes, omit the apples and add lemon juice to balance the sweetness. If not overly sweet, she says, the seasoned potatoes can make for an interesting soup! 

Whatever you decide to make, engage the kids (the 1 yr old won't care), but the 3 yr old will LOVE being involved and making it special together. Then send mom pictures as you go.

Since I've been reading your blog for the last hour or so, I've totally lost track of time on the oven (no I didn't think to set the timer). Remind me how do I know when my pumpkin pie is done?

Ha! It should barely/hardly jiggle in the middle. The crust should be lightly browned. Its color will be a bit darker. 

Sort of on topic, there's a great movie called "What's Cooking" and it shows 4 families from different cultures and what they each cook for Thankgsgiving.

Instead of Mashed Potatoes, it is potato salad with egg and dill pickles. Had a heck of a time getting used to it; former FIL (he's divorced my MIL) wouldn't make mashed potatoes for us "out"laws. Finally, he started to put some of the boiled potatoes aside and I made the mashed potatoes.

Perhaps a perennial Thanksgiving question, but one for which I cannot find a ready answer (even checked the famed Butterball site). How long can a thawed (whole) turkey safely be held in the fridge before roasting? That is, if I need three days to thaw a 12 lb. turkey, what is the earliest date on which I can buy it? (I am assuming Thursday/roasting day does not "count" as a day for these purposes.) Thanks.

According to this Butterball video, you can keep your turkey in the fridge up to four days after it's thawed.

When I was pregnant on Thanksgiving a few years ago, I had a serious aversion to anything poultry. We had dinner at my husband's Aunt's house, but my MIL kindly made some roast for me. I like my roast falling apart tender, this was as dry as shoe leather. Thank goodness for an abundance of sides!

I do not know what those seeds are called, but I have bought them at the Iranian grocery store in rockville.

As a 3rd generation lacto-ovo vegetarian, the sides at my family Thanksgiving this year will include a green-bean casserole, candied sweet potatos, mashed potatos, succotash, stuffing with Worthington vegetarian turkey substitute, cranberry sauce, and cashew patties....not to mention apple, pumpkin, and pecan pies.

I'm considering giving my husband a counter deep fryer as a Christmas gift. Any recommendations for bomb-diggity fried foods (no seafood).? Someone told me they (Santa) put potatoes in every family members stocking that year, the gift was the potato got prepared the way the recipient wanted it (fried, baked, mashed, etc).

Beignets, are always the way to go. Or with the potatoes you can make croquettes, with ham and cheese.

Well, as Someone around here used to say, we've been peeled, parboiled and whipped into submission, so that's all for today. Thanks to chef David Guas, Cathy Barrow, Stephanie Sedgwick and Jason for their expertise, and to you, dear readers, for not running into the car in front of you as you chatted via smartphone. 


Winners: The chatter who asked about the best time to make pies wins "A Year of Pies." The mother-gravy chatter (a side dish, right?) gets the Blackberry Farm cookbook.  Remember to send your mailing address to so Becky can send out the books asap. 


Best of luck cooking! Remember to exhale and enjoy a nice beverage. Enjoy time around the table with friends and relatives.  We are grateful for you, our Free Range pals. See you next week. 

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie Benwick is interim editor of the Food section; joining us today are interim recipe editor Jane Touzalin, staff writer Tim Carman, editorial aide Becky Krystal, Spirits columnist Jason Wilson and Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick. Guests: chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery; blogger Cathy Barrow.
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