Nov 24, 2010

Last-minute Thanksgiving questions? Fear not. The Washington Post Food section will be here to help the day before. Be inspired by new recipes, share your favorites and get the advice to keep you sane for the holiday.

Happy T-giving Eve, all, and welcome to Free Range, the chat that brings you advice about the stuffing, gravy, sides, salads, soups, apps, desserts, and, naturally, Big Bird herself. I'm joining from the wilds of Maine (OK, it's not really THAT wild here in North Berwick), where I get the pick of my sister and bro-in-law's huge garden (extended by a greenhouse and row covers), plus the hundreds of cans she puts up and the two huge freezers full of meat (including their own turkey, frozen since last year), fruit, veggies, pretty much everything. So I'm having a ball.

What's on your kitchen counter right now? Anything on or in the stove? More importantly, what can we help you with? 

We just gave you two back-to-back sections of Thanksgiving ideas. Most recently, on Sunday, we had Lorraine Eaton's great piece on Hayman sweet potatoes; Regina Schrambling's take on a Thanksgiving for two; Molly Wizenberg's ode to her family's favorite stuffing; and more. Hopefully those sparked some ideas.

We have guests: Lorraine Eaton, who writes for the Virginian-Pilot and blogs here; Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin; and Stephanie "Nourish" Sedgwick. 

And we have giveaway books for our two favorite posts: "Mitsisam Cafe Cookbook" and "A Bird in the Oven."

Let's do this!


It may be too late to ask this question, but... I'm having only a small handful of people for Thanksgiving this year, and I'm looking for a butternut squash and bacon recipe. I'm trying to convince my husband that he would like butternut squash, and I think bacon is the way to go for this. Suggestions? It need not be fancy since our group is so small. Also, what do you think about roasting vegetables in the oven while also roasting a turkey breast (not in the same pan)? Is it ok to do that, or would it throw off the cooking times? What about pre-roasting the veggies and then reheating in the oven while the turkey is resting? thanks!

Re the butternut squash-bacon continuum: Did you see Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin's recipe for Applewood-Smoked Butternut Squash? Bacon might not even be necessary (boy, I can't believe I just wrote that). This Roasted Rosemary Butternut Squash and Shallots dish would be lovely with some crumbled bacon mixed in at the end. But I have to admit that I love this Squash and Apple Puree, so if you want to add bacon to that, I'd choose a thick-cut smoked bacon and cook up chunky, 1/2-inch lardons and strew them on top.

As for the vegetables, I'd put them in the same pan. Think of all that effortless basting. Or you can put them in a shallow pan on a rack lower than what the turkey's on (is your oven that big?). Pre-roasting's an option as well, although be careful not to overcook the vegetables the first time.

I made a loaf of apple bread earlier this week. In all the recipes I've tried, the apple flavor is not intense enough, so I had the idea of using apple juice concentrate. I kind of made up my own recipe from there - added yeast, flour, salt and applesauce. I didn't add any extra sugar because there would be so much in the juice. The bread took four times as long as I expected to rise about half as much as it should. Any idea what went wrong? Can yeast digest fructose, or did it need some sugar? Or was it too acidic and I should have added a bit of baking soda?

I'm not a chemist, but you can exhaust yeast by adding too much sugar. Apple juice concentrate is a sugar bomb. It sounds like you tired the yeast out. You might try again using the regular recipe but boosting the apple flavor with apple cider syrup. It's available from Good luck!

Where can I find the recipe that Jim Shahin used to smoke the turkey on his video?

Warning: It's completely charming. Right here.

How about a non-T-Day question? My beloved nephew (almost 17 years old) loves muffins and is conveniently interested in cooking/baking. I would love to get a basic muffin recipe that can be amended many ways to make a wide variety of muffins. Then I would teach him how to make muffins on his own for himself and his parents. Any suggestions? Recommendations? Thanks and have a great Thanksgiving!

In theory, this sounds like a great idea, and I suspect I could Google some basic recipes. But I'd like to run it by our Sifted experts, because applesauce muffins, pumpkin muffins, corn muffins all have different amounts of wet ingredients. Send your q via so we have your contact info.

I am tasked with bringing the beans to the family Thanksgiving dinner. I have a recipe that includes a vinaigrette that I like to use. Would that be a nice tangy complement to the usual sweet items, or do you think it would be too much of a divergence? Thanks!

I support it wholeheartedly. I love green beans with a vinaigrette.

Ladies and gentlemen, David "Real Entertaining" Hagedorn has joined us.

I am making a green bean casserole that says to boil the green beans in 3 cups of chicken stock and then the green beans get mixed into the casserole. I'm guessing the green beans will absorb some of the liquid and flavor of the stock but it seems wasteful to throw the remaining out. Can i reuse it for soup or something or will all the flavor be gone and it should get tossed? Thanks!

I don't how much flavor the stock will impart, but by all means reuse the stock that is left over, especially for soup.

I'm going to cook a Thanksgiving dinner in February when my husband returns from deployment. I figured I'd pick up a frozen turkey when turkeys are on sale next month. Will it keep in my freezer for 2 months? Potatoes, sweet potatoes, all the standard side dish vegetables should be available, but this year I'm trying to make my own cranberry sauce. If it works, I'd like to make it for my husband. Will I be able to find fresh cranberries in February or would it be better to buy them now and freeze them? Any other advice on what I can purchase now, while the stores are laden, for a meal I won't prepare for another 82 days (not that we're counting down or anything)? Thanks!

Sure go ahead and put that bird in your freezer. Two to three months is fine, especially if you buy the turkey frozen already. As for the cranberries I'd buy them now and stick them in the freezer as well. They'll be fine. If you don't get them now, you won't be able to find them fresh in late winter, but a well-stocked supermarket may carry them in the freezer section.

Another option is to make the cranberry sauce now and freeze that.

Good luck with the dinner. It's a lovely idea for a welcome home meal.

Turkeys will be on sale starting Friday! You can freeze them for a year. Cranberry sauce is easy and adaptable to make, so good choice. And the berries freeze well, too -- I've kept them for up to a year. I'd make stock with the roasted turkey carcass (or extra roasted turkey parts) and freeze that. You could get dried stuffing mix on sale or dry and make your own bread cubes. Apples would be fine in cold storage.  Chatters, what am I missing?

Thanks for the new "Sifted" section -- really enjoying it. Am a bit puzzled, though, by the answer on browning the bottom of a pumpkin pie crust. The questioner asked a couple questions together, and the answer-er seems to have conflated them. Therefore, it is unclear whether the solution is either/or or and/both --- do I have to choice to EITHER add baking powder as directed OR blind bake, or do I have to BOTH add baking powder AND blind bake. Thanks for any clarification you can offer.

You're welcome! We're all learning a lot from the experts.

Sorry for the confusion. It was a two-part answer for the two-part q.  The baking powder trick's the way to go. Nick Malgieri doesn't seem to think blind baking is all that necessary.

Yes, I'm making them. Roasted, but with what? Was thinking pomegranate seeds (inspired by some small plates around the city), love the lemon juice spritz, but should I go sweet with a vanilla butter instead?

I like to toss the sprouts with a mixture of chopped garlic and pancetta that have been sauteed together. Those flavors pair beautifully. If you want something sweet, how about a simple dressing of chopped cranberries, orange zest, white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper with a pinch of sugar all whisked together?

Hi all. I know this seems a stupid question but what's the best, quickest way to dry out cornbread for stuffing? I just want to get it out of the way first, I've made three pans broken into chunks and sitting on the table for nearly a day. Should I just dry them out in the oven?

I made cornbread a couple of days ago, broke it up and left it in the oven, turned off. But you can dry it out in a 200-250 oven easily. Just move it around every so often and cook it for about 30-60 minutes, until it is as dry as you want it.

I thank you all for holding these chats and for your extensive knowledge. That being said (you knew there had to be a but), I will no longer be reading the chats. Your chats are aimed at better cooks and bakers than I. Often your advice will be along the lines of: thorw some olive oil, chives, soft cheese, and sauteed mushrooms together, then bake in pastry. that's not enough information to be of any use to me. Also, you will recommend recipes that require equipment (like paddles for mixers or food processors) that I do not have. I think in last week's chat you recommended five recipes for appetizers. I only checked four, but I think they all required a food processor. Your chat is not geared to an audience at my level. I understand that you cannot please everyone, and I'm just not in your targeted audience. I wish you all a terrific Thanksgiving and wonderful 2011.

Happy Thanksgiving, too! Thanks for the feedback, but (and you knew there had to be a but), I wish you'd stay and give us this kind of feedback live. That is, if we recommend a recipe (and we try to get a lot of actual recipes in, not just instructions) that doesn't work for you, it'd be great if you piped up at the time -- because we aim to please, and if we knew you wanted something different, we'd go look for that. 

For instance, when it comes to apps, this Crab Salad on Kohlrabi requires no food processor; it's very simple to put together.

There's also these tasty Pickled Mushrooms; again, no equipment necessary.

We could find more of this, or anything else you're after, really. Give us another chance, ask for what you need, and we'll do our best...


Happy Thanksgiving! For dinner tomorrow, I am bringing roasted veggies, and had settled on a mix of green beans and beets (with the balsamic glaze from the Post's "baby beets in balsamic glaze" recipe). Then, digging through the fridge last night, I found some carrots that are starting to get a little old. If I sliced and roasted the carrots, do you think they'd pair well with the beets and green beans (and the glaze)?

I sure do. And here's that Balsamic-Glazed Baby Beets recipe, for the crowd.


I'm making a mushroom galette for tomorrow. Made the pastry dough last night, and it came out really, gloppy wet. I added a little more flour and stuck it in the fridge. Haven't looked at it yet today, but I'm worried that I did something wrong. And I'm worried about overworking the dough if I keep adding flour if it's still gloppy after I take it out of the fridge. Should I try it again and see if it comes out different, or is the dough for a galette supposed to be that way? Thanks and happy Thanksgiving!

Pastry dough should not be gloppy. I think refrigerating it might mask what it will turn out like when it's baked. My advice would be to get it to the consistency it needs to be or else start over.  You can make pie crust french fries with the gloppy stuff. Hey, it's just dough. . . .

I'm thinking of making Duchesse potatoes using sweet potatoes and baking them in cupcake pans for TG. Will the individual portions hold their shape? What's the best way to make sure they come out of the pan whole? My other idea is sweet potato spoon bread in cupcake pans. What would be a good savory addition to this kind of spoon bread?

The potatoes aren't going to hold their shape as well as the spoon pudding. Why invidual portions? It's harder to cook without drying out and can have precious look, not a great fit with a family style holiday.

As for additions-crumbled bacon or cubed ham will do the trick.

Hi - I bought a prepared turducken that is now thawing in the fridge. I am wary about this thing, but am cooking it by special request. Looking for the cooking method that gets the best results, I have found wildly different recommendations on the Internet. Some say low and slow (oven at 225 for like 9 hours) but the company I got it from says to cook with at 350 for 4-5 hours. From what I have read, these things can come out dry, which makes me want to cook it at a lower temp. However, the USDA says not to cook a turducken at anything lower than 325. Any thoughts on the best way to do this? I want to make it taste as good as possible. Thanks!

Good news and bad news. The good news: I've cooked prepared turduckens, and you can cook according to the directions you received. No need to cook super slow. The bad news: The quality varies quite a bit, I've found. One turducken is not the same as another. 

End with good news: The turducken sets a dramatic table and it will be fun if you've never had one before. And if it comes out a little dry or has some other problem, hey, ain't your fault. 

Thanks so much for hosting this chat today! I have all my Thanksgiving dishes under control, but I'm at a loss as to what to serve the rest of the weekend. We have family in town and I have no clue what else to make. I would just go with stuffed shells or something but one member of the family is gluten-intolerant and another is red-meat free. Suggestions? Help?

As a sneak preview of a column I'm writing next month, I'll suggest you make stuffed cabbage using ground turkey. I tested it last night and it was a big hit at my house. I don't use bread crumbs in the filling, just cooked basmati rice. You can make them the day before and have the casserole ready to pop in the oven.

This recipe resembles one from the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook that I really enjoy.


So - I have a very basic food processor (an add-on to my blender base), For those of us without a FP or accoutrements thereto - how can we adapt? I think that's whats s/he was asking.

It depends on what you're making, and what the food processor is doing. If it's used to chop a bunch of stuff fine but not puree them, you can certainly do that by hand. If it's pureeing, you can usually use a blender, but the result will be more aerated than intended. If you're pulsing to combine butter into flour for dough, also fine to do by hand. Just think about the result and imagine by-hand ways of getting there.

The butternut squash lover with the bacon-loving husband could try simplifying this Roasted Fall Vegetable Hash recipe from flavormagazinevirginia. Just cut the pumpkin and parsnips, and scale down the other ingredients proportionately. And skipping the herbs is probably not a bad idea if the idea of butternut squash makes her husband nervous... after all has he ever been happier when you added herbs to something? You know what I mean.... Good luck!


Gurus, I planned to make Thanksgiving dinner, but life in the form of work and my sons competing in an early morning T'day race which I want to watch have driven me to buy much of the feast ready-cooked. We'll have turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes & mini pumpkin risottos as part of our package. I want to cook at least a few things and have bought sweet potatoes. Any ideas for something nice (no marshmellows!!!) that I can do with them in not too much time, or should I just roast them in pieces in olive oil and a little rosemary?

My favorite way to have sweet potatoes is oven fried with olive oil and sea salt, but that's a little pedestrian for Thanksgiving. Try this easy recipe for bourbon mashers.

I've been checking websites and some say 165 degrees for thigh, 180 for stuffing. Some say 180 for thigh, 165 for stuffing. Which is it? Also, I'll be cooking a stuffed turkey in a convection oven. 325 or 300? Thank you and have a great holiday!

You can find definitive times and temps at FSIS. 165 degrees  is the number to shoot for, both for meat and stuffing. Convection cooks faster, right? Allow for that and I don't see why you'd have to scale back from 325 degrees.

Do you recommend puncturing the pie crust before baking. A friend recommended that, but how do I keep the filling from spilling out.

Docking is typically done when you're blind baking (pre-baking without filling) the crust. It's so the crust won't puff up too much when there's nothing to hold it down. (Same reason you put pie weights in.) No docking needed, IMHO, for sweet potato pie if you're not blind baking the crust.

I'm making a pumpkin cheesecake tonight and an apple pie tomorrow morning. Is there anyway to keep the crust on the cheesecake fresh and somewhat crisp? Of course I have refrigerate the chesecake cake overnight, right? Any suggestions? It would be waaaay too much to make both desserts tomorrow, and I think the pie is better the day-of.

I wouldn't worry about the cheesecake. A cheesecake crust is never really crispy. It always absorbs moisture from the cheesecake, that's why so many cheesecakes have cookie crusts which aren't hurt by this process.

When would your recommend using the seeds whole in foods, like caraway seeds? I tried some sprinkled on a pizza and it was a great crunch, but the taste wasn't as powerful as I was hoping for.

I'm not a huge fan of whole seeds. They can end up providing an unpleasant crunch. Try grinding the seeds yourself, either with a mortar and pestle or in a small coffee grinder (dedicated to spice grinding!). You'll get the flavor you're looking for.

And if you toast those seeds for several minutes in a dry skillet until they got nice and fragrant, before grinding, the flavor would come out so much more.

Gobble gobble! I need help with my cooking schedule. I need to make the following before going to bed tonight: apple pie, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, and salmon cream cheese ball. I will be home from work by 4 pm, and I don't need to make dinner. Should I start with crusts? The apple pie filling needs to be pre-cooked (a la Cooks Illustrated technique), so should I start with that? Also, I have only one oven. Thanks for your help!

Make the pie crust dough first, form it into disks and refrigerate them. Then make the apple filling so it can cool. By then, the dough will have rested long enough. Roll the first pie crust, form it and chill it while you preheat the oven and make the pumpkin pie filling. Bake the pumpkin pie. While the pie is baking, make the cranberry sauce. After the pie is out of the oven, roll the apple pie dough bottom crust and form it. Refrigerate it while you finish the apple pie filling. Fill the pie, roll the top crust and freeze it for 10-15 minutes. While the apple pie is baking, make the salmon cream cheese ball.

Mark Bittman at NYT has a great one. It's for whole-wheat muffins and you can add whatever else you like to it as you go: chocolate chips, raisins, craisins, zucchini, etc. 

Have you tried it?

I don't have a FoodPro either - but you can always use a blender, or even a knife! I just imagine how all of these foods used to be made (bread kneaded by hand, etc) and figure I can do all of it without the fancy equipment (until I move into a bigger space!). Also, "throwing things together" is the best way to learn! I know people who are ok cooks and they follow recipes to a T. I also know people that just start throwing things in a pan - not stressing about amounts, improvising. They make some fabulous errors (myself included!) but then they learn what works and what doesn't. You'll get better! Stick with it!

Hear, hear!

Thanks, I wanted to try the crunch but if it isn't providing flavor, I'll just grind (and I do have a grinder for that). Is there any seed you would recommend for savory foods to add some crunch, like Caraway Seeds?

I'm not a caraway fan. But I love pumpkin seeds, big time. BIG TIME. And sunflower seeds.

When a recipe instructs you to peel apples, is it always cosmetic (like deveining shrimp), or are there some recipes in which the peel would matter? I never peel apples in pies or crisps, but made a cake last weekend and didn't want to risk adverse effects, so I peeled as instructed. But I'd have preferred not to.

It's personal preference for the most part. The peel has a different texture than the flesh. If you don't mind this, go ahead and leave unpeeled.

I love them too as separate snacks but for savory dishes, do those really work as a crunchy addition?

Sure, why wouldn't they? If you toast them, especially.

Hi-- I'm planning on making a sausage stuffing with chicken sausage (flavored with garlic) for my non-pork eating family. I can't find a recipe that sounds good. Any suggestions?

Do you own thing, then! Find a basic stuffing recipe that calls for sausage and just riff. Add chunks of apples or pears. Onion and celery is a must. Nuts are good, especially chestnuts. If alcohol is an option, try a splash of brandy. I'm still thinking about what that brought to the party in Molly Wizenberg's family stuffing....

We are hosting a few friends for Thanksgiving, and I'd like to offer a seasonal cocktail before dinner. Not a big fan of anise (so not the Winter Solstice); maybe something with a bourbon or aged rum base? Does Jason have any suggestions?

A Rum Manhattan might be nice to make with your aged rum. As for the bourbon, you can never go wrong with an Old Fashioned.

Seems like every time I turn around, some organization has put together a book of "favorite" recipes. Does anyone ever find these useful or enjoyable? Or are they all purchased just to help a good cause and then left to gather dust on a book shelf? My latest acquisition was actually a gift from the Red Cross for donating blood. It doesn't even have an index or table of contents, so even if there is something useful in there, I'd never find it if I was looking for it.

I'm kind of a sucker for sisterhood cookbooks from synagogues...maybe a rule of thumb would be to consider the nature of the group the recipes are collected from. A bunch of Jewish mothers' time-tested dishes? You betcha. People who give blood? Maybe too broad a spectrum.

What constitutes justifiable homicide the night before or morning of Thanksgiving when shopping for last minute items? Just in case...

"Honey, are you doing anything right now?"

I'll be driving tomorrow morning (about 5 hours) with cooked food for Thanksgiving dinner. Should I buy dry ice to pack in my cooler, or would regular ice packs be better? The food will be reheated when I arrive at my daughter's. Debbie

I've travelled quite a bit with food. I use regular ice unless I am traveling for quite a few hours, say, anything over 12. Regular bags of ice will easily last five hours, and keep your items cool enough. 

How long should it take to smoke a 15 pound turkey over low- to medium- heated charcoal in my barbeque grill?

As it happens, I just smoked a turkey for the Food section. In fact, I smoked three of 'em. (Recipe, photo, video.) Each one was right around 15 pounds. One was 12 pounds. I have an offset smoker, but smoked it on indirect heat on a Weber because I figured most readers would do it that way. The turkeys took between 2 1/2 and 3 hours.

Good luck, have fun, enjoy. 

Thanks for the suggestions - perhaps you can incorporate them into your instructions as you go along: Kind of a side note to the appliance impaired.

Appreciate the suggestion, and we'll try to keep in mind, but since our recipes are tested, that means we'd be asking our testers to make each one twice. I'm not saying no, but just putting this out there. Ms. B will be the decider on something like this...

Whoops--I should have mentioned that we don't eat pork. Would the recipe work if I left out the bacon and maybe added just a smidge of smoked paprika to get a little of the smokey taste? You folks are the best!!

Hmm. I think the smoked paprika would take this in a whole different direction. I'd suggest a soy "bacon" which would deliver smoke flavor and salt . . .

Just a shoutout (from across the pond - in Oxford, UK!) saying that I love you guys. I'm making almost everything from your Thanksgiving 2008 recipes; that was my all-time favorite. You do new and interesting things each year (which is tough for a holiday like Thanksgiving), but that was my all-time favorite. The stuffing (mushrooms & chesnuts), the turkey, the celeriac puree - the whole thing was divine. Happy thanksgiving!

That was a Virginia Willis menu. Nice, wasn't it? Glad you keep turning to it!

I bought the flour, the chicken stock, even a new whisk... When the turkey's out of the oven how to I make a simple yet delicious gravy?

Put the turkey on a cutting board to rest, loosely covered with foil. Pour the drippings from the pan and separate the fat form any brown liquid there is. Put several tablespoons of fat (1 tablespoon per cup of broth) back in the pan and put it over direct medium high heat. Have readyand warm your excellent stock (you DID use that chicken stock to make turkey stock from the neck, didn't you??) Using a flat-edge wooden spatula, scrape up all the browns bits and stir in as many tablespoons of flour as there were of fat. Slowly stir in the stock, continuing to scrape up bits and stir until all the stock is added to the pan. Reduce the heat and let the gravy cook for a few minutes to cook the flour. Adjust the seasoning. (I like to use garlic or onion salt or powder and ground black pepper.) If the gravy is not dark enough, add some Kitchen Bouquet. Strain into a gravy boat. (Or better yet, keep the gravy warm and clean that roasting pan before you serve the dinner. You'll be glad you did later.)

You can find a small two cup processer for around forty bucks at BB & B or Target. Excellent for space or price challenged cooks like you and me and you just do recipes in small batches. Happy cooking!

I think I'm going to write about the mini-processor that BB and I share custody of for my CF1 column one of these months. I had forgotten how handy it can be...

I'm probably going to be replacing my old, but still very functional food processor soon. Do you know of a group that might like it as a donation?


How long should a bird sit in brine?

1 hour per pound is a good rule of thumb.

where do you buy woodchips in DC?

I find them at any number of hardware stores, including Frager's on Cap Hill and Strosniders in Bethesda and Silver Spring. And, lately, I've found a good selection at my local Harris Teeter - cherry, applewood, pecan, mesquite, hickory. I was surprised that the prices were actually pretty good, too. 

Help! What's the secret to making amazing mashed potatoes?

Let the boiled potatoes drain/dry. While they are still warm, run them through a ricer.  This creates lovely, fluffy mashed spuds.

I've found watching cooking shows to be very helpful for picking up techniques. You may not want to make exactly the same recipe but just the ideas for how to saute, blend, roast, combine ingredients are there. The most important thing to remember in the kitchen is that failure IS an option. You'll try new things that don't work. But as you keep trying, your skills improve. Don't be dazzled by equipment, cooking comes from the heart.

Great points. Hope our chatter has stuck around long enough to read them!

The best substitute for bacon I've heard of has to be smoked tofu.

Wow! Well, OK, then!

I've made them a few times. Shredded zucchini and chocolate chip was the best. Oddly using applesauce as the liquid part of the recipe didn't turn out as well as it usually does.

I understood the person to say that he/she did not have one at all, not just the accoutrements. And frankly, as someone who lived for years without a food processor until about a year ago, there are some things you just can't make. And no, blenders don't always work. I had to make sure that I read through the instructions before I decided to commit to a recipe. That said, though, I still enjoy the chat.

Yep, that's my understanding too. On blenders, that's why I qualified it to say that you can usually/often use them, but the result will be more aerated. I'm thinking of something like hummus, right?

Is there a good way to roast sweet potatoes in rounds? We really don't want a super sweet dish - savory/baked is where we are headed. I guess I could do cubes, but I seem to have rounds in my head. Also, how do sweet potatoes work with sage, oregano or rosemary, of which we have an abundance just cut from the garden before the frost (yippeee timing!). Thanks to you and Happy Thanksgiving to all.

I really like sweet potatoes with rosemary and sea salt. You will be fine with rounds. If you slice them (I like skins on) give them a toss in a paper bag with some fresh chopped rosemary and the sea salt, put 'em on a foil lined cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven and turn them over when you see that they are browned on the BOTTOM (the top browns last). Also, the fresher the sweet potato, the less sweet they'll be.

As someone who keeps kosher, I can't use butter in any food that I might be serving with turkey (or meat in general). If I replace it with margarine, what impact will that have on cooking times and/or taste?

You can replace butter with margarine in most recipes. Make sure and use a regular margarine, not a low-fat version. Things should cook just fine. As for taste, sure it will taste different. If you're a butter lover, it will matter. If you like mragarine, it probably won't bother you at all.

I'm not into margarine. The smell alone turns me off. I'd much rather substitute olive oil if possible.

Submitting early: My nephew gets a complimentary, basted Butterball turkey from his employer each year. I have another turkey that's unbasted, and I plan to brine it. Can I brine the Butterball turkey? Will it make it better? Worse?

I  like what brining does for a natural fresh bird. This year, seems like there's some sort of movement to get past it (no longer hip) or "dry-brine" (salt). Although I did buy an injector guests won't know I've experimented until they're soaking in it, so to speak.

The Butterball folks give directions for brining on their Web site, but their birds are "self-basting" and don't really need it. You'd be doing it for added flavor,  not moister meat. If you're not stuffing the turkey, throw some aromatics in the cavity and you'll be glad you did.

I could be wrong, but I seem to remember a column here last year that gave the ratios for calculating how much salt to use when mixing up turkey brine. Something like 5% of the turkey weight, maybe? Unfortunately, I've tried to search but can't find it! Do you know what I'm talking about, or am I going crazy (or both)?

That is awfully complicated. The ratio that is more important is salt to water. I was gratified to see that a publication whose name I dare not speak affirmed the ratio I always use: 1/2 cup of kosher salt (or 1/2 cup of salt and of sugar) per gallon of water. Brine for 1 hour per pound of turkey. (Cover the turkey with water, remove the turkey and measure the water before you start the process so you know how much water you will need.)

Is it necessary to sift flour?

It's impossible to give a blanket answer to this one. My rule of thumb is to sift whenever the recipe calls for it because that's how it was tested. Not sfting might throw off the measurements or produce a heavier product than intended.

Is there a pumpkin-flavored yeast roll I can wow my family with? Bonus points if they're breakapart and can be baked together touching in a pan.

We did sweet potato rolls last year; I make these just about every year. They're not pumpkin, but still in the season. (And indeed, they pull apart.) For that matter, you could sub same amount of pumpkin puree and probably be just fine...

Vodka and cranberry juice with a lemon or lime, also known as a Capecodder. It is our family traditional holiday drink. To fancy it up add a splash of seltzer.

If you wanted to take it a step further, you could make your own cranberry juice. And then a step even further, you can make the Provincial, which is essentially a Cosmopolitan with rum (and Cointreau, cranberry, and lime).

I usually always read the chats live. If you chime in and ask for something to be "translated" I would be more than happy to submit instructions to the chat gurus for their approval that use traditional and non-fancy implements. My mother's kitchen was bare bones, and even though I am lucky enough to have some of the equipment that I used to covet, I find myself reaching for the pastry cutter (or two butter knives). I still prefer to knead bread by hand. I would rather chop food with a knife than use a food processor. Can you tell us what you DO have? Do you have a hand blender (with the two egg beaters to lick delicious cake batter from)? A blender? Rolling pin? Please give us an idea of the tools you have, but stick with us and give us a chance. You are part of our community. And Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanks for offering to be part of the solution!

To the inquirer about the green beans with vinaigrette, take that up a notch with fresh shavings of Parmesan or Pecorino

May I add to Jim Shahin's tip about bagged ice for those traveling with food? Put the food in the cooler, then put the bag of ice on top. This not only makes packing and unpacking FAR easier, it acknowledges the laws of physics: cold air falls; warm air rises. Everyone to whom I have suggested this, as gently as possible, looks a little surprised but then finds that it really does work remarkably well.... no trying to squiggle things into a bin of ice or fish things out of it. Happy T'day, and safe journeys.

And I would add that, whether putting the ice on top or bottom, leave it in the bag. Lasts longer, and doesn't create a watery mess. 

Happy Thankgiving! Would be overwhelmingly strong/inadvisable to throw a spring of rosemary into my cranberry sauce while it's cooking? I was thinking of throwing in a little clementine juice and some dried cherries as well, and reducing the sugar a little. Thoughts?

I don't like the idea. Cranberries already lean to the bitter side. Rosemary can be bitter as well, especially without any fat to balance it.  Also, I wouldn't want rosemary leaves in my sauce.

I agree with Steph, but I love the clementine-and-dried-cherries idea.

How about some gluten-free pasta with tuna or flaked salmon as one dish? You can throw in some peas for a one-pot meal or serve a salad on the side. Eggs and bacon will make one breakfast. You can do a turkey leftover wrap using corn tortillas instead of flour for a lunch, as long as the corn tortillas are gluten free (100% masa). Twice-baked potatoes might be a nice hit, and you can let people choose how to top them to give some good variety.

Wow! I found some at Takoma Park Farmers Market last Sunday. I'm not using them for the holiday (I mean I love my family but c'mon, Hayman sweets?) as the vendor told me they'll get even sweeter if I store them properly for a few weeks. I can't wait to try them. Thanks to you all for spotlighting them in the Food section. Happy Thanksgiving


I want to cook two turkeys; one at my mother-in-law's home and one at mine. The second turkey will be made out of spite. WIll this affect the flavor?

Only if you leave the "e" off.

Ratio by Michael Ruhlman gives a basic muffin ratio with many add on suggestions. I make up my own from his basic ratio and love doing it. 

Instead of Kitchen Bouquet, I like old-fashioned Worcestershire and, always, a generous splash of cognac to "smooth" the gravy.

A generous splash of cognac smoothes the cook, too.

With only broth for liquid, will it turn out a complete fail? I want a change from the roasted root veggies usually serve, but need to omit milk/cream for diet reasons.

No, not a giant failure, just different. It won't be creamy and it won't hold together as well. Doesn't mean it won't taste good.

Having just discovered ginger liqueur, I have now tried it with ginger beer and rum (and lime, of course). About an ounce of the liqueur really perks up this drink.

Try that ginger liqueur in a  basic bourbon and ginger. Nix the ginger ale and use about 1/3 ginger liqueur and 2/3 soda to fill up the glass after pouring the bourbon over rox. A little shake and you have a nice sipper.

That sounds good. So does Lorraine's drink! You could also drop an ounce of it in the Cloudy Sky, which is sort of like a sloe gin rickey.

Wow, that sounds delicious. However, my sister is a vegan. Any problem with using a vegan spread (Smart Balance Lite) instead of butter?

That's my recipe, but I just don't know. The glaze is formed by the butter mixing with the sugar in the balsamic. If your sister's vegan, serve roasted  beets with an orange vinaigrette. It's a great combo and doesn't require any substitutions.

I went looking for frozen cranberries to make cranberry sauce out of season. I only found ones with sugar added--since the reason I make my own sauce is to reduce the sugar by half, that wasn't an option. I finally found some in the health food store. Now I buy fresh, pick them over, and freeze for later use.

right, buy FRESH ones to freeze, as is.

I haven't seen these sweetened frozen cranberries! So not a good thing.

OK, so you pour out the roasting liquid into something & then separate the fat from the brown liquid. Did I understand correctly that the brown liquid from the roasting pan is then discarded, with stock made (hopefully) earlier to be used, along with some of the roasting fat? I thought it was recommended to use the roasting juices too. Thanks! And one quick question - favorite cranberry sauce recipes? I like whole cranberry recipes, and will be mingling with orange this year, I think, unless you ahve other ideas?

Oh, good catch. Add the pan drippings to your gravy (use them for the total amount of cooking liquid you need.) That's the best part!


I cook a bag of cranberries in a water  with the zest and juice of 1 orange, add some cardamom, dissolve a large box of raspberry jello (use as much total water as the box says), then add the rest of the water and some drained mandarin oranges (a large can or more, if you want.)

Ask for one as a present for whatever holiday you celebrate or buy one at a black Friday sale. Problem solved.

Hi free rangers! I've decided to make Homesick Texan's sweet potato biscuits for the big feast tomorrow? Would it be ok to make the biscuit dough in advance (tonight or tomorrow morning) and chill in the fridge? Thanks for all you do - have a great Thanksgiving!

Here's what to do. Form the biscuits and freeze them and a parchment lined baking sheet; transfer to a resealable plastic bag and store in the frreezer.  You can bake them the next day right from the freezer.

Test one earlier in the day but you should be good to go.

I have a question about whether or not to cook the stuffing inside the turkey. I understand there are health considerations, and if I decide to cook in the bird I will need to make sure the stuffing reaches the appropriate temperature as well. Do you generally recommend cooking the stuffing inside or separately? What are the advantages to cooking it each way? Should I cook in in the turkey then transfer it to a pan and cook for additional time? This is my first turkey, and I want to make sure I don't end up poisoning anyone.

You know, my mother always stuffed the turkey and no one died from it. Bonnie says the magic # is 165 and that sounds good to me. I'm stuffing my bird. It looks pretty and the stuffing tastes better to me than when I do it separately. Do not cook  in the turkey and then remove it and cook it more. That is way too much of a mess. 

I'm a stuffer, and have never had poisoning issues. That said, my stuffing recipe's  not a moist one.  I always bake some separately in a casserole dish to give my guests an option of stuffing flavored with turkey juices (the advantage) or the browned, crunchy-topped stuffing (advantage to cooking separately, along with eliminating any doubt) of a casserole model. Your inside-the-bird stuffing needs to hit 165 degrees.  Sure, you could cook it in the turkey and then remove it and cook further but that seems like a hassle to me.

Most Weber Kettle grills bought recently have instructions/recipes for cooking a whole turkey in the manual (make sure you're using indirect heat). If you don't have the manual, you should be able to find it on Weber's website. Another great reference for this is Weber's "How To Grill" book if you can get a copy in time - in addition to recipes, it is loaded with pictures and instruction on techniques for different kinds of grilling. Also, this is probably splitting hairs, but usually cooking a turkey on a kettle grill is technically not really smoking it - it's grilling it over indirect heat. Smoking something in the classic sense on a kettle instead of a smoker can be tricky.

I agree with the technicality about smoking, grilling. But most folks don't have an offset smoker.

If you add wood chips or chunks to a Weber kettle and cook indirect, you are smoking, or doing some facsimile that is close enough. 

Weber does have a good smoked turkey how-to on its website. So does the Post, which is to say, here's shameless plug for my column last week: 


I have really been enjoying rum Manhattans (and they make an excellent one at the Sidebar in Silver Spring, too). I think I will try the Provincial, too, for a less booze-intense option.

Sure thing! And btw, you don't HAVE to make candied lime wheels and lime syrup for the Provincial, but it's a very very nice touch.

How do I figure out how long it will take the turkey to cook on the grill? Is there a minutes per pound formula? What if I butterfly it?

It's very hard to provide a specific minutes-per-pound guide for smoking a turkey, due to the vagaries of wood moisture, air temp, oxygen flow, type of rig you're using.  That's why most smoked turkey recipes (including mine) give an approximate overall time. I would say this: if you are using a Weber charcoal grill (rather than a smoker), you can plan on about - and I mean a very rough "about" - 10 minutes per pound. In other words, somewhere around 2-3 hours for a 15-pound turkey. 

A number of years ago the post did a recipe on making cheesecake while you sleep, with a number of variants. I can't find it in the archives. Do you have the recipe? Thanks.

Making cheesecake while you sleep by Andrew Schloss (Washington Post, Oct. 9, 1996)

My husband and I keep kosher. We have yet to find a good recipe for stuffing that is either parve (not dairy, not meat) or can be served with a meat dish (meaning it contains no dairy products, since meat & dairy are separate). This may be too arcane a question for a general chat, but if you nice folks have a good recipe for kosher stuffing, or know where I can find one, my husband and I would be grateful.

Couple ways to go. You could try a rice-based stuffing, such as this one, or you could substitute the small amount of butter in this citrus-y one with either a parve margarine or with olive oil.  Do you have a good Jewish cookbook? There ought to be a decent stuffing recipe in that, or maybe even use a matzoh meal stuffing from Passover.

Well, you've stored us at above 55 degrees for three weeks or more to make sure that we get sweeter, so you know what that means -- we're cured!

Thanks for the great q's today, and to all our reinforcements for the great a's. Hope we gave you some delicious ideas. 

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who adopted the name "Please don't go!" and offered to translate our answers for the equipment-impaired will get "Mitsisam Cafe Cookbook" as  thank-you. And the chatter who asked about an adaptable muffin recipe will get "A Bird in the Oven." Send your mailing info to us at, and we'll get them to you!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating, reading -- and happy Thanksgiving!

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