Free Range on Food: Thanksgiving

Nov 27, 2013

It's the day before Thanksgiving. We'll be here for two hours to help you with your preparations!
Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to your day-before-Thanksgiving chat!

Hope you're excited about this, our favorite cooking holiday of the year. What's on your menu?

We've got a special guest today: Amanda Moniz, author of our special Sunday section (we back it up every year to give people more time to plan for T-day) piece on the history of 8 Thanksgiving dishes. Hope you enjoyed it -- oh, and Becky and Jane's fun piece about their Jell-O mold wrestling match; and Nevin Martell's ode to shoofly pie.

Amanda will join us regulars for a special TWO-HOUR chat today. So stick around and keep throwing all your Thanksgiving questions our way, and we'll do our best to help.

We will have a giveaway book for our favorite chatter today: Yes, it's "The Washington Post Cookbook"! Just in time for holiday giving. (And maybe one more; stay tuned.)

Let's do this thing!

Is an organic bird worth the price or is free range safe enough?

Those terms can be hard to define without asking the farmer (or the person selling the turkey) a lot of annoying questions.


If a turkey is labeled USDA certified organic, you can be certain it's a bird that was given no antibiotics or grains grown with chemicals, among other practices. If the bird is labeled organic, but not certified, you'll have to press the farmer or seller for more details on what that means exactly. 


The free range description can be just as elusive to pin down. The bird may have access to the open field. It may also be kept in a barn. The feed could be organic, it could not be. Again, you have to ask questions.


You asked about the safety of these birds. I don't think either bird will affect your family's health much one way or another (assuming the turkeys have been handled correctly, of course); it's just a single meal after all. This seems more a question of which farming practices you want to support -- and how much you're willing to support them. That's a personal question.


If you're still looking for a turkey, by the way, Becky Krystal has pulled together a comprehensive list on where to buy them.

Is a turkey baster really required for basting? If I don't have one, does anything else work in its place?

I say nay; spend the $$ on good-quality olive oil instead. A small ladle or big metal spoon works just fine. But if I may ask, why are you basting?

Posting early to give heartfelt thanks for all that the Washington Post food staff do all year long both in print, online and in the kitchen. I'm also thankful to chat participants, who have helped to answer my many questions. Wishing everyone a delicious holiday in every way.

Aw, shucks. Thanks so very much for reading us!

We've been eating pie for weeks now, so we need a change and thought of pineapple upside down cake. The question is fresh or canned pineapples? Do you have a favorite recipe?

Gosh, this seems like just the ticket: Pineapple-Cranberry Upside-Down Cake Redux.  So little fat per serving! 

If your group has no nut allergies, you might want to try this Lemon Thyme Spice Cake. Heaven. 



And, yes, fresh pineapple for that redux!

Chatters, please welcome "Nourish" columnist and all-around fantastic cook and recipe developer, Stephanie Sedgwick! Ask her anything you'd like.

I've got more guests coming than I anticipated and am trying to come up with some more side dishes to compensate for a possible shortfall of turkey. I've got 2 pounds of carrots that I'd like to roast but won't have room in the oven on Thanksgiving. If I make them a day ahead, how can I reheat them? Or should I serve them room temperature? Any other suggestions for easy and filling sides? Thanks.

How about a carrot pudding?  Amelia Simmons's 1796 cookbook suggested boiling carrots, mixing them with eggs, a little sugar, butter, and some spices. Then you bake the pudding.  It would be great at room temp.

You can serve at room temperature, or better yet, pop back in the oven just to rewarm a bit right before serving.

Those sprouts last week looked divine and simple. Question: I'm out in the exurbs and my local supermarkets only seem to get in about one stalk of Brussels at a time. Do you think frozen would be sufficiently delicious? And if so, petite or regular sized? I am thankful for you and your chats! Enjoy your feasts.

Hmm. Especially when they're in season I think it'd be a shame to use frozen sprouts for this recipe! Don't think you'd get the same caramelized magic.

Sorry, just want to pat myself on the back. I had picked up a bottle of lemon extract in the grocery store on Monday just because it was on sale plus I had a coupon and it was lemon - I didn't have anything in mind, but I figured I could find a recipe to use it. Then some women came up behind me and were looking for lemon extract for something they planned for Thankgiving but it seemed that I had the last bottle (I am too short to have been able to see this on my own and they didn't see me take it or ask for it). I gave it to them. Not sure why I am telling you, but I am proud of myself in a very "everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarden" way. Is there an ethical obligation to do this in certain circumstances? Beyond just not hoarding/gouging on water and essentials in a true emergency? Maybe Washintonians need to cut back on buying up all the bread, milk and eggs (and tp) before snow storms in the name of civic harmony?

Very nice of you!  In her 1796 cookbook, Amelia Simmons complains about boys stealing apples from orchards.  She would approve of you!

Pie crust recipes, videos, demos, etc. all call for forming the dough into a disc then refrigerating it before rolling it out. All good. Question is: wouldn't it be easier to form it into a larger, flatter circle instead of a small, thick disc? Wouldn't that require less rolling out, which makes the dough tough, and also warms it, making it harder to roll? Is there a reason NOT to do this?

You can roll it out a bit more than just a disk - sort of a thin disk - before putting it in the fridge or freezer to rest.  You're right about not overhandling dough. Cookbook authors throughout the 1800s made the same point about not overworking dough.

No question, but I thought if anyone could appreciate my plight, it would be you guys. I'm responsible for making all the dishes except the turkey for Thanksgiving. This includes eight side dishes and two desserts. Everything was going swimmingly - I had a clearly planned out schedule and had made sure a majority of the dishes could be made ahead so that I was never trying to do too much on any given day. And then I was placed on a boil advisory yesterday. Sigh. It's not very easy to cook and bake when you can't use your sink water. Here's hoping it ends soon.

Blech. That's terribly inconvenient. It definitely reminds you of how often you use tap water while cooking/cleaning. Have you resorted to jugs of water? Or are you boiling everything first?


And where do you live, by the way?

I was thinking about making a White Russian "bar" for a party coming up, kind of like a Bloody Mary bar, but for the end of the meal. Other than Kahlua, Baileys, vokda and milk, do you have any suggestions for something else I could include to give people options? Or maybe something that can be added to the glass, like a cinnamon stick?

That sounds fun -- I always like drinking dessert and The Dude would approve (sorry if you're not a "Big Lebowski" fan; I may be assuming too much about the source of wanting to do a White Russian bar! :) Here are some things I'd consider:

- Other spirits that might add notes of interest to the standard White Russian. I can see a good reposado tequila or a whiskey with some smoky notes mixing really well with the traditional flavors. (I personally find White Russians a little on the sweet side, and some of these spirits -- while not reducing the sweetness -- will add a level of interest that vodka might not). There's also a coffee-flavored tequila from Patron, Patron XO Cafe, that would likely be a nice addition if you feel like a little splurge. We break it out after dinner parties and people tend to love it.

- Coffee as a potential mixer, either cold or hot. Especially in this weather, a warmer version might be welcomed. Could also warm the milk.

- Along with the cinnamon stick, how about whole nutmeg to grate over the  top, an orange (same purpose), or maybe some bitter chocolate?

- Any vegans/lactose intolerant in the bunch? May want to give them a different mixer like an almond milk. 

How on Earth did Tamales make it on the list of 8 Classic Thanksgiving Dishes in Sunday's article? Would stuffing not come before Tamales on a list of Thanksgiving "Classics"? Tamales began with "New to the Thanksgiving table" well wouldn't "new" indicate that it's not "Classic"?

There's nothing more classic than dishes made with maize on the Thanksgiving table.  Depending on ethnic or regional heritage or your favorite tastes, your dish might be cornbread or Indian pudding -- or tamales. 

I'm in charge of a couple of vegetable sides on Thursday and have decided to do the extremely decadent brussel sprouts in cream recipe found at various places over the internet (saute in butter for 5 minutes, add 1c cream, cook 25-30 minutes, add salt and lemon to taste). The results are delicious but I'm a bit worried about the timing of serving. When we did our practice run this week, I noticed that the sauce of the leftovers still in the pan was broken and inside out by the end of our dinner. Can I prevent this from happening in the serving bowl at the table? Just wait until the last minute to add the lemon juice and hope for the best?

I've made something like these before, and you're right: decadent and delicious. I think you're onto the culprit and the solution. Stir the lemon juice in right before serving. (I would think that even just taking them off the heat and letting them cool a bit before adding the lemon juice would work, too...)

I just wanted to send along my thanks to the Free Range crew. Because of you I know how to cook my smoked turkey, have rolls in the freezer ready to be reheated, and have a beautiful stuffed polenta dish prepped and ready to wow my vegetarian guests. Love you guys! The hardest part is going to be staying focused at work today - I'm failing so far.

Awesome. Glad we could help!

I saw an ad online for "Freshy", an egg shaped thing, looks like glass or plastic, that keeps items in your fridge fresher, longer. $19.95! Anyone ever use this thing?

I haven't seen Freshy before, but it's the latest in an increasing line of products designed to keep the food in our fridges fresher, longer. Last year, Jane Black wrote about a product called Fresh Paper, which actually seemed to prolong the life of fruits and veggies.


Freshy, according its Web site, is an eggy-looking contraption that's supposed to reduce moisture in the fridge, which theoretically would inhibit bacterial growth in foods. It also reduces "oxidation," it says.


I'd be curious if anyone out there has tried one. With products like this, I fall back on a variation of the old Russian proverb: "Don't trust; verify."

When a recipe calls for butter, does it matter if you use salt or sweet.? What is commonly assumed when "butter" is used?

Calls for low-grade sleuthing on your part. Is the recipe more than 30-40 years old? If so, salted butter might have been a  given. The "sweet" label is confusing...these days it probably means the butter is salted, as in "sweet cream butter." If the recipe's more recent, it might have come from a cookbook whose frontise material might have explained that all uses of the word "butter" means "unsalted butter." (I think that's sometimes done to save words/space in recipes.) Because salt's a preservative, salted butter might have a longer cold/storage shelf life than unsalted. We tend to use unsalted in all TWP recipes to be as exacting as we can about sodium in the nutritional analysis. But the butter spread on our Sweet Potato Rolls at Thanksgiving? Avec sel, all the way. 

Be glad the recipe isn't from the 1800s!  Unless your butter was very fresh, you'd be washing the salt off it and squeezing the water out.

I'm on modified bed rest, so my husband is doing the turkey (deep fried!) and green bean casserole, my mom is making the stuffing, my sis is making the mashed potatoes and rolls. I would like to prepare one relatively healthy veggie dish that will appeal to 5 small children, but that does not take much energy (I can sit and chop, but that's about it). Any ideas?

I'd go with the roasted carrots that our earlier chatter is making. Carrots are kid friendly and roasting brings out their natural sweetness. Just cut into chunks (3/4-inch or so), toss with salt, pepper and olive oil. Spread out on an aluminum foil lined rimmed baking sheet and roast at 375 for about 25 minutes.  The clean-up's a breeze, just toss the foil and you're done, which I'm sure your husband will appreciate.

Just read your tip about freezing vs refrigerating. I'm preparing in advance, but only by a few hours. Is that enough time? By the time they freeze, they'll need to be re-heated.

Are Happy Hanukkah greetings in order? Consider them delivered. If it's just a few hours, hold them at room temperature. They'll be fine.  Once they've cooled/drained, take them off the paper towels or cooling rack and cover loosely. 

I'm making roasted acorn squash that's mashed with some butter, salt, and pepper. No recipe--just based on my own trial/error. Is there anything you'd change/add to make it more of a festive dish?

How about spreading it into a gratin/casserole dish, sprinkling with some feta and pecans, and running it under the broiler just until the cheese and nuts brown?

I'm making a sweet potato casserole this year that doesn't have the usual marshmallow topping, but just a nutty/crunchy one. The base is also very basic (if you'll excuse the pun), just mashed sweet potatoes, some maple syrup and seasoning. I have a ricer that I used for mashed potatoes that I love. Do you think it's worth it here? It can be time consuming, so I don't want to go through the whole process if it won't make a difference.

Sounds good! I'd use the ricer if you want them to have a really fluffy, smooth texture, but with sweet potatoes, the texture is usually denser than with the best mashed white potatoes, don't you think? And that's not a bad thing. It depends on what you want to achieve, but I think you'd be fine to just mash them by hand.

You shouldn't need a ricer with sweet potatoes, just let them roast until good and soft in the oven (on aluminum foil)  and they should be easily mashed with a fork . That will also save you some clean-up.

I've been scouring the internet for recipes for vegetarian gravy and all I've found is either mushroom and sherry or miso (I don't understand what unami means). What do you guys think? What would work best over mashed taters?

How about herbs or fennel steeped in some melted butter?  You can thicken it with a little flour.  Suggestion courtesy of William Kitchener, M.D. He was an English cookbook writer of the 1800s but his published in the U.S. and adapted for the American market so I say we can turn to him for some Thanksgiving ideas.

Umami is that depth of flavor (sometimes referred to as a savory taste) that comes from such things as mushrooms, tomatoes, wine, Parm. Miso and soy sauce have it in spades because of the fermenting process. Check out this Mushroom-Miso-Mustard Gravy. It's a good one.

Hey Rangers! I have a pumpkin pie recipe that calls for 1c heavy cream and 1c whole milk. Can I just sub a pint of half and half instead? (I hope so - it'll both reduce waste/leftovers as well as make me feel better about already buying it, haha.) Thank you!!

Yes, you can! Half and half is just that: half cream and half milk, so yes.

Two questions: 1. Any truth to roasting breast side down then flipping it keeps the bird juicier? I don't want to try flipping a hot turkey for no good reason! 2. Is there any way I can use parchment paper UNDER the pie crust to get the pie actually out of the pie plate? I'd like to try to get the pumpkin pie out in one piece. If so, do I do this when I pre-bake the shell? I've only got one plate and need to make two pies. Thank you!!

Two answers (at least!): For regular roasting, I think the step does keep the breast meat juicier.  Goes easier with a 12-14lb'er than a really big bird.


Re the pie: Might work best if you bake in a disposable aluminum pan. They're flexible and you'll have a good shot at extracting the whole pie. Generally it's the sides and edges that cause the problem -- not the bottom of the crust itself. Chatters, got another way to Houdini your pie out of the pan? Do tell! 

Last year, I added vodka to my pie crust for apple pie and was really pleased with the resulting flaky crust. I'm considering using a different spirit this year that will impart flavor. Rye whiskey seems like a good choice. Do you agree? I'm not quite sure I can imagine how it will taste.

How about hard cider?  Sarah Hale's 1857 cookbook has a recipe for cider cake.  She's a the person behind our national Thanksgiving holiday so a good person to be inspired by!

Our family tradition was using Kellogg's croutons (stuffing mix) as the basis for the in-turkey stuffing. Kellogg's discontinued the product several years ago, and I have not found anything the family will accept as a reasonable substitute. Please help!

Ah, Kellogg's.  A cereal company that owes its start to a 19th c. health reform movement.  I'd suggest Graham crackers for history's sake since they also have origins in the same 19th c. health reform movement, but that sounds pretty awful.

I think you MIGHT have answered this last week, but I can't remember the answer. I'm planning to do roasted brussels sprouts for tomorrow- but the oven needs to be pretty high, and we have limited oven space. Will they be ok if I roast them tonight, then reheat in the oven tomorrow?

Yes, they will! Just be sure to roast them in a big enough pan so they don't overlap, to get that good crispness and browning, and do the same when you reheat.

I'm making lemon meringue pie. Every year I make my own pie crust and something goes wrong and I end up using my backup from the store. Determined to make mine work this year. The dough is already made. When I roll it out, how do I prevent shrinking when I bake it before filling? Do I use an egg wash? Docking? Pie weights? Help!

The most important things: start with everything cold, don't add too much water, don't overblend, don't overwork, chill it to rest. I roll out dough on the thick side, but also try to make sure I roll it out big enough that I have plenty to work with so when I lay it in the pie pan I don't have to pull or stretch it AT ALL. You want to lay it in from the center (you can fold it in half or quarters, and then put the point in the middle of the pie plate and gently unfold, or there are many other techniques) and gently push it into place without tugging AT ALL. Did I mention to NOT STRETCH IT?

Also, freeze it again after you've formed the dough into the pan, before you bake it. Docking/weights are to prevent the bottom crust from puffing up too much during the baking. An egg wash can seal up the bottom to keep it from getting soggy once you add the filling, but none of those things address shrinking.

Hi, I'm in charge of the mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. We will be traveling about 40 minutes to the event. is there anything I can do in advance, or will I have to do all the prep and beg a burner from them right before dinner? Thanks!!! Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

The problem with peeling potatoes before boiling them is the skins protect the starch cells from rupturing, which prevents your mashed taters from turning into glue. But, as always, Cook's Illustrated has tips to help. They suggest steaming potatoes, which has the benefit of fluffier mashed potatoes. With the steamed technique, you can peel and dice your potatoes beforehand, then cover them with cold water and refrigerate (so they don't turn brown). When you're ready to steam them, just follow these directions from Cook's Illustrated.

You can just make the potatoes right before you leave, put them in an ovenproof container covered with foil to keep warm, and then if needed warm them in a low oven on site.

My favorite technique, btw, comes from Rick Rodgers. Do this:

· Place whole, peeled potatoes in a large pot filled with cold salted water. (Leaving them whole allows more of their starch to be retained, which leads to better body when mashed.)

· Bring to a boil over high heat and then cook for 40 minutes, or until the potatoes are just tender.

· Drain and return the potatoes to the (empty) pot they were cooked in.

· Dry them out over low heat for about 10 minutes, tossing gently and occasionally, until excess moisture is forced out and evaporates.

· Proceed with your favorite preparation. (We like to send the potatoes through a ricer, then add butter, heavy cream, salt and pepper.)

I like to use Plugra for my pie crusts. But when I prepared the pie crusts last Monday it seemed that I needed a LOT more water than any recipe called for. Is this just because Plugra has much less moisture than American butter? And what method do you prefer? Mixing by hand, food processor, etc? And what do you think of Cooks Illustrated's inclusion of vodka in their recipe?

It may be, better quality butters usually have a lower moisture content, but pie crust is fickle to begin with. Think of the recipe as a starting point and add water as needed to get the dough to hold together. The humidity changes how much water you need, more in the the drier winter months, less in the moister summer months.

I prefer the food processor, cause it keeps things so quick. The vodka thing works, but I have to confess, I never do it -- my pie crusts turn out great without it. Sometimes, I do think you just have to develop a touch/feel over the years. Btw, I laughed the other day at the store when I saw that one of the brands, I think it was Kerry Gold, has a reduced-fat butter! The whole beauty of the European butters is the higher fat content, of course.

I had planned on making a turkey breast, but my butcher ended up slicing a full turkey in half for me. Any suggestions on a good recipe for a half turkey?

It would be about the same as when the bird is butterflied/spatchcocked. Seems like a good candidate for placing a mound of stuffing underneath so it can soak up the delicious turkey juices. 

I made cranberry sauce this morning--just the usual orange juice, sugar, and cranberries. It looks ok but the cranberries didn't pop when I cooked them. They were frozen. Is it a problem that they didn't audibly pop and could it have been because I added them to the hot liquid while they were still frozen?

They don't usually AUDIBLY pop, do they? Mine never have, anyway. You do want them to break down a bit, though, and it helps if they do burst (however gently and silently). How is the texture, generally? Looks good, but does it taste good?  If they're not broken up, heat it up again and use a potato masher or a big spoon to urge them along.

Microwaved frozen peas. Seriously. (If they like peas.) Don't sweat it.

Amanda, Thanks for the interesting and informative article about the history of Thanksgiving foods. I love the idea of real marshmallows! Where can I find marshmallow root and do you have a good authentic recipe to make them?

Oh gosh.  I have never actually used marshmallow root and I'm afraid I don't even know where to find it. 

My family LOVES the Chickpea Gravy from Vegan with a Vengeance... it's online here.


Is there a valid reason why so many dressing/stuffing recipes call for the crust removed from the cubes of bread? In my opinion, the chrunchy crust is one of the best parts of a loaf of bread. Can I leave it on?

That's a good question.  In the world of stuffing, I guess the crust is a variable. Depending on the bread you use, it can get too tough/hard, or it can get splintery, or it can separate/disintegrate to mush once the liquid's mixed in. But if you like it, don't cut it off! It's the "home" part of homemade. 

Truly? Just buy another plate. Why worry about getting the pie out so you can re-use? Pyrex plates are $7.


Hello, Foodies! I hope you saw that Butterball will be having male assistants on their 1-800 panic line this year. I find this a welcome change for the better. Last year, my partner overseasoned our turkey with too much zaatar and piment d'esplette, making it inedible. He needed a calm, authoritative, masculine voice to talk him through things but none could be had, and our guests were very polite but obviously disappointed, and believe me, no bellini was tart enough to hold off the ugly cry at brunch the next morning! So, thanks, Butterball, and I hope your new Turkey Day first responders do a calendar for 2014!

I'm surprised it's taken this long for there to be any men on the Butterball line! (But be careful what you wish for, re that calendar, right? You haven't seen these responders, after all.)

Do you have any thoughts on using Coca Cola to baste the turkey? I saw Frederic Morin do it on a video using montreal steak spice to rub and coca cola to baste. Any idea what that does to the taste of the turkey/turkey skin?

Eh, why add an extra 40 grams of sugar to the Thanksgiving table? That's about the gist of what's in a can of regular Coke, called for in those kinds of recipes -- and of course that's not counting the usual brown sugar added in. I think there are better ways of getting the skin crisp and browned. I have tasted root-beer glazed meat but not a Cokealicious bird, so I can't speak to the taste. I suspect you might get something along the lines of crunchy sweet, turkey-flavored cracklings. 


AND -- what would happen when you had to make gravy? Oh, the horror. 

A group of my friends and I get together for an annual Friendsgiving, but this year it's been pushed to mid-December and dupped "Holiday Food with Friends." There will be a big turkey and plenty of sides, but I'd like to make the appetizers for peope to nibble on as they arrive and finalize their dishes. It's very informal, but I'd still like something that isn't just setting out an olive bar and cheese. I think it'd also be fun to have one appetizer that is clearly "Thanksgiving" and one that is more "Winter/Christmas." Do you have any that you've found are a hit at parties?

I've grown fond of blinis with smoked salmon, an appetizer that my wife (you may know her as Spirits Columnist M. Carrie Allan!) makes with sweet potato batter. Here's a recipe that features a more traditional batter.


For a contrasting flavor, how about something like this Mushroom-Lentil Pate? You can make it a couple of days ahead of time.

Have some Reese's infused vodka as an option, for a reese-esque white russian! To make: for every 6 ounces good quality vodka, ¼ cup Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. For ease, buy the unwrapped mini cups. Chop the cups in half,and put them into the vodka. Shake once a day, and let infuse for a minimum of 10 days. When ready, strain out the vodka and Bam! Reese vodka!. When I do this, I usually pour the vodka into mason jars before starting and do 3 jars worth.

Given that this is a dessert-ish stand-in, this sounds like a fun option. I'm curious -- how much flavor and sweetness does the vodka take on after such a long exposure to the candy? Does the vodka end up more peanut-buttery, or more sweet? (I've done a bunch of infusions but haven't yet tried doing candy!)

I was boiling, but the water had a yellow shade to it, so I'm using bottled (even to wash my dishes - how ridiculous) until I get the OK from the water company. Don't worry - I'm in the Midwest!

Thanks for letting us know and best of luck with your Thanksgiving dinner!

Happy Thanksgiving guys! I am making an Apple and Pear Crumble for the big day and have a couple quick questions. What apples do you recommend? Can I do a mix of say a Granny, McIntosh, Fuji? Also I'd like to do as much today as possible. What do you suggest for pre-prep? Also, I am open to any additional tips you may have regarding flavor profiles for the dish :) Thanks!!

Macs will get too mushy.  The 19th c. cookbook authors often recommend tart green apples. 

She made it for every holiday, any special dinner or "ladies" luncheon. Lime jello, lemon jello, cider vinegar, shredded carrots, shredded green bell pepper, small dice celery, canned corn, canned peas and sometimes canned green beans. Served with a dollop of Best Foods mayo. A couple of the older women liked it. My sister and I both liked it, but only one serving per year. Guys never ate it. Grandkids--when they misbehaved at family events, I'd tell them I'd tell Nonna they loved her green jello and could they have more please. Now that she's gone, we always make it for family holidays, but only my sis and I eat that one serving. If it doesn't appear, everyone wants to know where it is--they don't want to eat it, they just want it on the table.

Here's a little history . . .  from my family.  We always had a Jello mold made with cranberry when I was a kid.  I miss it.

That made me tear up when I hit "submit" ;-)

Jane Touzalin, half  of our ace Jell-O tag team this year, says it's so interesting to see the how mold has worked its way into our national table of thanks.  (I've included a shot of her family recipe here, for the sake of fairness. 

For the poster asking about frozen, I bought a big (of course!) package of good looking fresh Brussels at Costco yesterday, if you're willing to brave the crowds.

Here's a good technique to keep mashed potatoes, or just about anything hot if you need to travel with it and are worried you can't reheat: As soon as you take the food out of the oven/stove, put it in a sealed container, then wrap that container in foil, then put that inside of a cooler, and buy a few of those hot/cold gel packs and microwave them and put them in the cooler with the food, and close the lid. You'll be amazed how long that will keep things hot. Careful if it's meat though - if you put it in the cooler too hot, it will continue to cook a little (esp. with something you might want medium/medium rare like a beef tenderloin or prime rib). Better if the cooler is at least at room temperature already (and not freezing cold from being in your garage); even better if you fill the cooler with hot water and let it sit for 15 minutes or so before you put the food and gel packs in it.

I have a relative coming for Thanksgiving who is obsessed with checking the sell-by or use-by dates on everything, and will not ingest anything with a date on or prior to the current day. This drives me nuts, and I think it's rude to scrutinize someone's pantry like that, and while I have a few items past their dates (ketchup for example), none of them have gone bad nor will they make anyone sick. Pro-tip - nail polish remover takes the sell-by date ink off of most things, especially condiment jars! I will have a Happy Thanksgiving weekend watching this person subtly try and try again to find nonexistent dates.

This is hilarious. Love it! I hope you saw Jane Black's recent piece on the confusing world of these dates, how they lead to unneeded waste, and efforts to improve them? If not, here it is.

I am so thankful to all of you and a thanks to Joe who because of I am having a vegetarian meal for Thanksgiving. . . . I am a loyal follower of the Free Range crew

We're thankful for you, too!

I have a fail proof apple cake recipe. I have very ripe pears. I was going to make a pear cobbler but will pears work in a cake? Thanks!!!

Go for it. Asian pears might be too watery, though. 

Amanda, I need more convincing. Your response seems like a knee jerk justification. I'm a native Virginian coming from a long line of them literally back to Colonial times and the only thing maize has meant to me and my family is as a decorative table piece. I love Mexican food, I love Tex-Max, I love tamales. But if I showed up at someone's house as a guest with a piping hot tray of them at Thanksgiving I would get the same dead stare of thanks that I would get if I gave out cans of black beans at Halloween. Please tell us why you really included tamales in this article. Thank you.

I included tamales because they are on some Americans' Thanksgiving tables.  Maize in other forms is on other Americans' tables.  All of our Thanksgiving dinners are different and reflect our backgrounds and preferences.  My New England family is having maize in the form of Indian pudding.  Some folks - in the Southwest, for instance, or with Mexican or Central American roots or who just like tamales - may be eating those tomorrow. 

I find the idea upsetting, btw, that because it's not YOUR tradition it couldn't possibly be anybody else's.

I had a casual spot on my Thanksgiving menu open for whatever vegetables I received in my CSA this week because I've been receiving lots of greens the last few weeks, but no greens came this week, and everything else I received is too much like everything else on my menu! I'm serving brussels sprouts as one dish, but want to have another vegetable on the spread. Since I'm running to the grocery after my office closes at 2, what can I do?

Moroccan-Style Carrot and Beet Salad! Everything's raw, super easy to do, and I guarantee you it'll be nothing like the other dishes on the table, right?


Actually the gravy is great. You should try Bonnie before going off on a rant.

Maybe I will! Next year. Or not.  I'm holding virtual hands with you, Basting. And smiling. We good? 

My family is including your maize suggestion in the form of Indian Pudding. Do you suggest, for authenticity, that we serve it with the main courses or as a dessert? Thank you. Debby

For authenticity's sake, a side dish or even the first course, which is when John and Abigail Adams ate it. 

Can cornbread stuffing be made ahead or is it best to assemble and bake the morning of? I'm thinking cornbread, celery, onion, apricots, pecans, and vegetable stock. Am I missing anything?

Herbs -- thyme, sage, rosemary. 

Seasoning -- salt and pepper.

You can assemble it a day in advance and refrigerate.

Perhaps you could dissuade your relative's fears by sampling the food as you make it to assure them it's safe. Today, for example, I made sure to sample my cinnamon-orange cranberry sauce, ginger ice cream and bacon marmalade. All seemed fine. However, I think I might need to go test them all again, just to be sure. The sacrifices home cooks must make!

This may be more of a Hax question, but I'm hoping you can help from the food standpoint. My in laws are great, but my mother in law tends to throw things in the oven whenever they've been prepared, take them out when they are (over)done, and then they sit until people come over, which is usually anywhere in a 2 hour time window. This includes the turkey, so it ends up being a dried out mess by the time it's eaten. Now, I don't eat turkey, so I'm still happy with all my sides, but my husband has begged me to interfere. I don't think there's a way to say "your turkey is horrible" to your in laws, and I think it's offensive to try to take over the whole process, but is there any way to salvage the bird? I've tried the foil tent before but it doesn't seem to help. More basting maybe?

I wouldn't go there. Tell your husband to drown his turkey in gravy!

Grandpa (the Thanksgiving day cook) just found out someone got low fat sour cream at the grocery store. "Why do they even sell this?!?!"

I like Grandpa.

Serious Eats has also said that you can peel your potatoes, rinse them to get the starch off until the water runs clear and then rinse them again after you cook them to help ensure they don't turn to glue. This way you can peel and chop them now and store them in water until you're ready to cook them. That's what I'm planning on doing!

Speaking of Serious Eats, the site also has this forum where a restaurant chef claims he used to make mashed potatoes three or four days ahead. Then reheated them in a sauce pan on the stove with more cream and butter. 

I made an apple pie a few weeks ago and, because i made it at the very end of the day, ended up just leaving it out overnight to cool off. This, not surprisingly, resulted in a great, non-runny, still crusty pie. Is it safe to leave pies out for 8 or more hours?

It depends. If your crust is undercooked you're doomed. My rule of thumb is fruit pies are best the day they're made. Pecan pies are fine the next day. Pumpkin pie is good for days.

Sarah Hale's 1857 cookbook suggests an apple pie with just a top crust.  Now that seems like a smart idea to me.

I always make pie -- including fruit -- the day before if I can help it. Stephanie's right, the crust needs to not be undercooked, but mine never is! Pie gets better when it has time to sit and cool.

Please, please promise to report back to us next week! Would love to hear how this turns out.

Me, too!

I totally vouch for this dish for the person needing another vegetable side. I made it this morning. Looks like it will keep well, is a beautiful color and very tasty too.

So glad to hear it!

Just want to thank Joe and the staff for profiling Vedge in the food section recently. It inspired me to take my husband to Philly for his birthday and it was absolutely delicious! It was as good if not better than anything we have had at vegetarian restaurants in San Francisco or New York. Bravo to Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby. Looking forward to trying the new place when it opens.


You're welcome. I <3 Vedge. And like you, I'm excited about the new place! Can't come soon enough. BTW, I'm also excited about cooking with Rich and Kate at one of the Sips & Suppers dinners in January!

The recipe we are using calls for cubes of soft white bread. I know this is a basic question, but what kind of bread would you purchase? A white sandwich bread, or something more rustic...?

I'd assume soft white bread means sandwich bread. What's the dish? Sometimes it doesn't make much of difference which kind of bread you use. It's more a question of  personal preference.

I bought a 20-lb turkey because I want lots of leftover meat to cut up and freeze for future meals. I will make stews, stir-fries, and quesadillas with the leftover turkey. What are some other possibilities?

Eliza Leslie's Seventy-five receipts for pastry, cakes, and sweet-meats, first published in 1827, recommends using cold turkey in salad.  She adds egg yolks, oil, vinegar, mustard, cayenne, and celery.  Sounds pretty good to me.

I've read that the European butter brands sold in the U.S. still aren't as good as the stuff you get in Europe (I believe it was David Lebovitz who said that, but I'm not sure). Is it still worth to get them? Are some brands here better than others?

Many moons ago the Food section did a big butter tasting. We found the type of butter used mattered more where the taste of butter was very strong, for example buttered aspargus spears, but less so where it was only one component like in a chocolate cake or in gingerbread cookies.

So do I. The poster must not have read any articles on how made-up our Thanksgiving traditional meals are. Besides, there are other people in this country who are not Virginians. Amazing as that may seem.

I have Mexican-American friends who serve them every year on New Years Day. No idea if it's a Mexican-American tradition or Texas tradition or their family's tradition, but homemade tamales are AWESOME.

I am making my pies today (pumpkin and apple) so I'll have less to do tomorrow. My apple pie is in the oven as I type... I used the Trader Joe's frozen pie crust, because I hate making pie crust and am quite bad at it. Well, I just looked into the often only to find that the entire edge of the crust has fallen clean off! My only saving grace is that I baked the pie on a cookie sheet, so the fluted edge isn't burning in the bottom of the oven. What can I do to make this look a little better for my guests? It's pretty moth-eaten looking now... I just hope the crust tastes better than it looks.

You could edge the pie with rosettes of whipped cream. It's easy to do even with canned whipped cream, which I'm totally addicted to.

Answer: I'm basting because that's what the recipe I'm using says to do, and it's my first time making a turkey! The instructions are (after buttering the bird thoroughly under the skin and outside of the skin) to roast the turkey at 425 for 20 minutes; then reduce oven to 350 and baste with pan juices. Cover the turkey with foil and then baste with the pan juices and more broth every 45 minutes. Is the basting unnecessary?

I've pretty much stopped doing so -- mostly because it slows down the cooking with all that oven opening and closing. I never found a noticeable difference in the juiciness of the meat, and some people now think basting keeps the skin from becoming as crisp as it might be.


 I think you're giving your bird a leg up with the butter under the skin already. Where's your bird from, btw? (Doesn't have a little pop-up timer in it, does it?) You should cover with foil only after you've achieved the good-looking turkey exterior you're of luck!  Just a big chicken. Just a big chicken (same mantra from last week's chat). 

Be sure to bake the pie on the lowest rack in your oven, to make sure the bottom crust cooks properly. That should help.

On an episode of Good Eats, Alton Brown used a tart pan to bake a pie in. Removable side/bottom = easy slicing.

My favorite trick. You can also use layer cake pans with removable bottoms. It's especially nice with a pecan pie.

Your husband has a problem with the turkey and the cook is his mom! He must handle this himself.

My thoughts exactly.

My grandmother made a jell-o salad with Cool Whip, whatever jell-o she had around, crushed pineapple (with the juice!), and sometimes nuts. And, since it originated as a thing people brought to funerals, it had earned a somewhat inappropriate moniker by the time we brought it to our Thanksgiving table!

Well, it could be part of the funeral for the turkey! (Sorry.)

I'm invited to dinner at my niece's home this year. She's got everything covered but I'm gonna bring a dessert and this marvelous sounding drink I'd seen on The Chew; one part bourbon, one part apple cider and one part ginger beer (don't know the exact proportions but figuring that out will be fun.) Unfortunately I didn't catch the name of it, researching on their site yielded no results. Have any of you ever heard of this concoction or any suggestions for a name?

Hmm. Some quick searching through the drinks databases aren't turning up names for this one, beyond not-so-inventive options like "apple-ginger-bourbon cocktail" :) It sounds vaguely like an apple buck, but the ingredients aren't quite right. I'm surprised not to find some variation, as this sounds like a classic ingredient combination, but of course, this may free you up to name it yourself. I'd look to the type of bourbon/cider for ideas. Kentucky Orchard? Tippler's Pie? Fuji Fizz? Eve's Spice? :) 

For anyone looking to do something slightly different with carrots for T-day, consider this recipe from Fine Cooking, via TheBittenWord. I tried it out last weekend and will be making it tomorrow.

For an early American flavor, add a little rosewater.

I'm making a vegetarian stuffing tonight using a muffin tin (basically stuffing muffins). What's the best way to reheat tomorrow without drying them out? And, is it better to store them overnight in the fridge or on the counter?

It would be way better not to bake the stuffing in a muffin tin. The smaller portions are cute but already well on their way to dry. If you make a casserole, you can baste with a little vegetable stock when you reheat, and it should be fine. Same trick doesn't work as well with the mini-portions.

Though we don't have tamales, I can tell you there would be h*ll to pay if we didn't serve kimchi alongside our turkey! What's the harm in incorporating new ideas with "traditional" ones?

Good for you! I wouldn't be surprised if kimchi showed up at my table tomorrow, too -- but I'm a well-documented kimchi obsessive, so there you go.

...because they are considered a holiday tradition in parts of the country, and Thanksgiving is the "start" of the holiday season? I mean, they're not even remotely close to my hyper German-American heritage, and I'm aware of that. (Also, they're customizable and so, so delicious! Who wouldn't go crazy for a plate of hot tamales dolled up Thanksgiving style?)


Why is it so easy to make a pretty good cookie, and so hard to make a terrific cookie, even from the same recipe? How can I find that magic touch?

You've moved right past Thanksgiving to our Dec. 4 Cookies issue, have you? One thought about a magic touch. Small tweaks like roasting/toasting nuts (even drizzling butter on them before you r/t), fresh spices, really good chocolate, proper baking sheets, a well calibrated oven, following the recipe or adjusting it to suit your taste all can shove goodness to greatness, I think. Chatters, what about you? 

The first time I made it, I only had the 10 days of infusion and didn't chop the reeses. The reeses didn't dissolved/break up enough to release the PB layer and was more just chocolatey. That's why I suggest chopping. It was a mild/moderatre hint of reeses. If you leave it longer, it is better. Another option I haven't tried is to get chocolate vodka (3 Olives has it) and add a tiny bit of dried peanut butter powder and shake well before pouring.

Thanks! I'll have to try this at some point -- have a friend who's a Reese's junkie, so this may end up being his Christmas present.

LOW FAT sour cream? Horrors!!

To add to the discussion about multi-cultural foods at Thanksgiving. I make it a point to have dishes with foreign influences on my table. The Moroccan carrot-beet salad is a perfect example, but I've done Asian-style green beans and stuffing that lean a little toward Mexico or Italy. I don't think there's anything wrong with this for Thanksgiving. In fact, I think its perfectly in keeping with American as the "melting pot" nation. There are a plethora of ways for Americans to express their national heritage while also nodding to their distant roots from foreign lands. To me, our national diversity truly is something to be thankful for.

Beautifully put!

Love my mother-in-law. Do not love her cooking. When she does Thanksgiving, Husband and I buy a 3-5 pound, bone in turkey breast. On Saturday or Sunday after Thanksgiving, we have our own Thanksgiving with just our immediate family. This way, we don't feel like we are mentally putting pressure on his mom to produce the "favorite" or "perfect" anything. Sometimes you just need to adjust expectations.


Your husband needs to make a few practice turkeys over the next year and then offer to be the wonderful son he is and roast the turkey for his mom next year.

I don't know their relationship, but the first time I made holiday dinner at my mom's, she said, "You must have really hated all the Christmas dinners I made over the years." It broke my heart that she assumed such judgment! Thankfully, we had a great talk about it.

My step-father's large Hispanic family gets together in early December to make a HUGE batch of tamales that are then divvied up and generally make an appearance at Christmas dinner. I imagine there are lots of families that do the same for Thanksgiving.

I made a test pumpkin pie recipe earlier this week (recipe was Dorie Greenspan's sour cream pumpkin pie from "Baking- From My Home to Yours" and it was delicious.) However, it was my first time blind baking a pie crust and I found that the edges of my pie crust quickly turned very dark while the bottom did not dry out as quickly as I needed it to. Any tips for blind baking that you can share? I placed lightly buttered foil tightly against the pie crust filled with rice (I don't have pie weights) for the first part of baking the shell and after removing the foil with the rice, had to cover the edges to keep them from getting any darker. Would placing the shell on the bottom rack help the bottom dry out more quickly?

Absolutely use the bottom rack in your oven. Good luck!

I'd like to make a gingerbread cake, but a bundt or pound as opposed to one in a square pan. Anybody got recommendations?

You can bake cake batter in whatever pan you'd like. You just need to adjust the baking time based on common sense. Tube pans bake the cake more evenly. Square pans are shallower, etc...

I made a pecan pie today, to be served tomorrow. Do I need to store it in the refrigerator over night or just covered on the counter? Please don't laugh -- I am not the head chef at my house and this is the first time I have tried making a pie! Thanks and a Happy thanksgiving to all of you!

You go! We applaud your efforts. We love pie. And we are getting so hungry right now we're not even smiling. The pecan pie, as Stephanie mentioned earlier, will be fine on the counter overnight. You don't even need to cover it. I made mine a few days ago -- storing it in the microwave, actually. 

Is there any difference between demarara and turbinado sugar? I'm going to make a ginger/stout cake for tomorrow (recipe from That Other Paper) that calls for the former, but all I have is the latter. The sugar is used to coat the inside of the bundt pan, if that makes a difference.

Demerara crystals are a little bigger.  The name refers, by the way, back to the history of sugar production in the Caribbean region.  Demerara is now known as Guyana.  Yes, you can substitute.

i made a cheesecake from an old Post recipe (circa 1997, i believe). it's not in the recipe archive, but it ought to be! there were several cheesecakes from elinor klivens and they were each amazing! anyway, it would be great to see them in the archives as my copy is getting pretty yellowed and falling apart. any chance? and here's a helpful hint: a cracked cheesecake can be beautifully disguised with a chocolate ganache topping! cheers!

I remember that piece from Elinor Klivans so well. She had a treasure trove of cheesecake recipes from her days of making desserts for a restaurant. Glad you enjoyed them. I'll try to pass on your compliment to her.

I have rediscovered fresh food. Due to some dietary restrictions, I've been forced to change my eating for the better. I'm not complaining, in fact I am pleased with knowing exactly what goes in my belly. One veggie that I haven't yet mastered is the squash. I've roasted it, but I think it was a tad underdone so I'll try it again. A friend told me about making squash as a dessert. Has anyone tried this?

I made squash pie from Sarah Hale's 1857 cookbook recently.  It was made just like pumpkin pie but flavored with rosewater, cinnamon and a little nutmeg.  It was delicious and a hit with kids to boot.

I really love this French pumpkin tart I've made many times: It uses pumpkin (or squash) and apples, in a puff pastry crust. Not too sweet: Amazing for the holidays.

How to cook a goose in a wood fired oven?

I called Peter Pastan, the chef behind 2 Amys and Obelisk. If anyone knows wood fired ovens, it's Peter.

He first issued a warning: A goose has a lot of fat, which runs the risk of creating a grease fire in your wood oven. He suggests getting your oven up to temperature and then removing the coals before cooking your goose (so to speak). The last thing you want on Thanksgiving is to open the door of your wood-fired oven, introduce oxgen and start a grease fire of Biblical proportions.


Peter says you should salt your bird inside and out, then place it on a rack in a large roasting pan with some water at the bottom. The pan will capture the fat that renders out and prevent splattering. You'll want to empty the pan once or twice during the cooking process.


He suggests cooking the bird to medium, which should take about three to four hours, depending on how large your bird is. Finally, he suggests one more thing:

"Keep a fire extingusher nearby."

Instead of using rice to weight the crust, I line the crust with wax paper and fill it pennies. The pennies conduct heat, which helps cook the bottom of teh crust. Once the shape is set I take the pennies our and let the crust brown a bit. It works really well.

It's my first time making the turkey and it seems there are a million different ways to cook it - and everyone thinks their way is the "best!" Can you help settle my nerves by letting me know if the following plan sounds good for my 18 pound non-frozen turkey? 1) Dry brine for 24 hours (suggested by Cooks Illustrated) 2) Rub a butter-herb mixture under the skin and over the meat, salt and pepper the main cavity, and place butter and fresh herbs in the cavity, rubbing more butter on the outside of the turkey (Following Tom Colicchio's Herb Butter Recipe from a 2005 Bon Appetit - found here). 3) Roast according to the recipe, basting as directed with chicken stock, pan drippings, and more butter. Any advice is much appreciated!

Relax, the most importatnt thing is not to overcook the bird! I'm sure the Colicchio recipe is delicious. After that, it's all gravy, really.

i am deep frying a turkey and was thinking what to fry after it's done. I was leaning toward brussel sprouts. Can you suggest a good dip/sauce to serve with it?

Personally, I'd go with this recipe: It flash fries the Brussels sprouts (which makes them less greasy, always a good thing) and then toss in a garlic, lime and cayenne mixture.

I'm a bread baker venturing into the wide world of cookies, where texture is vital and recipes are less forgiving than bread. When a recipe doesn't specify, what temperature shold the butter be at? Just out of the fridge? Room temp? Supersoft?

It should be at room temperature. Soft to a firm poke but not mushy.

I do carrots on the stovetop: in hot oil, add relatively same size of carrot pieces, and some shallots. add a sprig or two of thyme. turn the heat down and over 45 minutes or so turn the carrots and the shallots about 6 or 7 times. Both the carrots and the shallots become like candy. I made 6 pounds of carrots in a very large skillet for Passover this past year (one of several vegetables) and it wasn't enough for 20 people. They are fabulous, hot or room temperature. One friend dubbed them "Crack Carrots". The technique isn't mine (sadly) --I heard Bittman at the other paper mention it.

Any ideas for a non-dairy low cal appetizer? I saw the lentil loaf, but wanted to stay away from spreads or dips.

Herbed Popcorn

David Hagedorn's addictive Party Mix (okay, not so low-cal but you could eat such small portions!)

Chickpea Pancake

Oysters With Yuzu Mignonette

Eggplant Chips


We've been asked to make a cocktail using cranberry. We found a cranberry margarita recipe, but other than that or a Cosmo we could use some ideas. Bonus points for use gin or whisky.

How much time do you have? :) Given that Thanksgiving is tomorrow, I'm going to assume you don't have time to make a long infusion type of deal, and that you're looking for quick one. 

If you have some (good, non-jellied-in-a-can) cranberry sauce/chutney around, you can make a nice syrup with it, adding a little ginger and sugar, for a holiday take on a classic Kir Royale (the cranberry syrup stands in for the creme de cassis, and it's very festive and fancy what with the sparkling wine). I made this last year and it turned out really nicely, and it's not too much of a booze bomb, either. 

Here's another: 

1 1/2 oz gin, 1/2 oz. Cointreau or Gran Marnier, 1 oz cranberry juice, shake with ice, serve with a sprig of rosemary or thyme. (You may want to have some simple syrup on hand to adjust the sweetness if you use unsweetened cranberry juice.)

And here's one that I haven't made, but that sounds fantastic to me.

I have a nice Viking electric mixer. For cookies do I use the flat beater, or that balloon whisk thing? The whisk thing seems to just collect butter instead of creaming it, but maybe I am doing something wrong.

I'll put my former pastry chef toque on to answer this one.  Use the paddle (the flat beater.)  The whisk for whipping up eggs or cream.

I think that the original poster was not being unkind toward any region or ethnicity but confused about your use of the word classic in describing what a person would think of for an old-school thanksgiving (classic, right?) and finding tamales on the list. I agree that tamales would be a welcome addition to any table but would also agree it's not on the top 8 list of what a person might think of when picturing the Thanksgiving table.

The point is that what is classic to one person isn't necessarily classic to another, depending on his/her background. So this person who wouldn't picture tamales on the Thanksgiving table is certainly not of Latino descent.

These are eight representative dishes.  I bet a lot of people don't picture mince meat pie or plum pudding on the Thanksgiving table anymore, but our forebears sure did.  One of the delights of the Thanksgiving table, for me, is that it evolves and varies. 

If you don't come back with a report next week, how about adding to Hax's Holiday Hootenanny?

My favorite recipe using leftover turkey is a Brazilian Turkey Vatapa soup. I use the Cooking Light recipe.

Looks good! Clearly, you are sharing in the spirit of the holiday. Already. 

I got the fresh Brussels! Thank you, Giant food!


Pepperidge Farm...I've been using this for years!

I stumbled on this technique this week when we had our office potluck. I cooked the stuffing in advance & reheated in a crock pot that day. The moisture stayed in the stuffing and all I needed was a plug. Going to do this at home. One less dish to prepare that day and no attention needed!

Good one. Slow cooker works for keeping mashed spuds warm as well (someone might have mentioned that already). As long as  you have the counter space....

Thank you for all of your help during the past few weeks! I've asked (and had answered) many questions. My recipes are taped to the counters, my schedule is taped to the fridge. My desserts are done and most of the veggies are prepped. Now, if one of you could remind me to breathe, that would be great.

I hope it's not too late! Deep breath in, deep breath out. Namaste. ;-)

We're going to try the Butternut Squash Tetrazzini this weekend. (Not sure that's the exact recipe title)

Good! Hope you like it! Exact title: Turkey Tetrazzini With Butternut Squash Sauce.

Having just finished up making an apple - it's much easier to handle when it's cool. I think that's why the suggest it - you need less flour and it is just less unruly. By the way I used this recipe from The Post database - it was straightforward to make and it looks just great.

I'm with you. We remember Josh Short's High Apple Pie quite fondly!

I'm with you on the Big Lebowski. It wasn't so much the inspiration but an added bonus. Another question - do I need to use heavier milk, or can I use skim or 2% to lighten them up? The thought of tequila and milk together makes me gag a little, but I trust you guys not to steer me in the wrong direction!

I think the original calls for cream, but I've made White Russians with lighter milks before. And yeah, with the tequila, I'd want to play around a bit before suggesting a straight tequila/milk blend, but tequila + kahlua + milk sounds promising, and the Patron XO Cafe with milk would do fine. But if you're doing a White Russian bar, some people may well end up making something disgusting -- but that's par for the course and half the fun with a party activity like this! Isn't it humane nature to go, "OMG, this is foul. You have to taste it"? :)

I am making this recipe for Dried Apricot, Shallot and Hazelnut Stuffing (with gluten free bread, if it matters) and will be traveling about 30 minutes. Should I complete the recipe tonight and reheat before eating? Assemble tonight, bake tomorrow morning, and reheat before eating? Or assemble tonight and bake before eating? Thanks.

I think any of those options would work: Part of it depends on your host and whether/how much you'll have access to the stove, right? I'd be tempted to assemble tonight and bake on site, if possible, since it only needs a half hour in the oven.

Except when it is! I bought some pecans for a sweet potato recipe, and was making a Quebecois sugar pie today, and decided to toss them in the sugar pie mixture in a North meets South kind of way. It's got to work out fine, right?

Oh yes. Toast those pecans first, for extra fabulousness. 

Hi there, thanks for taking my question(s)! One, I have been a vegetarian for several years but enjoy cooking meat for dinner parties and such. However, I have limited experience and came across instructions to cut meat "against the grain". What exactly does that mean and how do I know which way the grain runs? Second, do you have any ideas on a good vegetable side dish for Thanksgiving? We already have sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts, so I am looking for something that would be dissimilar to both of those. Thanks so much!

Against the grain means to cut perpendicularly to the direction of the muscle fibers in the meat. It's easier to see on some meats than others. Think about brisket: When you have a properly sliced piece, you can pull it apart with your fingers because each one of the slices has cut across the muscle fibers. Does that help?

For vegetable side dish, I'll vote again for the Moroccan-Style Carrot and Beet Salad!

To the person on the defense about non-traditional dishes - the Pilgrims were eating brand new things they'd never heard of introduced to them by Native Americans, and vice versa, so the whole point of the thing is trying out something different and being thankful you have anything to eat at all. Sheesh...

The pumpkin pie recipe on the back of the Libby's can said that the pie is done when a knife inserted comes out clean. How clean are we talking, here? It looks done, but the knife had a wee bit of filling on it. I baked it last night, and it's in the fridge now. Had to go to bed (I work from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.!), so I made the decision to just cover it, chill, and hope for the best. What's the worst that can happen? If I cut into it and it's not cooked all the way, we can still eat it, right? Just maybe in bowls?

I just bake mine until it looks firm (doesn't jiggle when lightly shaken). If your pie looks firm you should be fine. If it's soupy, don't serve it. The pie contains raw eggs and you need them to be cooked, but it sounds like you're in good shape. You'd know if the filling was runny.

I'll repeat what everyone else has said and give you guys a big Thanksgiving virtual hug this afternoon! I can't tell you how many questions you've answered over the years, or even just sparked some inspiration from the chat. I thought you guys might get a kick out of a discussion I had with some coworkers earlier today. We were discussing (what else) Thanksgiving, and my coworker said she's having people at her house. I said I was impressed because I didn't think she was that into cooking. She responded "oh I'm not. I'm just providing the space." We then were talking about where her family can get last minute grocery items, which lead to a discussion about being anxious for the new Trader Joes on 14th. I said I couldn't wait, but that it's still a bummer that their produce isn't the best. Her response "oh, well I just never have produce in the house or eat produce, so I'm okay with that." I think I am going to gently suggest she join the chats. :)

I like the way you think! Thanks so much for the great feedback!

Have  you ordered in for us, Editor Joe?  I am gnawing on my watchband. #secondhourchatting

Ha! I ate at 11:30!

To (gulp) attempt to defend what [I think] was the intent of the original poster: lots of Americans from lots of different backgrounds have lots of different foods at the Thanksgiving table (which, I think, we can agree is an "American" holiday). I was surprised when lasagna was on the Thanksgiving table of my Italian-immigrant in-laws (I really shouldn't have been surprised, because nothing says "celebration" like lasagna in their family). I *think* the original poster was confused that the purpose of the article SEEMED to be on classic Thanksgiving dishes (like, those served upwards of and over 100 years ago). Tamales were a surprise to me, but I love that they are part of our heterogeneous American experience! Perhaps the intent of the article could have been more clear or focused. (Loved the piece on Oysters!)

You're right that a lot of the dishes were classics and some classics like green beans with mushroom soup and mashed potatoes weren't included. And we included tamales as a relative newcomer to the Thanksgiving table - but one made with the most classic American food, maize - to emphasize that Thanksgiving changes.  The changing nature of the Thanksgiving meal is part of the tradition. 

My aunt had a thing for serving other than turkey for TG. The two best-scrod and Chateaubriand!

Oysters are a New England classic at Thanksgiving (in stuffing) so why not scrod?!

Does that mean I can double a recipe meant for an eight inch square pan so it will fill a bundt? Gingerbread cake recipes tend to be for one small square pan. Is doubling cool, or do I make two and fill pan with them?

Genrally you can double, though I wouldn't fill a pan more than 2/3rds with the batter (to allow for rising). You'll have to experiment and keep a close on the cake. If it starts to brown toonquickly, reduce the oven temperature.

For many years I went to the home of a family friend from Italy, who served a huge bowl of homemade sausage pasta as a first course. Every year there would be a newbie who'd forget that the bird was coming and stuff himself on the fabulous pasta;. One year they gave in and served a chicken instead of a turkey so everyone could have just a little bit of bird and stuffing.

This story reminds me of Sam Sifton's advice. (If you'll recall, he wrote the compact guide to the Thanksgiving meal, titled, simply enough, "Thanksgiving."). His belief? Appetizers have no place on the T-Day table. They take up valuable stomach space.

I don't know what it is called either, but here are the proportions: fresh cider, super-gingery ginger beer (I recommend Bundaberg if you can find it), and Kentucky bourbon in a 2:2:1 ratio....The cider is non alcoholic American cider. It would be interesting to try it with hard American cider or British cider though, but I can't vouch for that. Also remember, ginger beer does NOT equal ginger ale.

Hard cider, which was the standard cider in early America, was the American drink well into the 1800s.  Your drink says Americana to me.

Check out the one by Dorie Greenspan, and there's another one on the Smitten Kitchen site that I'm making tonight (since apparently it ages well!) with freshly-grated ginger and ganache poured over it

I also love David Lebovitz's!

My parents and in laws have all asked what I want for Christmas this year. I want to really step up my cooking and baking skills next year, and thought I could ask for some cookbooks. Are there any that really helped you over the years (that aren't the $200 box set)?

Personally, I think one of the best ways to understand cooking is to learn a little of the science behind it. That way, you'll learn not just how to make a good pie, but the principals behind what makes a good pie and why some steps are necessary.  With that in mind, I'd suggest a book like "The Science of Good Cooking," by the folks at Cook's Illustrated.

Do I need to use a non-reactive vessel for brining or can I use my stainless steel stock pot?

You can line your stockpot with a brining bag or even a big oven roasting bag. 

Household debate is it healthier choice? Top pancakes with butter, maple syrup or whipped cream or no topping at all if they are chocolate-chip pancakes? A ridiculous question, but we came to conclusion that it is whipped cream.

How about cranberry sauce, at least for your Thanksgiving Day breakfast?  Northeastern North American fruit meets Central American food (chocolate).

Hmm. I think the chocolate chip ones would be more healthful, actually. Antioxidants!

I was born on the bayou and my grandfather's favorite Thanksgiving dish was Cajun Tamales. The combination of the maize with the Cajun Sparkle was the most amazing thing I have ever had in my mouth. Unfortunately, his recipe died with him and I have never been able to replicate the exact taste flavors. Can I get a little help from the Tamale Expert Amanda please? Thanks!

I know something about the history of tamales but I'm sorry to say I don't have a recipe for Cajun Tamales!  Maybe someone else can help?

Here are links to some New Orleans-style tamales from our friends at the Times Picayune. Take a look and see if any seem like what you remember.

I decide to try to get my kids to eat more turkey this year by buying thin slices of turkey breast and try to make turkey tenders. I've got panko bread crumbs, stale bread (in the process of becoming), egg, Duke's mayo, etc. What is the most moist way to make these things?

Cut the turkey tenders into chicken finger size strips. Season with salt and pepper. Dust with flour, dip in egg wash (eggs betaen with a few tablespoons of water), the coat with panko. Shallow fry until nicely browned. This should do the trick.

Since it's Thanksgiving, this is as perfect time as any for me to give thanks to you Food section staff for your informative, fun and thoughtful writing and your efforts to connect with us readers through this chat, public appearances and social media. I continue to find a lot of inspiration and insight from your work (and the occasional chuckle). Best of luck to you through the holidays and into the New Year.

So nice! Thanks so much.

I know it's kind of late for this year, but what I've started doing is cubing the leftover slices of bread (ends, crusts, stale pieces) as we use them, and stashing them in the freezer until needed. This gives me the softish bread cubes that my great-aunt always used in the "filling" for the turkey. It's a strategy that I've developed as I'm unable to find soft bread cubes her in Southern CA.

Hats off to you, tipster. 

Hey Rangers! I have a couple of recipes that call for bourbon, and I've just realized I don't have any in the house. I think I've got a good sub for the sweet potatoes (java rum for the amazing coffee glazed SP recipe from last year's bon appetit). Can I use dark rum for the pecan pie? Or should I use whiskey? (definitely not getting out for another store run in this weather!) Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving!

I think dark rum would be delicious.

Oo can I get the sweet potato recipe? Do you still put the same salmon/sour cream on top or something entirely different?

Here's the recipe. One of my go-tos for Thanksgiving apps -- people love them. 

I can validate that people love them. I love them!

Hi! I'm trying to keep the Thanksgiving Day work down a little bit so I can enjoy the visiting relatives more. Can I do pumpkin soup and corn pudding this evening? If so, what's the best way to store and re-heat? Thanks in advance.

Yeah, definitely. Cool and store both in the fridge: The soup in a jar or other airtight container, and the corn pudding in the casserole/souffle dish you made it in, covered in plastic wrap (pressed against the top so it doesn't form a skin) and then foil. The soup you can reheat on the stovetop, and the pudding in a low oven.

I have to confess that I'm not a big fan of stuffing/dressing (including the ones I cook or those cooked by others), so I never trust my own palate when making it. I'm trying a cornbread version for the first time this year, and am thinking of adding a bit of smokey kielbasa and some hatch green chiles. I'm envisioning the flavor of a spicy corn dog, but am worried it might not meld well. Have any thoughts?

Two snaps up from this camp! 

How about a herb - I like marjoram but most work with acorn squash. Also - I like just the teensiest bit of chili powder to give it some subtle heat.


For the vegetarian gravy seeker-- I love this roasted garlic gravy recipe from Gourmet!

Looks great!

Speaking of Plugra, do you really think it makes a difference? I was in the habit of using it for awhile, since there are some notable bakers who swear by it. But frankly, my baked goods didn't seem that different (if at all). So I switched back to using standard Land o Lakes unsalted. My cookies, cakes and pies don't seem to be suffering because of it.

I don't think it's that huge of a difference, no. I tend to save it for spreading on bread/etc., someplace where you can REALLY taste it.

I second Bonnie's suggestion for the half turkey (that has essentially been spatchcocked). A couple of years ago when my mom was very ill, we needed to transport everything to her house. (She had dementia and couldn't handle being in strange or new places like my house.) I spatchcocked the turkey and cooked it (at home) on a rack over a LARGE aluminum pan of stuffing. You see, I need as much stuffing as possible at Thanksgiving. The turkey cooked quickly, the juices dripped into the stuffing, and all was good. I cut up the turkey and wrapped everything up tightly with foil before transporting it to Mom's house (30 minutes away). It was great.

My daughter-in-law's aunt adds hot Italian sausage and roasted green poblanos to her stuffing. It is AMAZING!

Sounds like the chatter has whiskey on hand, which would be closer since Bourbon is a type of whiskey. But I agree rum would be good too, as would brandy.

Make Tom Sietsema's blue cheese straws - good and easy and make-ahead.

Yes! The Blue Cheese Straws you mention are from John Martin Taylor, and Tom swears by them. Glad to hear you like them, too!

We always have sauerkraut at holiday dinners, a tradition from my German great-grandparents

That sounds great.  A relative's family always has a traditional Jewish noodle casserole called kugle (or coogle, as Esther Levy, author of the first American cookook spelled it.)

I have a recipe for cranberry bread that calls for 1 cup AP flour, 1 cup whole wheat or white whole wheat flour, and 1 cup cornmeal. I prefer not to go to the store tonight to get whole wheat flour - any recommendation on how to substitute AP flour for whole wheat? Questions usually ask for a sub the other way!

Do you happen to have any wheat germ on hand? For every cup of unsifted whole-wheat flour, you can use 13 tablespoons of all-purpose flour plus 3 tablespoons of wheat germ. 

Hi, I am planning to take the route recommended by the Serious Eats blog and dry-brine my turkey overnight tonight, and cook it spatchcocked (with the backbone removed.) I was wondering if it would be ok to take out the backbone tonight before salting. That way I can use the backbone to make some stock tonight. Any issues with doing this?

Don't think so, no. 

I'm making this stuffing for the first time tomorrow...thoughts? Does it sound good or do you have a better idea? I can't afford to mess up stuffing on Thanksgiving! I like that it is in the crockpot. While I don't need the oven space this year, I know in other years I might, so I'd love to have a standard stuffing recipe that is crockpot-able.

Looks good to me! Although, really, it should be called dressing... (Unless stuffing it into the slow cooker counts!)

Posting early from Northern California: my mom is hosting dinner tomorrow but my hubby and I are preparing the smoked turkey and dressing. For the dressing, how early can I assemble the casserole and refrigerate before baking it in my mom's oven. Its a standard stuffing/dressing recipe with leeks, mushrooms, bacon, sage, toasted bread cubes, chicken broth and apple cider. I am doing most of the prep work the night before since I'm running a 10k turkey trot the morning of, but wasn't sure if I should stop short of assembling the indredients until the day of as I dont want the bread to get too soggy.

I think you'd be fine assembling and refrigerating the night before, sure.

A friend gave me some kefir grains and I'm now producing a couple of cups every day or so. Besides drinking it and making smoothies, what else can I do with kefir? Cheese? Butter? Facial masks?

You have probably found this site already, but it offers 80 different things to do with kefir. Out of curiosity, have you ever tried to make coconut milk kefir? That sounds delicious to me.

For years now my husband & I have been doing two Thanksgiving meals (one lunch, the other dinner) each year because our families host and are local enough to make the drive. We've decided that we don't get enough time with either family to enjoy it, so next year we will start alternating families. Our contribution to both meals has been fresh dinner rolls, baked while the turkey cools. Can they be put in a pan, uncooked and frozen? We could send a tray frozen in advance. Thanks!!!

Yes you can. Thing to do is to freeze them first as separate pods, then you can group them together in a freezer-safe zip-top bag. Remember to factor in extra time for baking. 

I am a New American and have been invited to a Thanksgiving dinner. Is it fine to take a yellow pumpkin and potato curry as side dish? Thanks for all the help I have from your chats, now and in the past.

If I were hosting Thanksgiving, and you came with that side dish, I would kiss you. On the cheek. (Of course, I'd also want to know about it advance in case it affected my meal plan.)

Another recommendation -- I just made the mushroom gravy from Mollie Katzen's new book, The Heart of the Plate and it is delicious (bonus, it's thickened with cornstarch so it's gluten-free too).

A 1903 cookbook also suggests mushroom gravy for a vegetarian Thanksgiving!

I read this chat every week and learn so much. The recipe database is wonderful. The Food section always has interesting stories and recipes. So a huge thank you for all the work you do to keep it all going!

Lots of love today! Thanks so much!!

I find tapenade a great app - you can make it in advance and it's definitely a crowd pleaser.

Agreed. And can't resist the chance to plug the poblano tapenade from my new cookbook! It's killer.

I was hoping to make some pies ahead of time this year and freeze them, but I only have glass Pyrex pie pans. I've read that you can prepare apple pie, freeze it, then bake it straight from the freezer, but I'm scared my glass will shatter with those temperature extremes. Should I even be worried about this? Should I just buy some metal pie pans for this purpose? I don't want to use the disposable aluminum ones. (I ended up deciding to bake my pies tonight, but I'd like to know for next year!)

The internet is rife with exploding Pyrex stories so best not to become another one. I've had great success with disposable aluminum foil pie pans and you don't have to throw them away after using. Wash them and they're good for another go.

Your recipe from 2006 says to roast turkey parts of about an hour and a half, but does not specify a temp. 325? 350? 425?

Sorry about that. Let's say 375 degrees F. We'll correct that omission. 

I used a recipe that called for 1.5c kosher salt in 1 gallon of water for 4 hours. But to cover the turkey, I ended up adding in another gallon h20. Should I brine longer since I diluted the solution?

From a quick review of various brine recipes, I'd say that your ratio -- 1.5 cup salt to 1 gallon water -- is on the high side. I would brine that same amount of time.

I'm planning on dry brining my turkey breast (with rosemary and lemon)... I did this with a whole turkey I made years ago and it was wonderful, but I can't remember if I'm supposed to wash the salt off before cooking. Will it make the gravy too salty? Thought?

How much salt did you use? Dry brine recipes vary on this matter. If you're worried about the saltiness of the gravy, rinse away.  Hope you have time to let the bird air-dry overnight in the fridge (for crisper skin). 

My husband is having his ten years sober anniversary in December. We're having a wee luncheon to celebrate, just family - about 14 people. Thoughts for a great appropriate mocktail/non-alcoholic drink to toast him. Looking for something more inspirational than Martinelli's!

Benjamin Rush, one of the leaders of the early temperance movement in the 1780s, would have said buttermilk!

How about a fresh ginger-lime soda? Or a hibiscus punch? For the former, you can boil ginger slices in water to cover to make a syrup, then add lime juice and sugar to taste and cut with soda. For the latter, steep dried hibiscus flowers in hot water, and add sugar to taste, and cut with soda.

Other ideas? You might look into "Preggatinis," a fun book by Natalie Bovis-Nelsen that's aimed at moms to be but that has lots of great mocktail ideas I think your hubby would like, too.

Use vegemite, or McKay's seasoning to make a vegetarian gravy with good flavor:

Hi -- I'm planning to make an apple/cranberry pie, and was thinking of trying a cornmeal crust as in this recipe: Is this a good recipe, or should I just stick with plain crust so I don't waste the good apples I bought at the farmer's market? Any tips on making it work? Thanks!

It sounds great.  I don't think you'll have any problems at all. 

Thought I'd try these this year for dessert -- and am making today. should they be refrigerated overnight? Or are they okay to stay at room temperature. Thanks. And Happy Thanksgiving.

DINGDINGDING! My favorite. The perfect two-bite holiday dessert. No need to refrigerate. Happy Thanksgiving to you! 


Well...his thought (and mine) is that his mom really trusts me in the kitchen, and likes it when I cook. She also knows that he knows NOTHING about cooking (other than what I've taught him) so a suggestion would seem like more of an insult than if it came from me. For example, if I casually started basting and said "I heard this makes it stay moist longer" she would actually be okay with that and think that is interesting. I just can't go "your turkey is horrible and needs a lot of help."

If she likes it when you cook, then ... why don't you just offer to make the turkey?

I don't like stuffing either. High five! I'm making it for my in-laws exactly as my father-in-law makes it, relying on my husband for taste-testing. I married into a family of non-adventurous eaters. Lovely, kind, sweet people...but the only time they EVER use the kitchen is at Thanksgiving.

I've found that even the most unadventurous eaters can be swayed to try new foods, if you introduce them without pressure or condescension. You know, "I thought I'd throw this dish on the table to add a more creative element to the Thanksgiving dinner!"


You might try putting something out on the table you really like, without any fanfare or comment, and see what happens. At the very least, you'll have something to enjoy at meal time. 

Thanks again. It does not clash with their menu, I have been told, but I was making sure that they were not just being polite. Makes life easy for me.

My family always had rotkraut and kloesse with our Thanksgiving meal (which was just as often likely to be duck or goose as turkey!)

Wildfowl was eaten at that 1621 meal we've romanticized as the first Thanksgiving. Maybe the wildfowl was goose or duck.

Bonnie, can we have your recipe/method for cooking the turkey? I'm inclined to just follow you!

Argh, I've got to scoot. Send me an e-mail: and I'll answer by the end of the day, promise! 

Whew! Well, that ends our annual marathon Thanksgiving chat! Hope you got some good ideas, and have a great day tomorrow, whatever you're up to.

Thanks to Amanda, Stephanie and Carrie for helping us handle the questions today!

Now for the giveaway books: The person who wrote in about using nail-polish remove to erase "sell-by dates" cracked us up, so gets a signed copy of "The Washington Post Cookbook"! The chatter who asked about her MIL's dried-out turkey will get a copy of "Culinary Birds: The Ultimate Poultry Book" by John Ash. (Maybe this can be a gift to the MIL?) Send your mailing info to Becky at, and she'll get them your way.

Until next week, happy reading, cooking and eating -- and more importantly, happy Thanksgiving!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, Spirits columnist Carrie Allan, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick. Guest: historian and former pastry chef Amanda Moniz.
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