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Cookstr Authors Available to Answer Your Thanksgiving Questions!

November 20, 2009

Thanksgiving, baby…10 2 days and counting…

If you’re looking for poignant musings about the importance of family gathering together, or reflections on the significance of cranberry sauce, I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place. Today it’s all about the brass tacks: what are we all making for Thanksgiving, and how can we not mess it up?

“How can I make sure my gravy isn’t lumpy?” “What’s the best way to get a thoroughly cooked turkey without drying out the breast meat?” “How do I prevent the crust from burning before the pie is done?” And of course the classic cry for help: “I need some new ideas for side dishes!”

Well, guess what we got you for Thanksgiving? Not one, not two, but FIVE (FIVE!) amazing, knowledgeable and helpful cookbook authors, available to help you solve your pesky Thanksgiving conundrums. Starting right this very minute and up through Thanksgiving, if you post your questions in the comments section of this blog post, they’ll do their best to get you some answers.Thanksgiving Chefs

Our gracious team of experts includes Chris StylerMary GoodbodyRick RodgersMollie Katzen, and Diane Morgan. Talk about a Thanksgiving lineup! Now, of course they won’t be able to tell you how to keep Uncle Irving from hitting the mulled cider with brandy  too hard, and they can’t say why your cousin Natasha feels the need to be so passive-aggressive every year, but if it pertains to the meal, they’re here to help.

All of us at Cookstr wish you a delicious, stress-free, and happy Thanksgiving. And stay tuned for this week’s The Cookstr 10 (our weekly newsletter) stuffed (get it? get it? of course you do) with ten great recipes for the Thanksgiving meal.

35 Comments leave one →
  1. Crystal M permalink
    November 16, 2009 10:16 pm

    I have a question for the Cookstr authors about Veggie recipes for Thanksgiving. I have a picky eater who does not like green beans. He also has an aversion to certain textures (avocado, peanut butter, etc).

    I am looking for something that uses carrots, maybe some broccoli. Do you have any suggestions?

    Thank you,
    Crystal M
    ~ a foodie in Olympia Washington ~

    • November 18, 2009 3:57 am

      He doesn’t like green beans or peanut butter? Wow, okay. So let’s focus on the carrots and the broccoli. You can make “dressed up for the holiday” carrots by blanching thick carrot slices in simmering water until almost tender. Drain them, and then cook sauté gently in melted butter and/or olive oil spiked with cumin, cinnamon, and a little garlic. Salt and pepper as you go. They’re done when fully coated with spice (and your picky eater likes the texture. Don’t forget to blow on any taste-tests to cool them down for your little guy). If he permits, you can then accessorize the lovely result with a squirt of fresh lemon juice and a chiffonade of fresh mint leaves.

      Broccoli-wise, let’s go with ginger and garlic. Do the blanching first, as you did with the carrots, allowing the chopped broccoli (get it bite-sized. Make that junior bite-size) to get a bit on the soft side. After draining, give it a fairly brief ride through some warmed olive oil laced with the ginger and garlic (small touches, to be subtle). Try light drizzles of soy sauce and dark sesame oil on its way to the table.

      Keep in mind that the blanching first routine can be done well ahead, so the final preps can be quick.
      Good luck – and please let us know how it goes!

    • Chris permalink
      November 18, 2009 2:20 pm

      Hi Crystal,
      Here’s a simple way to find 29 Thanksgiving carrot recipes: Type ‘carrots’ into the Cookstr search field and click the search button. When the results pop up, narrow down the search by using the Refine Search tool on the left side of the screen. Click on ‘Holiday’ then ‘Thanksgiving’ and you’ll find yourself with a host of recipes even a picky eater will enjoy.
      As for the broccoli, how about something simple and light: Cut off the bottom 2 inches or so from the broccoli stalks. Peel the stalks up to the point where they start to branch out. Cut the whole stalk lengthwise into 4 spears (6 spears for larger stalks). Blanch them in a large pot of salted boiling water just until they’re softened. Drain in a colander and line them up without crowding in a baking dish large enough to hold them comfortably. Add the grated zest and juice from an orange to some melted butter (about 2 tablespoons butter and 1 orange for every 2 stalks of broccoli) and drizzle over the broccoli. The whole shebang can be put together the day before Thanksgiving, but dip the drained broccoli into a large bowl half filled with ice water to keep the broccoli nice and green. Just rewarm the broccoli after removing the turkey from the oven. For something a little richer–or if your picky eater likes creamy–try Nava Atlas’s Scalloped Cauliflower or Broccoli recipe.
      Whatever you make- enjoy !

  2. Karen permalink
    November 19, 2009 4:47 pm

    I need some low sodium recipe ideas which are still tasty!

    • November 20, 2009 6:45 pm

      Hi Karen,
      Low-sodium isn’t a problem as there are so many flavorful herbs and spices to incorporate, you won’t miss the salt. For stuffing, saute chopped onions, carrots, celery in unsalted butter add minced fresh thyme, sage and parsley. Toss that with the unseasoned bread cubes and add other options–roasted chestnuts, diced apple, sauteed cremini mushrooms, etc. Mix beaten eggs and low-sodium chicken borth (or make your own no-salt turkey stock) and you have a nearly sodium-free and delicious accompaniment to the holiday bird. The same no-sodium deliciousness applies to sweet potatoes and perhaps, an iron-skillet succotash. See my website http://www.dianemorgancooks.com for T-Day recipes and videos.

  3. Dwight permalink
    November 19, 2009 6:23 pm

    This year, I’m having only 6 people over. I don’t want to cook a whole bird with lots of sides (and be in Leftoverville for a month) but I still want the evening to have a traditional Thanksgiving feel. Do you have any ideas?

    • November 20, 2009 12:18 am

      Dear Dwight,

      While you could very easily roast two plump chickens and call it a day, why don’t you roast a turkey breast? You can get one on the small side and not have too much leftover at the end of the evening. And really, you must like turkey sandwiches, so some leftovers won’t be too bad. I would include, too, some roasted root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, beets, and parsnips. Spread them on a baking tray and drizzle them with a little olive oil, give them a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper and pop them in the oven for an hour or so. They make a glorious fall side dish and if you make too many, leftovers (there’s that word again!) can be snacked on as is, tossed with pasta, or added to soup. You may not need anything more than a pan of cornbread and a green salad to finish the meal. Oh. dessert. How about some gingerbread or pecan brownies? Forget the pies and make life a little easier.
      Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Barbara Green permalink
    November 20, 2009 3:39 am

    Can I freeze pureed sweet potatoes?

    • m slobetz permalink
      November 20, 2009 6:37 am

      I plan to cook a heritage turkey. It will be between 10 and 12 lbs. I am not sure what to expect. Is the roasting time any different, Will traditional corn bread stuffing and cranberry sauce do or are there flavors that will work better?What about wine suggestions? Thanks

      • Rick Rodgers permalink
        November 20, 2009 3:49 pm

        Heritage turkey can be daunting. You just never know because each turkey is different–a Bourbon Red may roast differently than a Narragansett. The body shapes of heritage can be more irregular than the hybrid birds, which, of course, are bred for uniformity.

        Just allow extra time for the turkey to roast. Remember, you have to let the turkey rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before carving anyway. And the longer it rests, the more time the juices have to settle, so the juicer the turkey will be. It doesn’t really matter if the turkey gets done on the early side, as it will keep warm for at least an hour. My rule of thumb is 15 minutes per pound for a stuffed turkey at 325F. I’d estimate 3 1/4 hours for your bird. If it is done sooner, just let it stand at room temperature until you are ready to carve.

        The heritage turkeys I get have very thick skin, and a lot of fat in the tail and neck. Remove the fat from these areas, but save the fat. Render it (chop well, and let slowly in a saucepan over low heat with a little water) and use it! Rub some of the fat over the turkey instead of butter. Use it when making gravy. Add a little to your vegetables when sauteeing. Use it to saute vegetables and brown the turkey parts for turkey stock. It is a great bonus.

        Have needle-nose pliers handy (sterilize them oven an open flame before using) to remove any errant quills from the skin. Expect the skin to look freckled, mottled, and strange because the feathers in heritage birds are usually colored, and leave spots in the skin. Hybrid turkeys have white feathers so the the pigment in the quills won’t show up after being plucking.

        The turkey will be delicious, with firm meat and a rich turkey flavor. All you can do is try it, but my guests preferred the lighter flavor of organic (not heritage) turkey.

        Use the traditional sides–they sound great. As for wine, I match the side dishes and not the turkey, as the turkey meat itself is very versatile. If I have a lot of fruit flavors (fruit and sausage stuffing, glazed sweet potatoes), then I might go for a Gewurtz or Pinot Blanc. Otherwise, Pinot Noir is my fall-back red. I also love hard apple cider with turkey as a conversation-sparking beverage.

        It all sounds like a fine meal. Enjoy the experiment with the heritage bird.

    • Chris Styler permalink
      November 20, 2009 4:40 pm

      Hi Barbara,
      Sure you can–with much better results that regular potatoes. Still, they may be a little watery/bland when you thaw them out. Just whisk them really well and check the seasonings before you serve them.

    • November 20, 2009 6:47 pm

      Absolutely. They freeze well. Stir them well once thawed and freshen up the taste with a little cream or butter 🙂

  5. Will permalink
    November 20, 2009 1:35 pm

    Can you tell me what’s the right size turkey for 8 people? And is brining worth the effort? Thanks!

    • Rick Rodgers permalink
      November 20, 2009 3:32 pm

      Will, first the question about the turkey size. I would buy a 12 to 14-pound turkey because I assume you want leftovers and seconds. Besides, it’s not that easy to find a smaller bird. The larger the turkey, the more meat on its frame. The rule of thumb is about 1 pound per person, but with the smaller birds (under 14 pounds), 1 1/4 pounds per person is a better estimate. I am having eight people, and I ordered a 15-pounder to be sure that I have enough to make soup on Friday!

      As for brining, in my humble opinion, it is NOT worth the effort. People say “it makes the turkey juicier.” Oh, yeah? Well, what “juice” are you talking about? The salt water that you soaked the bird in? In that case, it makes the bird saltier and wetter, but you are not actually adding meaty juices. If you want a turkey soaked in salt water, then just buy a frozen bird (almost all of them are injected with salty flavor “enhancers” to make up for the liquid lost during defrosting) or a kosher turkey (which is salted as part of the koshering process.)

      The problem with a whole turkey is how to keep the lean breast meat moist while the dark meat cooks enough to be palatable. The breast is done at 170F, but the dark meat really needs to cook to 180F for the collagen and gristle in the legs to completely melt and for the meat to tenderize.

      THE BEST WAY to keep turkey breast moist is so simple that no one wants to believe it. All you do is cover (cover, not “tent”)the breast area (not the wings or legs) with foil before the turkey goes into the oven. This effectively slows the cooking down in this area, and also creates steam to keep the breast moist. During the last hour or so of the estimated roasting time, just remove the foil and baste the bird a couple of times…the pale breast skin will brown beautifully.

      • Will permalink
        November 20, 2009 5:13 pm

        That’s such great advice! Many, many thanks!

  6. November 20, 2009 5:35 pm

    What are the best side dishes to make ahead of time (i.e., the day before) and how can I properly reheat them?

    • November 20, 2009 11:26 pm

      Hi Beth,
      There are several steps to making stuffing that can be done ahead of time, preparing the bread cubes, if you are making them from an artisan loaf of bread. I make my bread cubes for stuffing on Monday and keep them in a covered container on the counter. I saute all my vegetables and aromatics that go into my stuffing on Wednesday and keep those refrigerated. On Thanksgiving day, right before the turkey comes out of the oven and I am ready to let it rest for 40 minutes before carving, I combine beaten eggs and chicken stock and mix it with the bread cubes and herbs and bake it fresh.

      Mashed or roasted sweet potatoes/yams also work well to make ahead. Refrigerate in an oven-to-table casserole, remove from the refrigerator an hour before baking and heat until hot.

      I think vegetables are best made fresh and the day of Thanksgiving.

      Mashed potatoes can be made a couple of hours before serving and kept warm in a slow cooker, in a double boiler, or put in a microwave-safe dish and reheated just before serving.

      Yoy can check my website http://www.dianemorgancooks. com for other do-ahead T-Day tips.

  7. Joiei permalink
    November 20, 2009 7:31 pm

    Is there a recipe for a green bean casserole where the results are tasty but not gloppy with that darn soup? Not to cheesey either.

    • Chris Styler permalink
      November 20, 2009 10:43 pm

      Hi Joiei,
      I know what you mean–enough with the gloppy soup already! Try Nigella’s Green Bean and Lemon Casserole (it’s on the Cookstr site; just type ‘Nigella Green Bean’ in the search field. It sounds simple and very good. Or try what has come to be known as “The Green Bean Thing” in our house. If you like crisp, bright green beans, this is not your thing. This gives you very tender beans that are olive green I like them that way sometimes. The first time I made this was an exercise in clearing out the vegetable drawer, hence the name: It can be adapted to whatever you have on hand, although it is good made with one member of the onion family (yellow or red onions, leeks or shallots) and one member of the broccoli/cabbage family: (small cauliflower florets or thinly sliced Brussels sprouts or green cabbage). This recipe makes about 5 side dish servings, more if you have a lot of sides.

      Place about a pound of string beans in a large— at least 12-inch— skillet and pour in enough cold water to come half way up the beans. Bring to a boil, cover the skillet and cook until the beans are softened, about 3 minutes. Add about 2 cups of cauliflower florets, thinly sliced Brussels sprouts or cabbage. Season lightly with salt. Cook (uncovered this time) until the vegetables are tender and the water is nearly evaporated. Pour in a few tablespoons of olive oil and add a medium red or yellow onion, thinly sliced (or 4 large shallots, thinly sliced or 1 large leek, thinly sliced). Cook, keeping an eye on the vegetables, until the water is evaporated and the vegetables are lightly browned in the oil that remains behind. Season with salt and pepper. This can definitely be done the day before. Scrape the veggies into a baking dish, cool them and refrigerate. Reheat them in the oven after taking the turkey out to rest.
      Happy Thanksgiving!
      Chris

  8. Courtney permalink
    November 21, 2009 2:47 am

    I’m interested in trussing my turkey this year — is there any truth that it helps with even cooking/ browning?

    • Rick Rodgers permalink
      November 23, 2009 12:48 am

      Courtney, I am on my fifteeenth turkey since Halloween with my various Thanksgiving cooking classes all over the country. Here’s what I know about trussing:

      It is overrated. The idea is to simply keep the wings and turkey legs in place so the bird keeps a uniform shape. If the legs are left untied, they splay and, in the words of Julia Child (!), have a “wanton” look. Also, if they are tied too tightly to the body, they don’t cook evenly.

      Here’s what I do. Tuck the wing tips behind the turkey shoulders so the “elbows” are akimbo. This gives the turkey a solid base when carving. If the turkey is especially wide, which happens with some big birds, just tie the wings to the body with a loop of kitchen twine, or even unwaxed unflavored dental floss. Now, if the turkey producer has provided one, tuck the ends of the drumsticks in the metal or ovenproof plastic “hock lock” at near the tail. (Be sure the tail is hanging outside of the bird and not into the stuffing so the fat from the tail renders into the roasting pan and not the stuffing.) If the turkey producer has just made a strip of skin at the tail for tucking the drumsticks, skip the tucking, and loosely tie the ends of the drumsticks together with the twine. I find that the drumsticks tend to come undone if you tuck them into the skin.

      That’s it. Even when I roast chicken, I don’t truss the bird because I want the heat to get into the difficult-to-cook nooks and crannies, such as the thigh/drumstick areas. Don’t give yourself something extra to do, and don’t stress over tying the bird into a perfect parcel. See my other post about covering the breast with foil–that is my Number One Secret for a Juicy Bird.

  9. Amy Henry permalink
    November 21, 2009 1:18 pm

    We’ve been invited to Thanksgiving with friends and I’ve been asked to bring a side dish made with brussel sprouts. Normally I pan fry them till brown and crispy or roast them in the oven. I’m worried those approaches won’t work since I need to make them ahead of time and transport them. I need a recipe that will hold well for at least a couple of hours. Any ideas for me?

    • Chris Styler permalink
      November 21, 2009 2:01 pm

      Hi Amy,
      First- Yay Brussels sprouts! Now that we got that out of the way- my feeling on “sturdy” vegetables like Brussels sprouts is this: Most can be reheated successfully, especially if the initial cooking is cut a little short, leaving the sprouts slightly underdone. For example, if I were to cook Peggy Knickerbocker’s Browned Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta (the recipe can be found on Cookstr), I would just shorten the time the Brussels sprouts are in the pan by a few minutes. Put them right into a baking dish or casserole that you can bring to dinner and cover the dish with foil. Reheat them in the oven after the turkey comes out. You might want to check them after 15 minutes–if they look a little dry, spritz them with water and recover the dish. (Same is true if you were to make your own favorite Brussels sprouts recipe.)
      Happy Thanksgiving,
      Chris

  10. November 21, 2009 1:41 pm

    Hi Amy,
    Here’s a recipe,Braised Brussels Sprouts in Maple Mustard Sauce, that actually enjoys being reheated. And it works beautifully, because B. spouts are on my short list of vegetables that I think taste better slightly overcooked than left crunchy or even al dente. (Another one on that list is eggplant, and there are a few more…)

    Brussels sprouts come in a range of sizes. I usually like to cut the larger ones so they won’t be too imposing a mouthful. If they’re not too large, you can just cut them in half. But if they’re golf-ball size, quarter them. (Of course, if they’re tiny, leave them whole.)
    Note: A high-grade maple syrup —one with very subtle flavor— works best for this. Whatever you do, don’t use un-real (i.e., fake) maple-flavored syrup. Ever. Culinary jail awaits you.

    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    1/4 cup minced onion
    4 cups (1 pound) Brussels sprouts, halved or quartered lengthwise (or left whole, if small)
    1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
    4 to 6 tablespoons water
    1/4 cup Dijon mustard
    2 tablespoons real maple syrup
    Freshly ground black pepper

    1) Place medium-sized skillet over medium heat. After about a minute, add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan.

    2) Add the onion, and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, or until it begins to soften. Add the Brussels sprouts and salt, and sauté for 5 minutes.

    3) Sprinkle in 4 tablespoons water, shake the pan, and cover. Cook over medium heat for about 5 to 8 minutes, or until the Brussels sprouts are bright green and fork-tender. (You might need to add another tablespoon or two of water during this time to prevent sticking. Just keep your eye on it – and your fork intermittently in it.)

    4) Using a small whisk in a medium-small bowl, beat together the mustard and maple syrup until smooth. Add this mixture to the pan, and stir to combine.

    5) Serve hot, warm or at room temperature, topped with a shower of fresh black pepper, if desired.

    Two slight variations. You could:

    A) Cook it longer in the glaze, so everything melds deeply. The flavors will intensify and the sprouts will become softer. (They will, however, lose their color.)

    B) Instead of adding the glaze directly to the pan, serve the braised sprouts with the glaze drizzled over the top. This is prettier, but the flavor will have infused less.

    Yield: 4 to 5 servings

    • Amy Henry permalink
      November 22, 2009 7:21 pm

      Thank you for the helpful responses! And Mollie, never fear. We live in Vermont and all we use is real maple syrup which we buy from the farm right down the road. I guess we’re lucky to be able to get such beautiful stuff right in our neighborhood. Happy holidays to all!

  11. November 21, 2009 2:45 pm

    I saw fresh Brussel sprouts on the stalk at my local supermarket the other day — and was delighted to see them! I am so glad people like cooking them. They are wonderful vegetables and perfect for Thanksgiving. Both Chris and Molly have great ideas!

  12. Rhino Cooks permalink
    November 22, 2009 9:32 pm

    I found a recipe that calls for mashed sweet potatoes mixed with some orange juice, brown sugar and then rolled into a ball with a marshmallow in the middle. Then swirled in cinnamon and coconut – and baked for 20 minutes.

    MY QUESTION IS: Do you think I can make the balls ahead of time, put them in an airtight container over night then bake them 20 minutes before serving?

    Thanks!

    • November 23, 2009 12:30 am

      You have to send an e-mail back and let us all know how these came out! I think you can do everything ahead but roll them in the cinnamon coconut coating. Do that just before baking.

  13. Teresa McGinley permalink
    November 23, 2009 3:44 pm

    I was planning on doing the apple cider brine on my 20 pound turkey. A friend told me not to brine a store bought turkey as they have already been brined. Is this true? I see that Rick Rodgers does think it’s worth the effort to brine.
    Not sure what to do.

  14. Rick Rodgers permalink
    November 24, 2009 12:55 am

    Teresa, please try your brine and make your own decision whether or not you like it. My personal experience and taste says it isn’t worth it, but we don’t have to agree.

    As for brining a supermarket turkey, your friend is almost right. Look for turkeys that say “all natural” or “minimally processed,” as these do not include any additives. There are many turkeys out there like this–supermarket private labels, organic, free-range, and heritage, as well as some national brands. Otherwise, most turkeys have been injected with flavor enhancers to keep them moist, and the “enhancers” always include lots of sodium. These include brands that promise moist turkeys (I am thinking of a brand with “butter” in the name”), most frozen turkeys, and all kosher birds (which are soaked in brine as part of koshering.) If you use any of the later birds, you would be brining a bird that is already salted. So, look for “all natural” or “minimally processed,” and avoid those with any additives or sodium in the ingredients panel, and you will be fine.

    Give brining a try, but take notes so you remember if you like it enough to bother next year. I made three turkeys over the weekend at my classes(according to the Perfect Turkey recipe at http://www.rickrodgers.com), and every student said it was the best turkey they every had.

  15. david Harris permalink
    November 25, 2009 12:38 am

    How long to I cook a boneless bee rib roast?

    • November 26, 2009 3:29 am

      Hi David,
      So much depends on the size of the roast and how rare or well done you want it, plus the temperature at wich it roasts.
      Some general rules:
      Pull the roast from the refrigerator an hour before you plan to roast it.
      I like to start a roast at 450 degrees for 30 minutes and then turn the oven to 300 degrees and contimur roasting until the roast is about 125 degrees for medium rare. Use an instant-read thermometer to heck for doneness.
      Happy holidays,
      Diane

  16. MICHAEL PELZAR permalink
    November 26, 2009 1:50 pm

    I WAS LOOKING FOR THE RECPIE ON HOW JULIA MADE THE GRAVEY WITH THE HEART, LIVER, GIBLET, & NECK, HOW SHE MADE THE STOCK FOR THE GRAVY AND WHAT WAS PUT IN IT TO MAKE IT LOOK SO GOOD.

    • Rick Rodgers permalink
      November 26, 2009 3:19 pm

      Michael, do a Google search for “Julia Child Giblet Gravy.” I got 915 hits.

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