Amanda & Merrill

Thanksgiving 911

November 24, 2009

In order to help you get ready for what is arguably the most important meal of the year, we're dedicating this entire week to all things Thanksgiving. We'll post featured recipes that we think would be great on any Thanksgiving table, and we'll ask you to share some tricks of the trade as well. Today, to kick things off, we're opening up the lines to any and all questions you may have for us about cooking for Thanksgiving. Need to know the right proportions for brining a turkey? Always wondered what the difference is between sweet potatoes and yams? Just post your questions in the comments section below, and we'll answer each and every one. And if we don't know the answer ourselves, we'll find someone who does and report back!

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sashinka
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  • veronique
  • katie22
  • wallyeats
Food52 (we cook 52 weeks a year, get it?) is a food and home brand, here to help you eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.


Sashinka October 31, 2011
Please help me know the differences between sweet potatoes and yams; how best to cook each, What each is best for, and where they each come from. Once I thought I knew what sweet potatoes looked like and got exactly what I didn't want - mealy potatoes, blech. Please teach me A& M.

- Sashinka
Wish I were dreaming of food instead of reading about it at this hour, but what the heck! Two questions, one about brining the other about pie crusts. I have been wet brining for the last few T'givings with great results (though one year was too salty for me...I am watching my intake). Wet brine has many flavor infusions, which I enjoy. Is there a dry brine that has a multitude of flavor ingredients or is it just salt?

We made our pie crusts with butter last year and it went horribly wrong...the edges fell of onto the bottom of the oven. What did we do wrong? The taste was really yummy, and it texture was light to the bite. We make a lot of pies...a few fruit, always have a pumpkin contest, pecan and a wild card (always up for a suggestion).

Then one other odd question...I love cottage cheese, but am looking to reduce salt, prefer the large curd, and don't really mind fat free. Salt free cottage cheese may be the most disgusting taste and texture ever...any suggestions? Is it worth trying to make it at home? Thanks for a sleepless diversion. I will be ahead of the curve at T'giving!
Amanda H. July 31, 2010
How about farmers cheese or fromage frais? (Sorry, just saw your note!)
Amanda H. July 31, 2010
Also, you can add herbs and spices to dry brines and they infuse well. Also, sounds like the pie crust might not have had enough flour. Next time, you could also do half butter/ half shortening, which holds up better.
veronique November 25, 2009
For dessert, I'm serving red-wine poached pears with a touch of black pepper, clove, and cinnamon. Would it be excessive to put a tablespoon or two of gorgonzola or blue cheese next to the pear?

Happy Thanksgiving. Love food 52!
Aliwaks November 25, 2009
If by excessive you mean freakin' awesome then I say yes yes to the cheese, but that's just my opinion because I LOVE a cheese & fruit course
Merrill S. November 25, 2009
I think that would be fantastic! I'd probably choose a less sweet blue cheese -- maybe a Danish blue or Stilton.
katie22 November 25, 2009
Help, I accidentally just made five pie crusts with whole wheat pastry flour! I read an article recently about how pastry flour makes the best pie crusts, so when I saw pasty flour at the store this morning I excitedly bought it. I thought the flour looked a little funny, but never having used pastry flour before I just let it go. After I was completely finished and had tasted the dough I realized that something was wrong. Upon further examination of the bag, I found that there was a sticker over the words "whole grain"! Will my crusts be okay? Or would it be better for me to make them again? I have the ingredients on hand but I really don't want to throw the other ones away if it is not necessary... Thank you!
Merrill S. November 25, 2009
Bummer! The truth is that they won't taste the same as pie crusts made with white flour. If you don't mind a crust that's a bit heavier and sort of nutty-tasting, you could just go with it. But if you're someone who's very particular about your pie crust, it's probably best to start over. Sorry!
katie22 November 26, 2009
Thanks so much. I did end up re-making them. The upside is that I got an excellent arm workout doing the whole process twice! Less damage to be done tomorrow. I appreciated your input!
Merrill S. November 26, 2009
No problem! Think you made the right choice. Happy Thanksgiving!
wallyeats November 25, 2009
I am roasting a side of salmon for Thanksgiving. It is longer than I thought and the pan must be changed. Is there any problem with using an aluminum pan?
Amanda H. November 25, 2009
Does the salmon still have the head on? Ina Garten wrote in one of her books about having the same problem once when she was doing a catering job. She just cut off the fish head, cooked it separately and reassembled it before serving. However, if the aluminum pan is the only way to go, it should be fine as long as you aren't cooking the fish with acids like lemon juice or wine.
wallyeats November 25, 2009
Thank you.
Noah_Arnow November 25, 2009
Any suggestions for a completely non-dairy Thanksgiving dessert? Unfortunately, I will not be able to shlep my ice cream maker with me, so my normal go-to, sorbet, is not an option. Thanks so much!!
Amanda H. November 25, 2009
Can you use eggs? If so this apple cake could be a good option:
Noah_Arnow November 25, 2009
So funny--I made that recipe twice around the Jewish holidays this year, and it was big hit (even better with pecans than without!), but I think there may be a little deep south apple cake fatigue... but eggs are fine!
Amanda H. November 25, 2009
Would you be interested in a granita? Then all you have to do is freeze and scrape with a fork. Let me know!
Jestei November 25, 2009
We are cooking our turkey at 5,000 feet and wonder if that will impact our cooking. We find our the cabin oven funky already.....
Helen November 25, 2009
According to this USDA fact sheet ( poultry is not affected by dry roasting at high altitudes. Braising and simmering, however, can require longer cooking times by up to a quarter.
EmilyMarlow November 24, 2009
We are having more than 20 guests for Thanksgiving this year--far more than we've ever had in the past! For the past few years, I always wind up taking the turkey out of the oven after everyone has been there for over an hour--it's hard to stay on schedule. This year, I am determined to have everything ready so that we can actually sit down and eat at 4 p.m. and I'm not running around crazy while everyone is hungry and the stuffing is hot but the turkey isn't done and I forgot the gravy. I have only one oven, and need to use it to cook about five side dishes, a 20-pound turkey, and a 6-pound bone-in pork leg. My question is: can I cook the turkey early , in the morning, and let it sit for a few hours and serve it room temperature? I'd like to do that so that I can cook the pork afterward and serve it hot. I figure if the sides, gravy, and pork are hot, no one will care that the turkey isn't piping hot--since it should rest anyway, right? Do you think that is a terrible idea? Thanks!
Amanda H. November 24, 2009
I don't think that's a terrible idea at all -- your plan sounds great! A whole turkey stays warm for a long time -- just don't carve it until the last minute.
kkanarek November 24, 2009
I am cooking a 21 lb turkey. What is the correct internal temperature and about how long will it take to get there in a 350 degree oven (or should I cook it at a different temperature?) Many books say 20 minutes per lb. That would mean I will have to cook it 7 hours approximately. Does that sound about right?
Amanda H. November 24, 2009
USDA says to cook turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Unstuffed, the turkey should take 3 to 4 hours to cook. It's difficult to say how many minutes per pound because it depends on whether your turkey goes into the oven cold or closer to room temperature (I recommend the latter). The great thing with turkey is that if it finishes cooking early, you can take it out and let it sit -- it needs time to rest before slicing and will hold it's temperature for a while. Good luck!
kkanarek November 24, 2009
Thank you so much. I was thinking like 7 hours. I am going to take your advice though and make it 7 hours ahead and then take it out when internal temp reaches 165 and tent it after. I will make the gravy then. I will bring it to the table at room temp and carve it in front of everyone. That is fun! :-) Thank you for your help ladies.!!!!
pierino November 24, 2009
Once again I'm reminded of the Thanksgiving wisdom of my hero, Calvin Trillin; 'The Indians, having had some experience with Pilgrim cuisine during the year, took the precaution of taking along one dish of their own. They brought a dish that their ancestors had learned from none other than Christopher Columbus, who was known to the Indians as "the big Italian fellow." The dish was spaghetti carbonara--made with pancetta bacon and fontina and the best imported prosciutto. The Pilgrims hated it. They said it was "heretically tasty" and "the work of the devil" and "the sort of thing foreigners eat." The Indians were so disgusted that on the way back to their village after dinner one of them made a remark about the Pilgrims that was repeated down through the years and unfortunately caused confusion among historians about the first Thanksgiving meal. He said, "What a bunch of turkeys!"'
Kelsey B. November 24, 2009
I love Calvin Trillin - thanks for sharing the quote!
Amanda H. November 24, 2009
Thanks pierino!
Veronica November 25, 2009
Thanks so much--am still hoping Calvin Trillin's piece has been re-printed in the NYTimes? It SHOULD be, every year...haven't seen the Times in 3 days now--away and, yes, cooking a turkey tomorrow! Spag Carbonara on Saturday, perchance?
luvcookbooks November 24, 2009
Please comment on pies that can be frozen ahead and for how long, best way to freeze pie crusts, how far ahead can make pies that can't be frozen.
Amanda H. November 24, 2009
Fruit pies freeze best and can be frozen before baking or after, although if you defrost a pre-baked pie, you'll want to re-crisp the crust in a 325-degree oven for a few minutes before serving. If you haven't yet baked the pie, then I'd defrost it in the fridge for a day and then put it directly into the oven (no need to bring to room temp). I wouldn't freeze a custard, cream or chiffon pie. And if you do any freezing at all, one month is the max -- the freezer is tough on doughs. Lastly, pies that you want to make ahead but not freeze, make them a day ahead. You can get a way with two days ahead, but it's not ideal. Hope I've answered all your questions -- if not, let me know!
Alison D. November 23, 2009
I wanted to roast a leg of lamb for Thanksgiving and I thought that an apple cider marinade might be a good idea. Some people say to slow roast the lamb at 200 for 6 or 7 hours and some say it is better to cook it at 350 for a couple of hours. I like lamb that is pink inside and am afraid it will be overcooked. Suggestions?
Amanda H. November 25, 2009
I'd only slow roast lamb shoulder -- a fattier cut that I want to cook all the way through. With leg of lamb that you want rare or medium-rare, pull the lamb out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking, then roast it at 375 degrees and begin checking the internal temperature after 1 hour. You want an internal temp of 130 for medium rare. A 5- to 7-pound leg of lamb should be done in less than 1 1/2 hours.
Lizthechef November 23, 2009
Can I freeze truffle butter? I was going to spread it under the turkey skin....Unfortunately, half our guests are down with flu. TG will be downsized considerably this year :(
Amanda H. November 23, 2009
Sorry to hear about the flu-situation. Yes, you can freeze truffle butter, no problem.
marshall November 23, 2009
we're roasting and frying a turkey this year. i know the dry brine will work great for the roasted turkey, but I'm curious if it would have any adverse effect for the fried one?
Helen November 23, 2009
Not adverse effects, but very good ones! Go forth in your brining, and let us know how it all goes.
Lowetown November 23, 2009
Is it possible to make turkey too moist? I am thinking of rubbing butter on the skin and under the skin, in addition to covering the turkey with butter and wine-soaked cheesecloth (a Martha Stewart idea). Is this overkill?

Also, if I'm cooking the turkey with vegetables in the roasting pan, should I incorporate the veggies into the gravy? If so, how should I go about adding them? Should I puree them?

Helen November 23, 2009
The risk with overly moist meat is that the skin never crisps up. Presumably, you can roast the turkey with butter everywhere, covered with a moist cheesecloth, and remove it at the end and jack up the heat to crisp the skin. Roasting a turkey with veggies in the pan really amps up the flavor of the jus, but they burn very quickly (especially if you're raising the temperature to crisp the skin) The trick is to keep enough liquid in the bottom of the pan to offset the very long cooking time. Then, when making the gravy you can certainly puree them, or push them through a strainer with the back of a spoon, but most of the flavor of the vegetables will be in the liquid, so you can also just strain them out. If however, you want to serve the roasted vegetables, you can take them out when you see that they're done during the cooking process.
marykate November 23, 2009
can I possibly peel and slice potatoes (russet) and / or butternut squash early?? it's for a gratin. trying for as little prep as possible on actual Thanksgiving Day.
Helen November 23, 2009
If you peel and slice the potatoes early, you have to keep them in water until you're ready to use them, and then dry them out individually on towels before you cook with them. Honestly, it's probably less work to slice the potatoes than it is to dry them all out. The squash, though, you can definitely do a day or two before and just store in the fridge.
harkfamily4 November 23, 2009
I just got a new convection oven, and I'm not sure how to make my turkey this year using the convection. Any ideas? I will have a large 22-24 lb fresh turkey. Thanks for your help!
Helen November 23, 2009
We'd approach the convection oven much as we'd approach a normal oven, just prepare yourself with better, crisper results in a shorter cooking time. So keep your eye on it, and be aware that it'll take less time than it would usually take.
AntoniaJames November 23, 2009
If you have a Dacor convection oven, reduce the heat by 25 degrees as well, and use "Convection Roast." The Dacor is incredibly well insulated. You might want to check with the manufacturer of your oven, if it's not a Dacor, to see what they recommend. Convection ovens can be tricky, and you really don't want to dry out the breast with a heat that's too high, before the lower joint is fully cooked..
slirpa November 23, 2009
Help! I am an accomplished cook but shamefully have never made gravy. Can you give me an easy, delicious, foolproof recipe? I am cooking for 10 people.

Also, I want to make a celery root and potato puree. I have several pounds of white potatoes (not Russet). Will they work?

Thank you!!
Helen November 23, 2009
Merrill wrote some great notes on the art of gravy making -- see below! And for a fantastic celery root and potato puree, check out our recent winner for Autumn Celeriac Puree:
NYCNomNom November 23, 2009
We have a marathon Thanksgiving with over 40 people and too much food for the fridge. How long is it safe to leave foods out? Specifically things made with cream cheese and baked goods.
Helen November 23, 2009
As a certified safe food handler in two states and three cities, I can confidently tell you this: you can leave food out for a while. A long while. The "danger zone" for food is 41-140 degrees F, and it's within these temperatures (ie, room temperature) that you have to worry. Technically speaking, the rule of thumb is 4 hours in the zone is safe for both cooked and raw foods. I'd be slightly more careful with raw eggs or poultry, but everything else can sit on the counter without any concern. Frankly, I've left foods out for up to 6 hours without thinking about it twice. Hope this helps!
McMichael November 23, 2009
I wish you would post the answers because I have the same question as Angela Cobrin Landis.... I want to make an apple pie and I'd love to bang it out early... how early can I prepare it and then bake it?

Merrill S. November 23, 2009
You can bake your pie a day or two early, wrap it well and refrigerate it. Just reheat it at 350 for 15-20 minutes to crisp it up and warm it through.
Helen November 23, 2009
In my house, as soon as dinner goes on the table, we lower the oven to 250 and put the pies right in. By the time we're ready for dessert, they're perfectly warmed through.