Free Range on Food

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, November 16, 2005; 1:00 PM

A chat with the Food section staff is a chance for you to ask questions, offer suggestions and share information with other cooks and food lovers. It is a forum for discussion of food trends, ingredients, menus, gadgets and anything else food-related.

Each chat, we will focus on topics from the day's Food section. Do you have a question about a particular recipe or a food-related anecdote to share? The Food section staff goes Free Range on Food every Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET.

The transcript follows.

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Bonnie: Happy Food Wednesday. Stick a fork in us, we're done! And yet, still ready to tackle more of your Thanksgiving questions. Food editor Judy Havemann has already fielded many in her own chat at noon.

What bugs you the most about Thanksgiving food? Here's your chance to let it all out on the table. The pithiest vent from chatters today will win either Williams-Sonoma's "Thanksgiving Entertaining" or "Christmas Entertaining" books. We'll post the winner near the end; be sure to send us your preference and mail address to food@washpost.com. Here we go.

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Olney, Md.: I have been a devoted reader of the Washington Post for 45 years and have always had a special interest in the Food Section. You can imagine how many Thanksgiving themed editions I've seen! Today's Food section was truly the best ever. A nice blend of standards for novice cooks who want to produce an outstanding traditional meal, and some very tantalizing new renditions for those of us who want something different. Well done!!!!

Candy: Hi Olney. Thanks so much for the kind words. We worked our little, um, fannies off, trying to provide as many recipes and tips as possible. We want everyone to get as much as possible for their 35 cents.

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Arlington, Va.: How early can I make a Pumpkin Pie for Thanksgiving? I was thinking about making it the Tuesday before but could squeeze it in Wednesday if you think that's better...

Marcia: Wednesday would be better. The farther ahead it's made, the soggier the crust will get.

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Arlington, Va.: I am disappointed that most of your thanksgiving dishes are so high in fat. Please provide some alternative lower fat recipes for potatoes, vegetarian dishes, stuffing etc.

Judith W.: I understand your reaction--really I do. But(and I'm sure you already know this) there's no difference between low fat food on Thanksgiving and on any other day. The skin on roast poultry is fat, so avoid it. Green vegetables can be steamed. Stuffing can be put together with stock and without fat but it won't taste as good. Acorn squash can be baked and mashed without butter, but it tastes better with butter. Potatoes too, though if you roast sweet potatoes and serve them individually, you won't need much fat. And baked apples will have less fat than an apple pie. The sad truth is that unless you have special dietary needs or prohibitions with regard to fat, calories are the issue. So portion control--the words we never want to hear--are the solution.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I like your recipe for Party Potatoes, but they seem a bit heavy. Do you think I could cut back on the butter and/or cream cheese? Thanks.

Candy: Hi Silver Spring. Of course, you could make plain mashed potatoes and avoid most fat. But take another look at this recipe. There are only 8 grams of fat per serving. It uses low-fat cream cheese and low-fat sour cream. It's really not that bad, assuming you don't eat half of it yourself. But, yes, if you want to cut back, you certainly can.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: aaack!! Every single recipe you published today looks so good. It makes me want to toss my entire menu and start over!

To make those party potatoes in advance, would you bake them, or do everything up TO baking, and then refrigerate and bake prior to serving? I don't want to mess this up!

Marcia: I'd do everything up to baking. You can do that up to 2 days ahead. Let it cool and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Before you bake the the dish, take it out of the oven and let it come to room temp. Then it's just about a half-hour to bake. Have fun with the swirlees on top!

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Hungry for Dessert, Arlington, Va.: The "Shopping Cart" Section on Grand Finales today was so pretty. I loved that you included the platters. That gave me a lot of great ideas for serving desserts. And the desserts themselves looked so, so good. I will definitely try some of those bakeries. I would like to make my own cut-out leaf cookies and frost them to give friends at Thanksgiving. I had been trying to think of a shape for cookies that was easier than turkeys or pilgrims. Leaves are perfect. Any ideas on where I could get leaf-shaped cookie cutters, and also modern, simple Christmas cookie cutters? Thanks!

Walter: Fran Wheat has plenty of leaf shapes at her Fran's Cake & Candy Supplies in Fairfax City; 703-352-1471.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Please tell me it's a typo in today's pumpkin pie nutrition info, and it's not really nearly 1,200 calories for 1/8 of a pie!

Marcia: Yes, it's a typo and we'll be correcting it tomorrow's paper. The pie is actually 357 calories per slice, and it's worth every last one of them.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi everyone,

I loved your article over the summer on Dream Dinners, etc. I've been waiting to hear when the Rockville or Silver Spring locations will be up and running - do you have any info on that? I've been checking their web page but it never changes and doesn't give any dates. I've been looking forward to this so much that I'm sure it will be anti-climactic once I actually go there and do the dinner thing. Thanks for your help.

Candy: Dreamin' of Dream Dinners, eh? I haven't heard yet when DD is opening in Md., but have you taken a look at Let's Dish! locations in Md.--Bel air, Timonium and now Columbia? That could tide you over until the others open.

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University Park, Md.: I really want to try a turducken for Thanksgiving this year. Is there any place in the area I can buy one, or have one prepared?

Judith W.: Wow--you're a lot braver than I am. I've never cooked one, tho I'd like to some time. They're a Cajun specialty, so you can find lots of them on line. But Walter Nicholls has tracked down a local source for you if you order by this Sunday: Home Farm in Middleburg, 540-687-8882. It might be a good idea to ask the butcher Paul Branner how to cook it.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm interested in trying the 2hr Safeway turkey recipe written about in the Food Section last week. I have ordered a fresh organic turkey, which usually seems to cook more quickly than a previously frozen turkey. I was wondering what impact this may have on the 2hrs recipe. Any thoughts? Thanks.

Judith W.: With all due respect to Safeway, they didn't invent the speedy high temperature way to roast turkeys, and you can go that route with any turkey. Try our instructions in today's food section (a steady 450 degrees). It really works!

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Washington, D.C.: Two questions:

How bad an idea is it for me to bring a loaf of homemade bread as a holiday host gift if I've never made homemade bread before?

Do you have an easy jam recipe to go with said bread that doesn't require the jarring process? I know it won't last as long, but I don't really have the time or inclination to get all the equipment and learn how to jar, lazy lady that I am.

Thank you!

Candy: Yikes. I wouldn't try making homemade bread for the first time when you need it to be perfect for a gift. Here's my idea: How about a quick bread, like a lemon tea bread which is baked in a loaf pan and is pretty easy to throw together. When it's completely cooled, wrap it in colored cellophane with a big bow and you're good to go.

Lemon Tea Bread

From Damon Lee Fowler's New Southern Baking

1 1/2 cups (7 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (4 ounces or 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup whole milk

Grated zest (colored part of the rind) of 1 lemon

For the glaze:

1 cup sifted powdered sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9x5-inch loaf pan. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Using a mixer, cream the butter until fluffy and light; gradually add the sugar, beating well at medium speed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture and milk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Finally, stir in the lemon zest.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Tap it on the counter to break up any air bubbles. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes, then remove from the pan and let cool completely on rack.

While the bread cools, make the glaze by mixing together the powdered sugar and lemon juice until it's smooth. Pour the glaze over the cooled bread.

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On the Road Again: I'm going to be driving down to DC (about 4 1/2 to 5 hours) on Turkey Day. What's the best way to bring food, like side dishes etc., in the car so it's still safe to eat when I get it to the table? Do I need ice packs?

Bonnie: Yep, you'll be schlepping cooler and/or ice packs, to be safe (you can make your own ice packs with resealable plastic freezer bags in different sizes). More than 2 hours out is generally the rule. Do you have any collapsible/thermal picnic or beer carriers hanging around from the summer? they might take up less space in the car.

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Small Turkey: It will just be my boyfriend and I for Thanksgiving this year, and for some reason, he is insisting that we cook an entire bird as opposed to just a breast or something. Do you know of somewhere I can order a small turkey? Preferably somewhere in Arlington/Alexandria. Leftovers are great, but I think a 10 lb bird would be too much! thanks for your help

Candy: Hey, Small. Look, if the poor guy wants a turkey, give him a turkey. (And maybe he'd like to cook it, too???) The thing is, turkey is cheap. And you can order a fresh 9-pounder at Whole Foods. If you use our high-heat roasting method, it'll be done in about an hour. You'll have leftovers for some yummy sandwiches (or a turkey soup) the next day. Plus-you won't have to fight over who gets a drumstick. One for each of you.

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Perplexed in the Boston, Mass., area: About the "high heat" turkey roasting method.

(I'm submitting early in the hope that your extraordinarily talented web support people will find/fix the links before you go 'live'.)

Being as there aren't any Safeways in Eastern Mass., I can't just go and pick up a set of their instructions for continual high heat turkey roasting. I thought that the Post would be providing these directions in this week's Food Section, but I can only find directions for '30 minutes at 425, the rest lower'. The fresh turkey I'll be roasting will weigh in at around 25 pounds, and I'd rather not get up at 6 a.m. to start roasting!

Any help? Thanks!

Judith W.: Sorry if it's confusing. Since you're in Boston, you're probably looking at our web site--the recipe is there, but it's easier to find in the actual paper. On our web site, click on "High Heat Roasting. It's All the Rage."

That said, it's pretty simple (and you don't need a Safeway turkey to do it this way--I've been cooking my turkeys at high heat for years).

In short, preheat the oven to 450. Put the (room temperature) turkey in the oven and leave it there until an instant read thermometer reads 170 in the breast and 180 in the inner part of the thigh. For a 12 pound turkey or more, start checking the temperature about an hour and a half after you put the turkey in the oven. Try not to open the oven too often because that will lower the heat.

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Corn Bread Dressing Help: Love corn bread dressing, and this is my first time making thanksgiving dinner. How do I make corn bread for the dressing?

Judy H.: We have a great corn bread stuffing recipe on Page 4 of the Food Section today. It calls for prosciutto and includes two optional eggs. Judy Weinraub, my colleague who tested the recipe, says the eggs make it vastly better. The recipe is also online.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Thanksgiving anecdote:

I used to spend the holiday with a friend whose family was partly Italian. They started the feast with a huge dish of homemade ravioli with sausage.

every year there would be a new guest who didn't know the drill, stuffed him/herself, and then collapse when the turkey and stuff came out afterwards.

One year Mrs. D'orazio did the usual ravioli, and instead of a turkey brought out two roast chickens. Everyone had a bite or two of bird, lots of side dishes, and ended up less stuffed than normal.

Judy H.: This sounds like an option for all those cooks who feel they cannot possibly produce another turkey for Thanksgiving.

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Pembroke Pines, Fl.: I want to share a delicious, quick and easy recipe for Baked Cranberry Sauce.

(from Miami Herald 1995 )

1 pound fresh cranberries (4 cups),rinsed and picked over

2/3 cup sugar

1 eight-ounce jar orange marmalade

1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 deg.

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.

Turn into a 6-cup baking dish sprayed with non-stick cooking spay.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

Serve very warm, straight from the baking dish.

Refrigerate leftovers and serve, reheated, within a week or so.

Makes 3 cups. 8 to 10 servings.

Candy: Thanks. A nice twist on making the berries.

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Marcia: For anyone looking for leaf-shaped cookie cutters on the other side of the river, Little Bitts at 11244 Triangle Lane in Wheaton has them, too, plus too many other cookie cutters to count. 301-933-2733. Closed on Mondays.

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Burke, Va.: I know brining is all the rage now, but I can't do all that sodium due to high BP. Is there an alternative "soak" for the turkey that doesn't contain salt?

Judith W.: Relax (the last thing your BP needs is to blame yourself for not brining). You simply do not have to brine to get a tender turkey--the main point is not overcooking it. No matter how much of a soak the turkey has had, it you cook it too long, it won't be moist.

Besides, if you want to brine,salt is sort-of the point, tho there are plenty of alternatives to water (like using some apple cider as well).

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Washington, D.C.: Any suggestions for an appetizer recipe or two that are both easy to make but more unique than your typical dip, etc? It would need to be enough for about a dozen people. Thanks so much!

Bonnie: You're in luck, D.C. In our second Thanksgiving issue on Sunday, we're offering at least 12 different things to snack on, most of them store-bought. Can you hang on just a few...more...days?

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Boston, Mass.: I agree vegan recipes in next year's edition would be great! http://www.vegcooking.com/and http://vegweb.com/are both great sites for recipes.

Candy: Thanks! Those with vegan guests also thank you.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi Everyone,

I just got a new convection oven (never had one before)and am anxious to use it for the big feast. Do you recommend using the convection feature to cook the turkey? If so, please give me some directions for a 20 lb bird.

Thanks

Judith W.: No. I really wouldn't. It's an entirely different mode of cooking not particularly designed for something (a turkey) that's incredibly difficult to cook so that the white meat and the dark meat are finished in the same time in any case. I'm sure it's do-able, but only by trying out several turkeys in advance, and I can't imagine you'd want to do that. Does your convection oven come with a recipe book? I know you could do a nice potato gratin in one, or pies. And those oven-related recipe books often come with guidelines for those.

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Olney, Md.: Tom,

What do you think of the Inn at Brookeville Farms? The in-laws who will be here for Thanksgiving asked us to find a nice but nearby restaurant to take Grandma, also coming in, on Saturday night to celebrate her 85th birthday...

Candy: Oops, you sent a Tom question to Food. But being the kind and generous souls we are, we asked Tom your question. He says he hasn't been to the Inn at Brookeville Farms for a long time, so he can't help you. None of us have ever been there either, but it looks nice on their web site. Some other suggestions you might consider (depending on your budget)--the rooftop restaurant at the Kennedy Center is very nice, although not cheap, but it has that marvelous view.

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Holiday pie:: I can't take credit for originality - this is patched together from three different epicurious recipes. But it makes a nice twist on plain apple pie.

Holiday Apple Cranberry Pie

Crust:

1 1/3 cup flour 1/4 cup butter

1/2 tsp salt 1/4 cup vegetable shortening, frozen

1/2 tsp sugar

3 T ice water mixed with 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar

Sift dry ingredients together. Cut in butter and shortening. Mix in

water/vinegar with fork until moist clumps form, use more water if

necessary.

Gather dough into ball, flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate

30 minutes. Roll out and place in bottom of greased pie pan.

Crumb Topping:

1 cup flour 3/4 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup regular oatmeal 1 tsp cinnamon

9 T butter

Melt butter, combine with rest of ingredients. Sprinkle over filling.

Filling:

6-8 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup flour

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Pinch of ground cloves

1 T lemon juice

Toss apples with lemon juice, toss in cranberries. Mix dry ingredients and

toss with apple mix.

Candy: Holiday pie person--thanks for the delicious-sounding recipe, but I think you forgot one tiny thing: The baking instructions!

If you like apple-cranberry combos, take a look at our fab Food section that's running this Sunday. It will have a maple-apple-cranberry deep dish pie from dessert diva Elinor Klivans. And there will be baking instructions.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm planning to make a big roasted root veggie dish. Are there any winter squashes that don't require peeling? Thanks!

Bonnie: DC, since you're planning to roast them, split open some hefty acorn or butternut squash, scoop out the seeds, season with S&P and drizzle a little olive oil. Take the lovely roasted root vegetable flesh, leave the peel behind. Parsnips go fast with a vegetable peeler.

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Woodbridge, Va.: New to the area, Thanksgiving is next week and I still do not know where I am going to buy my turkey! I want to get a fresh one, maybe an organic or free range turkey, if they are not too expensive. Where in Prince William, Arlington or Fairfax County can I get one and how much will it be per pound?

Judith W.: The holiday desk at the Whole Foods Market in Arlington tells us that the chain is selling fresh turkeys for $1.99 a pound, and organic fresh turkeys for $2.99 a pound. They say both are free-range. It's a good idea to call ASAP to reserve one.

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Washington, D.C.: What bugs me about thanksgiving food? That nobody I know actually likes turkey but we always feel obligated to have it.

This is the first year I've convinced my family to break free and enjoy something else. Every year everyone says "next year let's just have something else". This year we're going to do it!

Oh, and that my brother prefers the canned cranberry jelly sauce to homemade. There is absolutely no explaining that.

Candy: I so agree. Although I am trying to talk my family into letting me make a turkey this year--they want duck. I made duck breasts for T'giv the last two years and now that's all they'll accept. One year I even made chicken enchiladas and they ask for that, too. And you're right--there is no explaining the can thing.

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Reston, Va.: I'm desperately trying to track down a wonderful recipe that was in your Dinner in Minutes feature, but it's not longer on the online archive. It was a grilled or broiled salmon recipe with soy, orange juice, honey or maple syrup, minced fresh ginger, and a touch of oriental sesame oil. Can you help me find it? I'd gladly pay if necessary!

Bonnie: No payment required, Reston. Just keep comin' back.

Ginger Honey-Glazed Salmon

4 to 6 servings

Serve with stir-fried vegetables and rice.

From "Spices of Life," by Nina Simonds (Knopf, 2005):

For the ginger-honey marinade:

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

For the salmon:

4 to 6 salmon steaks or fillets (about 6 ounces each), rinsed and patted dry

About 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil for the grill

To make the marinade, mix the orange juice, soy sauce, ginger, honey or maple syrup, and sesame oil in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer 5 minutes. Put the mixture in a bowl and set aside to cool slightly.

Place the salmon in a single layer in a shallow pan. Pour half the marinade on top and turn to coat all sides. Set the salmon aside for a couple of minutes or, if time allows, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Prepare a medium-hot fire for grilling or preheat the broiler. Arrange a rack 3 to 4 inches from the heat. Brush the grill with oil, or line the broiler pan with foil and brush it with oil. Transfer the salmon to the grill rack or the pan, discarding the marinade. Cook, brushing with the marinade, until opaque throughout, about 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Serve with the remaining marinade spooned on top.

Per serving (based on 4, using half the marinade): 364 calories, 34 gm protein, 7 gm carbohydrates, 22 gm fat, 94 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 363 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

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Keedysville, Md.: Several years ago, my mother gave me a turkey brine recipe she had clipped from the Post. The only thing that I remember is that it called for ginger. Could you re-print?

Bonnie: Hope this is what you're after.

Apple Cider Brine

Makes enough for a 10- to 25-pound turkey

From "The Thanksgiving Table" by Diane Morgan (Chronicle, 2001).

In Advance: The turkey must be brined for 12 to 24 hours in advance of roasting.

8 cups unsweetened apple cider or juice

2/3 cup kosher salt

2/3 cup sugar

6 quarter-size slices unpeeled fresh ginger root

2 bay leaves

6 whole cloves

1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed

2 teaspoons whole allspice berries, crushed

6 cups ice-cold water

1 thawed turkey (10 to 25 pounds)

2 oranges, quartered

2 turkey-size plastic oven bags

In a 3- to 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the cider or juice, salt, sugar, ginger, bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns and allspice and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Boil for 3 minutes then remove from the heat. Add 4 cups of the cold water and stir. Cool to room temperature.

Have ready a heavy roasting pan large enough to hold the turkey. Place 1 plastic oven bag inside a second bag to create a double thickness. Place the double bags, open side up, in the roasting pan.

Remove the giblets and neck from the body and neck cavities of the turkey. Rinse the turkey in cold water, drain it and pat it dry with paper towels. Stuff the orange quarters into the main cavity of the turkey.

Fold back the top third of the double bags, making a collar to help keep the top of the bag open. Place the turkey inside the bags, stand it upright and pour the cool brine mixture into the inner bag and over the bird. Add the remaining 2 cups cold water and draw up the opening of the inner bag, squeezing out as much air as possible, then secure it closed with a twist tie. Repeat with the outer bag. Position the turkey on its breast in the roasting pan and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours, turning the turkey 3 or 4 times while it is brining.

Just prior to roasting, remove the turkey from the brine. Discard the brine, bags, the oranges from inside the bird and any cured herbs or spices remaining outside the bird. Rinse the turkey with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. The turkey is now ready to be roasted.

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Thanksgiving pet peeves: My biggest pet peeve about thanksgiving is the turkey. This is my first time making one. And there's so many schools of thought out there on how to roast a turkey, and if its bad everyone remembers. My husband is really excited about the turkey, but I'm thinking come on, in our family, we smother the turkey in gravy and what people really savor is the other dishes, especially dessert! but I'll still be fussing over that darn turkey next week!

Bonnie: We agree. Who needs the stress? Turkey's not really that tough to do, when you come right down to it. As long as you remember to extract the little bags of turkey parts, turn on your oven and make enough for sandwiches, you're golden.

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Fairfax, Va.: Comment on turkey roasting directions:

Take the time before T'giving day to do a "dry run" and see that all planned dishes fit in your oven, and that the turkey fits in the pan you plan to use. That way you will know if you have to wait for the turkey to come out before you can fit the sweet potatoes or stuffing in, and can plan accordingly! Also, you will not have to take the turkey out and move a hot oven rack.

Judith W.: Thanks for this really good advice. You're so right--a dry run is crucial. There's nothing like discovering that your roasting pan and your turkey take up the entire oven, when you've been counting on putting other dishes in the oven at the same time.

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Safeway 2 Hour Turkey: I think you said last week that you wouldn't brine the 2 hour turkey. Just FYI, the Q&A on the Safeway web site say that brining just makes the turkey more moist. BTW: I did use the instructions to cook a small turkey (Safeway had them on sale for $5--couldn't resist), and the results were as good as I've gotten with slower cooking methods. I am going to try it again with a brined turkey and see if that makes the white meat moister... it was pretty moist already, but there's always room for improvement!

Judith W.: Don't beat yourself up about the perfect moist turkey. I mean how many can you do ahead of time? I know I've already made this point today but I guess it can't be emphasized enough. The main point is not overcooking the turkey.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm thinking of brining my turkey this year. I noticed in the brining recipe it said to use Kosher salt only and not regular table salt. Why is that? Isn't NaCl (sodium chloride) going to taste exactly the same, especially when dissolved?

Judith W.: Two reasons, one general one and one specific to our recipe:

1) Kosher salt is generally recommended because some people think the anti-caking ingredients and potassium iodide in table salt can alter its flavor, and that's what professional chefs use.

2)In addition, you need different proportions of salt to water if you use table salt, and our recipe is set up for kosher salt. If you're not sensitive to or worried about the additives in table salt, and want to use it (which is fine), use a cup rather than the 1 1/2 cups specified in our recipe.

Hope that helps.

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Thanksgiving Food Gripe: What bugs me the most is that so many of the traditional foods are starches--mashed white potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, home-made rolls if you're really traditional--or other heavy foods. Luckily, my family has never had the creamed onion tradition. But the traditional menu is lightened only by cranberry sauce. While I love carbs as much as the next girl (and probably love 'em too much), even I find it's a bit much.

Bonnie: So noted.

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Where's the Potatoes?: My main gripe about Thanksgiving food is my sister-in-law's instant mashed potatoes. HELLO! It's only one time a year that you would have to actually peel potatoes and boil them. Hell, you don't even have to peel the things! I make real mashed potatoes for Christmas dinner. Think Idaho spuds!!!!!

Bonnie: Oh man. Maybe she's reading this and will be inspired to go au natural.

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Lausanne, Switzerland: A few administrations ago, we had Thanksgiving dinner with you and your family in Brussels. How can I improve my candied yams? And should I drop the reading from Of Plymouth Plantation? Holiday greetings from all of us, especially Alice, who is starting the medical course at the university here.

Judy H.: These chats are amazing in connecting people from all over the world. Thanks for writing, Paul. Paul Montgomery regaled our family one Thanksgiving in Brussels with Pilgrim stories--from the Of Plymouth Plantation records-- that we definitely did not learn in school. Thanksgiving readings might seem a little sedate for some of our chatters who inquire about livening up their celebrations, but these readings were hardly sedate.

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Baltimore, Md.: I am cooking two 14-pound turkeys on my gas grill (I need to free up the oven). Grill directions recommend putting the turkey in the middle between the burners, so it's not in direct heat, but I can't do that with two turkeys.

How important do you think that suggestion is? Any tips?

Judith W.: If those are the instructions that came with your grill, I think it's important. Have you thought of making one ahead of time? You'll be able to warm it up with gravy, and you won't have to worry about perfect timeing for the second turkey.

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Re: comments about high fat content: Thank you for your great responses to those folks writing in about the too-high fat content of some of the recipes. These are dishes for a special meal, once a year. I think most of us can splurge a little once a year!

Judith W.: We thank you. And we obviously agree.

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re: corn bread dressing: I wanted to make the cornbread dressing printed in today's section, but I didn't see a recipe for the corn bread itself (maybe I'm misreading it). Should I jut buy cornbread separately or make it? And do you have a simple recipe?

Bonnie: We were thinking of using the corn bread sold in Whole Foods' bakery dept. But here's a great cornbread recipe we ran last year:

Corn Light Bread

Makes 1 loaf

The inclusion of the word "light" in the title is befuddling, since the bread is neither airy nor low-calorie. But it certainly is good.

This loaf may also be made in a cast-iron skillet, although it will not be quite as dense and moist as the loaf pan version.

Butter, vegetable oil or bacon drippings for the pan

2 cups cornmeal

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups buttermilk (may use low-fat or nonfat)

1/3 cup water

3 tablespoons bacon drippings

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 8 1/4-by-4 1/4-by-3-inch loaf pan with butter, oil or bacon drippings.

In a medium bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the buttermilk. Gradually add the cornmeal mixture to the buttermilk, using a wooden spoon to stir just until combined. Add the water and bacon drippings and mix just until combined.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 1 hour, until the top is golden brown and a tester comes out almost completely clean. You may need to cover the pan with foil toward the end to prevent overbrowning. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Slice and serve while still warm.

Per serving (based on 12): 188 calories, 4 gm protein, 34 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 4 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 383 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

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Washington, D.C.: A tangentially Thanksgiving-related question: I'm traveling to stay with my aunt for the holiday, and I'd like to cook something up to bring with me. I don't want to impinge on her hostessness, so I'd like to bring something appetizer-y or breakfast-y that she can serve immediately or keep around--whatever she wants. A quick bread is easy, but not very interesting, and it has to keep for a half-day of travel. I currently have recipes for spiced nuts and marinated mushrooms in the running. Do you have any other ideas?

Judy H.: Our second Thanksgiving issue, has a feature on appetizer-y things. It's coming out on Sunday. There are not a ton of "cooking" recipes, but a lot of ideas.

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Marcia: A p.s. on cornbread stuffing: You can use a package mix for the cornbread. You'll be adding enough other things that make the stuffing special that taking that one time-saving step won't do any harm. I made the stuffing the other day and started with the blue box mix (Jiffy). It came out great.

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Arlington, Va.: Biggest Thanksgiving food beef - that we are all so fixated on various dishes being "Thanksgiving" food that we never eat them at any other time of the year! Green bean casserole? Stuffed turkey? Pumpkin pie? Fantastic foods, but they usually just make one appearance a year.

Bonnie: Just how many days per year are you proposing for green bean casserole?

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Washington, D.C. : Non-Thanksgiving question: I am having a brunch on Sunday. I was trying to incorporate dishes that would celebrate fall (outside the normal pumpkin dessert). Any suggestions?

Candy: For a fall brunch, how about a creamy squash soup or salad with dried cranberries, pears, walnuts, goat cheese. Or dried cranberry scones. We like making a frittata for brunch. For dessert, an easy apple or pear crisp (jazz it up with a little candied ginger) is a sweet salute to fall.

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Thanksgiving Peeve from Petworth:: I absolutely LOVE to cook; however, sometimes you have to do the diplomatic thing and go to the in-laws house. How awful was it to find out that they make everything, and I do mean everything, from a can or a box. What a waste of a great opportunity to cook some wonderful food. I felt very cheated...

Judy H.: Would it seem out of line (you know your in-laws) to offer to bring one or two things? You could make them from scratch, and serve them without making a big deal about it. People might like them so much that you would be able to inject a little "real" food into Thanksgiving every year. Just a thought.

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Fairfax Station, Va.: The big problem that I have with Thanksgiving food is the coordination it takes to make the whole meal on your own. Even with two ovens, I do a lot of pre-baking and warming up. It is just a lot of effort for one meal. Then, everyone just eats in a half an hour to get back to the game.

Judith W.: Yup, it's a lot of work. And it seems like you've got some diehard football fans. Have you thought of changing the time you serve Thanksgiving dinner?

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Baking Question: I have never used "shortening" and am not really sure what it is, but it sounds terribly high in trans-fats. I assume vegetable shortening is different from lard which comes from meat. Could one substitute butter, margarine or oil for shortening in cookie and cake recipes, or is there something about its consistency that is necessary.

Judith W.: Yes re trans fats and yes different from lard, but sorry, no, you can't just substitute. It's chemistry. A professional piemaker I know about recently decided to give up her delicious trans-fat laden pie crusts, and spent several months trying to get the proportions right.

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Lincoln Park, NE Washington, D.C.: What bugs me the most about Thanksgiving food?

...That my stomach is not big enough to eat as much of everything as I want.

Bonnie: We'll entertain that gripe in the true spirit of the season.

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Re: Potatoes: Unfortunately, I somehow doubt that someone who would serve instant potatoes at Thanksgiving dinner is probably not reading this chat. Just a hunch.

Judy H.: Which we share.

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Southwest: Help! I can cook a turkey, blend a cranberry sauce, bake some rolls - but making GRAVY just completely escapes me. Can you walk me through, step by step? Or is this coming up in a future Post article?

Bonnie: It's in the paper and online today:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/15/AR2005111500362.html

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Holiday pie person:: Sorry - never assume people know the standard protocol! How about 400 for about 40min. Cover with foil at end if top is getting too brown.

Judy H.: Thank you.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi - just had a baby (yay) but it turns out I have to cut out dairy (boo!) because of baby digestion problems. And I'm a vegetarian - I loosen up a bit on t-giving and simply fill up on the sides, which I love - dressing, mashed potatoes, that not exactly gourmet but still delish green bean dish......ie, nearly every item that has dairy.

So, how to avoid dairy and still have a decent meal? Is it beans and rice for me, I think? Maybe wild rice would be more interesting? A pilaf? Any other ideas?

Candy: Poor babies--you and the little tyke. The stuffing--if it's made with vegetable broth and not cooked inside the turkey--can easily be vegetarian and nondairy. (If you eat eggs, an egg can be added to the stuffing to up the protein.) Also, you might consider using soy milk in some of your favorite dairy dishes (like creamy soup). As for mashed potatoes--you can make them with olive oil and they'll still taste great. Or how about couscous with chick peas, olives, a little lemon, minced herbs. Cook the couscous in veggie broth for more flavor.

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Washington, D.C.: OK, here's my vent - inlaws! Here's how two thanksgivings in a row went with my in-laws. First one, husband and I decide to make a couple of dishes. We made a pumpkin side dish that used "real" pumpkin, brandy, raisins, and a few other ingredients. I also made a side of mac and cheese, and we made another side of dressing (using my family's recipe). My husband and I are decent cooks - these were perfectly good dishes, THAT WERE NOT TOUCHED AT ALL. In fact, when my brother in law, who was about to take the tiniest scoop of the pumpkin dish (to be polite) heard as he was spooning it out that it was actual real pumpkin, he put the spoon back in and quickly put the dish down. The dressing was only eaten by my husband and myself - but the Stovetop was completely eaten! And the mac and cheese was also bypassed.

The next year, I decided to just make a dessert, surely even my in-laws wouldn't turn their noses up at a pumpkin marble cheesecake? Well, they didn't - because my sister in law made EXACTLY the same thing and hers was completely eaten while mine was barely touched.

I no longer bring anything except booze.

Judy H.: Wow. Seems like there is more going on here than just cooking. What a story!

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Alexandria, Va.: What bugs me the most about Thanksgiving is when people are stuck on having the same dishes that their mothers' served even if they're really bad. My fiance must have a nasty, canned green bean dish every year. In my house we didn't eat canned vegetables (ok, we also grew our own), and I hate having that on our table. I prefer trying at least one new thing every year. A couple of years ago I made pumpkin creme brulee, which was a big hit.

Bonnie: Keep at it, Alexandria. You can add each year, even if you can't subtract.

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Sanford, N.C.: We had this growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan every Thanksgiving and I would like to share with your readers.

CRANBERRY RELISH

1 cup finely chopped raw cranberries

1 cup finely chopped red delicious apples, leave peels on

1/2 cup sugar

Mix cranberries, apples and sugar and let stand.

Meanwhile mix

1 small pkg lemon jello

1 1/2 cups hot water

chill until partially set.

Mix in cranberries and apples then add

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup seeded green grapes

May be put in a jello mold or simply put in a bowl.

Just before serving, top with a generous dollop of Kraft Miracle Whip Salad Dressing.

Judy H.: I, too, grew up in Northern Michigan, although not quite in the U. P. I recognize the jello and the Miracle Whip from hundreds of church suppers. Thanks for sending it in.

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Re: Homemade bread: Is bread really that difficult? Even if I do a basic recipe? And a practice loaf first? I'm a pretty good cook (and, obviously, an optimist) and, nothing against your lemon tea bread, which looks terrific, but I'm just tired of making and giving quick breads. Blah.

Also, did you have any easy jam recipes that don't require jarring?

Thanks so much--you folks are great!

Candy: Absolutely. Go for it, especially if you have time to do a practice loaf. Here's some freezer jam recipes from cookbook author Nancy Baggett that ran in the Food section this summer:

Quick-Cook, Reduced-Sugar Blueberry or Dark, Sweet Cherry Freezer Jam

Makes about 5 cups blueberry or about 4 cups cherry jam

For best results, use very flavorful berries or cherries. Although Bing is the most widely available dark cherry, other varieties will work fine.

41/2 cups blueberries or 4 cups pitted dark, sweet cherries

12/3 cups sugar

1 1.75-ounce box powdered less- or no-sugar-needed pectin, such as Sure-Jell or Ball Fruit Jell

3/4 cup cranberry juice cocktail or water

3 to 31/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (use larger amount for blueberries)

3/4 teaspoon lemon zest (omit for cherries)

1 cinnamon stick (optional)

Place several metal tablespoons in the refrigerator to use later in checking the jell of the jam. Have 3 or 4 eight-ounce jars ready.

Using a food processor, chop the blueberries or cherries; do not puree. (Alternatively, coarsely crush the blueberries using the bottom of a wide-bottomed jar; chop the cherries by hand.) Set aside.

In a large, wide-bottomed nonreactive pan or deep-sided skillet on medium-high heat, combine the sugar and pectin until well blended and no lumps remain. Add the cranberry juice cocktail (or water), lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon stick, if using, and blueberries or cherries, stirring until well blended.

The mixture will come to a full, foamy boil; cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. If the mixture appears runny, drop about a teaspoon of it onto one of the chilled tablespoons and let it cool for 15 seconds. If it immediately runs off instead of jelling lightly and clinging to the spoon, cook 1 minute longer, then check using another chilled tablespoon.

As soon as the mixture just clings to the spoon and jells lightly, it is done. (It will continue to jell and thicken further upon cooling.) Immediately remove from the heat. Skim off and discard any foam from the surface.

Remove the cinnamon stick, if using. Ladle the jam into jars, leaving 3/4-inch headroom to allow for expansion during freezing. Wipe any drips from the jar rim and threads; screw on the lids securely. Let stand until the jam has cooled to barely warm. Refrigerate for 24 hours. If lids seem loose after cooling and contracting, check and tighten further, but not so much that the seal is broken. May refrigerate for up to 3 weeks or freeze for up to 1 year.

Per 1/4-cup serving: 97 calories, .2 g protein, 24 g carbohydrates,.1 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 g saturated fat, 2 mg sodium, .9 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Nancy Baggett; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com

Quick-Cook, Reduced-Sugar Strawberry Freezer (or Strawberry-Raspberry) Jam

Makes about 5 cups

Many fruits and berries are improved by cooking, which sets their color and intensifies their flavor. Strawberries, on the other hand, lose much of their color and fresh taste during cooking, so they are not stirred in until after the pectin mixture has boiled. This yields a jam with a wonderful, right-from-the-berry-patch taste. For a change of pace, use the same recipe to prepare a strawberry-raspberry jam blend.

Note that the jam may be fairly thick when made but will probably thin out a bit during storage.

41/2 cups chopped fresh strawberries (may substitute 3 cups strawberries and 11/2 cups red raspberries)

3 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 lemon)

2 cups sugar, divided

1 1.75-ounce box powdered lower- or no-sugar-need pectin, such as Sure-Jell or Ball Fruit Jell pectin

3/4 cup water

Place several metal tablespoons in the refrigerator to use later in checking the jell of the jam. Have 4 or 5 eight-ounce jars ready.

In a large nonreactive bowl, combine the strawberries, lemon juice and 3/4 cup sugar. Let stand about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the juices begin to flow. Set aside.

In a large, wide-bottomed nonreactive pan or deep-sided skillet on medium-high heat, combine the remaining sugar and pectin until well blended and no lumps remain. Add the water (and raspberries, if using).

The mixture will come to a full, foamy boil; cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. If the mixture still appears runny, drop about a teaspoon of it onto one of the chilled tablespoons and let it cool for 15 seconds. If it immediately runs off instead of jelling lightly and clinging to the spoon, continue cooking about 1 minute longer, then check using another chilled tablespoon.

As soon as the mixture jells just enough to cling to the spoon, it is done. (It will continue to jell further upon standing.) Immediately remove from the heat; stir the strawberry mixture into the pectin mixture. Continue stirring for 2 minutes, scraping the pan bottom until well blended. The mixture will thicken somewhat and will thicken further as it cools. Skim off and discard any foam from the jam surface.

Ladle the jam into jars, leaving 3/4-inch headroom for expansion during freezing. Wipe any drips from jar rim and threads, and screw on lids securely. Let stand until barely warm. Refrigerate for 24 hours. If lids seem loose after cooling and contracting, check and tighten further, but not so much that the seal is broken. May refrigerate for up to 3 weeks longer or freeze for up to 1 year.

Per 1/4-cup serving: 98 calories,.2 g protein, 24 g carbohydrates, .1 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, .1 g saturated fat, .5 mg sodium,.7 g dietary fiber

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White Oak, Md.: Pet Peeve with Thanksgiving....People whining about the food. It's a once a year meal. You can put up with darn near anything one time every 365 days. So some things are a little on the caloric side--eat less or skip them entirely--there are usually so many sides you'll find SOMETHING to eat. Ditto that for foods you hate. AS for the complaint that it's the same food every year, that too can be a comfort. You know what you're getting served and the cook has pretty much a yearly shopping list (adjusted for the number of bodies at the table). It's a no-brainer for the cook. Or the cook can get creative. That can also be the fodder for the traditional stories passed around the dinner table--which are probably more important than the dishes.

Another point. This can be a serious do-ahead meal. Roast the squash days before. Put the turkey in the oven early in the morning-- you can pretty much forget it until carving time. Cranberries--another do ahead. Ditto for pies. Heck the day of the meal you can actually spend most of your time telling stories of other cooking disasters while sipping those bottles of wine that inevitably show up.

Or at least that's where you'll find me!

Judy H.: You sound like a great person to cook with: Somebody who can be laid back on a day when the tension in some kitchens can be cut with. . .well you know. It is supposed to be a holiday, after all.

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Washington, D.C. : Does any bakery in the Metro area sell Smith Island cakes? These cakes consists of seven thin layers and are an Eastern Shore favorite. They come in a variety of flavors such as chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, vanilla, banana strawberry, etc.

Walter: We don't know of any bakery on this side of the Bay building Smith Island cakes. Sounds like a good reason to go for a drive.

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Thanksgiving venting: Kinda food related, but seriously, my mother-in-law is like Marie (from Everyone Loves Raymond). She's great cook, and every year asks me, will you cook anything this year. And with every dish I make, she says..hmmm... needs more salt. We recently moved a time zone away, and this year Thanksgiving will be all mine. (I'll cook all my favorite dishes for this holiday and when we visit in December, she can cook all her yummy foods and I don't have to worry about making anything)

Candy: Well, we can see what YOU'LL be giving thanks for this year.

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Mac and Cheese?: ...at Thanksgiving dinner?

Judy H.: In some families it is absolutely essential. We've never run a recipe for it in our Thanksgiving issue before, and always got complaints that we hadn't. Thanksgiving, in our view, is about eating what you and your family like.

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Baton Rouge, La.: I am sure you are familiar with the "way down South" tradition of frying a turkey and oyster dressing.

I am wanting to try the deep fat frying technique this year after having acquired a huge cooking pot from an Asian restaurant supply store in Houston.

What seasonings should be rubbed into the bird and how soon beforehand. I know cayenne pepper is a requisite (as is not burning down or blowing up the house when you deep fat fry the turkey!).

HELP!!

Judith W.: We featured this recipe a few years ago, and it was very successful.

And you're going to do this outside the house, right?

Deep Fried Turkey

(10-12 servings)

For injection liquid:

1/2 cup Italian dressing or vegetable oil

4 ounces flavorful ale, lager or beer, preferably with some body

2 or 3 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed

1/2 teaspoon dried sage

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

10- to 12-pound turkey*

For the rub:

1/2 tablespoon dried sage or other herbs of your choice

About 2 tablespoons commercial spice rub

Salt, freshly ground black pepper and/or cayenne pepper to taste

For the fryer:

4 1/2 to 5 1/2 gallons peanut or canola oil**

For the injection liquid: In a food processor, combine the Italian

dressing, beer, garlic, sage, thyme, cayenne and salt and pepper to

taste. Process until combined and set aside for at least 1 hour.

Garlic-flavored or other specialty oils are good but plain old Italian

dressing is a great "secret ingredient." You can use about 1 cup Italian

dressing just straight, without the beer and other ingredients, if you

wish. Whatever you decide, be sure to strain the mixture to remove

anything that could clog the needle.

Remove the giblets and neck from the body and neck cavities of the

turkey. Be sure to remove any plastic parts or pop-up timers. Rinse the

turkey in cold water, drain it and and pat it dry with paper towels. Cut

off the wing tips and the plump little tail--they just get caught in the

holes in the fryer basket. It's best if the turkey is at room

temperature or at least not icy cold from the refrigerator. Place it on

a baking sheet and, following the instructions for your injector, inject

the fluid into the turkey at 6 or 8 spots. Try to force about 1 ounce

into each hole, moving the needle around as you inject to spread the

fluid.

For the rub: In a small bowl, combine the herbs, commercial spice

rub, salt, black and cayenne peppers (we like a lemon pepper mixture

combined with an equal amount of Zatarain Creole Seasoning from

www.zatarain.com). Then spread the rub mixture all over the turkey.

You can inject and rub a cold turkey the night before if you wish,

just take it out of the refrigerator at least 1 hour before you plan to

fry it.

You don't need to truss the bird and, of course, you do not stuff

it. You also will not get the drippings from this turkey that are

required to make gravy.

For the fryer: Place the predetermined amount of oil into the

outdoor deep fryer and heat to 350 degrees. Wearing long fireproof

gloves, a heavy apron and safety goggles, place the turkey in the

perforated basket and then slowly--carefully--lower it into the boiling

oil. The temperature will drop, but start timing the bird immediately.

Then monitor the temperature until it rises back to 325 to 350 degrees

and regulate the heat to hold that temperature range. Fry for 3 to 3 1/2

minutes per pound; that's about 40 minutes for a 12-pounder from the

moment the bird hits the oil.

When you think it's done, turn off the fire and

slowly--carefully--raise the basket from the oil. Do this slowly to

allow the oil to drain back into the fryer. Transfer the bird to a

baking sheet lined with brown paper bags or paper towels or a lined

platter. Check the internal temperature of the breast meat; the turkey

is done when the thermometer registers 180 degrees in the thigh or 170

degrees in the breast meat. Let the turkey rest for 10 or 15 minutes.

Then carve and serve.

Cleanup can be a chore and you're left with about 5 gallons of

nasty oil. Many manufacturers recommend against using the oil again, but

if you choose to reuse the oil, follow the oil manufacturer's

recommendations. Either way, you'll need to siphon it off into

containers and follow the rules in your area for disposal.

* NOTE: Be sure to weigh your turkey after removing giblets and

everything. Calculate your cooking time based on the actual weight of

the bird. When you're cooking only 3 1/2 minutes a pound this really

matters.

** NOTE: Before cooking begins, you will need to determine the

amount of oil required. Before the fryer has been turned on, put the

turkey in its basket in the deep fryer and add water until it covers the

turkey by about 1 inch. But never fill the fryer more than halfway. Then

remove the turkey and measure the amount of water you used--that's the

amount of oil you will need.

Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 511 calories, 66 gm

protein, 1 gm carbohydrates, 26 gm fat, 212 mg cholesterol, 5 gm

saturated fat, 257 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

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Takoma park, Md.: Hello, helpful Food Section-eers.

Does anybody know where I can get that nice Medium Rye flour that Pillsbury used to make? I haven't seen it in a Giant/Safeway/Shoppers in over a year.

I don't want the whole grain stuff for this purpose, and I don't want to go mail order.

Any ideas?

Bonnie: The folks at Pillsbury discontinued their medium-rye flour about a year ago, Takoma, citing slow sales. M.O.M. and the Takoma Park Co-Op have rye flour (like Arrowhead Mills) whose package says it's right for baking, but it doesn't specify "medium" on the label. Mail order may be the way to go.

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Washington, D.C.: My biggest beef about Thanksgiving is that people find something to beef about. What is the name of the holiday again?

Candy: Yes, you're absolutely right--we all need to lighten up and see the humor. But sometimes family members make it very hard to feel thankful.

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Arlington, Va.: My biggest thanksgiving peeve are people who insist that green bean/mushroom soup casserole and sweet potato/marshmallow qualify as "food."

I've done fried turkey, roasted turkey, grilled turkey... and this year is filet mignon with Madeira pan sauce. So sick of turkey!

Bonnie: Well, there's your beef. Hope it's medium-rare.

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College Park, Md.: This is my first year cooking, and I think it will go ok...except that my mom is no longer around to answer my last minute questions. She trained me well, though, and I'm trying to carry on her traditions. I do have one question, though: I bought a fresh turkey breast which had a use/freeze by date of Nov. 15th, so I threw it in the freezer. You said that you wouldn't brine a frozen bird, but I was planning to try it to reduce the chance that I'll overcook it, this being my first time roasting. Why would you not suggest brining? Will it taste bad if I try it now?

Judith W.: Just make sure you take the turkey breast out of the freezer in enough time so that it is completely defrosted and at room temperature before you put it in the oven. And take its temperature after an hour or so, and you'll be fine. There really isn't any need to brine it.

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Inspirationless: I'm wondering if you and the chatters can give me a bit of inspiration. For thanksgiving I have been tapped to make a non-casserole veggie side dish and an appetizer. There are no dietary restrictions or picky eaters here, except that most people don't like ham. I think the veggie is not a problem, but I'm drawing a blank on a thanksgiving festive appetizer! Any thoughts or recipes to share??

Walter: How about a selection of American caviar served with rounds of brioche toast.

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In-Law Issues?: I see a lot that have nothing to do with food being posted here. For hose of you, I suspect these are female types writing in, who don't like the way your in-laws celebrate Thanksgiving, might I suggest offering a little kindness to your in-laws? Some postings sound like you all walk in the house with a superior attitude. (I wouldn't want to eat your food either.)

Judy H.: Superior attitude would be a turnoff, for sure. I was speaking with Miss Manners' aide yesterday, and she said that she is flooded with questions every fall about bad Thanksgiving etiquette. Not the wrong fork, but the wrong attitude.

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Thanksgiving Bug, UGH: I hope I'm not alone in this... but having grown up knowing, each and every year, to a T, and a turkey, exactly what the menu would be... Not due in any part to a lack of innovation or culinary ability on the cook's part, but because everyone seems to be so afraid to deviate from the traditional turkey with "all the trimmings." And we all know what those trimmings are and were, year after year. I LOVE to cook, and hosted my first Thanksgiving dinner last year, and I have to say the SAME THING happened to me... my menu was nearly decided by what my guests expected, and even inquired about, before the big day... Is it really not going to be Thanksgiving without great aunt Ethel's tomato aspic? And is the whole meal really going to fall apart if the sweet potatoes aren't "just like Grandma used to make?" Sigh. To me, it's not so much about what's ON the table, as who is AROUND the table, which is sometimes where I feel we get a little lost. So, I'm challenging my family and friends, this Thanksgiving, and every Thanksgiving we're lucky enough to share, when we break bread together over our Thanksgiving table, not one person will be thinking, "yeast rolls? But we've always had cornbread!"

Judith W.: You're not alone. Definitely. And we applaud you for taking a stand. Especially the aspic.....

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Woodbridge Va.: This is a response to a brief thread in a prior discussion. You asked if anyone had ever made a seitan stew.

I used to be a vegetarian, and maybe three or four times followed the recipes in Ron Pickarski's "Friendly Foods" for vegetarian seitan dishes. I think I made his "hearty seitan", among others. I made my own seitan from a mix that was then available from Arrowhead Mills. When you are a vegetarian, meat substitutes taste better than they do when you are regularly consuming meats, and I loved these recipes. But they were a lot of work and very time-consuming, and I stopped making them when I fell off the veggie path.

On the other hand--you know, some of those old seitan recipes might be a good Thanksgiving choice for a vegan.

Judith W.: Thanks for the suggestion. And what made you give up the vegetarian route?

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In-laws!: LOL. My side of the family has a lot of "plain eaters" too. Mac and cheese (from a box, not homemade), ham, and potatoes (please don't add any garlic!).

I say, embrace it. It is just that much easier for you! Make some mac and cheese from the box, buy a Honey ham, bring on the Sara Lee pumpkin pie and cool whip...and save your good stuff for the people who will enjoy it. I bet they'd love Watergate salad.

Candy: I see your point, but people who love to cook feel a little deflated when all they can do is open a box. I say, make the boxed mac and cheese, but also make something for the foodies in the group and let them enjoy, too.

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Upstate N.Y.: For those of us who can only enjoy your food section online, will the special Sunday food section be available online? Will there be a special link to it? In the past, when these special Sunday food sections are run, clicking the food section link under "print version" only brings up the previous Wednesday's food section. Thanks.

Judy H.: We will ask our great producers, who also put our sections on line, if they can pay special attention this year to making the Sunday section accessible.

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Washington D.C.: Just ate a bucket of chicken from Harris Teeter. Very Good!

Judy H.: We will tell them.

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Pasadena, Calif.: What bothers me about Thanksgiving food? The notion that

marshmallows should be mixed with a vegetable (yams).

YUCK!

(Shh.. don't tell my in-laws I said this.)

Judy H.: Maybe you could interest your family in the recipe for sweet potato puree in our section today??? Or maybe not.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi,

The thing that bugs me the most about Thanksgiving food is that the traditional meal is so starchy and uninspired. My traditional family however misses the old staples if they are not there. So if I want to be creative, I have to make "extra" dishes. This leaves me with the nightmare of icky traditional leftovers that have somehow lost their charm for the rest of the family after the big day.

Judy H.: Which are the icky dishes that are left over? Stuffing. Potatoes?

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Bonnie: White Oak's practicality wins the day. Remember to send us your address to food@washpost.com. Consider this session free therapy.

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T-giving Gripes - D.C.: A prize for complaining? Delish. But I don't hate the turkey. I hate having to partake in coo-ing and eating everyone else's "special family food" they bring for the holiday. Curmudgeonly, but the truth is not even the bringers like this stuff, they just want to share their hated tradition with everyone - and we're supposed to feel good about it! Off the top of my head, I've had the joy of: Durkee onions and dip mix with sour cream and GREEN food coloring (served with triscuits), a cranberry sauce and cool whip concoction (layers, alternately the canned stuff and then the stuff form the plastic tub) chocolate pumpkin pie (worse, in fact, than it sounds), squash and American cheese casserole and everyone's fave - sweet potatoes with loads of cooked marshmallows on top.

Judy H.: You have set a very high bar for complaints about bad food. The Durkee onions and dip mix with green food coloring is hard to top.

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Washington, D.C.: I bought a pretty delicata squash at the farmer's market. I am planning to roast it, along with some beets, celeriac, carrots, potatoes, etc, but I don't know if I have to peel it and I'd really rather not if I don't have to! Can you help me out?

If I -do- have to peel it, then can you answer me this? Are there any winter squashes that don't require peeling?

Marcia: You're in luck. Contrary to most winter squashes -- butternut, acorn and the like -- which have thick, hard shells, the better to protect the flesh and give it a long shelf life -- the skin of the delicata, an heirloom squash, is thinner and more tender (and edible!).

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No Turkey: We're having waffles and chicken gravy. With real mashed potatoes!

Judy H.: hmmm. Don't know that this menu would exactly do it for me on Thanksgiving, but maybe I need to loosen up a little.

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Turkey Alternative: If you want to do something new for Christmas (and keep your Thanksgiving turkey) much of the world insists on seafood for Christmas. In Poland, we ate a mild white fish (carp?) in France, it was lobster.

Candy: Oh those French. If you think Americans have a hassle figuring out how to roast a turkey, think about if we all had to make lobster. Oy. But a nice French champagne sure goes well with le dindon.

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Steubenville, OH: The thing that "bugs" me about Thanksgiving

food is the preparation. Trying to make

everything perfect and have it look that way too. This year, for the first time in several, my daughter and her family from Alexandria will be at my home for the Holiday, they are all ciliac's, so my entire

dinner is to be gluten free. Quite a challenge, but the company will be worth every effort.

Judy H.: Good luck, Steubenville.

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Bonnie: Look for us on Sunday, and remember that the Food section will not publish on Nov. 23 but we will be here at Free Range, online. Thanks, everyone.

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