What's Cooking Vegetarian Thanksgiving

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Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, November 9, 2006; 1:00 PM

Calling all foodies! Join us for a vegetarian Thanksgiving edition of What's Cooking , our live online culinary hour with Kim O'Donnel .

A graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education (formerly Peter Kump's New York Cooking School), O'Donnel spends much of her time in front of the stove or with her nose in a cookbook.

Catch up on previous transcripts with the What's Cooking archive page.

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Kim O'Donnel: Hello, hello! Hard to believe, it's that time of year again. This is my fifth year doing a veggie Thanskgiving special, and each year I think we all learn a little bit more about creating a feast that's free of meat. For many reasons, it behooves all of us to learn a thing or about meatless feast fare. For starters, we don't eat in a vacuum. We fall in love and one of us eats meat. How to handle? We have siblings or kids or good friends who don't eat meat. How to satisfy everyone at the holiday table and make everyone feel important? These are issues all of us are now faced with. Second, it's good to learn new tricks. Maybe your vegan sister-in-law brings a pie made without a stitch of dairy. Maybe that new veggie 12 year old will experiment will a new vegetable side dish other than mashed potatoes. It's all good. And finally, diversifying our diets with plant-based items is good for our hearts. We can all use a little less meat protein here and again.

For the next two weeks, my life is all about Thanskgiving, here in these chats, in my blog, A Mighty Appetite, and on Washington Post Radio (I'm scheduled to do a procrastinator's special on Wed. the 22nd, fyi. Details to come). As of Monday, the 13th, it's all about getting ready for the feast. So don't despair if I miss your question today. And now, let's chew...

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Northampton, Mass.: Are there any faux-turkey products that deserve center stage a la the traditional meal? Or should I stick with vegetarian versions of seasonal dishes (plus a few new treats) and stop trying to recreate the turkey experience of holidays past?

Kim O'Donnel: I subscribe to the no-faux school of thought. To me, there's so much late-harvest produce at this time of year (well, maybe less in Mass.) that it's a shame to spend energy on turkey facsimiles. I know plenty of folks who are diehard Tofurky and Unturkey fans, who I'm sure will chime in throughout the hour. Weigh in, folks! Faux turkey -- yay or nay?

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Fort Lauderdale, Fla: In reading the various biographies from the Internet Movie Database, I see that so many of todays "big name" movie stars are vegetarians, including Richard Gere, Kim Basinger and so forth.

So I of course was wondering, what does a Southern girl like Kim Basinger eat at Thanksgiving, when the rest of us are eating roast Turkey?

I guess this is a frivolous question, but I was just wondering.

Kim O'Donnel: We should probably get Celebritology blogger Liz Kelly on the case (she's a vegetarian as well)...I'd also be curious about Raw foodists -- what's a Raw Thanksgiving like? Anyone care to speculate?

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Capitol Heights, Md.: Good morning Kim O'Donnel

Soul Vegetarian Catering is having our yearly Holiday Roast Special. We are totally vegan with no animal or animal by-products. Our phone number to put orders in is 301-324-3133 or our address is 9185 Central Ave. Capitol Heights, Md.

Kim O'Donnel: Hey, thanks for this SVC. Happy to pass this along to folks who can't cook this year. Cheers.

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Fredericton, N. B., Canada: If tofu and turkey becomes tofurkey, what does tofu and duck become. I'll take my answer for all to see.

Kim O'Donnel: Those crazy kids in New Brunswick...

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Baltimore, Md.: Hi there. I can make lots of traditional Thanksgiving sides free of meat. But there's no vegetarian main attraction to replace the turkey. Do you have any ideas for a special holiday main dish that would go well with the traditional sides? Thank you!

Kim O'Donnel: Oh, Baltimore, I beg to differ. In the past, I've suggested stuffed onions, which are GORGEOUS, winter squash lasagna, risotto made with mushrooms or winter squash puree...I also found out that Food section is running a story about a Brazilian family that does a vegetarian Thanksgiving. Stay tuned for those recipes. If you're keen to get details on the onions or lasagna, holler.

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Hyattsville, Md.: Since you're thinking beyond Tofurkey for Thanksgiving ... a few years ago, I found a great recipe in Food and Wine or Gourmet for a savory bread pudding full of leeks and wild mushrooms. It was a fantastic main dish for vegetarians and a nice alternative to stuffing for the meat-eaters.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice! There are tons of ideas for meatless feast-worthy mains. It does take a little work and creativity. Spend an hour with some mags or a favorite cookbook and plan out those menus this week, folks. You'll be glad you did.

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Fairfax Station, Va.: So -- what are you having for Turkey Day dinner?

Kim O'Donnel: You know, I'm just getting to that myself. There is always homemade cranberries. There will likely be tofu pumpkin pie. I am considering a Peruvian potato dish -- causa -- for a change of routine. That's about as far as I've gotten. I'm thinking too of fried tostones with a hot dipping sauce. I need to work this out over the wknd.

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Boulder, Colo.: What is the key to making a good vegetarian stuffing ... not too dry ... not too moist? Not over seasoned or underseasoned? How do you make the flavors and ingredients all come together to create something that all your guests can enjoy?

Kim O'Donnel: Stuffing, whether meat or veggie, can be done the same way. Prepare those bread cubes -- chop them up, dry them if necessary, and season, with sauteed onions, garlic, herbs, mushrooms, whatever gets you excited. Stock should be well seasoned before adding to cubes. Add a little white wine for kicks. When you add it, do so gradually. Stop for minute and watch cubes absorb liquid. There is nothing worse than goopy stuffing that looks like a wet mattress. I like herb up my stuffing with sage, yes I do. NO egg necessary,no dairy. And yes, you can make it in advance.

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Mashed potatoes: We love mashed potatoes and I would like a way to dress them up this year. I've thought of adding cheese and sour cream but was hoping something more herbal I'm drawing a blank except for chives. Any ideas for me?

Kim O'Donnel: Rosemary is wonderful in mashed. While you're at it, boil parsnips or celery root and add to your mashed. Wonderful combo. Olive oil can be used instead of cheese and cream, fyi. And if you're in need of dairy, consider buttermilk. Nice tang.

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Virginia: No question at the moment; just wanted to give a shout-out to the mushroom gravy in Jeanne Lemlin's Vegetarian Classics cookbook. It was a big hit at our house last Thanksgiving ...

Kim O'Donnel: Good one. We need more good veggie gravy tips, if you've got one...

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As American as ...: Make homemade apple pie for Thanksgiving, using vegetable shortening in the crust. Now there's a dessert that's as American as (rim shot, please) Apple Pie!

Kim O'Donnel: Not vegan, but a butter crust is just dynamite as well, tenderized with just a bit of cider vinegar. I am partial to flavoring my apples with rosemary and pinenuts. Maybe that's what I'll make for dessert this year...

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Brussels Sprouts: I've heard several people (including Gene Weingarten) mention wonderful maple brussels sprout dishes. Do you happen to have a good recipe for something like this? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: I got hooked on brussel sprout slaw last year. I grated the sprouts and cooked with shaved apples. I added bacon to mine, but you most certainly can do without. I will have to dig that one up.

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Darnestown, Md.: Any suggestions for a T-day dessert for a future SIL who is wheat and dairy intolerant? I've been wracking my brain but haven't come up with any great ideas yet. Side dishes and main course are easier but dessert has me stumped.

Kim O'Donnel: Poached pears are always wonderful; you can cook them in a wine bath, with cinnamon stick, star anise, vanilla bean, some sugar. Lovely, lovely. I also have a recipe for gluten-free brownies -- which are in the blog -- and they are dynamite.

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Kensington, Md.: To Mashed Potatoes:

Instead of the chive, sour cream combo, you can add some garlic and olive oil. Ever heard of Skordelia?!

Kim O'Donnel: Yep. You got it!

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Oxford, Miss.: I usually make a big veggie Shepherd's Pie as the main course. You can do mushrooms on the bottom instead of meat and I like to do things like throw in whole Brussels Sprouts and big fat hominy, maybe some red cabbage for color. Topped with garlic mashed potatoes, it's tasty and really fun to cut into and see all the goodies inside.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice, Oxford. Well done. I think I need the recipe so I can put it on the blog. Send it over!

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Arlington, Va.: Wow, can you include that squash lasagna recipe?

We make stuffed acorn squash, and always a big thing of roasted veggies (even the brussels sprouts taste good).

Kim O'Donnel: Details: Winter Squash Lasagna . I'll put this and some other veggie mains on the blog next week, fyi.

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Boston, Mass: Thanks for doing this chat! What is the best way to make mashed potatoes the night before Thanksgiving so when I reheat them, they don't get all gluten-y?

Thanks and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Kim O'Donnel: Boston, there is no best way to make mashed the night before. Do yourself a favor and make them that day. They're never quite the same the next day. If anyone out begs to differ, bring on your mashed-in-advance tricks...

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Anonymous: Added bacon? Great addition to a vegetarian-themed discussion.

Kim O'Donnel: In case you didn't read closely enough, I said that you can make the brussel sprout slaw WITHOUT. Remember, we're all in this together.

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San Diego, Calif.: I made a vegetarian gravy a few years back by boiling root vegetables (carrot, turnip, parsnip, rutabaga) with onion and maybe a little celery until very soft, removing the vegetables, reducing the stock, and thickening with a roux. Divine. More complex than my turkey gravy that year.

For the stuffing, I sometimes add soaked dried mushrooms or sun-dried tomatoes for an even stronger flavor, and use the strained soaking liquid to moisten the stuffing. Fresh unfiltered apple cider works great to moisten stuffing as well.

Kim O'Donnel: Love it, San Diego! Very nice. I agree that the more veggies you have as the base, the more flavorful, the more intense your veggie gravy is.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, I am looking to sample tofurkey before making an entire, rather large "bird", but haven't been able to find a smaller version. Any suggestions? And, I am having trouble finding mock duck in the area. Any suggestions with regard to that item? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: Let's ask tofurky eaters for suggestions....

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To dairy and wheat-free Darnestown: My mother has celiac disease and I'm allergic to dairy. We often do baked apples as dessert. She puts sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg on them, along with dairy free margarine (Fleischman's and Mother's are good).

Also look for the many newer soy "ice creams." They are dairy free and most are gluten free, as well.

Kim O'Donnel: Great ideas. thanks!

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McLean, Va: Hi Kim! I'm having Thanksgiving with the boyfriend's family (no pressure there!). I love cranberries, but not the sauce that just comes out of the can. I would very much like to make a yummy cranberry relish to bring them. Do you have any recipes or suggestions for a winning recipe? Thank you so much for all of your help!

Kim O'Donnel: I like to add the juice of one, maybe two oranges, plus some of the zest. A cup of maple syrup. and just a wee bit of water. I let the berries come up to a boil, then reduce and let them pop away. You can add and adjust as they cook, if you want more sweet, more orange, etc. Chopped crystallized ginger is nice at the end, by the way.

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I see these beautiful pomegrants in the store: how can I use them?

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, pomegranates are here, from California. Slice in half and break open over a bowl -- they are messy and the juice tends to spatter. Poke through the web and separate out the tendrils which are covered with red flesh. Tart/sweet. They are lovely in rice, as part of salads. I've topped savory tarts with them. Other pom ideas?

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Washington, D.C.: As a life-long veggie, I wanted to commend your readers for attempting to please the other veggies at the table! And to remind them not to cook with chicken stock/broth (or at least share this information with guests).

Another idea instead of turkey is brazil nut en croute (check out The Complete Vegetarian Cusine by Rose Elliot).

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for the brazil nut dish. If you think of it, share with the class next time.

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Mashed potato idea : I add plain nonfat yogurt to mine instead of milk/butter. Nice protein kick, creamy but not fatty, and a nice flavor as well.

Kim O'Donnel: I too love nonfat plain yogurt and how it brings lots of body (and good bacteria) to a dish.

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Arlington, V.A.: Well tofurky makes "tofurky slices" essentially sliced turkey lunch meat -- go to the fake meat section at whole foods to find it. It's not so bad.

Kim O'Donnel: Nice! Good idea.

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Sampling tofurky: Perhaps your best bet is to get tofurky out. Java Green has a faux turkey sandwich ... . If you're asking for mock duck out the the Vegetable Garden right near White Flint metro has wonderful mock duck.

Kim O'Donnel: Another idea...

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Buttermilk Mash: Help! I love adding buttermilk to mashed potatoes (and sweet potatoes), but everytime I do, it breaks. What am I doing wrong? Too much butter?

Kim O'Donnel: You can warm up that buttermilk a tad so that it's closer in temp to those hot potatoes. It's reacting to the difference in temperature. You must move quickly, too.

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Re: Maple Brussel Sprouts: I don't have my recipe with me, but wanted to help the person looking for maple bussel type recipes. I mix equal parts of dijon and whole grain mustard to the same amount of maple syrup. I think the recipe also calls for a smiliar amount of vegetable oil and lemon juice. Add a little s and p. Whisk together and pour on steamed sprouts. Yummy! I need to start making it again.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, dear. You just saved me.

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Dressing up Mashed Pots:: Crispy fried onions are great with mashed potatoes. Horseradish is also good.

Kim O'Donnel: I love horseradish in potatoes. Thanks for the reminder.

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Mashed Potatoes: Don't forget roasted garlic and sauteed leeks. Add cabbage and make colcannon-traditional Irish.

Kim O'Donnel: More good add-ons for the mashed!

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Milwaukee, Wisc.: Kim, what could I make with 1 lb of pumpkin puree left over from Halloween besides soup or pumpkin pie? I was thinking of pumpkin souffle, pumpkin mousse, pumpkin ravioli ... Any ideas or recipes?

Kim O'Donnel: Pumpkin bread, which use for bread pudding. You've got enough to do it, and you'll have half of the bread for breakfast. I need to dig up the recipe, though. E-mail me: kim.odonnel@washingtonpost.com

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Washington, D.C.: My fave veggie stuffing is based on the tried and true Better Homes and Garden Cookbook recipe for Bread Stuffing, I use veggie stock instead of chicken broth. And I add enough liquid til it starts clumping together as I'm stirring it. And taste as I go along to see if it needs more S and P or sage.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks dear. There's a lot of bad stuffing out there, and it's mainly because it hasn't been seasoned properly.

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Southern vegetarian gal's T-day: I eat all the fixins of course! Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same without macaroni pie (that's real mac and cheese -- really gooey like a casserole) and sweet potatoes in whatever form. My mama makes her cornbread dressing just for me with veg. stock.

I agree a main course is nice too -- and I also skip the fakes. A "fall" lasagna sounds wonderful. I make a rich gratin with acorn squash, thyme, roasted garlic, and kale -- go to Martha Stewart's recipe finder if you're interested.

Kim O'Donnel: Tasty treats you've got lined up there, southern gal. I like the idea of the gratin. Will have to check that out.

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Chicago, Ill.: Kim,

I just wanted to remind everyone that your "Dark and Stormy Pear Crisp" makes a great alternative (or addition) to traditional apple or pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dessert. I made it last year and it was a huge hit. I'll definitely be making it again.

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, that one is a goodie indeed. Here are the how-to details for those intrigued...

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Boston, Mass.: Not a veggie myself, but I can't help but think that a nice veggie galette would be a great centerpiece for a veggie dinner table.

Kim O'Donnel: One year I made a gratin of celery root. It was my favorite thing on the table. Veggie galettes/gratins are elegant and very satisfying. Thanks for chiming in, Boston.

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Washington, DC: On the sampling of Tofurky... the company now makes Tofurky deli-style turkey, which you can find in the cold case with the tofu products at Whole Foods. It's basically the same, just in slices perfect for a sandwich. I have made Tofurky many a Thanksgiving in the past, and it is certainly a good option for veggies, but after almost 10 years as a vegetarian I have more recently begun to subscribe to Kim's no-faux school. But particularly if you are just starting out or don't want a lot of hassle, Tofurky is a very easy, tasty, high-protein option - just make sure to add a good, homemade mushroom or similar veggie gravy - it makes it so much better.

Kim O'Donnel: Here's one long-time vegetarian's take on Tofurky. Thanks, dear.

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Madison, WI: To the girl bringing cranberry sauce to her boyfriend's family: don't be disappointed if they don't touch it, some people can be very adamant that the entire meal be the same from year to year. I made cranberry sauce for my boyfriend's family the first time I had Thanksgiving dinner with them. His dad walked in while I was standing at the stove and asked me what I was making. When I told him, he said "oh, well, if he canned stuff isn't good enough for you..." and walked off. Nobody touched it. Oh well, all the more for the bf and I! It was delicious.

Kim O'Donnel: Yeah, I have a bit of that in my extended family. I long ago decided that it wasn't worth the trouble and so now I make my own traditions without trying to please a lot of people who are unwilling to try new things. Families are just weird.

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Alexandria, Va: Kim, since you haven't been writing your blog this week, and weren't on for your chat Tuesday, I've had the horrible feeling that your brother's health may be the cause. Please know I have been thinking of you and praying that he is coming through.

Faithful Reader

Kim O'Donnel: Dear Faithful, It is true, I've been attending to my brother in Miami, who's still got a long way to go. Thanks for your concern and good wishes. I read him many of the comments posted on the blog about him, and he gave a big smile, eyes wide open.

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Rome, Italy: Hello,

May I suggest this for McLean, Va: who loves cranberries, but not the sauce that just comes out of the can? This is a fast and tasty raw cranberry fruit salad.

Chop the cranberries in a food processor or, in small quantities, in a blender, but stop while they still have a slightly rough texture.

Set the cranberries in the refrigerator, after having added either honey or sugar, and let the flavors marry for two hours or so.

Just before serving, add chopped apples, pears and some walnuts. Sir quickly and serve. If added earlier, the other fruits will become soft and unappetizing.

Before I moved to Italy, where there are many wonderful fruits and vegetables at this time of year, but no cranberries, this was one of my favorite holiday dishes.

Peter in Rome

Kim O'Donnel: Peter, thanks so much for chiming in from Rome. Keep us posted of your Thanksgiving adventures from afar!

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Kim O'Donnel: And now, I've got to sign off. Great ideas, great tricks. As promised, I'll have all kinds of Tgiving stuff to share in blog for next two weeks. Also, next week, I'll do another special, open to turkey eaters. Check out next week's Food section completely dedicated to the holiday, with a story on eating local by yours truly. Take good care.

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