Free Range on Food

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, November 15, 2006; 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. You can also read the transcripts of past chats. 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. Read about the staff of the Food section.

The transcript follows.

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Walter: One Thanksgiving issue down, a second to hit the streets on Sunday. We are ready for your Big Bird, sides and dessert questions chatters.

And when the talk turns to our favorite comments and questions we will give away, to two chatters, a copy of Instant Entertaining by Donna Hay.

Now, let's get down to turkey talk.

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Ann Arbor, MI: I'm preparing Thanksgiving dinner for two--a pretty traditional menu. What's the best way to handle the bird so we don't have way too much in the way of leftovers? A turkey breast, or...?

Do you have any other tips for preparing a smaller feast?

Jane: A turkey breast would be perfect. No dark meat, of course, but not so many leftovers to use up, either.

That being said, though, you will want SOME leftovers, right? You don't want to do all that cooking and have it last just one meal. So go ahead and make sides (sweet potato casserole, stuffing, etc.) that serve 4 or 6, and eat them later or freeze them. You'll be glad to have them. There are a million uses for leftover turkey; we'll have one for you in this Sunday's special Food section.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Free Rangers: I'm the Thanksgiving chef this year, and I've decided to brine my 12-14 pound turkey before roasting it unstuffed. I brine small cuts of chicken and pork all the time, and the forgiving effects of brining relieve my anxiety about cooking the bird perfectly. So my question is: How long? Advice from all over ranges from 3 to 24 hours. Does it matter? Sodium intake is usually a concern, so I want to do the minimum for flavor and texture. Thanks!

Bonnie:10-12 hours -- overnight's about right for your size bird. You're providing a mini-platform here for us to remind folks not to brine a kosher or self-basting turkey. And you're rinsing the brine off completely before roasting. (Are sodium concerns + brining compatible?)

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Pies, Glorious Pies!: Just wanted to let all the home-bakers out there (and those who purchase their pies, too!) that Food & Friends needs 600 more apple and pumpkin pies to serve to our clients living with life-challenging illnesses on Thanksgiving Day! You can visit www.foodandfriends.org/Thanksgiving2006 or call 202.269.2277 for more information or to sign up. Pies should be delivered to Food & Friends, 219 Riggs Road, NE, Monday or Tuesday of next week; no nuts or raisins, please. Thank you!

Walter: Pies for a good cause.

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Triangle, Va.: Loved the pullout page today! I've roasted turkeys before, but I am doubting my techniques (annual paranoia). Should I start at a higher temperature for the first 30 minutes? Should I start roasting with the breast down first? Is it necessary to tent with foil during roasting for a 12-14lb turkey? Thanks!

Bonnie: Thanks! Take a deep breath. You can do this.

1. Start high; our basic Roast Turkey recipe starts with a 425-degree oven for 30 minutes, then down to 350 degrees.

2. Store the turkey in the fridge breast down, but cooking it that way isn't necessary. My experience has been that cooking rack ridges in the breast meat never quite go away. And such a fuss, that turning!

3. Tenting's better if you go with the high heat to start.

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Alone for the holiday: Ack! Our guest for Thanksgiving just cancelled!! My new husband and I were trying to round up friends for the holiday, with little luck (two and three years ago we had a full house), and our only guest just cancelled on us (his dad paid for his tickets to go home). What do we do now, I just ordered the turkey (thank you for the guide this morning!)? I've done dinner for two before, but hubby is bummed. He also doesn't want to go to any random friends' where we won't know anybody. Are restaurants really any good for the holiday, or will we just feel even more alone with the two of us? (Maybe I should be asking Hax)

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Alone for Holidays,

Don't despair. My family's in the same situation so we're heading out. We found a small restaurant where the chef is opening for the day. The restaurant's usually a little fancy for our kids for the chef's making it family-friendly in the spirit of the day.

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Alexandria, Va.: I think that Maple Farms is either cursing you or blessing you right now or perhaps a bit of both. Their lines are busy and MOM's has been inundated with calls for their turkeys. I hope they don't run out as I just placed my order this morning at a MOM's.

Walter: Well, Alexandria, Maple Lawn had 20,000 birds when I visited a few weeks back and normally don't run out until Christmas. Good luck, it's the best turkey in these parts.

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Washington, D.C.: For baking, in lieu of buttering and flouring my pans, will I get the same results using products like Baker's Joy, Pam for baking, or Pam with butter and then flouring?

Leigh: Ah, freedom! Yes, you can use the baking sprays you find in the spice aisle in place of buttering and then flouring the traditional way. The sprays are especially good for bundt pans or things with nooks and crannies that are hard to reach with a buttered paper towel.

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Fairfax, Va.: I won't be here for your chat but if you could PLEASE help me with a cooking issue. My husband only really likes to eat red meat. I know this is not healthy so I try to slip in pork chops and chicken every once in awhile. My pork chops are really bland but I think he'd eat them more if I had a really tasty or spicy recipe. Can you give me some pointers or a recipe to spice them up so I can serve them more? Thanks!

Jane: Spicy, you say? Here's one from Louisiana; it ran in the paper last spring.

Also, check out Stephanie Witt Sedgwick's great recipe for Orange-Ginger Pork Stew With Carrots and Potatoes that ran in her Entertaining column last month. It calls for boneless pork chops and has terrific Asian flavors.

Creole Pork Chops and Spicy Rice

6 servings

The Times-Picayune retrieved this recipe for a reader who had painstakingly separated and pinned her mother's recipes to a clothesline to dry them after Katrina. The rice soaks up liquid from the tomatoes. Adapted from "Ideas for Entertaining From the African-American Kitchen," by Angela Shelf Medearis (Dutton Books, 1997).

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 cup white rice

3 cups canned, diced tomatoes

1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced

1 small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

Salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, or to taste

6 boneless or bone-in pork chops

(5 to 6 ounces each), about 1-inch thick

1/4 cup water, or more as needed

Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the rice and cook, stirring to coat, until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the rice to a medium bowl, and add the tomatoes and their juice, green bell pepper, onion, garlic, salt to taste, 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper and the hot pepper sauce. Set aside.

Heat the remaining 1/4 cup of the oil in the skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle the pork chops with salt to taste and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and brown the meat for about 3 minutes on each side. Drain all but 2 tablespoons fat. Spoon the rice-vegetable mixture over the pork chops. Add the water, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Cook until pork chops are cooked through and the rice is tender, about 35 minutes, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons more water if it seems dry. Serve immediately.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi, Free Rangers! There will be 14 of us for Thanksgiving dinner, more of us prefer white meat than dark, and I want to have leftovers. How much turkey do I need, and should I roast one big bird or two small ones? Thanks much for your help!

Bonnie: We've long been told to figure on 1 to 1 1/4 pounds per person. Roast two small birds instead of 1 large one -- easier to manage. As a 3rd option, you could follow the Partial Deboning steps in the section today and you'd have even more white meat for leftovers.

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Washington, D.C.: What is the name and contact info of the turkey farm in Maryland with the wonderful fresh turkeys?

Walter: That would be Maple Lawn Farms in Fulton, Md. 301-725-2074.

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Arlington, Va.: I am looking for a fail proof yummy pumpkin pie recipe. I have a favorite crust recipe, just need something great for the filling. Do you have a recommendation for a fabulous one?

Bonnie: We do, courtesy of a staff member with the initials LL. You'll have to wait till Sunday, when the recipe will appear in our second Thanksgiving section.

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St. Paul, Minn.: I have a gravy problem. We are having a somewhat scaled back Thanksgiving for family reasons this year, so it will be a small gathering. We will be having a small brined turkey. My problem is the gravy. To me, it's not thanksgiving without gravy, but I know you can't make gravy from brined turkey drippings. So what are my options. I hate to think of buying something premade. Should I roast a small turkey the night before and make gravy from it. (Which I have never been in charge of by the way.) Any good options for me?

Jane: Check out today's Food section, in which we tell you how to take 7 pounds of assorted turkey parts that can be bought separately (without having to buy a whole bird) and turned into a lovely stock, and from there into a rich gravy. Your local supermarket probably sells separately packaged wings, thighs and drumsticks; roast those, and your gravy will be great.

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Washington, D.C.: My mom's peppermill has been reduced to producing a pepper powder. I'd like to get her a new one for Christmas - preferably a tall wood mill. Any recommendations?

Walter: Tall wood mills are fine but give me a Pepper/Stick by Unicorn any day. www.peppergun.com.

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Arlington, Va.: a week to go before thanksgiving and just found out i'll be hosting about 12 people for dinner. one year I did a Wagshal's pre-cooked turkey, which was fine but not great. Any recommendations for a local restaurant, grocery, or deli that makes a terrific pre-cooked bird?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: I know you're not going to like this but..The turkey is the EASIEST part to cook. Pick up your sides and roast your own bird. Nothing compares.

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Washington, D.C. : We've tried several of Stephanie Sedgwick's recipes--they're great. Can you ask her if she has an easy, delicious way to make duck? Could I use the glaze she used on her rack of lamb last week?

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: You read my mind. That sauce would be great. I'd rub the duck with some ground cloves and pepper. Brown on both sides, pop into oven to finish just like the lamb. It a perfect time for duck lovers-the supermarkets have plenty of them in the meat case.

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Upstate NY: I have a scone recipe that calls for grating frozen butter on a box grater. Sounds easy, right?? It was so challenging this morning that I broke out the food processor that creates 10,000 pieces to wash. Any tips on making scones easier??

Leigh: Don't wash your food processor! You can start your scones in the bowl of your processor fitted with a standard blade. Pulse your dry ingredients and butter until they form that familiar "corn meal-like" consistency so often referred to in recipes. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, blend in your raisins, or whatever chunky thing you might be using, and then add your eggs and cream. This should result in tender scones without so much trouble.

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Washington, D.C.: My favorite Thanksgiving side dish -- and a quite unusual one -- is this yumm-o-la onion dish. Admittedly, I'm hoping that sharing this one might be "Instant Entertaining"-worthy, but even if not, it is so delish that I must spread the news about it. Don't skimp on the cheese!

Three Onion Cheese Delight

3 T. unsalted butter

2 large yellow onions thinly sliced

2 large red onions thinly sliced

4 medium sized leeks thinly sliced

Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper to taste

1.5 cups grated Harvarti

2 packages 50zs.ea. Boursin cheese with Herbs, crumbled

1.5 cups grated Gruyere

1/2 cup white wine (or more!)

Preheat oven to 350-. Butter an 8 cup baking dish with 1 Tbs. butter.

Make a layer in the dish using a third of each type onion (and leeks). Sprinkle layer lightly with salt and pepper. Top with Havarti. Make another layer using a third of the onions (and leeks), lightly salt and pepper and top with the Boursin. Layer remaining onions (and leeks) and top with Gruyere. Dot the top with remaining 2 Tbs. butter. Pour the wine over all.

Bake for 1 hour. Cover the top with foil if it gets too brown. Serve immediately.

6 portions

Walter: Lots of recipes coming in today. How does this one sound?

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Alexandria, Va.: Does everyone know that DESSERTS is STRESSED spelled backward(s)? Today's Thanksgiving section is beautiful. I will be taking it with us when we go to our condo on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City to see the annual turning on of the lights outlining the buildings on Thanksgiving night.

Bonnie: Brill, on both counts.

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Mashed potatoes: Can I boil them ahead of time, then transport them, and then combine the other ingredients and mash at my destination?

I'd like to do as much ahead of time as possible. Thanks.

Bonnie: Better to make the mashed spuds your way and then reheat over a double boiler.

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for a good pork chop recipe: PORK CHOPS WITH MUSTARD SAUCE

4 (3/4-inch-thick) pork chops

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots (1 to 2)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

1/4 cup country-style Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons heavy cream

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325 F.

Heat a dry 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot. Pat pork dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add oil to hot skillet, swirling to coat, then brown chops, turning over once, about 8 minutes total. Transfer to a shallow baking pan, reserving skillet, and bake, uncovered, until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Let stand, loosely covered with foil, 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour off fat from skillet, then cook shallots in butter over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add broth and any juices from baking pan and boil, scraping up any brown bits, 2 minutes. Add mustard and cream and return to a boil, then add lemon juice and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.

Gourmet

Quick Kitchen

May 2005

Walter: Thanks for sharing...sounds very French.

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Upper Marlboro, Md.: Will there be a Christmas/Holiday baking Food Section--early enough to make the recipes and ship as gifts?

Bonnie: C-O-O-K-I-E-S, Dec 13.

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pepper mill: I'm sure getting her a nice wood pepper mill is a great

idea but ... is the shaft screwed in to tight? The more you

tighten the knob at the top, the finer the grind ... .

Walter: I have gone through SO many bad mills that fall apart.

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Alexandria, Va.: I ordered a turkey through Whole Foods. They had pick-up days starting on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. They were recommending people pick it up on Sunday, since the other days would be very chaotic and busy. Isn't Sunday too early to pick up a turkey? Will the turkey go bad by Thursday? I'm assuming that it isn't frozen.

Thanks

Bonnie: Maybe Sunday times were for the early roasters among us. (Maybe more store staffing's required!) Figure on a 2-day window for the nonfrozen bird you bring home.

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Envious: I am envious of the chatters making or having dinner for two. I really want to stay at home and cook the turkey myself. I lost my father this year. It's the first year w/o both of my parents and we had some pretty strong traditions and some fabulous food. Both parents were great cooks. What will I be doing instead, schlepping to the in-laws for some mediocre food. I tried to talk my husband into doing brunch w/ them. I'll cook mini-crabcakes, carrot cake muffins, VA ham biscuits, bacon, sausage, a green salad, maybe fresh waffles and fruit. No luck. Say a prayer for me.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Have your own Thanksgiving dinner, either this weekend or next weekend. That way you make them happy and you get your Thanksgiving.

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tasty pork chops: You need marinades! Do some (or better yet, get him to

do some) digging in cookbooks and online. This also has

the added benefit that you can put the marinade together

the night before and leave the pork marinating in the

fridge to be ready when you get home in the evening.

Walter: More good porky advice.

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New York, NY (Manhattan): Hi--I'd love some help on what to have ready for lunch for all the non-cooks who get hungry at about one or two o'clock. The turkey et al. won't be ready, but they need something substantial enough to carry them for a few hours, but not too heavy. (Not turkey sandwiches!) Something that we can put out without much fuss or use of burners.

We have this problem every year and always wind up shooing people out of the kitchen. Thanks--I love your chats! Sydney

Jane: The new "Bon Appetit Cookbook," which we reviewed in September, has a great recipe for a beans-and-rice salad that can be made ahead and served chilled or at room temp. It gets better the longer it sits, so make it the night before and set it out for lunch the next day. It's filling but not too heavy. People who are REALLY hungry can roll theirs in a warm tortilla and eat it that way.

Here's a link:

washingtonpost.com: At Last, All Those Favorites in One Place.

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Thanksgiving for two: I've always enjoyed the festive holiday atmosphere - and large hearty plates - at Clyde's Tower Oaks in Rockville.

We have also tried the holiday at Tabard Inn but left hungry the portions were so skimpy

Walter: The festive atmosphere at Tower Oaks knows no season.

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One boneless skinless chicken breast: I almost never eat chicken and when I do I eat dark meat but I'm on this health kick and they tell me it's got to be white meat.

I have one sitting in my fridge as we speak. How would you cook it (short of breading and pan frying, which is the only way I know to do it). I keep opening the fridge and peering at it but I shut it again and walk away. Help me! It's holding me hostage!

Bonnie: You might win just for posing a non-turkey question! Three options, with others I'm sure from our helpful chatters:

1. Poach it in chicken broth, slice it warm and place on lightly dressed greens, with nuts and other vegetables you like.

2. Try a dry spice rub. Combine cumin, cayenne, oregano and salt. Rub into chicken breast and marinate 10 minutes. Then sear in a nonstick pan (or skillet lightly coated with olive oil) over high heat for 7 to 10 minutes.

2. Cook in a packet: Place the chicken breast on double thickness of aluminum foil. Top with a pat of butter, a tablespoon or two of white wine, dried or fresh tarragon, some chopped tomato and salt and pepper to taste. Seal foil securely into a packet and bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.

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Washington, D.C.: If you want a serious pepper mill, buy a Peugeot. My parents couldn't get a pepper mill to last more than a few months, so when I was in France, I bought them a Peugeot, and it's lasted 15 years so far.

Walter: And I threw out a Peugeot last week that lasted, maybe three weeks. It sat in the closet for, maybe, five years.

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Left over Central: I take the left over turkey and put it in a freezer bag, toss in chopped onions, celery, spices, chicken bouillon cubes, and left over gravy. When I am in a rush for a meal, I take it out, add water, and when it is at a rolling boil, I add one cup of rice. Putting all of the spices, etc., in the bag, ensures that I am not missing anything.

Bonnie: I was with ya, right up to the cubes.

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Mashed potatoes: I made them for a party at work last month. Cooked and mashed the night before then threw them in a crock pot at work. They were awesome at lunch and never tasted like the had been predone.

Leigh: Mashed potatoes are very forgiving and transporting then heating them in a crock pot is a great pot luck suggestion.

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Frederick, Md.: Is there a difference in yams and sweet potatoes?

Jane: Confusing, isn't it? I've seen the same potato labeled both ways in the supermarket. I'll quote from a story we ran several years ago:

"Sweet potatoes and yams come from two different species of plant originating in separate corners of the world. What we commonly eat are sweet potatoes, which are native to tropical America.... Yams, on the other hand, are native to Africa, and probably West Africa. It is thought that the African slaves introduced yams to the New World. True yams, whose flesh ranges in color from white to yellow, usually weigh between 2 and 8 pounds. But some can exceed 100 pounds. Sweet potatoes are usually yellow to deep orange, but red or purple varieties exist."

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Annandale, Va.: Walter: A question on your remark about the Pepper/Stick by Unicorn (www.peppergun.com.)

Have you tried any of the other pepper mills on the Unicorn website? I need one that can sit on a counter, and the was wondering if you also liked the KeyTop.

I have probably wasted over a hundred dollars over the years buying peppermills that don't really work, and I'm ready to invest a little money to get one that does.

Thanks.

Walter: Sorry Annandale, I've only tried the Pepper/Stick.

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Triangle, Va.: For the poster with a meal for 2, we are in the same situation. Just the two of us (and our two cats who help eat the turkey). And we are doing a full 12 lb turkey and sides. And it's usually gone by Sunday night. Our favorite way to handle leftovers is to make a "shepard's pie" by layering dressing, turkey, gravy and potatoes in a baking dish and warming it to a delicious comfort food casserole.

Bonnie: Way to go, Triangle. It's nice to have leftovers (and that glorious smell) in the house.

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the life and times of a pepper mill: A couple of years ago the little screw top thing from my

pepper mill rolled under the cooker, never to be seen

again. I was sad and hesitant to throw out the pepper mill

so it sat there for a few days looking at me reproachfully.

I'm sure it was that look as I had a brainwave - a wing nut.

I bought a wing nut for it and, to this day, it works

perfectly and looks very debonair!

Walter: The part that made all the difference.

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Sweet Potatoes for Thanksgiving: I love sweet potatoes and want to use them instead of "regular" potatoes for thanksgiving. Usually I roast them with a combination of crushed spices (cardamom, coriander, fennel, cumin seed, red pepper), but I'm looking to do something different for Turkey Day. Oh, and I want to stay away from a too sweet mashed monstrosity with marshmallows. Thanks!

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Try this-roast them, scoop out flesh and mix with sliced scallions, sour cream, salt and pepper. Easy, delicious. fast!!!!!

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Washington, D.C.: Hello,

I am going to be alone for Thanksgiving this year. I am trying to think of a yummy meal I can make that is low on stress and is free of meat. I was thinking at first of acorn squash, but not quite sure what to do with it other than roasting. Thanks.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Cut an acorn squash in half, remove the seeds and brush with a little oil, maple syrup and some salt. Roast until it's about half-way done. Make a cornbread stuffing with dried cranberries and fill the halves. Bake until the stuffing is browned (a little melted butter helps) and the squash is cooked through. Enjoy!

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Pine Plains, N.Y.: Here's another variant of cajun pork chops that we like: sprinkle the chops with a cajun spice mix then brown on both sides and place in a baking dish. Make a "stuffing": process fresh bread into smallish bits, larger than crumbs; saute chopped onion, celery and green pepper and add more of the spice mix to that. Add to the onion mix along with a little broth or water and maybe a beaten egg. Cover the chops with the stuffing and bake @ 350 till chops are done.

For Walter - We did go to Stissing House early (7:00) on a Thursday night. There weren't many people there, so we had no service problems. However, we too were disappointed by the food. Lamb shank looked beautiful but the only taste was that of reheated meat. The duck was boring. The mashed potatoes served with the lamb were sweetened with maple syrup, a combination that tasted weird. Potatoes were sweet, creme brulee wasn't at all. I don't understand - the owners ran a successful restaurant in Manhattan for a long time. I hope it improves.

Walter: Thanks, Pine Plains for more on pork and on Stissing House. I'm heading back to Milbrook soon.

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Silver Spring, Md.: For the hungry non-cooks (cooks get hungry too). Our family always had a bowl of corn chowder mid-afternoon with oyster crackers to tide us over. I have the secret recipe if anyone is interested. Easy to make ahead and keep warm in the crock pot.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: I love secret recipes. Share, share, share...

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McLean, Va.: Do you or any of your readers know where I could find the yummy bundt-style sour cream coffee cake that the Gourmet Giant in McLean used to carry before it's recent demise? The regular Giant across the street doesn't seem to carry it and I don't know who baked it for GG. This coffee cake was always a holiday favorite at our house.

Thanks.

Walter: Can anyone help?

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Richmond, Va.: I am doing Thanksgiving dinner for the first time - 10 people. My plan is to cook the turkey, then while it is resting, bake some side dishes, but how do I manage cooking two or three things at the same time that might require different oven temps? I plan to make the mashed potatoes and keep them warm in a crock pot, so there's one less thing to worry about! Thanks for your help.

Bonnie: Alright Richmond! Ten's a good number. Make some side dishes a day ahead, and then you'll be REheating in the same temp oven.

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Best Peppermill: Ok, so it doesn't have multiple grind settings, but we love Trader Joe's peppercorn w/grinder. It costs about $2, is cheap, refillable, and if it does break, we can buy a new one without any angst. We have been using the same grinder now for at least 2 years, which is longer than any fancy grinder we have used!

Walter: Another happy Joe's customer.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rangers!

Quick question--My family is coming from Scotland for Thanksgiving, and I am trying to make the most traditional dinner possible.

I have 'the usual suspects' but am stumped on a 'traditional' green vegetable. Green bean casserole? Green beans? Broccoli-cheese casserole?

Any help would be greatly appreciated, and thank you.

Bonnie: Green beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts -- any of them done simply would make a good, trad way to go.

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Goulash Girl reporting in: After all the good advice, I thought I should report in on my Goulash Dinner last Saturday night. The goulash was FABULOUS! I will make it again in a heartbeat (Wolfgang Puck's Beef Goulash from Foodnetwork.com). Making the spaetzle from scratch was a nightmare. Actually, cooking the spaetzle was the nightmare. It completely clogged up the holes in the colander as I attempted to extrude it into the pan of boiling water. However, with the able assistance of one of my guests, we managed to get enough to serve the goulash and the rest of the guests were none the wiser. Dessert was apple strudel (from Cookinglight.com) and that went over well too.

About 2 cups of goulash sauce remain (with one teensy little piece of meat). I was thinking of adding some rice and cabbage to use up the yummy sauce. What do you think?

Oh and cleaning up the spaetzle mess? Think of flour and water paste flung all over your kitchen. Fun.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: You have come to the right place. I am the spaetzle queen-I just made it last night. My kids are crazy for it. Find a spaetzle maker. It makes all the difference. I used to press the mixture through a potato masher-messy! The spaetzle maker looks like a food mill. Works like a dream.

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Bethesda, Md.: Re your guide to turkey carving, I am interested in your view on taking Julia Child's chicken-carving method to the turkey. That is, cut the entire breast off and then cut vertically. She did this so everyone could get that crisp skin, not just the first slice as in your method. Since your film lauds the skin, why not give each person more?

Joe: Hi, Bethesda -- Watch that video again! Toward the end Bryan Voltaggio shows exactly that technique: He takes off the entire breast and does nice thick slices... This is a great option.

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Richmond, Va.: I'm a newlywed from California with a Southern husband and in-laws to impress for my "first Thanksgiving." Husband requests spoonbread, but I can only find recipes for versions with chives, sweet potatoes, etc. Do you have a tried-and-true plain spoonbread recipe? Thanks!

Jane: Absolutely! Here's one we ran a few years ago. It does call for jalapeno peppers, which you can just omit if you're looking for a bare-bones approach.

PERKY BROUGHTON'S HOT GOLDEN SPOONBREAD

(6 to 8 servings)

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup cold milk

2 cups boiling milk

1 tablespoon bacon fat

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3 egg yolks, beaten to lemon yellow

3 egg whites, beaten stiff but not dry

1 cup uncooked corn, coarsely chopped

1 to 2 jalapenos, chopped and seeded

1/2 cup cheddar or parmesan cheese, grated

Mix the cornmeal with cold milk and stir into boiled milk. Return to boil. As soon as it boils remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm. Add bacon fat, baking powder, salt and beaten egg yolks. Beat well. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites, corn, jalapenos and grated cheese simultaneously. Transfer to greased 1 1/2-quart casserole or 6 8-ounce custard cups. Bake in 350-degree oven 1 hour or until browned for casserole or 40 minutes for cups. Serve while hot with butter.

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Pre-Cooked Bird: Do yourself a favor and get it from Wegmans!!! I have been eating their birds for 5 years now, and all you have to do really is heat and baste for about an hour, and they are soooo juicy!!!

Bonnie: Good to know.

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Mt. Pleasant, Washington, D.C.: Oxo makes a dynomite pepper mill. It's mostly plastic, but works like a dream. Easy to fill and use, and it can be adjusted for coarse to fine grinding. I've had mine for years.

Walter: When my Oxo grinder broke, a piece of plastic hit me in the face.

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Philadelphia, Penn.: Hello. I have a pound or two of CSA goodness in the form of roasted beets. What can I do with them? I already have a medley of other plain roasted veggies and wanted to make something with the beets, maybe soup? Also, I have some oranges, limes, and lemons hanging around and I'm trying to figure out what to do with them (lime and sweet potato recipe on epicurious?).

This is a super common question too, but any tips on vegetarian friendly beginners cookbooks, websites, and/or magazines? I'm working my way up from simple pasta dishes and understand the virtues of olive oil and roasting, without a recipe. This weekend really has me psyched to start cooking some more: roasted beets, roasted CSA veggies, baked and frozen rigatoni, butternut squash soup, pumpkin molasses muffins, sugar cookies and frosting, and cranberry sauce all from scratch and all actually edible.

Thanks for any help keeping my kitchen busy!

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: Make a cold salad with an orange juice vinaigrette. Cut the beets into fat matchsticks. It looks and tastes great.

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Bethesda Mom: For the person with one chicken breast who wants to eat healthily (which would probably cut out the packet with butter idea)--I like to slice a raw breast against the grain thinly, and then quickly stir fry/saute it with veggies. You can use bok choy, broccoli, green beans, peas, peppers, along with onions & garlic. If you don't want to prepare a sauce, use low sodium teriyaki, or even a simmer sauce like those mentioned in a Food section article several weeks ago. You've got a quick and easy dinner for one, without much fat.

Bonnie: Thanks Bethesda. Still there, BSCB?

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Washington, D.C.: I'm making sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving - would your recipe work if I subbed no-fat Greek strained yogurt for the sour cream? My parents have cholesterol issues, and I don't need the fat myself, particularly.

I was also considering mashing them with orange juice, some smoked sweet paprika and cinnamon.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick: I think it would be okay. The important thing would be to balance the yogurt with the other ingredients. Your idea seems good-you might need a touch of sugar if the sweets aren't sweet enough.

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Upstate NY: Regarding the partial deboning method in today's food section: if you want to brine the bird, would you do it before the deboning or can you do it afterward and save some room in the brining vessel?

Also, many stuffing/dressing recipes call for sausage. I like to do my sides vegetarian for those at the table that don't eat meat. Do you think it would be possible to use the morningstar farms vegetarian breakfast sausage patties crumbled up? Or should I just forget about all the recipes that call for sausage?

Joe: You could certainly debone first, then brine. (No need to brine that carcass, after all.)

If you feel compelled to offer a vegetarian sausage dressing option, you could do worse than the Morningstar Farms breakfast product. I think it's pretty good. But in this case, I'd make something that you know everybody would be happy with, and that's a dressing that didn't have any meat in it, real or fake.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi--

Two things:

Why was there no discussion or mention of brining the turkey?????

On page 3 at the top of today's food section was a question about chestnuts. I have found that Julia Child in an early cookbook explains how to peel them for further use. My British mother (albeit Dionne Lucas trained) taught me to mash them like potatoes and then also add sherry.

Bonnie: Brining's so five years ago. (Just kidding, it's still a good option.) Some trend-setters are rubbing salt directly into the meat -- under the skin -- this year. For a basic brine, go with 1 cup kosher salt for every gallon of water.

Re Morningstar farms sausage, crumbled: That'll work. Nuts would also be good, if you're looking for some other texture. Toasted, chopped hazelnuts work great!

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Walter: Well, that's it for today. Our winners are Envious and Triangle, Va., please send your mailing info to food@washpost.com. And look for Food in this Sunday's Post. There is much about pumpkin pie.

Now, off to lunch.

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