What's Cooking Thanksgiving

Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, November 15, 2007 1:00 PM

Calling all foodies! Join us for a 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. For daily dispatches from Kim's kitchen, check out her blog, A Mighty Appetite.


Kim O'Donnel: It's a grilled cheese and soup kind of day here in Washington, a good opportunity to take stock of your pantry and cabinets in this final countdown to Thanksgiving. Today is omnivore central; last week it was veggie-rama, and I recommend that you mix and match. This is the eighth year I'm doing the Thanksgiving folks. Time sorta flies. How how have you grown over the years -- some of you were newbies then and are now old pros at the big holiday gatherings. But what I love about this forum is that there's always a Tgiving first timer and there's always something new to learn for all of us. But I digress -- tell me, tell me what you've got planned for next week! Who's got a story to share? I will answer as many questions as humanly possible today and promise serious chat leftovers in tomorrow's blog space-- cool? Okay, let's roll.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Kim,

I live in D.C. but will be cooking Thanksgiving dinner in Virginia. We're trying to be more 'green' this year and invest in local produce. Where can I find a locally-raised turkey? Is it too late to order one? Thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: For the most part, it is too late -- but don't give up. Here's this year's updated list local turkey resources; I would put my bets on Maple Lawn in Fulton, Md. My Organic Market is selling them -- you could call and see if they will have any on hand for last-minute customers such as yourself. Let me know what you find out.


Columbia, Md.: Kim, I know you've answered this before -- what is the rule of thumb in thawing a frozen turkey in the refrigerator? How long does it take per pound? -- Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: For every five pounds, you need 24 hours of thaw time in the fridge. Cooking times vary by oven, but typically in a 375-degree oven, your bird will take 10-12 minutes per pound to reach an internal temp of 165 in the inner part of the thigh. Do you have an instant read thermometer, darling? Chop chop!


Dublin, Ireland: I'm making my very first turkey all on my own this year, and my new apartment has a convection oven. I'm getting all sorts of conflicting info online about how the convection action impacts turkey-roasting times, techniques, and temperatures. Any suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: Really in Dublin? Cool. Convection oven will cook more quickly. By how much I don't know. You may need to reduce temp. Let's throw this out to fellow convection oven owners.


Getting creative: What are some creative alternatives to the typical pumpkin pies? Looking for a dessert that will wow (but not too complicated!). Thanks.

Kim O'Donnel: You mean -- pumpkin but not pie? Or pumpkin pie but not typical? I've got a hankering for pumpkin pie with bourbon and pecan topping. How's that sound? I need to dig up a pumpkin cheesecake recipe I did a zillion years ago -- that is always fun.


Pecan Pie in D.C.: I need the best Pecan Pie recipe out there. I'm sure this varies significantly based on who you ask, but I'm looking for one that's not too runny and will satisfy everyone's holiday pie craving for a dinner on Saturday. Thanks! Happy Thanksgiving.

Kim O'Donnel: I have a lot of faith in "The Gift of Southern Cooking" by the late Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock. Just checked and sure enough there's a recipe for pecan-bourbon pie. I can't type it up this moment, but maybe what to do is to head to bookstore, check it out, see what you think. I'm thinking of doing a Tgiving dessert blog post on Monday, so stay tuned, ya hear?


Omaha, Neb.: Hey Liz. I will be attending Thanksgiving dinner with my bf's family for the first time. It will be just his parents, brother and sister, and me. His mom typically does all the cooking herself. I'd like to bring some kind of contribution, just a small culinary hostess gift that everyone could enjoy with the meal, or may be store for latter if she doesn't want to add anything to her menu. Any suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: Is Liz Kelly your other girlfriend? I believe she's on at 2 this afternoon. Spiced nuts-- that you make yourself -- are really tasty pre-dinner snacks, and his Mom will think you're swell.


SHUT DA ______ UUUUUPPPPPPP!!!!: Great blog today, loved that story!

washingtonpost.com: As the Bird Turns ( A Mighty Appetite, Nov. 14)

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks. My mother may not talk to me again after she reads it, but what you gonna do? Life is life.


Knoxville, Tenn.: I've taken cornbread stuffing to a different level, by adding a rich dark beer to the stuffing, combined with turkey/chicken broth. The yeasty elements of the beer make it heavenly. 12 oz beer to a 11x13 pan size of stuffing usually is enough.

Kim O'Donnel: Interesting. Thanks for sharing, Knoxville. Got a pecan pie from bourbon country to share?


Washington, D.C. : How about suggestions for a turkey-less Thanksgiving. (My mother's turkey turned me off the bird forever) I always serve a gigantic, beautiful, colorful lasagna with all the fixins: salad, garlic bread, string beans with almonds, ricotta pie, etc. And it makes the best leftovers!

Kim O'Donnel: Last Thursday, I did an entire show devoted to meatless Thanksgiving -- and link is at the top of this page.


Washington, D.C.: Hi there, it's my first turkey ever and I'm very excited. On taking the turkey's temperature -- it should be simple but I'm not sure I get it. If I stick the thermometer in the thigh and it is not quite at the right temp, do I take the thermometer out and check again in another spot a few minutes later? Or do I leave the thermometer in while the turkey cooks for a few more minutes? Thanks so much.

Kim O'Donnel: There are thermometers that you can leave in the thigh and it will actually alert you when bird arrives at desired temp. If you keep it in, that's fine, but remember it will be blazing hot to touch when you got back to it 10 minutes later. Just remember -- innner thigh, baby.


Fairfax, Va.: My husband and I are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time ever. The side dishes give me no pause, but we've never cooked a turkey before. We are making two -- one deep-fried and the other roasted. Can you give a quick breakdown on good roasting ideas (I've heard of brining but don't know what it is, I've heard of injecting the bird but don't know how, I've heard of rubbing the bird down with butter, etc.)? Also, my husband is doing the deep frying. What kind of oil do we need and do you have any safety precautions to suggest?

Kim O'Donnel: Congratulations, Fairfax! Please consult today's blog space for all kinds of turkey prep ideas, which includes a link to my brining how-to video and recipe. Brining essentially is letting bird sit in a seasoned bath for two days or so. Injecting the bird is something that's often done with deep frying, which your husband may want to bone up on before next week. You'll need an oil with a high smoking point such as peanut oil. I will let the turkey fryers among this group to weigh in with their tips.


Convection oven: If you have the manual for your new oven, it should tell you the adjustments you need to make to do a convection roast rather than conventional. In the U.S., you usually reduce the temperature by about 25 degrees from the original recommended cooking temp. If you don't have the manual, most U.S. manufacturers now post them on their Web sites...not sure about UK/European manufacturers.

Just as an example, the first year I cooked T'giving in my convection oven, we planned on about 3 hrs. 15 minutes for the stuffed 18-pounder and it only took 2 hrs. 20 minutes and was the juiciest, most fabulous bird ever.

Kim O'Donnel: Great stuff --thanks for following up!


Pecan pie recipes: Check out PaulaDeen.com- most of her Southern classics are on the Web site (several pecan pie recipes).

Kim O'Donnel: Thank you...



What are the 'safety rules' for thawing and brining? Can I buy a turkey (=/- 10 lbs)on Saturday, thaw in the fridge, then start the brine Tuesday evening? If I take it out of the brine Thursday morning can it sit in the fridge until time to roast for evening dinner?

Thanks a million for your help! We are eager to try this approach.

Kim O'Donnel: If you start brine Tuesday night, you'll need it to cool overnight unless you can put in an ice bath and then in freezer to completely cool before bedtime. If not, stick brid in brine Wed am before going to work. Are you asking about Thursday because of space issues?


Sidney, Iowa: How long & how to roast a 20 lb turkey?

Kim O'Donnel: Sidney, estimate 10-12 minutes per pound in a 375 oven. Twenty pounds equals 3 hours, 20 minutes with an approx. max of 4 hours.


Annapolis, Md.: We're going to do a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey. I have a couple of questions...there will be 4 people- how big should I get? Can you recommend a garnish for it? Better to grill (husband's idea) or cook in oven?


Kim O'Donnel: I would estimate about 1 pound per person, about 1.5 pounds if you want leftovers. Grill only if you've got gas -- so you can control temp. One of my fave garnishes on a turkey platter are pomegranate seeds. Looks so pretty.


We're the first-timers! : I'm the experienced cook in the couple, and I've got all the side dishes down, but I'm an avowed vegetarian. So, my better half is tackling the turkey for the first time. Part of him just wants to get a pre-cooked, heat-and-serve foolproof turkey and be done with it, but part of him really wants to be adventurous. We're in a smallish apartment (no outdoor cooking) with not a lot of kitchen equipment (no 16-quart pot for brining, etc). Suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: I encourage him to be adventurous and buy a bird. Is it just the two of you -- or will you be a larger party? A whole turkey is a lot for one person. Talk to me.


Advice for First-time Turkey Fryer: Rule #1: BE VERY, VERY CAREFUL!!!

Seriously, the process is pretty easy and straight-forward if you follow the instructions and keep safety top of mind. I wold need to dig up my cooking instructions, but found the advice from Alton Brown in a Good Eats episode worked pretty well and the video might even be available online.

Just be sure that the turkey is TOTALLY thawed and dry, figure out how much oil the turkey will displace by first testing with water, NEVER leave the fryer unattended, DO NOT attempt this on a wooden deck (flat driveway preferred)and figure out how you are going to safely extract the cooked turkey from boiling oil BEFORE you start.

Kim O'Donnel: That's right, Alton did do a frying episode, good call. thanks for these very important safety tips!! And do it in the driveway, far away from the house!!


Baltimore, Md.: For what it's worth, my grandmother's pecan pie recipe:

4 eggs

1 1/3 cup sugar

1 1/3 cup Karo syrup (light corn syrup)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup chopped pecans

Beat eggs slightly, add sugar, karo, salt, vanilla and mix well. Add chopped pecans, then pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake at 450 deg for a few minutes until crust around edges begins to brown (5-10 minutes). Then reduce heat to 300 degrees and bake until done, about 1 hour.

She lives in Tennessee, but is from Philadelphia, so I'll let you be the judge as to its southern origins (I don't know where she got the recipe, but my family has made it at Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember)

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, sugarpie. Tell Granny we love her.


So. Md.: Hi Kim! Looking forward to today's chat. I'm the "bread committee" for our upcoming family TH dinner. Any ideas for something different? Last year I made homemade yeast rolls which were great but I hate to repeat...thought it might be fun to do an assortment of something. I'm also taking something for Friday's breakfast and thought I'd try your Morning After Coffee Cake.

Kim O'Donnel: The one good thing about doing rolls is that you can make in advance and freeze. What's your schedule like? Have you looked at the baguette recipe I tackled in last week's blog? You'll need four hours, start to finish.


Herbed butter for Turkey: This will be my second turkey (actually bone-in 7-lb turkey breast, as there are only two of us) and I think I'm leaning towards doing an herbed butter under the skin. Any tips on what to put in the butter besides/in addition to sage? How much butter to use?

Kim O'Donnel: Go easy on the sage, darlin' -- it can be strong. I might add rosemary (so nice with turkey) and shallots in that compound butter.


Pentagon City PaNiC!: Hi! I'm hosting 10 people for Thanksgiving dinner (YIKES!)...My BIGGEST worry is a 'gulp' dry turkey...What can I do during the cooking process to assure a succulent bird? It'll be a 20-25 pounder. THANX!

Kim O'Donnel: First order of business, my dear, is to stop panicking. Seriously. A fretting cook and a bird in the oven are not a good pair. Basting is overrated in my book -- when you keep opening that oven door, you increase cooking time. For my money, the most reliable way of assuring a succulent bird is a sense of calm and a brine. Check links earlier in hour for briney details. Thing is, you'll need extra storage space to put bird in brine-- and that's quite a bird you'll have.


First-timers again: There will be eight of us, and I'm the only herbivore...so we could polish off a 10-pound bird easily. Thoughts?

Kim O'Donnel: Okay. Yes, you can do a 10-pounder no prob. Without space for brine or outdoor cooking area for grilling, I would suggest a compound butter, just mentioned -- which essentially is good quality unsalted butter, softened til pliable, and then mixed in a bowl with chopped shallots and herbs. Roll butter into a log and wrap in parchment, then in plastic wrap, then freeze it. When ready to cook, remove butter, slice it and place under skin and in cavity. As for salt and pepper, do that separately. For a 10-pound bird, you'll want to use at least 2 tablespoons of salt. You gotta think about 1 teaspoon per 1.5 pounds of bird.


Washington, DC: For the bread person, the Express had a recipe a couple of weeks ago for Maple Pumpkin rolls. I'm going to try them this weekend. Assuming they are edible I will freeze them until the big feast.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks, and that reminds me -- tomorrow I'll be featured in Express on how to keep your cool as you cook this week.


Washington, D.C.: Oh My! I just read your blog and it was funny and sad and easy for a lot of us to identify with. I am wondering what kind of Thanksgiving you will have with your family this year -- may take them a while to get over that description. And, where oh where are the sales on brussel sprouts and fresh, raw cranberries? I love Ocean Spray and have other brands.

Kim O'Donnel: I didn't even get to the one year when I brought a boyfriend to dinner and he (unbeknownst to me) was hitting on someone else at the table. Nice, huh? Most of the O'Donnels are getting together in early December to celebrate -- and we're doing it in sunny Key West. Thanksgiving this year will be with my new father-in-law and Mister MA, of course...and any last-minute stragglers.


Baltimore, Md.: I'd like to try bringing the year, but we like our stuffing in the bird. Can you stuff a brined turkey?

Kim O'Donnel: It all depends on your brine -- but I would err on the side of NO. I've made gravy from my brine drippings and it's been fine, not too salty... but the brine recipe I've been using is less salty relatively speaking.


Fran: When making sugar pies like a pecan pie, I like to use really good sugar like Billington's Madagascar light or dark brown sugars, i.e., brown sugars that aren't refined sugar with molasses added. I think it does taste better.

Kim O'Donnel: thanks for this, Fran. I would also recommend sleuthing out organic corn syrup.


Juicy Turkey: Tastiest turkey we ever had was baked upside down so the juices flowed into the drier areas. Don't forget to tent the turkey until time for browning!

Kim O'Donnel: I had less than a pleasant experience with an upside down turkey when I did it, something I mentioned in today's blog. Anyone else have a good experience with upside downers?


California: I've been asked to bring a vegetable side dish for Thanksgiving. Green salad and sweet potatoes are already on the menu. Any thoughts on something special I could make to take advantage of all the goodies available at the farmers market this time of year?

Kim O'Donnel: What about roasted cauli or brocc? I can't get enough of them -- and there's no better seasonal veg than either one of these cruciferous babies. The brocc you can lather up with ginger, garlic, cayenne, salt and olive oil and throw florets into a 400 oven. Details in my new cookbook!


What about YOU?: Hi Kim - please enlighten us -- what are YOU serving this year? You mentioned the turkey, but what "sides" and desserts have you settled on? I ask because I live vicariously through you...(smile)

Kim O'Donnel: I was just saying to Mister MA this morning that I need to buy bread to let it stale for stuffing b/c I got an affirmative from him on the stuffing. And there will be cranberries. His dad wants to learn a new trick so I gotta come up with something we work on -- and maybe by Tuesday's chat, I'll be able to share my menu. Thinking pie will be pecan oriented. In all likelihood, greens will be tatsoi wilted very quickly in this fab mustard vinaigrette.. a trick I learned from Elizabeth Schneider in her "Vegetables: From Amaranth to Zucchini." And of course, Sunday, we pick up the turkey at Columbia Pike farmers' market, where incidentally, I'll be signing copies of "A Mighty Appetite for the Holidays."


Manassas, Va.: I know the holidays are a bad time for dieting, but is there any chance you know of a low-calorie pumpkin pie? Are all the "bad" calories in the crust?

Kim O'Donnel: Pumpkin pie made with silken tofu is definitely more low fat -- no dairy or eggs in the filling -- and you can't tell. If you're interested, holler. You can make a crust with Earth Balance vegan shortening and do your heart a favor.


No-dairy mashed spuds: Hi Kim. Sorry to send this so late, but a firend who in joining is for T-Day is on antibiotics and cannot have dairy. Do you have a good recipe for dairy-free mashed potatoes, and should i bake her a potato and be done with it?

Kim O'Donnel: Olive oil. Lightly mash spuds with hand potato masher, then add oil and whisk whisk whisk. They get light and fluffy.


Madison, WI: Hi Kim,

I think I'm a little unclear about precisely where the inner thigh on a turkey is. Two years ago, I cooked my first turkey and stuck the themometer in what I thought was the inner thigh--sort of down in that crevice between the body and the leg. Clearly I was off, though, because the turkey was still pretty pink in the middle when we started carving it up 30 minutes later. It was so sad. Last year, I just stuck the themometer straight into the breast and (not surprisingly) it ended up a little overcooked. Still better than having to throw out a lot of raw turkey, but I'd like to actually get it right this year. Do you think you could post a picture--a really detailed, close-up picture--of the inner thigh location? Because this is obviously something that is not at all obvious to me and apparently is to most people.

Kim O'Donnel: The inner thigh is where the torso (breast) meets the leg/drumstick area, right in the crevice. I would check to see if your instant read thermometer is working. Check it against a cup of boiling water to make sure. I did post a photo a few years back, but I've got another bird that's cooking this weekend, so I'll post a pic on monday,okay??


Memorable T'day: A few years ago we had a Thanksgiving that has become known as "the year the turkey fell into the oven." Yup, the oven shelf buckled under the weight and gave way. Needless to say, there was smoke everywhere, and alarms going off and doors open to let the cold WI air in and smoke out.

Kim O'Donnel: Hilarious. And you all survived and have a great story to tell the next generation. thanks for sharing!


First-time turkey fryer: DON'T. Just don't. If this is your first turkey ever, and you've never deep-fried anything that big, please don't do it on a day when you're going to have guests. Call around and find someone local who deep-fries turkeys for church suppers, etc. and ask what they'll charge to do it on T-day. Please. Do it for me. I won't be able to sleep.

Kim O'Donnel: We want everyone to sleep and everyone to be safe. So please. be. careful.


re: thaw-brine time: Thanks for answering my question.

Just to clarify: is it OK to thaw for two days then brine for two days, meaning the bird is in some state of un-frozen-ness for from the time I buy it Saturday until I roast on Thursday (thawing, then brining in fridge).

No, my question about taking it out on Thursday was not a space question... just didn't want it to brine too long as you warned against that.


Kim O'Donnel: No, no, no. Completely thaw!

It is okay to brine right up until you're ready for the oven. 48 hours is okay with a big bird.


Upstate, NY: Here's a suggestion for all the briners out there from someone with too many years of laboratory experience: dissolve the salt (and sugar if you're using it) in a smaller amount of water first. Maybe 1/8 or 1/10 the final volume of brine you intend to use. You may need to heat it to get it to dissolve since it will be very concentrated. I usually do this in an 8 cup pyrex measuring cup in the microwave. You can cool this solution in the fridge or outside if the weather is cold enough. Then, when you have your turkey ready, dilute the concentrated brine solution with very cold water to the final volume. It's so much quicker, and more energy efficient, to cool it down this way.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks Upstate!


Boston, Mass.: As a lovely aside to your baguette, which I am definitely going to attempt, I'm on a quest for really good butter (you know the kind that you find at "expensive" restaurants)... any suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: Look for Plugra (now sold as Kellers these days, methinks)...or if your farm market is still open, get some locally produced stuff. Land o Lakes makes a European-style butter, as does Horizon I think.


Turkey Frying: The oil will take longer to get to the required frying temperature than the time needed to cook the bird. Especially if it's cold outside. It took us close to 3 hours one Christmas just to get the oil hot.

Also, please remember to BE CAREFUL! Fry the bird outside, away from anything that could catch fire (middle of the yard is a great place, on your covered porch, not such a good place) and keep a fire extinguisher handy. If you can get some, the silicone oven mitts (that come half way up your arm) are great too- they'll protect your hands from hot oil, unlike cloth mitts or gloves.

Kim O'Donnel: More great advice on frying the bird.


Rockville, Md.: Is there something wrong with brining a turkey in a cooler with ice? It seems every piece of advice on this chat talks about space limitations for brining. If you fill up a cooler with brine and keep the water at a cool 42-degree by adding ice from time to time, there's plenty of room in your refrigerator for prepped side dishes/

Kim O'Donnel: It's gotta be below 42 to be safe. If you can get it down to 39, I'll give you the green light.


Cheesecloth on the turkey: First year cooking a turkey. The recipe I'm using (W and S) calls for putting butter on the bird and then putting cheesecloth over it. Ever heard of this? Does it work?

Kim O'Donnel: Sounds fussy. Anyone ever do this? Holler if you have.


Pumpkin-Bourbon Pie: I make the Pumpkin-Bourbon pie recipe you posted every year now. The first time I made it a couple years back drew such rave reviews -- my wife nearly apologized for having demanded another pie without the bourbon just in case she didn't like it -- that I feel it's mandatory.

I'll be trying the Earth Balance shortening in the crust, so I'll email you to let you know how it goes.

Kim O'Donnel: Wonderful! I'm thinking of using the EB with those pecans as well...


New York, NY: Hi Kim-

Still reading your chats after my move to NYC. Anyway, my job is having a pre-Thanksgiving themed potluck tomorrow and I have to bring the dessert. I don't want to do something too "Thanksgiving-y" because people will be having so much of that next week. I was thinking something like a fruit crisp or poached pears or something. Any ideas for possible fruits to use for the crisp or any other ideas?

Kim O'Donnel: Apple or pear crisp, my dear. And you can raisins to the mix...would be easier to transport than poached pears. You can make one dish and cover it, and it can be served room temp.


Columbia Pike Farmer's Market: Hurray, you'll be signing books on Sunday!! Question though - will books be available there for purchase or do we need to have bought it previously? Thanks Kim

Kim O'Donnel: No, come on by and you can buy a book right then and there. Looking forward to meeting you!


Bread for Stuffing: Hey, Kim, dumb question. When I process the bread for stuffing, should I cut off the crust? Thanks, and happy Thanksgiving!

Kim O'Donnel: I do. It takes a while -- but yes, I think the results are easier on the teeth.


Kim O'Donnel: I've gone past hour and need to jump off here. I promise a hearty helping of chat leftovers in tomorrow's blog. And if you're out and about Sunday morning, stop by and see me at Columbia Pike farmers' market; I'll be there from 9 a.m. til about noon signing books. Take care, and remember to breathe! I'll do one last chat on Tuesday the 20th before the holiday. All best.


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