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Free Range on Food: One Week Until Thanksgiving! Turkey Dinner for One, Green Beans, New World Vegetables, Festive Vegetarian Main Dishes and much more

From Virginia Willis's Thanksgiving menu: Roast Turkey With Chestnuts and Mushrooms
From Virginia Willis's Thanksgiving menu: Roast Turkey With Chestnuts and Mushrooms (Terry Allen - Photos by Terry Allen/Styled by Virginia Willis for The Washington Post)

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The Food Section
of the Washington Post
Wednesday, November 19, 2008; 1:00 PM

A chat with the Washington Post Food Section staff is a forum for discussion of all things culinary: food trends, recipes, ingredients, menus, gadgets and more. You can share your thoughts on the latest Food section, get suggestions from fellow cooks and food lovers, or swap old-fashioned recipes the new-fashioned way. The Food section staff goes Free Range on Food every Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET.

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A transcript follows.

Transcripts of past chats

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Joe Yonan: Greetings, nation, and welcome to Free Range, the chat that'll make you hungry -- and ready to cook, we hope.

Obviously, there's nothing going on in the food world these days, no big holidays coming up, no major cooking stresses in the air, so I really don't see any reason for us to -- wait! What's that? Thanksgiving is next week? Oh, I almost forgot. I guess we have a thing or two to talk about after all.

We'll have some heavy hitters at our side (virtually speaking, of course) to help handle your questions today: Virginia Willis, cookbook author and the source of our centerpiece menu in today's big Thanksgiving section; baking expert extraordinaire Lisa Yockelson; and maybe, just maybe, if he can find an Internet cafe in whatever exotic locale he's traveling in, Andreas "The Gastronomer" Viestad.

As befits this season of bounty, we'll have THREE giveaway books for our favorite posts today: "Autumn Gatherings" by Rick Rodgers, who helped us with our Raise Your Game tips; "Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics" by Ina Garten (look for her recipe in today's Dinner in Minutes and look for more about her in tomorrow's Home section); and, naturally, Virginia's own "Bon Appetit, Y'all," which gets my vote for best-titled cookbook maybe ever. But I was born in Georgia and studied classical cooking, so it calls to me directly.

Enough windup; let's cook.

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Washington, D.C.: Happy Thanksgiving! I have been tasked with making the green bean casserole this year. Do you have any favorite recipes for green beans that I can use instead of the traditional one? I would still like something a little creamy and cheesey, with a lot of flavor. Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: I know chatters can help with this one.

Here's a starter, just made up: Blanch the green beans; maybe cut them lengthwise in half, or use haricots verts. Caramelize some onions. Pick your favorite creamy component (mascarpone, creme fraiche, sour cream, a bechamel sauce, puree of silken tofu?) Throw in some fresh tarragon or thyme. Toss all together in a baking dish. Top with cheese you like best and heat it till bubbling.

Joe Yonan: I remember Alton Brown doing this last year on Good Eats, and sure enough, here's the recipe from the Food Network site. He fries the onions in panko and makes a sauce with shrooms, cream, chicken stock and more, tosses the beans in and tops with the onions. I haven't tried it, but it looks good!

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Southeast DC: Great section today. I am a fan of Virginia Willis -- my partner and I are both originally from Atlanta and we are longtime members of the Southern Foodways Alliance. And since my people are both French and Southern, her style of cooking is very familiar to me. My non-food related question for Virginia: Are you originally from Atlanta? If not, where did you grow up and how did you end up in Atlanta? Thanks.

Virginia Willis: Hi SE DC. I am originally from Evans GA, just outside of Augusta. I grew up in Louisiana and South GA. I went to the University of GA, studied at L'Academie de Cuisine in DC area, then lived for several years in both France and NYC, then migrated back South. You know how it is, when you are young you can't wait to get the heck out of Dodge then when you are older you can't wait to get back! I love Atlanta. We have lots of friends and family here and near. There's a very strong culinary community, too.

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Germantown, MD: I bought a 20 lb fresh turkey on Sunday. Should I freeze this or just keep it cool? I plan on brining it 2 days in advance. Thanks.

Andreas Viestad: I would definitely keep it. Freezing and defrosting a 20 pound bird will take at least five days.

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Arlington, VA: I'm planning on making cranberry and pumpkin bread this weekend for Thanksgiving. Do you think if I wrap the breads well, they'll be okay for Thanksgiving day? Or should I freeze them?

Lisa Yockelson: While I am not the biggest fan of freezing quick breads, it seems like a week at room temperature would not do justice to your baking, so freezing them is probably the best option. A gentle rewarming of the thawed quick breads would be in order to refresh them.

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Washington, DC: As always, my mom and my aunts prepare the (amazing!) Thanksgiving meal... however I'm now at the age where I'm not at the kiddie table and I'm allowed to drink adult beverages - so I figured this could be a great year for me to bring something of my own to share. But I am not sure what.

Any suggestions for a gal to whip up to bring to Thanksgiving next week (down in Richmond)? I'm thinking something to snack on early in the day? Or maybe something for Friday morning pre-shopping? Oh yeah, there are about 20 people coming!

thank you!

Jane Black: A premeal snack is always tricky. Chatters? Thoughts? For the pre-shopping on Friday, how about a nice pumpkin quickbread to serve with coffee? (I'm glad someone is going shopping!) You can make it in advance. And it travels well. Try this.

Virginia Willis: I think it is important to have a snack to nibble on as guests, friends, and family arrive. I often simply set out a cheese board with some dried fruit and nuts, or something such as an antipasti platter with cured meat, cornichons, and such. It's elegant, simple, and something for everyone. Low maintainance! Best, VA

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Washington, D.C.: Still haven't bought my turkey yet. Any advice? Am open to fresh, frozen, etc...

Bonnie Benwick: It's nice to work with a fresh one that's about 12 pounds. Bought lots of them this fall from Market Poultry in Eastern Market. They are nice people.

Joe Yonan: If you want a local fresh one, we liked the Maple Lawn Farms bird when we put it up against a heritage, Butterball and supermarket natural brand a couple of years ago. You can find our list of where to buy local fresh turkeys here.

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No salt for us, unfortunately: Posting in advance, I'm hoping Andreas Viestad is participating in your chat today.

My better half is on a low-sodium diet, which precludes using the brining recipe provided online today -- unless you think that there's an advantage to soaking the bird in the apple-juice/herb/stock mixture without the salt?

If not, any other suggestions?

Andreas Viestad: The salt is important for the extra juicy result. But I have tried brining with apple juice only - it isn't really brining, but the result is still very good.

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DC: Creme fraiche -- what can I use as a substitute in Ina Garten's recipe today?

Bonnie Benwick: Sour cream will do; it might break a bit but it'll taste just fine. That is a keeper recipe, I'm telling ya.

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Washington, DC: I submitted this to Kim O'Donnel yesterday and got a few hints from the chatters but as you can read, I need all the help I can get...

This is my holiday mission, should my mother choose to accept it: I have absolutely no relationship with beets, and I want to see if I could have one. I mean, I don't think I have ever eaten a beet in my 26 years on this planet, and that is wrong. There are lots of things I have disliked in the past and come to like in time; why can't I have a similar relationship arc with beets?

But I need help because frankly, I have no idea what to do with them. For instance, if I was going to try and prepare beets four ways that display the veggie's versatility and tastiness, what would they be?

What would you recommend they be?

I think I've heard roasting is good. I love other roasted veggies. What goes on top of a roasted beet? Can you saute them? With what? With what on top after the saute? Fresh/uncooked? This one scares me the most to be honest... but what do I put on top of an uncooked beet? What is the best cooking methods if I want to actually taste the beet, and not only what it is cooked with or in?

Please help me with my mission. My gastronomic horizons thank you!!!

Jane Black: Oh my goodness! The stress!! Let me help you calm down by taking issue with the question. There's no need to prepare them four ways, especially if you're never eaten them before. And to be honest, the only way I've ever seen beets prepared is boiled, roasted and pickled. My advice: Start with one way that is easy and will ensure you like them. My favorite way is to roast them (peeled) in foil until tender with a pat of butter and a little brown sugar. You can toss a little orange zest on top when they're ready for color and flavor.

Bonnie Benwick: This year I'm going to try making beet latkes (a mixture of shredded raw beets held together with some type of light binder, then fried in shallow oil. Maybe I'll add some scallions or shredded sweet potatoes.

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Anonymous: Hi Free Range,

For Thanksgiving desserts....

If folks are looking for locally made sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie and apple crumble pie, pumpkin bread and Pumpkin Whoopie Pies we will have all of them at the 14&U Farmers Market on Saturday 9-1, our last market of 2008.

Robin

Joe Yonan: Hi, Robin! Thanks for letting us know. Those whoopie pies are to die for...

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Berwyn Heights, MD: My foreign relatives are visiting next week, and since we just moved into our new house, we all decided to go out for Thanksgiving dinner. They want a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings. Could you recommend some places in the Maryland suburbs that are good and not too too expensive?

Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: In Search of Turkey and Trimmings (Going Out Guide)

Joe Yonan: Some options for you there...

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Rockville, MD: A few weeks ago Kim O'Donnel posted an apple rosemary pinenut pie in her blog that sounded delicious, but now I can't find it.

I know Kim has said that she will update her blog Search Feature, but could the Food Section maybe help her out, by making her recipies searchable in the Food Section Recipe Finder?

Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Apple Pie with Rosemary and Pinenuts (What's Cooking Fall 2003)

Joe Yonan: That's something that we have explored and might be able to swing...

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Turkey Help: Hi there, I'm wondering if you can help me with a turkey question. I'm due to have my third child in the next week (no later than Monday). I will have family helping that first week, but was thinking about getting a pre-cooked turkey to help keep things simpler for the holiday. I've seen lots of ads for buying the full pre-cooked Thanksgiving dinner, but I'm just interested in getting the turkey (roasted or smoked) and having my usual familiar side dishes.

Do you have any suggestions for me?

Thanks!

Joe Yonan: You should peruse our Thanksgiving-to-go list. Look for the listings that include the phrase "a la carte."

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Healthy Heart Cooking in VA: My father recently had a quadruple bypass. So as you can imagine, he's being much more careful with what he eats these days. Do you have any suggestions for what I can make that will not only make it easier on him to enjoy Turkey Day, but won't disappoint the rest of my guests?

Joe Yonan: Sure thing. You should read this, the Chef on Call column David Hagedorn did last Thanksgiving with Ethan McKee from Rock Creek at Mazza. He made a lighter meal of Butternut Squash Soup With Spiced Pumpkin Seeds and Tart Apple, Brined Roasted Turkey Breast With White Wine Pan Sauce, Crushed Sweet Potatoes With Roasted Garlic and Ginger, Semolina and Root Vegetable Stuffing, and an elegant dessert called Pear Harvest.

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Chantilly: Has Lisa Y. or any of you made pumpkin pie substituting coconut milk for the regular evap. milk in the recipe? (With a little extra ginger, don't you think it might make create a nice twist on things?)

Lisa Yockelson: In my baking history, thick coconut milk has been substituted for half-and-half, heavy cream, and like dairy products (such as in a cake batter), but not in a pumpkin pie filling, though I imagine it might be quite fine, indeed. Ginger is always welcome in a pumpkin pie, as long as it does not completely take over the filling's taste.

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Frederick, MD: I was tasked to bring sauerkraut to Thanksgiving dinner. What cut of pork would add the best flavor? I plan on cooking both on low in a slow cooker for a few hours. Thanks!

PS: When buying the dinner fixings, don't forget to buy a couple extra cans for the local food bank!

Virginia Willis: I think that uncured pork belly would be amazing. Traditionally in Alsace fatty cuts of meat are used.

Sauerkraut is not what many people think of in terms of a salad type condiment for hot dogs, but a warm cabbage dish with pork belly and different types of sausage.

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Food Section Date: In the chat last week there was mention of a Chef's on Call feature for Nov. 23rd. Will there still be a food section on the 26th or is it just moved to the Sunday before Thanksgiving?

Jane Black: There will be no food section on November 26. Instead, it will run in Sunday's paper. The theory is that by the day before Thanksgiving, it's far too late for people to shop and/or cook new recipes.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey there,

My kid sister recently lost over 100 pounds, and gained a love of cooking. Her birthday is coming up and she asked me to get her a good knife.

I realize that a lot of knife use has to do with personal preference (e.g. I prefer a heavier knife than does my husband.) But can you recommend a chef's knife that would be high quality and maybe a middle ground that anyone could use and love? Or are there any specific brands that you trust in general?

Thanks!

Joe Yonan: How good for you to reward her for her accomplishment! How much do you want to spend? I'd look at Wusthof for traditional, Global for lightweight and Asian-style, and Victorinox for budget.

Lisa Yockelson: My SABATIER knives, mostly made of carbon steel, are among my most used and trusted.

Lisa Yockelson: I agree with Joe regarding Victorinox--the company makes wonderful serrated knives.

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Columbia Heights: Can you suggest a fish dish that could be served as a vegetarian main course for Thanksgiving? I'd like a fish option to go alongside the turkey that would work well with traditional Thanksgiving pairings.

Bonnie Benwick: Maybe I'm still in a salt-encrusted haze, but this Salt-Crusted Mediterranean Sea Bass looks awfully good. Joe's made it several times. And it could be done fairly easily and held warm in its crust till serving time.

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Beets: A really good way to introduce beets is in a chocolate cake. I have tried this and it is good & chocolately. A smidgen of beet puree in the white frosting turns it a pretty pink.

Also, introduce yourself to golden beets before moving on to the red variety, it's an easier transition.

Jane Black: Do you really think golden beets are less beet-y? Huh. Also want to share your chocolate cake recipe?

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beet cake link: oops! here is the link http://www.chowhound.com/topics/371028

Jane Black: Here it is.

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DC: Not a question, just a compliment from a long-time reader of all things food-related. In the past year or so, you guys have produced the best Food section of any newspaper in the country. Happy Holidays!

Joe Yonan: Aw, shucks. (The check is in the mail...)

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Add item or make more??? : I need a little help, our Thanksgiving dinner just grew from 11 to 19. The menu we planned; turkey, leg of lamb, stuffing, potatoes, brussel strouts, green beans and fresh cranberries. Clearly two birds will be must, so one gets smoked and another gets fried. My area of concern, should I make more sides or should I cook the usual amount and add (rice, yams, and another veggie) a few more options?

Jane Black: Well, it's obviously easier to make more of what you're already making than add new dishes. If time is an issue, I'd just up the quantities. Stuffing, potatoes, brussel sprouts, beans and cranberries sounds like plenty of options.

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Falls Church: Some easy bring alongs for snacky items can also include something like parmesan shortbread (I think the recipe I use comes from Beat That by Ann Hodgman) or spiced nuts.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

That's a fun book, btw...

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Washington, D.C.: Do you have any experience cooking the Worthington Meatless Smoked Turkey Roll? I have had it before, but never cooked it myself. Having a meatless Thanksgiving this year, want to know how best to season it or if you use any kind of baste on it.

Bonnie Benwick: We tested it in this 2006 recipe, which used ginger ale to baste it. Seems like that would be a good idea, as it gets all syrupy/glaze-y.

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Richmond, VA: My favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner is the homemade rolls. I also like to make sweet rolls when I have company staying over, which happens often during the holidays. I figure whatever works for the dinner rolls will also work for my breakfast rolls.

How far in advance can I make the dough? Right now I make it the night before and leave it in the fridge overnight after the rolls are shaped (so the second rise is in the fridge). How long can yeast dough survive in the fridge and do you always refrigerate during the second rise or the first?

Virginia Willis: What a great idea to use the basic roll dough for both! I'd divide the dough and use half for dinner rolls and half for sweet rolls. Meme actually used to roll out some of the dough and make a cinnamon roll. Spread the inside with a mixture of sugar, nuts, and spices. Yum!

How far in advance can I make the dough?

VA says: You can actually make the dough several days ahead and as long as it is refrigerated, you can punch down and keep going as far as 3 days. You can let rise both times in the fridge. I'd set them out at room temperature for a bit before placing them in the oven. The longer and slower the rise, the more flavor. And, the more the dough is punched down and let to rise, the tighter the crumb.

Happy Thanksgiving and Bon Appetit Y'all!

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Washington, DC: Hey beet person! As someone whose suggestion was posted yesterday I am a little hurt that you feel the need to continue asking for suggestions. Were Kim O'Donnel's posts not good enough for you? Pffft. I am going to sit over there and pout.

Joe Yonan: Sounds like you're getting a head start on family dysfunction...

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Philadelphia, PA: For the chatter looking to bring a premeal snack, I always find people are disproportionately impressed by a roasted nut snack mix. Plenty of recipes out there -- Union Square's bar nut recipe is a good one -- and if you really want to have fun, last month's Food & Wine had a Tiki Snack Mix that involves peanuts, pineapple... and bacon.

Stuff like this feels festive, and will still keep a while if the hosts don't get around to putting it out or it doesn't all get eaten.

Jane Black: Yes, nuts are always suggested. And I just made the Union Square Cafe bar nuts this weekend. They're fabulous. I don't have the recipe to hand but as I remember it it's 1-1/4 pounds mixed nuts, toasted for 10 minutes at 350. Toss with 2 teaspoons brown sugar, two teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, two tablespoons chopped rosemary and 1 tablespoon melted butter. Serve warm. (Though cold is fine too.)

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Philadelphia, PA: Hazelnuts--where are they? I've been to four different types of grocery stores and looked in the nuts section and the produce section, and no luck. Any tips? Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Hmm. Hazelnuts have gotten more mainstream, it seems. My evidence is based on the fact that my Safeway and Giant carry small packages of chopped hazelnuts on the baking aisle along with the pecans and almonds and such.

I don't know from Philly stores but my pals who do say you should look in Reading Market, or at DiBruno Bros. in Center City or in a shop called the Head Nut in Ardmore. And have you checked Whole Foods Market?

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NoLo, DC: I made a couple of batches of milchig (butter, cream cheese) rugelach dough last night for an office function, but only baked off 5/8 of it. While I hope I might be able to do some more baking tonight or tomorrow, how well would a dough like this freeze?

Lisa Yockelson: Rugelach dough freezes quite well (up to 1 month), but what I do--which is even easier--is to roll, fill and otherwise form the rugelach, freeze them until firm, then place them in a sturdy, tighly lided storage container. Up to a few weeks later, I bake the rugelach directly from the freezer, adding a few minutes to the overall baking time! Easy!

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Alexandria, VA: Hi - My mouth is watering looking at those photos. I'm heading straight to the bookstore at lunch hour to get your book, no kidding. If only it were scratch and sniff! My question is: I've been assigned the dreaded "green bean casserole" for Thanksgiving - the kind with those canned onions (yuck). Can you suggest a more tasty, healthy alternative? Merci!

Joe Yonan: So glad you liked it! We thought Virginia and Terry Allen did a fantastic job on the styling and photos, too -- the food and the setting look both warm and modern, which is a harder balance to pull off than you might think...

See previous post for green bean casserole ideas.

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Los Angeles, CA: I see a bunch of different kinds of apples in my grocery store - Jonathan apples, granny smith, gala, etc. The store has a little board next to the apples with a small description, but doesn't really talk about which ones would be used to make desserts. I have just recently started baking and would like to try making an apple pie, crisp or tart...Could you give me some ideas on what kinds of apples I should be using? And any good recipes would also be appreciated! Thank you so much for your help!

Lisa Yockelson: For baking, some of my favorite apples are Jonathan, Empire, and Nittany. A goal is to have a flavorful apple that bakes into silky lusciousness.

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Question for Virginia: There only will be four of us at Thanksgiving and I was planning on making duck breast because none of us are all that thrilled with turkey. Do you have an easy French-influenced recipe you could suggest?

Virginia Willis: Duck sounds fantastic. First thing is to score the fatty skin side with a sharp knife in a cross-hatch pattern. (This will allow the fat to render and the skin to crisp.)

Season the breasts with salt and pepper.

Then place the breasts without crowding in a hot dry (no oil needed) skillet, skin side down. Cook over medium heat and cook until the skin is very brown and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn and brown the other side, 2 to 3 minutes. Test the duck by poking the center with the point of a knife to see the color of the meat; if it is too rare for your taste, continue cooking 1 to 2 minutes, When done, place the duck skin side up on a plate and cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm.

Then, for a simple and easy pan sauce. Remove most of the fat from the pan. Add 1-2 chopped shallots and cook until clear and translucent. Add a cup or so of red wine, a couple of tablespoons of red currant or seedless raspberry jelly, and a cup or so of stock. Cook over high heat until reduced and slightly thickened. Just that simple.

When ready to serve, cut the breasts on the bias in thin strips.

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Beets: I would think that peeling them before roasting would definitely leave you with red stained hands which might freak out a first time beet eater (although, the brown sugar sounds great!). I think that roasting them with the skin on is easier. Just roll them in a paper towel when they are done and the skin rubs off so easily. I love beets both red and orange on salads with goat cheese and sugared nuts. Or just plain!

Bonnie Benwick: Food-safe plastic or rubber gloves can take care of any worries about pink fingers.

Joe Yonan: So can an exfoliating sponge, after the fact...

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Beets and the prez-elect: Just read an Assoc. Press story yesterday that says Mr. Obama doesn't like beets either. Says he always tries to avoid them. I say, follow our new leader. I don't care what color they are, they all taste like dirt.

Jane Black: Beets: The new broccoli?

Joe Yonan: If your beets taste like dirt, then I want to taste your dirt, cause it sounds delicious.

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Bethesda, MD: Raw beets: I've made a composed salad of grated raw beets and grated carrots. All you need is a simple vinagrette (I like cider vinegar, dijon mustard, S&P, olive oil and a touch of chives and parsley). toss the veggies with the vinagrette & serve. For extra fancy-ness crumble a bit of blue cheese on top. (to prevent bleeding keep the beets separated from everything else as long as possible).

Jane Black: This sounds great. Maybe a bit advanced for beginner beet eaters? But why not?

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Douglass Park, VA: Question to Andreas, please: What is your source for large food grade bags you mention in your today's article, large enough to brine whole turkey? With all this plastic alarms I am hesitant to brine turkey in a bag that has been chemically fortified to withstand high oven heat. Thanks in advance. PS: If Joe is listening, I really wish you guys did a definitive article on present day food safety. I am so confused as to which number on the bottom of the water bottle is safe and which is not, and why Brita jugs do not have numbers on the bottom, and whether canned tuna is safe if it has plastic coating on the inside and so on, that I now drink Pellegrino in glass bottles, knowing that it is not good for environment. Thanks in advance.

Andreas Viestad: I must admit this is not an area I have paid much attention to. The last time I used a standard food grade cooking bag. Earlier I have used freezer bags. For more you can check out http://virtualweberbullet.com/plastics.html

Bonnie Benwick: Douglass, this year I brined using the XL size Ziploc bag, and I also used a plastic bag that my fresh turkey came in. And here I am, still kicking....

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Ethical question: Maybe I should be sending this to Miss Manners or Carolyn Hax, but I thought you guys might offer just as good advice. My sister-in law is a vegetarian and my mother always makes a special veg. dish for her for T'giv. Unbeknownst to my SIL, however, my mother uses chicken stock. When I saw the container in the trash last year, I was horrified. My mother just said, "What she doesn't know, won't kill her." Should I say something if she does it again this year? Or keep the peace?

Jane Black: I am not Carolyn Hax but here's my two cents. You can't change the past so don't mention what's happened before. But I would definitely talk to your mother about using vegetables stock this year. If she's buying it, it's just as easy to pick up a box of vegetable as chicken. Try to impress upon her that it's just as easy for her and far more respectful to her daughter-in-law. If your mom refuses, you should tell your sister-in-law. Let her make the own choice about whether her dietary habits or keeping the peace is more important.

Virginia Willis: Well, my girlfriend is vegetarian, and it can be tricky. If mom is making a special dish for HER (the sister in law) on T'Give and using chicken stock knowing full well she's a vegetarian... um, that's pretty passive aggressive. I get that too with my mama sometimes and my girlfriend. Veg stock is easy substitution.

Oddly enough, what I do now is use a strong, rich mushroom broth for the dressing. That way Becky can enjoy -- and my non-vegetarian family is none the wiser!

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Hagerstown: Is it just me or when did fish become a VEGETARIAN dish? Vegetarian means no beef, chicken, fish, etc. etc...that's why we're called Vegetarians...sheesh.........

Joe Yonan: I was waiting for that. The chatter said it, thankfully, not us. ((((((veggie police siren)))))

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Alexandria, VA: Now that the baking season is upon us, I have three questions: 1. What is the difference between waxed paper and parchment paper? 2. How long does an open box of baking soda last? 3. What's the difference between just plain cocoa powder and dutch process cocoa powder? Thanks so much for your expertise.

Lisa Yockelson: Baking soda, once opened, should be decanted into a food-safe container and tightly covered; stored in this fashion, it can be used up to 9 months. Baking soda has a longer shelf life than an opened can of baking powder.Both baking powder and baking soda should be stored tightly sealed and in a cool pantry. Natural cocoa powder ("plain," as you have named it) is not treated with an alkali to neutralize its acidity and is known as non-alkalized. Dutch-process cocoa (alkalized) is treated with an alkali. Food-safe parchment paper is the ultimate in release-surface baking paper and can withstand a range of oven temperatures; it is used to line baking pans (though some lower-temperature baking recipes call for waxed paper to line pans) and contain some savory foods for baking.

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sweet potatoes - Andreas: Greetings, Andreas, Rangers, et al., Is there a difference in texture or end-result from boiling sweet potatoes versus microwaving or baking? I saw a recipe for a sweet potato gratin that called for boiling the potatoes until "firmly tender" then letting them cool, slicing them, and layering with pears, saucing lightly and baking. I'd like to try it --with apples, maybe, and whatever sauce I dream up since I didn't save the recipe and don't recall what they did.

BUT --can I simply microwave the sweet potatoes to save the time and water and heat of boiling? Or will I get a different texture/result?

Thanks for your insights. Love the chats, and love Andreas' blend of science, good writing and food love.

Andreas Viestad: If you microwave the sweet potatoes skin on it should be fine. You wont get the same nice caramelization as with baking and a somewhat drier result than with boiling.

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Lincoln: I came across an article about root vegetables and I was completely stumped by one of those mentioned, parsley root. Is it just the root of the herb parsley? It looked kind of like a parsnip and I don't recall parsley having roots that thick. I want to experiment with it this year in my roasted root vegetable side dish, but I'd like to know a little more about it first. Thanks!

Andreas Viestad: Parsley root is one of my favorites, It is sweeter and more aromatic than parsnips but definitely in the same family.

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Frederick, MD: Ever notice most Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas day when other restaurants are closed? Clever folks, they are!

Bonnie Benwick: I believe this may explain why many Jewish people have Chinese food on Christmas Day.

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Sweet Potato Pie: We are planning to make a sweet potato pie, all from scratch for our Thanksgiving. Normally we just make the pie crust with flour, butter, lard, etc., but on Good Eats this week I saw Alton Brown use AppleJack liquor in his apple pie crust. Is there a liquor out there that you could recommend that might go with a sweet potato pie crust? I thought this was a really fun addition, and might bring some extra, unexpected flavor to the pie.

Jane Black: I could be wrong but my bet is that Alton Brown's use of AppleJack is based on a recipe that ran in Cook's Illustrated last year, which called for a few tablespoons of vodka in the crust. It (obviously) wasn't for flavor but a way to make it easier to roll out the dough without toughening it up. When you use alcohol, you can add a little more liquid since it burns off when cooking, the theory goes. That said AppleJack may add a little bit of flavor. I'd try that with sweet potato pie crust or a little brandy.

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Bonnie Benwick: For the mustard-roasted fish person looking to substitute the creme fraiche, a nice e-mail just reminded me that low-fat Greek-style yogurt would be good to use, too.

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Bosque Farms, NM: Hi, I have a question about the recipe: Lost Nation Cider Pie. Instructions tell me to make the jelly by bringing the cider to 220F. I live at a higher altitude, so the boiling point is lower. Would you advise me to bring the cider to a lower temperature (corresponding to boiling temperatures at my altitude) or shall I try to keep it at the 220F?

Thanks for your help!

Bonnie Benwick: Hi Bosque! A new locale for us, I think. The cider boils away for so long that I didn't worry so much about the temperature once I got it up to 220. I just checked every 20 mins or so. You'll know once you get way down to that cup whether it has thickened enough. Pls yes, use adjusted temperatures like you're used to doing.

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Thanksgiving for One?: Hi Foodies,

We've had an unexpected change in plans (MIL's unexpected surgery elsewhere), which leaves me alone holding the fort at home this holiday - so I volunteered to work that day. It'll just be me for the week.

I love the whole shebang, but with just one person and no help with leftovers a huge production doesn't make sense. Help me scale back to a nice meal for one, please.

thanks!

Jane Black: It seems do-able. The trickiest part is the turkey. This might be sacrilegious but my suggestion is a stuffed chicken breast. We ran this recipe recently for fruit-stuffed chicken breast, which looks delicious. To make it feel Thanksgiving-y, use dried cranberries in the fruit mix. As for vegetables, I'd boil and mash a sweet potato with some cream and/or butter and steam some green beans (you can toss them with a little lemon zest). In about 2 hours, you'll have meat, stuffing, potatoes and greens. Not bad for celebrating alone.

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San Francisco: Hi, Can I pre-make mashed potatoes and reheat in the oven? I'll take any and all advice on making this work! Thanks!

Andreas Viestad: Re-heating is no problem. The important thing is not to work it too much.

Joe Yonan: If they seem dry, stir in a little more cream, melted butter, or whatever enrichment you used the first go-round.

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Silver Spring, MD: The recipe in today's food section for the sweet potatoes called for heavy cream. Can I substitute half'n'half?

Bonnie Benwick: Sure.

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Turkey Talk, IN: Hi there, I'm wondering if you have a good make-ahead green beans recipe for Thanksgiving, one that won't make the green beans too soggy or greasy? There's limited oven space on T-Day but I really think there should be something green on the table. Thanks.

Bonnie Benwick: Love these, which we featured in the Thanksgiving sections last year. And we've got three new green recipes (not green beans) coming up in the Nov. 23 edition, from In Season columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick.

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Washington, DC: I love cooking Thanksgiving dinner and generally go all out with a bold selection of dishes for my guests. My sore point has been wine. Am I crazy for deciding this year I want to serve cabernet? I don't like beaujolais, pinot noir frequently disappoints me, and cab is my favorite (my partner's too). So why not?

Joe Yonan: You have our blessings, my child.

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Washington, DC: Great issue today! I really appreciate the general tips & techniques--they'll make us all better cooks! Thanks also for the sweet potato suggestion. I prefer savory sweet potatoes, but my family always over-rules me. My question is about the heavy cream. That seems, well, really heavy! Could you cook them in milk instead?

Jane Black: Sure. But use whole milk.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey, Columbia Heights: fish is NOT a vegetarian dish. If you have real vegetarians coming over for dinner, they won't be partaking.

Arguments can take place, of course, over the meaning of the word "vegetarian" but if you want to be safe, you should make something without animal flesh of any sort.

Joe Yonan: ((((((veggie police siren)))))))

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New World Vegetables for French visitors Saturday: We offered an early Thanksgiving meal to a French friend coming for 2 days this weekend from Paris. Well, there are now 4 of them. We offered New World Vegetables: which I take to mean sweet potatoes, corn, lima beans, white potatoes... all to serve with turkey,cornbread dressing, and homemade cranberry sauce. The desserts are set. Do you have suggestions for more New World Vegetables side dishes?

Virginia Willis: Many of the winter squashes are new world. I would concentrate on vegetables that might be less familiar to French visitors such as butternut squash, acorn squash, kabocha squash. Also, the French don't cook winter greens like we do such as kale, collards, mustard greens, and turnip greens. In fact, once while living there I raided a farmer's mustard patch and cooked the greens with bacon for a Southern style side!

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First Time T-day Host: Help! Need a beautiful, easy and delicious cranberry salad recipe to put on the table next Thursday!

Joe Yonan: How bout this Cranberry Salsa? It calls for a jalapeno, but you can leave that out. Or this Fresh Cranberry Relish, which adds apples and ginger to the usual orange-cran mix?

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Bonnie Benwick: Attention, Virginia Willis fans -- she's got some local book signings coming up:

-- Barrel Oak Winery in Delaplane on Nov. 30 at 2 pm.

-- Books & Crannies in Middleburg on Dec. 1 at 2 pm.

-- Inova Hospital in Fairfax/Falls Church (a cookbook authors' event in the atrium, not for a medical procedure!) on Dec. 2 from 11 am-2 pm.

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Beets: Try steaming or roasting, then peeling (don't worry about staining, wash as you go) and cut in half, then slice into half- moons. Use over a salad that includes walnuts and goat cheese, make the vinaigrette with walnut oil if you have any, and use sherry vinegar if you've got that, otherwise any oil and vinegar will do.

Joe Yonan: Great -- I do this very thing. I love using different nut oils, especially when the nut itself is in the salad.

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Washington, DC: Wait a minute - the person bought a turkey LAST SUNDAY and it will keep in the fridge until this coming Tuesday when they will brine? Isn't that a long time to have a turkey in the fridge?

Virginia Willis: It really depends on how fresh. If direct from the farm, meaning very direct, it's fine. Turkeys are "harvested" a week plus before being sold. If grocery store bird, it's already working on that ticking clock. Make sense?

Andreas Viestad: Rubbing the turkey with some ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) will reduce the risk of contamination.

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KC, Mo.: The Post recently ran the recipe for "the best" biscuits. Can you provide the link? Thanks!

Jane Black: Here you go: Joe Yonan's sister's Fluffy Southern Biscuits

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Non-Tday Question:: My SO is going to be watching a soccer game at my house today, I'm making a spinach artichoke dip to nibble on. I need another dip-like food to keep him focused on his game.

Thanks

Bonnie Benwick: This is one of my all-time favorites. You just can't tell from the ingredients how great it's going to taste. And it's warm. And it's not even really bad for you: Manchurian Dip. In fact, anyone who's looking for something to snack on before a big holiday meal could make this and be happy.

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Philly nuts cont'd: Specifically at Reading, check Iovine Brothers, they have a total Wall O Nuts right now.

Bonnie Benwick: Ah, yes, Rick Nichols at the Inquirer mentioned them to me.

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brining bags : Use a small cooler, and leave it outside. Add the hot brine and bunch of ice, let it cool down. Than add your bird and more ice, the best part, it doesn't take up room in the fridge!

Virginia Willis: Um, just a helpful hint -- place something heavy on top so animals won't get to it. Lesson learned!

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Beet Person: Please get a grip. Go buy a bunch and cook them, six different ways. Taste each. A little bite won't kill you. Neither will six little bites. Horizons will be expanded. You must be hell on wheels deciding which pair of shoes to put on in the morning.

Jane Black: Encouragement from the fearless chef.

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Arlington, VA: So I made Joe's rockin' sweet potato with curried shrimp (yeah, that one is going into permanent rotation), and now I have almost a whole can of coconut milk. Any other delicious stuff I can make with it that aren't too, too fattening (I'm on Weight Watchers, so calories are key)? Or should I just freeze it in small portions so I can pull it out on demand for a repeat performance of the shrimp? Thanks very much!

Joe Yonan: So glad you liked it! We had a thread of a discussion in last week's chat -- check the transcripts -- about freezing coconut milk. But in the meantime, you might try this Chicken Coconut Soup recipe. It's a little high in WW points (9), but if you ate with a simple salad that wouldn't be too bad, depending on how the rest of your day went.

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vegetarian dish without chicken stock: My in-laws never "got" that I was vegetarian and that it meant no meat stocks or bacon grease in my food. I always volunteered and was always encouraged, to make a veggie-entree type side dish to contribute to the meal. If you are willing to eat chicken stock, trust someone else - otherwise make something yourself. I have done polenta stuffed peppers (Martha) and cauliflower pie (Moosewood) to great success.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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re: beets: A few years ago I made a dish for Thanksgiving that combined sliced roasted beets, thinly sliced fennel bulb, and sectioned oranges. The "dressing" consisted of the remaining orange juice, salt, a little garlic, and maybe a little raspberry vinegar. It's a delicious and beautiful combination.

Joe Yonan: Nice.

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balsamic vinaigrette: Filomena's in Georgetown makes an incredible balsamic vinaigrette, it's like a thick reduction. I'm sure it's a pasta mamma's secret, but any idea how to replicate it. I read somewhere online about mixing balsamic vinegar with 2 egg yolks and olive oil. Do you think that would do it? Have you tried their balsamic vinaigrette? It's gorgeous stuff!!

Bonnie Benwick: We're living in sunshine-y times. Dino at Filomena was gracious enough to share the recipe. I guess they are aces at emulsifying! He says this makes vinaigrette for 6, but to me, maybe more like 16? It can be refrigerated for at least a week.

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Pinch of salt

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 cups good-quality olive oil

Combine the mustard, salt, pepper, sugar and vinegar in a medium bowl; use a hand mixer or immersion stick blender to whip the mixture. With the mixer or blender running, add the oil in a slow steady stream (the stream should be no thicker than a pencil, he says) until that gorgeous consistency you're after is achieved. Va bene!

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Arlington, VA: Hi Virginia:

This question isn't related to cooking but... I will actually be spending Thanksgiving abroad this year, and actually in Paris as well! Do you have any restaurant suggestions to avoid being "tragically homesick" -- as I already feel thinking about spending Thanksgiving without family and friends? I would greatly appreciate it!

Andreas Viestad: Breakfast in America in Rue des Ecoles usually have something going on. And if you go to Harry's Bar afterward you will not feel lost.

Virginia Willis: I took the opposite approach and skipped the expat route all-togther. I went to a bistro and had chicken. I think if I did it again I'd do boeuf bourguignonne, something even further from turkey. Grab a Michelin Guide Rouge -- available in the States and do a little research. I'd go full force full fledge French. Everything from a good value to a house mortgage restaurants are rated! Enjoy some incredible wine -- and hey, you have a great story. Not many times do we spend Thanksgiving alone in Paris!

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DC: Anything more on my quest to find canned tomatoes that don't have Bisphenol A in the can linings?

Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Not this week, sorry. You're a patient person.

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Washington, DC: First of all, I have to say thank you- I love the recipes you put on page 2 of the food section and several of them -- including a zucchini pasta dish - have become almost weekly meals at our house. Second, a question - I love the looks of the Barefoot Contessa fish dish from this morning, but as always with white fish dishes, I wonder if I could substitute a cheaper fish, like tilapia. Would that work just as well, or does it really need to be one of the types that the recipe recommends? Thanks so much.

Bonnie Benwick: Thanks, DC. Tilapia would work just fine. If you're using the frozen fillets, make sure they're fully defrosted so they don't water down the sauce.

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Barefoot Contessa: Where HAS Ina been? She didn't have any new BC shows on Food Network for ages.

Thanks for posting her Mustard Roasted Fish recipe today. Will we be getting previews of any other items in her new book?

Bonnie Benwick: She was just here 2 weeks ago, signing books at Sur La Table in Arlington. She does a new cookbook every 2 years. She renovated her barn/now kitchen. Be sure to read the Home section tomorrow for more about Ina.

I can tell you that the Brownie Pudding in that book is really, really great, and that Jane Black did a version of the turkey roulade she liked as well. Beseech Joe for that AUTOGRAPHED copy we're giving away today!

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Richmond, VA: Free Rangers,

It is my year to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my in-laws. In anticipation of my penchant for having fun with food, they have requested a "completely traditional" meal -- even offering their own recipes to get me started. I really do want happy family but am not too inspired. To have something fun to look forward to, I was hoping you might have a few adventurous "leftover" recipes for the turkey and sides. Thank you.

Virginia Willis: The offer of "support" is generous. I think you should start on your tradition of having your OWN dishes and some family favorites from your in laws. (Amazing the in-law thread in many of these!) You are cooking dinner in your kitchen! If they are offering so much "help" I'd say just go ahead and BRING the dish they are offering!

In terms of leftover -- frankly other than a day of turkey sandwiches, I prefer to freeze the carcass and make a delicious soup in the new year with delicious broth.

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Can This Recipe Be Saved? -- Oakton, VA: PLEASE HELP! Can anything be done to punch up the flavor of this recipe for a mushroom barley pie? I'd hoped to serve this as a vegetarian entree at Thanksgiving dinner, but I found the filling -- mushrooms, onions, barley, ricotta -- to be pretty bland. Here are all the ingredients (it calls for farro or barley). The barley/farro is basically cooked in plain water and then mixed in with ricotta and mushrooms and onions that have been sauteed in butter and madeira. This mixture is wrapped in a puff pastry crust. It sounds yummy but as I said it was bland.

3/4 cup farro or pearl barley 3 cups water 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 garlic cloves, minced 9 scallions, finely chopped (1 1/3 cups), divided 1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced 1/4 cup dry Madeira (preferably Verdelho or Sercial) 1 cup whole-milk ricotta 1 (1-pound) package frozen all-butter puff pastry, thawed 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt

Virginia Willis: I suggest instead of using water to use a rich, strong mushroom broth. Mushrooms contain amino acids that result in umami, one of the basic tastes along with sour, salty, bitter, and sweet.You could also rehydrate some cepe/porcini mushrooms and cook with the cremini.

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Arlington, VA S: So I'll be going to a friends parents house this year, and as is customary since I am a vegetarian (with good cooking skills) I plan to bring a main dish for me which I hope will serve as a side for others.

In past years I have made lasagne (homemade spinach pasta, ricotta, etc), crepes (ricotta/parsley or mushroom/spinach), a torta salata.

While this crowd would be new to any of these, I'm looking for new inspiration. Got any ideas? Preferably something that looks like a centerpiece for a dish (ie, stuffed, rolled, or stacked).

Virginia Willis: I have a recipe in my book inspired by Anne Willan for Twice Baked Cheese Souffles. Yum. It's rich and indulgent.

You can check out the recipe on the recipe page of my website, www.virginiawillis.com

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Nebraska: Hi, this is the game bird chatter from last week. I have to admit that I'm getting a little nervous about my timeline. Is there going to be a chat next week? I saw that there was a duck recipe posted here, but my ducks have virtually no subcutaneous fat, so that won't work. Whatever recipes come out on Sunday can I substitute whatever bird I have (duck or goose)?

Bonnie Benwick: Recipes in on Nov. 23. Goose or duck can be substituted in them; and they're just for breast meat with no skin. They sound delicious.

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New World Veggies: Veg times has a wonderful roast delicata squash stuffed with quinoa recipe that would really impress, and quinoa is new world, too.

Ingredient List 6 Servings

6 small delicata squash, halved and seeds removed 6 cups water 1 cup uncooked wild rice (genuine Ojibwa if possible), rinsed 1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed 2 tsp. vegetable oil 4 green onions (white and pale green parts), chopped 1/2 cup chopped celery 1 tsp. dried sage 1/2 cup dried cranberries 1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped 1/3 cup chopped pecans or walnuts 1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh orange juice Salt to taste Directions Preheat oven to 350 F. Arrange squash halves cut side down in baking dish or roasting pan. Bake until tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make filling. In large saucepan, bring 4 cups water to boil. Add wild rice and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 40 minutes. Drain if necessary. In another large saucepan, bring remaining 2 cups of water to boil. Add quinoa. Reduce heat and simmer until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender, about 12 minutes. In large, deep skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add green onions, celery and sage, and cook, stirring often, until vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add dried fruits and nuts and cook, stirring often, until heated through. Using a fork, fluff quinoa and wild rice, then add both to skillet. Add orange juice and mix until heated through. Season with salt. To serve, remove squash from oven and arrange on serving platter. Spoon filling into each squash cavity and serve.

Jane Black: Thanks.

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Potatoes!: Hi Food Section -- any suggestions for good potato dishes for Thanksgiving dinner that aren't mashed? No one in my family particularly likes mashed potatoes (I know, blasphemy!), but potatoes are still a necessary side dish. Something with some southern flair would be fun, if you have suggestions along that way, but we'll try anything.

And thanks for the updated green bean casserole ideas -- I've never made (or even had) this before, but my sister put in a request for it this year, so I was looking for something more modern, and I like your take.

Joe Yonan: I put these Upper Crust Potatoes on my staff-selected Thanksgiving menu from the archives. (Have you voted yet? At last glance I was slightly ahead...).

Bonnie Benwick: NOT a competition; just a crass exhibition of page-view technology, editor Joe! (That said, can we get a wager going?)

Joe Yonan: Maybe I haven't stated the following clearly enough: EVERYTHING IS A COMPETITION. (And yes we can.)

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Alexandria, VA: Hey there, need some suggestions for a corn side dish to bring to Thanksgiving Day dinner, any suggestions?

Lisa Yockelson: Spoonbread, made with good stone-ground corn meal!

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New York, NY: Shoutout to Lisa Y - Just this morning it was determined that our post-Thanksgiving dessert would be a back of your Mounds Bar/Chocolate Chip cookies (from the incomparable ChocolateChocolate), my father's favorite. And as a side note, I highly recommend crumbling them into a batch of mascarpone ice cream as a treat.

Lisa Yockelson: Love it! A post-Thanksgiving dessert!

And thank you for the side note, NY, NY.

Bonnie Benwick: That ChocolateChocolate book is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

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Vienna, VA: Hi Food Section - I'm about to start an 80-hour-a-week job, meaning that I don't anticipate having too much time to get fancy in the kitchen in the next few years. In anticipation, I'm trying to get comfortable with my crock-pot by adapting some of my favorite recipes to it! So far - a take on Indian butter chicken (tomato puree, chicken thighs, various whole spices/slices of ginger/garlic that can be removed before eating) simmered in the crock-pot for 8 hours with no pre-browning step. I don't like to eat meat every day, though, and I can't live on veggie chili... any suggestions for me? Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: Invest in a few slow cooker books co-authored by Beth Hensperger, in the "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker" series. She does great research and her recipes really work.

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Arlington, VA: Are the onion and garlic storage containers that I see at the supermarket worth getting, or will any airtight plastic container work just as well for half of an onion, etc.?

Bonnie Benwick: I think they are -- at least the onion one, which we tested a while back. It's really airtight. It held a cut onion for 4 weeks without a hitch. I've tried to wrap them in plastic and put them in other plastic containers before...somehow the odor got out or infused the regular plastic container.

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Richmond, VA: Will Virginia Willis be coming to Richmond (fingers crossed)?

Virginia Willis: I will actually be in Middleburg at the beginning of December, but Richmond isn't on the horizon at the moment.

You can go to my website and sign up for my newsletter that contains events, recipes, and a tour schedule. I taught at Sur la Table and loved it! I'll reach out to them and may visit this spring.

www.virginiawillis.com

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Silver Spring: Joe - Dave McIntyre here - for the cabernet lover, by all means drink what you like, but why not put all us smarty pants wine experts to the test with a food/wine pairing challenge? Simply pay attention (amid all the chaos and conversation) to how the cabernet tastes after a bite of turkey, compared to after a bite of sweet potatoes, etc. The common wisdom is that a heavy, oaky, tannic cabernet will not go well with the dinner. The common wisdom could be wrong. Or try a lighter, fruitier cabernet, such as the Solaire by Robert Mondavi we recommended two weeks ago in my tannin column, or the regular bottling of Cousino-Macul Cabernet from Chile.

Joe Yonan: Thanks, Dave!

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washingtonpost.com: Fun with turkey leftovers -- a couple of years ago I did a turkey mole dinner for the day after with my family's leftovers. Turkey in black mole (OK, from a jar but I brought it from Oaxaca), corn tortillas, rice, avocados, etc. Yum. - Elizabeth

Joe Yonan: I love me some mole.

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In-Laws Again...: I'd love to have them bring dishes but they are not the best cooks (at all). If I have to have traditional, at least I'd like tasty traditional. And yes, it is my kitchen but I am trying to be accommodating and zen... They are not adventurous eaters at all. Anyway, I have 364 days of the year to have fun. Though a nice turkey gumbo in January is a great idea. Thanks!

Virginia Willis: Zen is right! Good idea. Peace on Earth, right? ;-) VA

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Falls Church: Brownie Pudding!?!

Bonnie Benwick: OMG. It's like undercooked brownie batter, with just a slight crust on top. Has a little raspberry liqueur in it, a lot of butter and eggs and chocolate.

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Southeast DC: Go Dawgs! Maybe we'll finally get to meet y'all at the next SFA event.

Virginia Willis: LOL - yes! I'll be in DC I know in March teaching a seminar at L'Academie de Cuisine on writing a cookbook!

Come see me!

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Ina: Okay I don't know HOW ON EARTH I missed her sigining! I am willing to travel to the next one. Do you have a list of her tour? Can you tell that I have food network mania?

Bonnie Benwick: Easy there. I'm sure she'll be featured in their usual star-holiday get-togethers for the camera. Check out her Web site (barefootcontessa.com) for tour dates.

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Frederick, MD: I could really use a good mincemeat pie recipe! One with real spirits please. Thanks!

Virginia Willis: FYI - Saveur magazine this month has an article with old-school and new mincemeat pies. Check it out!

Bonnie Benwick: Sorry, we have mincemeat recipes but none with spirits.

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Howdy, cupcakes!: Howdy from sunny Austin! Got a cupcake question for you, having read the cupcake article and recipes you ran a couple of weeks ago with great delight: If I want to make filled cupcakes, how solid does the filling need to be not to soak into the cupcake? I have a recipe for a mint ganache that uses white chocolate, creme de menthe, peppermint extract and heavy cream, which I was thinking would be heavenly in a chocolate cupcake. But I'm not sure it wouldn't simply soak into the cake. Any advice/rules for filling cupcakes?

Lisa Yockelson: The best cupcake filling is firm enough to pipe into the cupcake, but not too soft--think about using the ganache when it has just set, or, depending on its texture, on the point of setting. A pastry cream filling should be firm enough to pipe but not extra-firm. Another consideration is the type of cake used--choose a batter that does not bake up too fine-textured.

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Washington, D.C.: I will be in Ireland next week and will miss Thanksgiving so I want to make a smaller scale dinner when I get back (Thanksgiving being my favorite holiday and all). Do you have a good recipe for just a turkey breast? Thanks!

Jane Black: The stuffed turkey breast from Ina Garten that Bonnie mentioned before is delicious.

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Minneapolis: Any main dish suggestions for vegetarians who don't eat fish? This is my first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian, and I'd like to do something special.

(I do eat eggs and dairy.)

Virginia Willis: A vegetable and/or spinach lasagne would be good. I also prepare a vegetable gratin bound in a light bechamel sauce.

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Arlington, VA S: Thanks for the souffle recipe. Not sure I have the correct size ramekins, so I may have to do some reseach on if the size matters here (I'd be going smaller rather than larger?).

Other than that, I think I'm good. I have fontina at home already, and if I do a test run this weekend I may use that. We'll see how that works out.

Virginia Willis: I may be lost, but if you are talking about my spinach souffle recipe, you can actually use a muffin tin!! They are unceremoniously dumped into a casserole and covered with cheese sauce anyway! VA

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Ohio: Eating alone, too: Plan to have turkey "parts" (Thighs maybe) a little dressing and small amounts of creamed onions, and all my other traditional things. I even might try Alton Brown's pie crust recipe. Growing up on the family farm, we had beets pickled and liked them, then Harvard beets. They are acquired taste like a lot of other things out there, (some things one never learns to like) so don't feel bad if you never class them as a favorite.

Joe Yonan: Thanks!

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Beseeching for BC Book: Please, please, please, can I have it?

Joe Yonan: No.

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Alexandria, VA: I am looking to make a jazzed up apple pie for Thanksgiving this year. I am thinking a pie crust with a crumble type topping. Do you have any suggestions for a recipe of this type? Thanks!

Bonnie Benwick: You really want to make this: Caramelized Apple Crumb Cake. You are going to be so glad you did.

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Joe Yonan: Well, we're thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, our tops are golden brown and you've inverted us onto a rack so we don't get soggy bottoms, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great questions, as usual -- sorry that we couldn't get to all of them, but as usual we were typing as fast as we could. Now, for the all-important giveaway books: The Alexandria chatter who used the phrase "scratch and sniff" will get "Bon Appetit, Y'all." The Oakton chatter who asked, "Can this recipe be saved?" will get "Autumn Gatherings." And the chatter who asked where Ina has been lately will get "Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics." Just email your mailing address to food@washpost.com to claim your books, and we'll get them to you!

Good luck with the big meal coming up. Look for our special Sunday section in a few days, and remember: We won't have a section on Wednesday, Nov. 26, but we WILL be here for Free Range to answer any last-minute questions you might have. (I'll be on a Bolt bus to Boston, but if the free Wi-Fi holds, I'll join from the road.)

Until then, happy cooking, eating and reading.

Joe Yonan: I almost forgot -- Thanks so much to Virginia Willis, Lisa Yockelson and Andreas Viestad for helping us out today.

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