An Extra Thanksgiving Helping

So many questions, too little time. That's always the case when I host my annual Thanksgiving chat. Below is a handful of questions left in the queue, that cover the gamut of Thanskgiving preparation. Feel free to weigh in on any of the topics in the comments area below. Have a great weekend and remember to breathe!

I am tasked with bringing an appetizer for a Thanksgiving potluck and I would like to use sweet potatoes as a main ingredient, since no one else is bringing a sweet potato dish for the main meal. What do you suggest?

Oooh, I've got it! Last year at Christmas time, I experimented with a fun recipe for sweet potato dip, a puree of roasted sweet potatoes and onions that get a extra layer of richness with tahini paste. It's surprising and interesting and low cal to boot.

I served it with pita chips and slices of apple and pear. It's a really nice, clean option to kick off what tends to be a heavy meal. You can prepare this a day in advance and be ready for showtime.

In the event your host is offering his kitchen space to do some prep, you could also play with sweet potato latkes. You'd grate a few raw sweet potatoes, a medium onion and an apple and drain the mixture really well. Mix with bread crumbs or matzo meal, a beaten egg, salt, pepper, cayenne and a smidge of cardamom.

Form into patties and fry in about 1/3 cup of oil until golden. You can keep warm in a 200-degreen oven. Serve with applesauce!

Arlington, Va.: I am trekking up to Connecticut to celebrate Thanksgiving with my husband's family. I came up with an easy side dish that I can prepare off to the side and out of the way when we're up there (Sweet Potatoes Au Gratin: sliced and layered with gorgonzola cheese and broth). I'm looking for a dessert that I can make in Virginia the day before and bring with us on the five or six-hour drive. These are hardy Italian folk, so any dessert needs to stand up to the homemade tiramisu and pizzelle. Any thoughts?

Two ideas come to mind, Arlington. Given that the inlaws are Italian, what if you impressed them with a batch of homemade biscotti? The version I make in the video include dried cranberries and pistachios and they're always a hit at this time of year. You could make them this weekend and keep'em stored in an airtight container for the holiday trek.

Now, for something a little more experimental and showstopping, consider making candy. Pumpkin seed brittle, to be exact. The family will be way impressed. It's beautiful, unusual and a nice addition with a glass of grappa after supper! This too can be made this weekend; in fact, I'd recommend it, as cooking sugar requires focus and time that the work week doesn't allow. Keep in a metal container, if possible, to keep out moisture.

Vienna, Austria: Finding myself in a foreign country where they don't celebrate T-giving, my choice this year is a frozen Butterball turkey from the local commissary (or pay 43 Euro, that's approx. $55 for a similar weight fresh turkey from the Viennese market -- I just can't justify it). I've NEVER dealt w/ a frozen bird -- how many days to defrost in the fridge (about 14 lbs) and any suggestions on making it tastier?

Bravo, Vienna! You get a big high-five all the way from Washington for recreating Thanksgiving in another land. Rule of thumb for frozen birds is the following: For every five pounds of bird, estimate 24 hours of thaw time. In your case, that means starting the process Monday afternoon. Check the label for "self-basting" lingo or any mention of salt solution. If salt has already been added, adjust your seasoning accordingly. I like what a compound butter does to a turkey. Soften a stick of unsalted butter and mush it up like Play-Doh. To it, add a diced shallot, some lemon rind and herbs of your choice. For turkey, thyme, rosemary and sage are all good choices. Mix together and roll up in either parchment paper or plastic wrap. Place in freezer. When frozen, slice it up and place underneath the skin and in the cavity. Save a little for basting. Have a wonderful overseas Thanksgiving!

Alexandria, Va. Please tell my parents they're crazy for insisting on using the old electric knife for carving the turkey. We always end up with turkey shards instead of slices!! I there any type of electric knife that is good for carving turkey, since I don't think I will ever be able to break their stigma?

Alexandria, that's one of the questions I asked Bryan Voltaggio, chef at Charlie Palmer Steak, who recently taught me and Post Food editor Joe Yonan how to carve a turkey. (Watch the video!)

Voltaggio said that anything with a serrated edge, which includes that electric knife, is a sure-fire way to hack up the turkey. As you'll see in the video, Voltaggio uses a straight-edged knife as well as a two-pronged meat fork (something woefully lacking in my kitchen and on my shopping list this weekend). One idea is to pick up a brand spanking-new carving knife and meat fork for the occasion, as a gift for your folks, or as a "loaner" that you bring over that day. Show them the video!

I usually make turkey salad (like chicken salad) with some of the leftovers, but I've had a growing intolerance to mayo lately. Can you point me in the direction of a mayo-less recipe?

Last year, I got turned on by an Asian-style turkey salad with cellophane noodles that I found in Nigella Lawson's "Feast." It's a enlightened antidote after all the heavy feasting from the previous day and it's free of the dreaded mayo! If I've got leftovers, I plan to whip some up myself next weekend.

By Kim ODonnel |  November 17, 2006; 10:50 AM ET Thanksgiving
Previous: Giving Thanks to Tatsoi | Next: Learning to Love Lard


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I second the suggestion for Kim's sweet potato dip. It's addictive!

Posted by: G & T's | November 17, 2006 12:16 PM

How long do you roast the onion and potato in the sweet potato dip recipe? Looks delish!

Posted by: TDS | November 17, 2006 12:41 PM

Kim, I wanna talk pork for a minute. My husband adores pork and sauerkraut, with mashed and carrots. I am a proficient cook, but I've never made pork chops that are juicy. I have a Dry Pork Chop Thumb. This is what I do: Brown the boneless chops lightly, put them in a 350 oven in a covered dish with sauerkraut spread over them, roast about an hour. They're tough and dry. Crockpot? Tough and dry. Roasted plain in the oven? Tough and dry. Argh! Give me a clue!

Posted by: Sharon | November 17, 2006 2:51 PM

hi Kim! On Thursday, you said to let you know if we wanted details on the solo T-day stuff (turkey wings, collards, baked sweet potato with pecans, homemade applesauce...)

well HOLLA! please post the details!

Posted by: T-day for one recipes | November 17, 2006 8:42 PM

For the dry pork above: you're cooking those poor pork chops to death, that's why they're so dry! Sear them for two minutes on each side, then in the oven for no more than ten minutes! Let them rest before cutting, and they'll be great. Stop cooking them so long, and they will be moist.

Posted by: Jasmine | November 18, 2006 1:15 AM

Mayo substitution:
Get some plain, low-fat yogurt. Put a coffee filter or some cheese cloth in a colander or strainer, dump in a couple cups of yogurt, and let it drain over a bowl on the countertop for about 90 minutes, until some of the whey drains out. Use that soft halfway-to-cheese-yogurt instead of mayo - you may need to add some lemon juice or extra herbs to jack up the flavor a bit.

Posted by: John | November 20, 2006 1:56 PM

Hi Kim, I was the one who asked about the sweet potato appetizer - thanks for your response! however, the recipe in the link does not indicate how long to bake/roast after oiling and foiling the veggies. thanks!

Posted by: tampa | November 20, 2006 2:45 PM

Hey Tampa, roast the sweet potato until really tender, about 1 hour. Onions may be done before that, but if they're not burning, keep'em in there til everything is done.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | November 20, 2006 3:20 PM

Two good mayo substitutes are Veganaise or Nayonaise--both vegan (cholesterol-free!) versions of mayonaise. You can find them at most health-food stores or upscale grocery stores, Whole Foods, and some regular grocery stores. They're very convincing substitutes!

Posted by: happy vegan | November 20, 2006 4:10 PM

Love the idea of the compound butter, but it brings up a question I've had for a long time. How do you get it under the skin? Do you loosen the skin in one piece, starting at the cavity, and just reach up, like you're buttering a foot inside a sock? That's the only logical thing I can think of... I've always learned that the worst thing you can do is pierce the skin before cooking...

Posted by: Butter? | November 20, 2006 4:14 PM

Butter?: You do need to loosen the skin a bit before reaching up and under with the butter. Believe it or not, this is why it's easier to freeze the butter and slice it -- those small frozen pieces o' beurre maneuver quite nicely under the skin. Have no fear if you feel discouraged by lack of "butter coverage" -- that butter melts once in oven and then the buttery love starts to spread.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | November 20, 2006 4:20 PM

Hi Kim,
Somewhat unrelated post, but I am looking for candy making supply stores in N.Virginia. I've searched at Sur La Table and Michael's for molds to make lolli-pops with and have had no luck. Do you or any of the chatters have any suggestions for candy supply stores in Virginia? The only one anyone has been able to tell me about is in Wheaton, MD.


Posted by: Virginia | November 20, 2006 4:24 PM

Virginia, you're in luck. Hightail it over to Fairfax City, where Fran's Cake & Candy Supplies runs the confection show. I've gone there for lollipop supplies, all kinds of candy flavoring, colors, wrappers. It's a fun spot. Here are the details: 10396 Willard Way,
Fairfax, Va; (703) 352-1471

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | November 20, 2006 4:35 PM

Anyone have a good recipe for vegetarian gravy? My husband hates the store bought veggie gravies I've tried and I want to make something from scratch.

Posted by: Rockville veg | November 21, 2006 10:49 AM


For the person asking about a sweet potato side dish, I have a to-die-for recipe for a sweet potato casserole that is a knockoff of the Ruth's Chris side dish. Am I allowed to post it?

Posted by: Alexandria | November 21, 2006 3:21 PM

I made the sweet potato dip for a group this weekend. It was a big hit and tx for the apples/pears suggestion. I wouldn't have thought of it - but much healthier than bread.

Posted by: maria | November 21, 2006 3:40 PM

Alexandria, bring it on!!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | November 21, 2006 4:11 PM

OK, I'm going to try the sweet potato dip. Are you supposed to peel the potatoes at some point? I didn't read the recipe very carefully, and peeled them before roasting (whoops).

Where do you guys buy tahini? Do they sell it in teeny-small jars? Last time I bought it, all I could find was a huge jar that we weren't able to finish.

Posted by: Chris in Vienna | November 21, 2006 5:36 PM

I LOVE sweet potatoes! We used to have a mighty Thanksgiving battle of the great-aunts, with one urging on sweet potato casserole w/marshmallows and orange zest, and the other advocating her own dish of yams and spiced apples. The latter wins my vote.

My version: sweet potato chunks (you decide the size), sliced baking apples (Stayman is my current fave), ground ginger, ground cinnamon, bit of brown sugar (optional), and 1 tsp. of butter. Plop into casserole, cook until bubbling and the delicious scent drags you back into the kitchen (about 25 minutes at 300). It's ALWAYS a winner at the table, with the ginger adding a mysterious zest and unexpected kick.

Posted by: Maritza | November 21, 2006 6:07 PM

i need the recipe for tofu pumpkin pie that bonnie made about 10 days ago. thanks

Posted by: | November 22, 2006 7:45 AM

Sorry for the delay, here's that recipe:
Ruth's Chris Sweet Potato Casserole

Serves 6-8
* 1/2 cup brown sugar
* 1/4 cup flour
* 1+1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
* 1/3 stick butter, melted

* 3 cups mashed, cooked sweet potatoes
* 1/2 cup sugar
* ½ teaspoon salt
* 1 teaspoon vanilla
* 2 eggs, well beaten
* 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted

* Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
* Combine the crust ingredients in a bowl with a fork; set aside.
* Combine the casserole ingredients in a mixing bowl in the order listed. Mix thoroughly.
* Pour the batter into a buttered baking dish (8x8 square works good).
* Sprinkle the surface evenly with the crust mixture.
* Bake for 30 minutes, allow to set at
least 30 minutes before serving.

Posted by: Alexandria | November 28, 2006 12:47 PM

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