Thanksgiving Chat Hotline, Week Two

It was an online hootenanny during this week's What's Cooking, with so many leftover questions about Thanksgiving (now eight days away) that we had to act pronto to avoid any possible kitchen-induced panic attacks.

Vienna, Va.: I have a question about defrosting a frozen turkey. Is there a guideline as to how many pounds equals how many hours to defrost? So say, if we have a 12-pound frozen turkey, how long will it take to defrost? Want to give plenty of time for it to defrost.

Hey Vienna, estimate 24 hours of thaw time for every five pounds of bird. For your 12-pounder, that means two days and some change. Start thawing – in the fridge – no later than Monday for Thursday supper. I might even take it out of the deep freeze before you leave for work. You might benefit from having a look at Ten Things You Always Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask About Cooking a Turkey from Seasoned Greetings, my holiday blog from three years ago.

Gravy with no drippings: Every year I do a homemade gravy for Thanksgiving, but we'll be frying turkeys this year; therefore I won't have any pan drippings. I had two ideas -- one to cook some bacon in a skillet for pan drippings or to just use butter, flour, turkey/chicken stock, salt and pepper. Do you have any recommendations?

The bacon drippings could be salty and won’t exactly impart the poultry flavor you might be used to. The day before Thanksgiving, roast up some turkey wings or drumsticks – a few will do – and add the proverbial quartered onion or leek, herbs, wine and whatever else you like to season those roasted bits. Then proceed with your gravy stylings and once cooled, chill overnight and reheat before serving. I think you’ll be a lot happier.

Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C. : My dad had a heart attack about two months home and doing fine now, thank goodness, but is on a very strict diet. Since I'm always Chef on Thanksgiving, I'm a bit concerned about knocking all the butter and salt out of my dishes. Any idea where I can find some help for a heart healthy (but still yummy) Thanksgiving?

It’s a tough meal to enlighten, but far from impossible. Some general thoughts, and then specifics on dishes:

Let go of the dinner rolls. It’s an easy excuse for piling on the butter, and your Pop probably doesn’t need that kind of temptation. Scan your menu and ramp up the greenery, which provides cholesterol-sweeping fiber and antioxidants, and bring down the full-fat sides, particularly if it’s loaded up with dairy (creamed onions, spinach, green bean casserole with the condensed soup and mac and cheese all come to mind). But no matter what you serve, portion control is equally important, so maybe you can serve your father and plate his food so it looks really bountiful and tantalizing.

Stuffing can be done, but leave out the eggs if that’s part of your repertoire and lay off the sausage this year, too. Just another high-fat temptation. What about a wild mushroom stuffing instead?

Turkey, by and large, is lean meat; it’s all the fat-laden fixins’ that do the artery clogging. If you decide on mashed, consider whipping with olive oil like we discussed in the chat this week, and using a wee bit of potato water to help thicken. You can also do a mash with parsnips or cauliflower with one or two ounces of low-fat buttermilk (instead of butter) and I think you, chef, will be happy with results. Garlic and rosemary are great add-ons, too.

Instead of gravy, suggest using cranberries or even homemade applesauce (both low-fat, pectin-rich sides) for sopping his turkey. If he insists, spoon it out for him, rather than give him free reign of the gravy boat.

For green sides, consider a quickie sauté of green beans, with a handful of heart-healthy walnuts or try your hand at roasted broccoli pick-up sticks that are so easy even my veggie-resistant mother makes them.

If Pop isn’t allergic to soy, give tofu-pumpkin pie a whirl. The silken tofu eliminates the need for eggs and dairy, a tremendous cholesterol saver. If you decide to buy a frozen crust, check ingredients and avoid anything that says partially hydrogenated on the label. Should you decide to make your own dough, you can substitute the non-dairy Earth Balance buttery sticks and no one will be able to tell.

Another full –flavored ending with lower-fat potential is a fruit crisp, using apples, pears and cranberries.

Good luck and please send your dad our enlightened regards!

Company Pot Luck Thanksgiving: I have to bring something -- NOT dessert -- to my company pot luck next week. The company is providing turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. I would like to do something veggie and crock pot-based would be wonderful. Any ideas?

A crock pot I do not own, so I’m going to feel out veteran crock potters for this one. Are you thinking crock pot because there’s no oven at the office to reheat? Hmm. What about a soup? Sweet potato or winter squash puree, perhaps? Mushrooms would hold up in a crock pot. Green beans I think would get really mushy.

Eastern Market: I'm going to be eating alone on Thanksgiving this year by choice. I'm just too tired to contemplate traveling home. Anyway, I see this as an opportunity to try to cook something new. Have any good ideas for recipes using my new dutch oven... something with maybe chicken and tomatoes?

You may want to check last year's post, Thanksgiving for One, for some ideas from like-minded souls. A Dutch oven can stew up anything you like -- and you could do chicken thighs, or a whole bird cut up, wading in a tomato broth scented with fennel, rosemary, garlic, onions, white wine and mushrooms. I would brown the chicken first for flavor, then stew for about 90 minutes, or until chicken starts falling off bone. Wild rice would be great here.

Got any tried-and-true Thanksgiving tips to share? Please lend a hand in the comments area. For those of you still in need of counsel, join me for another chatfest, What's Cooking Thanksgiving, Thursday at 1 ET.

By Kim ODonnel |  November 19, 2008; 7:30 AM ET Chat Leftovers , Thanksgiving
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If he insists, spoon it out for him, rather than give him free reign of the gravy boat.

Kim, he had a heart attack, not became a child. I love that the suggestions sound really yummy in their own right, instead of sad substitutions for what one might really want, but no need to infantilize the man.

(This is not the daughter, btw -- just a passer-by.)

Posted by: marcelle42 | November 19, 2008 8:44 AM

I sympathize with the poster cooking for her Dad. My dad suffered a stroke this year, so we are in the same boat. Here's another idea to replace the gravy for a Heart Healthy Thanksgiving.

Tart Cranberry Dipping Sauce (12 servings)

1 pound frozen cranberries
2 cups orange juice
3 cups ginger ale
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 orange, zested

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive saucepan (stainless steel), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 45 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half.

Carefully puree with stick blender or blender until smooth. Check for seasoning and serve in small ramekins.
--Alton Brown, "Good Eats," Episode: The Remains of the Bird

Posted by: nac1975 | November 19, 2008 10:22 AM

I feared that's what someone would think, marcelle42. I think that gravy boat is dangerous because we tend to pour with abandon, that's all I was thinking. what's a happy medium when it comes to the gravy?

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | November 19, 2008 11:08 AM

kim, i was going to say the same thing but marcelle beat me to it. a good compromise would be filling a 1/4 cup measuring cup with gravey & putting that next to dad's plate. let dad pour as much or as little as he wants. if you've got a measuring cup that is smaller use it. don't use a bigger one. a small amount of gravey will look like alot in a 1/4 cup but it will look like nothing at all in a 2 cup measuring cup.

Posted by: quark2 | November 19, 2008 12:45 PM

Or what about the kind of gravy boat that comes with a ladel so Dad can spoon the gravy on instead? That might lead to smaller portions. It's also good to remember that this is just one meal, and one meal won't make or break a healthy diet.

Posted by: mollyjade | November 19, 2008 1:37 PM

Mollyjade and Quark2, good suggestions both! Thanks for your thinking caps.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | November 19, 2008 1:57 PM

We always have cranberry chutney at Thanksgiving (instead of cranberry sauce) The spicy tartness of the chutney is really good with the turkey. I usually put it on the turkey instead of gravy. Here's a recipe (from


1 lb. fresh cranberries
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 c. golden raisins
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 ground allspice
1 c. water
1 c. chopped cooking apple
1 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. chopped celery

Combine first 9 ingredients in a Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until juice is released from cranberries, about 15 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, about 15 minutes or until thickened; stirring occasionally. Chill before serving. Chutney will keep in refrigerator in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Posted by: Lch1 | November 19, 2008 3:49 PM

I have found that "stuffing" cooked in a side dish tends to burn. I have solved this by putting the side dish in a water bath.

Posted by: davemarks | November 19, 2008 4:34 PM

Lch1: That chutney looks good. I'm going to try it.

Posted by: davemarks | November 19, 2008 4:35 PM

Kim, I'm looking for a recipe for the pear chutney that you mentioned in the chat today - can you help?


Posted by: espie | November 20, 2008 2:36 PM

I have a quick question about stuffing. I've used your impromptu "recipe" for the last 2 years and love it. I'm going to be cooking at a friend's place this year. Can I assemble it a few hours before it goes in the oven, or should I wait and assemble it there? Thanks so much! (p.s. I think I saw you at the U District farmer's market a few weeks ago, but was feeling too shy to say hi! I'll get up the nerve next time.)

Posted by: littlepika | November 22, 2008 4:37 PM

Littlepika, You can definitely assemble a few hours before going into the oven, no problem, partic. if you don't use egg. And P.S.: Please say hi next time! Mister MA were at U District market just this am stocking up for Thanksgiving at our house!

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | November 22, 2008 4:49 PM

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