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Your Thanksgiving Meal Prep Questions, Answered

Nov 21, 2017
Originally published on November 28, 2017 2:26 pm

Thanksgiving is on Thursday. If you're hosting this year, are you ready?

For some, menu planning and turkey and sides cooking won't involve breaking a sweat. For the rest of us, the next two days may be fueled by anxiety — with maybe a pinch of panic.

Even Adam Rapoport, editor in chief of Bon Appétit, has his own Thanksgiving meal prep horror story. He tells NPR's David Greene a few years ago, he hosted Thanksgiving for the first time, and after putting the turkey in the oven, he adjusted the temperature — only to realize an hour and a half later he had instead turned it off.

"So we all sat down to dinner a lot later than planned," he says.

A few weeks ago, Morning Edition asked you for Thanksgiving meal prep questions: What would help you get ready for Thanksgiving free of stirred-up stress? And as promised, here are some answers.

"How do I pull this off?" -- Sarah Smith from Wakefield, RI

Smith is hosting 27 adults — plus she has a newborn baby and toddler. As if that wasn't enough: She has never cooked a turkey, this is her first time hosting Thanksgiving and she doesn't eat turkey.

Rapoport has two tips:

  • Ask for help — and be specific. If you want guests to bring wine, tell them what type of wine. Designate, for example, a dessert person or a macaroni and cheese person. He says: You are the general, so take charge. It's more about execution than it is about cooking at the end of the day.

  • Not everything needs to be hot. The one thing that needs to be hot — and that you need a lot of — is gravy, he says, adding: If you have good, hot gravy, that makes everything better.

"What should I serve as a vegan main course option?" — Ginny Mumm from Irvine, Calif.

Mumm's husband and father recently switched to a plant-based diet, and for Thanksgiving, they've requested a delicious meal free of Tofurky. That's no knock on the popular wheat protein and tofu roast. "It's a little too prepared," Mumm says. "They want more plain ingredients with a lot of flavor."

Rapoport offers two suggestions.

Hasselback butternut squash

For this dish, halve a butternut squash length-wise, scoop out the seeds, peel it, roast it, then take a knife and make thin, vertical slices so it looks like an accordion. Tuck in some bay leaves and seasoning, then brush it with maple glaze — with a kick of Fresno chiles — and then roast it.

"It comes out looking shellacked and crispy. It will be the most beautiful dish on the Thanksgiving table," Rapoport says. "And all the non-vegetarians will be jealous of it."

Find the recipe here.

Kale and Brussels sprouts salad

This dish includes shaved raw Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced kale, chopped almonds and a lemon vinaigrette.

"It's so nice to have something on the table that is raw and crisp and embracing, to sort of counteract all that rich, buttery mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy and whatnot," he says. "[It's] something I've made every year for the past six years and I swear by it."

Find the recipe here.

"I've had a lot of turkeys a lot of different ways — fried, smoked, brined. Are there any "boozy birds" that are cooked in alcohol?" — Michael Radcliffe, news assistant at Morning Edition, Los Angeles

Last year Rapoport braised his turkey's dark meat — the legs and thighs — in white wine and turkey stock.

He browned the pieces in a Dutch oven, took them out, then sauted onions and carrots and celery, added the meat back along with wine and turkey stock, then cooked it covered in the oven until the meat got fall-apart tender. Finally, he put the dish in the broiler so it got crispy and crunchy on the outside.

"You kind of almost pull the meat apart and shred it and put it on a platter and spoon all that wonderful juice all over it," he says. "It was by far the best thing I ate all Thanksgiving."

Find the recipe here.

Justin Richmond (@JustJRichmond) is a production assistant at Morning Edition.

Morning Edition editor Arezou Rezvani contributed to this story.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So we're - what? - about 48 hours from when many of us are going to be putting those turkeys in the oven, right? Maybe you're feeling a little anxious about hosting the big dinner. Maybe you could use some last-minute cooking tips. My co-host David Greene has got you covered.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah. I hope I've got you covered. OK, so here's the deal. We had some of you, our listeners, write us with Thanksgiving meal questions. A lot of you responded, and we've got a couple of you holding on the line. We'll bring you in just a second. We have someone else here who knows a thing or two about preparing a meal. It is Adam Rapoport. He's the editor-in-chief of Bon Appetit magazine. Adam, thank you for being here.

ADAM RAPOPORT: Thank you very much for having me.

GREENE: So you are the editor-in-chief of a food magazine. Like, you - probably every Thanksgiving is perfect. Is that right?

RAPOPORT: (Laughter) Yeah, no. There was a few years ago when I hosted for the first time. And I have one of those, like, wonky electric ovens.

GREENE: Yeah.

RAPOPORT: I thought I was changing the temperature, but I actually was turning off the oven (laughter).

GREENE: Oh, that's not good.

RAPOPORT: So like an hour and a half later, like, why isn't the turkey done - oh, because the oven's not on. So we all sat down to dinner a lot later than planned and, if I may say so on NPR, a lot drunker than planned.

GREENE: Of course you can say it on NPR.

RAPOPORT: (Laughter).

GREENE: What do you think we are? We're not all teetotalers here. All right, well, it's good to know that this happens to even you.

RAPOPORT: Yeah, definitely.

GREENE: It makes all us feel better. Well, I have some people who I think would love to ask you some questions. I want to start with Sarah Smith from Rhode Island. How are you?

SARAH SMITH: Hi. I'm good. How are you?

GREENE: I'm good. So I hear you're hosting, like, a huge Thanksgiving dinner. What are we talking about?

SMITH: Well, there's going to be 27 adults.

GREENE: Oh, wow.

SMITH: Plus I have a newborn baby and a toddler. So it's going to be a bit chaotic. I'm not really sure how we're going to fit everyone.

RAPOPORT: Sarah, can I ask one question?

SMITH: Sure.

RAPOPORT: Did you lose a bet or something?

(LAUGHTER)

RAPOPORT: You have a newborn and a toddler, and you've got 27 people coming over.

SMITH: Yep (laughter).

GREENE: Well, Sarah, do you have a burning question for Adam?

SMITH: Well, I guess just, how do I pull this off without having it be a total disaster? I've never cooked a turkey before. I don't even actually eat turkey, so I'm not probably the best person (laughter) to do this.

RAPOPORT: Wow. OK, well, I would say it's OK to ask for help. So if you were going to enlist people to either bring dishes or bring wine, I think the most important thing is be very specific so you know what everyone is bringing. If you want them to bring wine, tell them what type of wine. Like, you're the dessert person. You're the macaroni and cheese person. And then keep it...

GREENE: Oh, that's interesting because sometimes when people say can I bring anything, I'm like, bring whatever you want. You're saying it's OK to be...

RAPOPORT: You are the general, so take charge. It's more about execution than it is about cooking at the end of the day.

GREENE: Sarah, are you feeling better?

SMITH: Yes.

RAPOPORT: Sarah, not everything needs to be hot. The one thing I think that needs to be hot and that you need a lot of is gravy because if you have good, hot gravy, that makes everything better. So if any of the dishes are like...

GREENE: And you can pour it on everything, right?

RAPOPORT: Exactly. And it just makes everything taste delicious.

SMITH: Great.

GREENE: Yeah. Well, Sarah, good luck. We'll be thinking of you. And have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I'm sure it's going to go great.

RAPOPORT: We'll be praying for you.

GREENE: We will (laughter).

SMITH: Thank you.

GREENE: All right, I think we have Ginny Mumm on the line from Irvine, Calif. Ginny, you there?

GINNY MUMM: I am.

GREENE: How are you doing?

MUMM: Good. Thank you so much for taking my question.

GREENE: Yeah. What's on your mind?

MUMM: Well, a few of my relatives have recently gone on a plant-based diet, and I need something to serve as a vegan main course option. They've already said no Tofurky.

GREENE: Oh, that was the first thing I was going to ask. Do you have any Tofurky?

MUMM: (Laughter).

GREENE: OK.

RAPOPORT: The second thing I was going to ask is, do you have to invite them?

MUMM: Well, yes.

GREENE: (Laughter) That's so mean, Adam. Everyone's invited to Thanksgiving.

MUMM: I know. My husband has to come. And my dad, believe it or not - he's 82 - has gone on a plant-based diet this year, which has really helped his health.

RAPOPORT: All right, Dad.

MUMM: So, you know, I want to support. I want to help. And I also want to have something really good to eat.

RAPOPORT: Yeah.

GREENE: No Tofurky - so that's turkey, like, made of tofu. That's - why are they Tofurky haters?

MUMM: It's a little too prepared. They want more, you know, plain ingredients with a lot of flavor - fresh.

GREENE: I think Adam's going to have an amazing idea for you.

RAPOPORT: Yeah, I - you know, honestly I think what's great about Thanksgiving is that you can have such a wide variety of dishes on the table that there literally is something for everyone. We have a great video up now with our food director on Hasselback butternut squash. You know what Hasselback is...

GREENE: Oh...

RAPOPORT: ...Ginny?

MUMM: No, I've never heard of it.

RAPOPORT: It's, like, when you - you have a - like, a butternut squash lengthwise. Scoop it out. Peel it. And then you take a knife, and you, like, slice it down vertically so it looks like an accordion. And you stick in some bay leaves and seasoning. And you glaze it with some maple glaze on top. And you roast it. And it comes out looking shellacked and crispy. It will be the most beautiful dish on the Thanksgiving table.

MUMM: Oh, it sounds delicious.

RAPOPORT: And all the non-vegetarians will be jealous of it.

MUMM: (Laughter) Oh, wonderful.

GREENE: Well, they can eat it too, right? Nothing's stopping them from eating it.

RAPOPORT: No, but they might not - there might not be any left, you know?

MUMM: (Laughter).

RAPOPORT: Those plant-based guys are just going to go to town on it.

MUMM: Wonderful, thank you.

RAPOPORT: Also, that and my other favorite - honestly my favorite Bon Appetit Thanksgiving recipe that we published about five or six years ago since I've been at the magazine is for a kale and Brussels sprouts salad that - you shave raw Brussels sprouts. You know, chiffonade some kale. It's a fancy word for cut up. It's got some chopped almonds in there, a nice lemon vinaigrette. And it's so nice to have something on the table that is raw and crisp and bracing to sort of counteract all that rich, buttery mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy and whatnot. And that's something I've made every year for the past six years, and I swear by it.

MUMM: That sounds perfect. Thank you so much.

RAPOPORT: You're welcome.

GREENE: Adam, would you humor me? I've got a question from a colleague. It's one of our producers, Michael Radcliffe.

RAPOPORT: Sure.

GREENE: We have his question on tape, Adam. And here's what he asked.

RAPOPORT: Oh, wow, fancy.

MICHAEL RADCLIFFE, BYLINE: I've had a lot of turkeys a lot of different ways - fried, smoked, brined. Are there any boozy birds, like, cooked in alcohol?

GREENE: Oh, have you ever booze marinated, Adam?

RAPOPORT: Myself or a turkey?

GREENE: (Laughter) The turkey. I'll ask you the other one later - the turkey.

RAPOPORT: No, but what I did last year sort of changed my turkey game where I braised the dark meats - so the legs and thighs - in white wine and turkey stock.

GREENE: Oh.

RAPOPORT: And so you get a Dutch oven. You brown the meat. You take it out. You throw in a bunch of onions and carrots and celery. Saute that. Put the meat back in - glug, glug, glug, wine, turkey stock, top on, in the oven for about three hours at 300 degrees till it's fall-apart tender. You take the top off. You hit it with the broiler - crispy, crunchy on the outside. And then you kind of almost just pull the meat apart and shred it and put it on a platter and spoon all that wonderful juice all over it. And it was by far the best thing I ate all Thanksgiving.

GREENE: Well, there you have it. Where - are you hosting this year? What are you doing?

RAPOPORT: Weirdly, going to visit good expat friends who live in London who celebrate Thanksgiving over there.

GREENE: Oh, well, Adam Rapoport, thanks for doing this with us. And have a good trip to London. And enjoy the holiday.

RAPOPORT: Thank you so much. Happy Thanksgiving, guys.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERYBODY EATS WHEN THEY COME TO MY HOUSE")

CAB CALLOWAY: (Singing) I've fixed your favorite dishes...

MARTIN: That was our co-host David Greene talking with Adam Rapoport of Bon Appetit magazine.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERYBODY EATS WHEN THEY COME TO MY HOUSE")

CALLOWAY: (Singing) Work my hands to the bone in the kitchen alone. You better eat. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.