Thanksgiving Special With Cheryl Day, Jet Tila, J. Kenji López-Alt and Nigella Lawson | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 631
November 18, 2022

Thanksgiving Special With Cheryl Day, Jet Tila, J. Kenji López-Alt and Nigella Lawson

Thanksgiving Special With Cheryl Day, Jet Tila, J. Kenji López-Alt and Nigella Lawson

Our Thanksgiving special is here, and we’re ready to help you with the big day! We take your calls with special guest co-hosts Jet Tila and Cheryl Day and share recipes and ideas from J. Kenji López-Alt, Sohla El-Waylly, Mary Giuliani, Stacey Mei Yan Fong, Meathead and Nigella Lawson. The Sporkful’s Dan Pashman makes the case for why you should celebrate on Friday this year, and our friends from “A Way With Words” tell us the best ways to give thanks to the chef. Plus, host Christopher Kimball gives a special lesson in making the best Thanksgiving pie you’ll ever try.

Questions in this episode:

"When should I take my turkey out of the freezer?"

"Can you give me ideas for a vegetarian main dish?"

"What do I do if my only option for a kitchen on Thanksgiving doesn't have much equipment and isn't a very good place to cook?"

"I’d like to try to brûlée the top of my pumpkin pie—what’s the best way to do that?"

"Is it best practice to always blind bake the crust?"

"How can I make the best pineapple upside down cake for Thanksgiving?"

Thanksgiving special

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX and I am your host, Christopher Kimball. Today for Thanksgiving a few of our friends like Sohla El-Waylly, J Kenji Lopez-Alt, Mary Giovanni and Stacey Mei Yan Fong are here to share what their bringing to the dinner table.

Chefs: I'm going to be bringing stuffing to the potluck. Hasselbeck potato gratin, my three in one no stress pie, a drinkable centerpiece.

CK: Plus, we'll hear from Grant Barrett and Martha Burnette about the best ways to give thanks to the chef.

Martha Barnette: Where I come from sometimes you might say something like, that's so good, it makes my tongue want to slap my brains out. What??

CK: I'll also give a lesson in apple pie, and answer your dessert questions with Baker Cheryl Day. The first is time to take your calls about the main course with special guest co-host Jet Tila. Jet Tila is a chef cookbook author and Food Network personality. His latest book is 101 Thai Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die. Jet thanks for joining us on Milk Street

Jet Tila: Hey Chris. always an honor. Thanks so much for having me.

CK: You know, I tend to cook everything for Thanksgiving. I don’t know why I'm a control freak. Do you divide things up in your household or do you kind of get stuck with you know, the full list?

JT: Yeah. So, the last the decade, you know, we join another family every Thanksgiving. And so, it's really nice. I mean, previous to this though, I had to cook, I'm like you I want, I want to make sure everything I eat in the meal is awesome. Or I take responsibility for any, you know, issues. So, I used to cook everything. Now I am primarily proteins. I'm always turkey. Sometimes we'll throw like lamb or like a prime rib in there. And I'm always cranberry sauce because I take my cranberry sauce very seriously. And I'm always gravy. I'm almost a little OCD when it comes to gravy.

CK: So wait wait cranberry sauce, I found that the recipe on the back of the bag with a little salt is actually good do tart it up with like oranges and all the other stuff?

JT: My thing is whole spices. So as long as it's whole clove, whole all spice, and whole cinnamon sticks. And I'll take the cranberry sauce once it cools and actually put it in a vacuum bag for a few days. I feel like that little aging works. And I like it not just with the proteins. But I love it with actually Ali's pumpkin pie. I think it's a really nice accompaniment.

CK: Maybe you have to give up on the back of the bag recipe after 40 years of this.

JT: No, Chris, my recipe is really just kind of like juzzing up the back of the bag.

CK: Well, it’s one of the few recipes on the back of a commercial product that actually works well. So okay, let's take a call.

JT: All right. Welcome to milk street who's calling?

Caller: My name is Colleen Gould.

JT: Hey, Colleen, where are you calling from? And how can we help you today?

Caller: I’m calling from Las Cruces New Mexico I have a question. And mine is based on a Thanksgiving dinner that happened over 30 years ago, when my aunt Paula served a turkey to me my family that was still frozen in the middle. And everything from my mother saying that she would never ever let that happen again. She was in charge of Thanksgiving dinner. And since then, my mom and I stress out every year about when to take the turkey out of the freezer. And we're worried if we take it out too soon. We can make our family sick if we take it out too late. That entire dinner in our reputation is ruined.

JT: Oh, Colleen, I feel you on this one. Okay, yeah, Turkey anxiety is a real thing. I think the first thing that comes to mind is I think people are a little too precious with turkeys. Right? I think the rule of thumb should be once thought you got like three to four days. So, work it backwards. In my mind, depending on the method of thaw if you're just moving from freezer to fridge if you're doing the cooler, basically meaning putting the bird into a sanitized cooler and letting that water bath come up to thaw. It's going to take at least I would say one to two days. Get that bird thawed by Monday Tuesday. Do you guys like a whole presented bird or do you like a spatchcock bird?

Caller: Oh, you know, that's a great idea. spatchcocking. Well, we present it whole we brine it.

JT: Oh, yeah. Great. You have a huge window there. And another thing I've done in the past too is I like to thaw in a cooler. So, I'll actually feel the cooler to a safe level over the bird with water. And I'll actually use that water to brine it. I'll put my brine ingredients, my salt, my brown sugar, maybe some citrus, some herbs, and then I'll actually let it brine and defrost all at the same time. So those are a few kind of tips in my mind, Chris?

CK: Well, I guess the first question is, have you ever thought about buying a fresh bird, because then you don't have to get a frozen one. I mean I’ve got to

JT: I went on for five minutes for nothing.

CK: I’ve got a farm near me in Vermont, and I have a standing order. And a Wednesday morning, I rush over at 10 o'clock and get my 20 pounder. And I'm good to go. That's just a thought. I mean, you buy frozen because you want to make sure you have one in time or?

Caller: A little bit about fresh are hard to find around here. And so yeah, you have to think ahead to order it. And I guess we just don't do that we need to feel a bit more prepared. Good idea, though.

CK: The fast way to defrost is what Jet said, which is, it's a little hard with a big turkey, but you put it in a big container, and you let a thin stream of water run into the container. We do this in the kitchen all the time, you know at Milk Street, in short order, like during a full day seven- or eight-hour day, you could probably defrost the 12- or 14-pound bird. But as Jet said, If you had to frosted by, let's say Tuesday, it's four or five pounds per day is the rule in the refrigerator. So, 14-pound bird you put in the fridge Saturday. By Tuesday you're good. And then you have plenty of time to cook it and it's safe. So maybe just started on Saturday.

JT: I think most people are so worried about thawing the bird. I think it's all about safe eating temperatures, Colleen so that internal thermometer that probe thermometer, I think is absolutely way more important. There's a big window, that you're very safe. Don't worry, start thawing probably by the weekend and you still have a huge window by Thursday.

Caller: That's super great advice. Both of those. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it

CK: Thanks so much. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Amy from Heartland Vermont.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: Okay, so Thanksgiving this year is presenting me with a few challenges that I'm deciding to look at as opportunities. I usually host my family, which is about six to eight people. And we usually get a local Vermont turkey pretty traditional spread potatoes and cornbread and green beans, etc pie. The tricky thing this year is that both of my children aged 10 and 14 have decided to become vegetarian. The other tricky thing this year is that my 10-year-old will be celebrating his 11th birthday on Thanksgiving. And he has made a very strong friendship with believe it or not an actual turkey (oh man, oh man) so I feel like I will crush his spirit if I serve a turkey on his birthday.

CK: So, this is like your Old Yeller Thanksgiving right?

Caller: Exactly. Exactly.

CK: It doesn't end well. Right.

JT: Yeah. so, I can't put a turkey on the table this year. But I just I can't figure out what to serve that will be festive for a birthday as well as for the holiday. And I'm kind of at a loss to figure out what to serve. So, any ideas?

CK: Well, I’d do a lasagna. You know, I had one in Italy. It was a Bolognese Ragu. I meat Ragu with the bechamel but the best bechamel had a lot of parmesan in it and it was a spinach pasta. I'd sub out the meat ragu with a mushroom ragu, which is really good. It gets some great wild mushrooms. And then with the bechamel, which has a lot of parmesan on it, and then the noodles, and they don't overdo the sauce. You know, it's not overly saucy. But I think a mushroom Ragu lasagna would be terrific. If you want one thing that works as a centerpiece for me. And Jet is going to have something totally different but that's my idea.

JT: I think it's important to create a centerpiece because it has Thanksgiving and I want you to look into kabocha squash, I think oh, yeah, most traditional squash like pumpkins and spaghetti. They all fall apart. They basically collapse when we roast them. Kombucha squash will not if you give it a little bit of structure. And the structure that I usually do is I'll actually load a hollowed out kabocha squash with some dressing and it doesn't have to be a non-meat dressing. It can be a rice dressing or it can be you know bread dressing; it can be a root vegetable dressing. And I also think you can create a gravy like I don't want to get brands but there's some good vegetable bases out there, stocks that will create a nice gravy and that way maybe you make a few of these kabocha squash roasted whole you keep the cap right just like you're hollowing out like the jacket liner but you keep in your roasted in the oven. So you can cap it and you can present it and you can carve it like you would you know a turkey so you still create that festiveness here and then they can eat all the other sides and you also have the rest of the family who will want to typical sides as well but I think you're as you're celebrating you know their choices, and I think it's going to create a memorable Thanksgiving. For me, I'd want a roasted whole or multiple roasted kabocha squash that you could do them ahead of time a day before, and actually rewarm them, bring them back up to like 165. If you do fridge slowly, and I think you're good to go. And mushrooms are always like Chris said, mushrooms are the king of umami when you can't eat meat.

Caller: That's great. That's a great tip. Awesome. Yeah, well, this is really helpful.

CK: Just don't do a tofu turkey or something. Okay,

JT: No, no, no fake meat

Caller: Definitely not. I'm definitely not doing that.

CK: Okay.

Caller: No, no, if it was between that and nothing, I would just do nothing and go straight to the pie and the cake for the meal.

JT: There you go

CK: Well, thanks for calling and have a good Thanksgiving.

Caller: Thank you so much for your ideas. I really appreciate it.

CK: Take care

JT: You bet. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: This is Robert.

JT: Hey, Robert, where are you calling from?

Caller: Port of Spain in Trinidad.

JT: Wow. All right, I'm going to pull my maps out. And while I'm doing that, so tell us about your Thanksgiving question.

Caller: We're going to be traveling for Thanksgiving. And we're going to be staying at a place which I'm not going to say that is not going to have good cooking equipment, or pretty much. If you can describe a place that makes you happy while cooking. It's the exact opposite of that. And so, I was wondering if I'm thinking about just like buying store bought items, and maybe trying to jazz them up a little bit because like, even having a chopping board and cutting things, it won't be fun. So, I have a few tricks on my own by like, what do you do like if you just need to, like make something a little bit nicer. Like with store bought ingredients? Like what are your tricks, if that makes sense?

JT: Yeah. Rob sounds like this could get personal and sounds like a therapy call, I like that. This is a late-night version

Caller: some Manhattan's come into play later on

JT: I'll take a crack at it. Three things that I do like number one, a good gravy, and a good cranberry sauce can cover anything up or actually make things more delicious. If you are attacking the grocery store, I think hot foods have gotten better over the years. So, I'll usually grab some Thanksgiving bird and sometimes it'd be like a big turkey breast. And usually, cooked turkey suffers from moisture and flavor. And that's where that gravy comes back in. I think the last trick I have is, don't forget to use the store for garnishes. So, I always get an extra bag or two fresh cranberries, and align the whatever platter like the bird platter, or I'll do a little table garnish. If you're serving a whole bird with a cavity, I'll just get like big bouquets of you know thyme and rosemary and sage and just tied to get and stick it in the cavities. mini pumpkins can go everywhere. Ali, my wife has already started as 50 of them around the house already. So, it actually will cheer the room up. You know what I'm saying? So those are my kind of few shorts. Chris, help us please?

CK: Well, I I have a transportation question, which is, are you driving there or since you live in an island are you flying somewhere?

Caller: Flying.

CK: Okay. I think what I would do is because so many restaurants now, do take outs, especially for Thanksgiving, like everybody does that now, instead of going to the classic supermarket, I would go find a restaurant that does Thanksgiving, and just find someone who's got a really interesting take like someone from a Caribbean restaurant, for example, or, you know, Central American restaurant, somebody that's going to do something different. You know, buy it from them.

Caller: I think that's great advice. I love your advice for me. I'm just not sure if my family would like anything non non-traditional. But no, thank you for your advice. I think I might try to actually follow like getting like just eaten like a nicer bird. And going down that route.

CK: There are plenty of people who do traditional stuff, too. But my point is, don't get it from the supermarket if you can avoid that.

Caller: That's good advice.

CK: Rob, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.

JT: Thanks, Rob

Caller: You guys. Take care. Best of luck.

CK: Jet, don't you really want to get the full story of that where he’s going

JT: Oh, my gosh, there's so many more layers there. It feels like there's so many more layers. Yeah. Thanks.

CK: Thanks to Chef Jet Tila for helping us answer your Thanksgiving queries. Right now, it's time for Thanksgiving language lesson with Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette hosts of A Way with Words. Grant and Martha Happy Thanksgiving.

Martha Barnette: Happy Thanksgiving to you Chris

Grant Barnett: Happy Thanksgiving, Chris.

CK: So, what's up for Thanksgiving this year?

GB: Well, let's say that you just finished enjoying a sumptuous Thanksgiving meal. What kind of language do you use to give thanks to the chef and what's the best compliment you've ever received for your own cooking?

CK: Well, the best compliment in for Mine, the best compliment is silence except for the sound of eating. If people are scraping their plates, that's the thank you.

MB: But what if is really, really good? Where I come from? Sometimes you might say something like, that's so good. It makes my tongue want to slap my brains out.

CK: What? Martha where did you come from?

MB: Well, I live in California right now, but I'm a proud Kentuckian Chris. So yeah, that's where you might hear things like that, or, or that was so good. It made my tongue want to jump out and lick the eyebrows right off my head.

CK: Yeah, that's good.

GB: Yeah, my favorite one is if it were any better, I'd rub it in my hair.

CK: So okay, so here you are Thanksgiving. So, give me some pointers here.

GB: So those are some countrified ways to compliment the food, right. And then maybe you're hanging out with some African American folks, and you hear somebody across the table, tell the chef, boy, you really put your foot into it. And you might be a little confused if you're not part of that community, because there is the expression to put your foot in it or put your foot in your mouth, which means to make a social gaffe. But that's not what's meant there, what is meant is, you really did great, you put your all into the food that you prepared,

CK: I didn't know that

GB: It's probably from to put your best foot forward, which states to around the 1500s and might be crossed a little bit with putting your foot down on the gas pedal in an automobile. You know, really given it all you've got. And you can always go back to old fashioned sayings too there's something you use in a World War one in the UK. That's the stuff to give the troops and you especially use it if you're thinking about heartiness or quantity more than you're thinking about the quality of the food. That's the stuff to give the troops.

CK: Okay, so someone serves me a piece of pie at Thanksgiving. Yeah. And I take a bite of the pumpkin pie. And I say, hey, that's the thing to give the troops. That's going to be like, oh, thanks a lot, right?

GB: Yeah, it is one of those kind of not quite a compliment compliments.

MB: And, Chris, I'm curious whether you as a professional use the gesture, the chef's kiss.

CK: What is the chef's kiss may I ask?

MB: Oh, this is that stereotypical gesture that you see sometimes caricatured on Italian pizza boxes, you know where the chef is bringing fingers and thumb together at the mouth. And then in Italian, it's al bacio which means perfection or as good as a kiss. I'm sure you get those all the time.

CK: Well, I can assure you nobody in Vermont has ever done a chef's kiss. I mean, not that not even

remotely

MB: Not even for a maple creamie?

CK: Now the thing about Vermont is that at least traditionally, back in the 50s and 60s, nobody ever talked about the food. It was like you know the end of Babe, you know, that'll do pig Yeah, like you're talking about the biscuits. That'll do. That that was as diffusive as you ever got.

GB: Well, that's the chef kiss is really interesting, isn't it? Martha. So, there's like the French version, which is more like an OK symbol and you kind of like pull the chef's kiss away from your mouth and both the Italian and the French version. But now there's the ironic version online,

MB: Right. Yeah, just just spelling it out spelling out the words chef's kiss, which which can be used sarcastically now

GB: The way I think about this is you can complement someone's wedding dress, you can say her wedding dress was just chef's kiss. And you could mean it was a haute couture masterpiece or you could mean it was terrible. It's all really context.

CK: It sounds to me like you guys are trying to get me in trouble because you're you're giving things that could go either way here so maybe I should take your advice with a grain of salt here because nothing might be the safest thing to do right.

GB: All right, well go to religion we'll go something more formal. If you've heard the way that French praise the wine. For more than 800 years the French have been comparing wine to velvet. They call it velvet in a bottle or they say it's like a yard of silk down the throat un mètre de soie dans la gorge

CK: Are you hanging out with very different people? I've never heard that but okay,

GB: They also like to talk about baby Jesus in velvet pants, bébé Jésus en pantalon de velours. A day at the beach with a good book is Baby Jesus in silk shorts.

CK: Can I just comment that we started off with how to compliment your host at a Thanksgiving and now we have baby Jesus in silk shorts

GB: if you look at French books on wine, this is in there about how they complement their wine.

CK: Okay, so so help me out here give me a safe way of complimenting the host at Thanksgiving.

MB: That was delicious.

CK: I had to go through five minutes of this to get to delicious

GB: but you know all the good ones Chris

CK: Okay well let's go full circle what was the one about the tongue in the brains I kind of liked that

MB: It’s so good it makes my tongue want to slap my brains out

CK: You know that's I'm going with that okay maybe Jesus in the velvet pants I’m not so sure about. Grant and Martha, thank you so much some help in praising the cooks at Thanksgiving. Thank you so much.

MB: Thank you Happy Thanksgiving.

GB: Thank you Chris. Have a good holiday.

CK: That was Grant Barrett and Martha Burnette hosts of A Way with Words. Coming up Baker Cheryl Day and I will tackle your toughest Thanksgiving dessert challenges that's up in just a moment. This is Milk Street Radio I'm your host Christopher Kimball. I'm joined now by special guest co-host Cheryl Day to answer some of your Thanksgiving baking questions. Cheryl is of course the owner of Back in the Day bakery in Savannah, Georgia. She's also the author of Cheryl Days Treasury of Southern Baking. Cheryl, are you all ready for Thanksgiving I hope

Cheryl Day: I'm always ready for Thanksgiving. As you know, I've got to have lots of desserts on the table. But I'm trying to come up with something a little different this year. What are you up to over there at your house?

CK: This year actually, one of my kids’ older kids is making a sort of a cranberry German cake. Because she found that in an old cookbook and so we're going to do something totally insane out of the ordinary to try that.

CD: Oh, I love that idea.

CK: Yeah, I think my concept now is do the three pies, pumpkin pie, apple pie, pecan pie, and then have a fourth thing that's just totally off the wall right every year do somebody totally different

CD: I'm thinking about doing like a butterscotch pudding or something along those lines. But you've got to have the traditional classics. We know we love those

CK: Butterscotch pudding. I'll go 1000 miles. You're

CD: You’re welcome anytime.

CK: Cheryl. Let's. Let's take some calls.

CD: Let's do it. Welcome to milk street who's calling?

Caller: Hi there. This is Caroline.

CD: Hi, Caroline. Where are you calling from?

Caller: Hi, Cheryl. I am calling from Austin, Texas.

CD: Welcome. And I've got Chris here with me. We're excited to answer your question.

Caller: Well, I'm excited to ask it big fans of both of y'all. So my question is, I was thinking about maybe this year to do kind of a showstopper pie and maybe try to brûlée the top of a pumpkin pie. And I didn't know if that was even possible. Or if y'all had any tips that maybe could help make it a success.

CD: Yes, I think that's a great idea. And I know I'm always trying to think of new ways, especially when I'm baking a pie at home to create a showstopper. So yeah, what I would do is you want to make sure after you've baked your pie that it's obviously it's nice and cool. And have you ever done a brulee top before for anything?

Caller: I've done it in little ramekin like for a crème brûlée but that's about I've never ventured any larger,

CD: Well very similar. So, you can take your sugar and you can use just a regular granulated sugar, or I keep a vanilla sugar on my counter, which works really great too just for a little extra flavor. And you sprinkle it on top just like you would in the ramekins, but I like to do it in two parts. So, you want to make sure in this case, it's not too thick, but not too thin. You want to make sure you have a nice coding and then start in you know bruleeing that and then what I like to do if you really want that shattering top, you can put another layer of sugar on top and brulee it again. And yeah, that sounds delicious. What do you think, Chris?

CK: Yeah, I would just give one piece of advice. Forget about all those little sexy little mini torches they sell at cookware stores. Actually, I would buy a real plumber's torch you can get them at any hardware store, it'll last longer probably cost you less, and it really delivers a lot more power. It's ugly, but it gets the job done. But I've tried those little ones, and they're okay. But they just take forever to get it done. They don't put out enough heat.

CD: And the funny thing is those plumbers’ torches, I've had mine for a long time, you just have to replace the little insert, but they last forever. And I don't think they're very expensive.

CK: No, they're not, you go to the cookware store and spend 30 - 40 dollars on one of those things.

CD: Yeah, there's definitely I bet you can find a fun picture of Chris and I where I'm yielding that torch.

CK: Look out Anyway, you can definitely do it. And it's not hard. Be careful. You have to figure out exactly what distance you know, just start out conservatively.

CD: There's power in that flame Carol.

CK: Good luck with that.

Caller: Thank you appreciate the help.

CD: Yeah. Thanks for calling.

CK: Welcome to milk street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Heather from Columbus, Ohio.

CK: How are you?

CD: Hi Heather

Caller: Good. Good. Thanks. So, my question is about blind baking and when you should blind bake pie crusts, particularly for custard-based pies, such as pumpkin and sweet potato. A lot of recipes don't call for blind baking. And when I follow these instructions, I end up with very soggy crusts. So, I'm wondering if the best practice is to always blind bake the crust, particularly for these kinds of pies?

CK: I think the answer is yes. And I'll talk about that in a second. There is a cheater method though, which is to line a Pyrex pie plate. This is a one crust custard pie, and then bake it on the lowest rack position. And that'll help a little bit, it doesn't solve the problem entirely. But you can do okay with that. The real trick with blind baking, it's the hardest thing to do in baking, I think or one of the hardest is you really have to cut in the shortening of the butter fully to the flour. A lot of recipes call for pea sized pieces of butter etc. And that's just a disaster when you get to a blind baking. So, in the food processor, or by hand, whatever, make sure that butter is really cut in, you don't want to see any little pieces of butter, because then the flour is coated with the fat develops less gluten and is less likely to shrink. Put it in the refrigerator for 40 minutes and the freezer for 20 minutes. Once it's lined the pie plate and then go ahead and proceed with the recipe that will also help, I use sort of a moderate oven 375. Line the plate with aluminum foil and weights, make sure the weights go all the way up the sides, you should get like two sets of weights, and then take it off when it's about 20 21 minutes and then finish with the foil out. And you really want that crust to firm up. Before you take it out. If you take it out when it's still soft. When you bake it with the filling, it's going to slump. So, you really want to make sure it's dry. And that could be another four or five, six minutes. I guess that's my term paper. My PhD thesis. (Okay). Sure, sure you've done this a million times.

CD: I have done this a million times. And I am getting high into pie season right now at the bakery. So yes, I would agree absolutely. That is going to be the best pie a custard pie if you've blind bake the crust. And Chris gave you all the tips. The one thing that I will add to that to add a little extra insurance. Once you have your butter kind of cut into your cubes, if you toss all of those pieces of butter and flour before you start to cut it in, that's going to give you a little extra insurance. So, by the time we get to the blind baking part, you're not going to think what Chris is trying to say you don't want the butter to leak out or get melty or greasy. There is a point in the oven that it will kind of appear a little shiny and you want to continue until it dries out. And your kind of seeing a light golden crust. Another thing you can do is if you pull out the foil out of the pie pan, you can set the weights aside and brush a little egg wash on the bottom and then put it in as it's really good for something that's really wet.

Caller: Do you think it matters using shortening versus butter?

CD: Well, you can do for both. But same thing you need to make sure that everything is cut in properly coated and same thing. You can also do that with lard and butter, any kind of fat like that.

CK: The shortening or lard or vegetable shortening is a more foolproof way to make a pie crust.

CD: True, it's easier,

CK: but it doesn't have the flavor of butter. So, if you're if you're just looking for texture, and a more foolproof method I will use like Crisco or whatever

CD: I like to mix them.

CK Yeah, that's what I do I do half and half. (Oh) So if you had a typical one crust pie recipe is one and a quarter cups of flour, all-purpose flour, and I would use four tablespoons of shortening four tablespoons of butter. If you're blind baking, don't use heavy fat laden recipes. So, some recipes will call for 10 tablespoons total per cup and a quarter. So, I always use eight, because the fat is going to be your enemy, because it's going to make it more difficult to keep its shape. So, I agree with Cheryl, four of each would be fine. A little salt, maybe a tablespoon of sugar,

CD: And then you can see what you prefer. I've just started making all butter crust now because of the flavor, but the mix really does work well.

Caller: That's a great idea. Thank you.

CK: Thanks for calling.

Caller: Thank you very much. This is very helpful

CD: Well thanks for calling

CK: Take care. Welcome to illustrate who's calling.

Caller: Hi, this is Aaron calling from Eastern Massachusetts.

CK: How are you?

CD: Hi Aaron

Caller: Thank you guys for taking my call. Pleasure.

CK: Pleasure. How can we help you?

Caller: So, I have a question about pineapple upside down cake. We have traditionally always had one at our family Thanksgivings. Since my aunt passed away, I've taken on that responsibility. I unfortunately don't have access to the recipe that she always made. So, over the past year, I've tried many different recipes and hers the cake had a lot of pineapple flavor. And the ones that I've tried and the one that I've settled on doesn't really and so I was wondering how I could possibly add more pineapple flavor to the cake itself.

CK: A couple questions are using canned pineapple or fresh?

Caller: Canned

CK: I think if you started with fresh pineapple, canned pineapple tastes cooked already. Also, you can make I was just actually in London with Claire Patek, who has a bakery in East London. And she does upside down cakes in loaf pans. And she makes a caramel and puts the bottom pan but then she just slices fresh fruit. She doesn't precook them, you know when a skillet was sugar, etc. I think you can do this with just fresh pineapple, probably fairly thinly sliced, and then put that at the bottom. You could also take some pineapple juice and reduce it down as well, to get more flavor, fresh pineapple and maybe not precooking it. Although Cheryl's going to tell me that's terrible idea, right?

CD: Not true, actually those are really great ideas. I agree with Chris fresh pineapple. It's not that fun to always have to cut a fresh pineapple but I tell you these days in my grocery in the refrigerated section, they already have the pineapple cut into the perfect size pieces that look exactly like what you would get out of a can. And I love using those.

CK: Just a word of caution. I know when I buy cut up fruit, which I do once in a while in a supermarket. It's not ripe, like pie. Very true, I would probably buy a whole pineapple. And the way to test it is see if you can pull out you know from the top one of those spiny leaves. If they come out easily then the pineapples probably ripe. A ripe pineapple has a ton of flavor and unripe pineapple does not

CD: Very true and the textures weird too. So, Aaron, I'm just curious, do you add any spices or anything to the cake because it's such a simple recipe. So, you do have to think of ways to pull out flavor with this cake.

Caller: Okay, yes, no, traditionally I have not added anything.

CD: Okay, well I in my recipe, there's a little sour cream in the cake. There's also about a fourth of a teaspoon of mace, which I love using and it brings a lot of flavor forward of pineapple. Just maybe a little pinch of some spice that you like my something to make it a little bit more festive for the holiday

Caller: Great along with the fresh pineapple. I will try both of those suggestions. Thank you so much.

CD: Oh, you're so welcome.

CK: Thanks, Erin.

Caller: Thank you.

CK: Take care.

Caller: Take care. Bye bye.

CK: Thanks to Cheryl Day for joining us today. Next up let's hear some Thanksgiving wisdom from our good friend Dan Pashman. Dan, how are you?

Dan Pashman: I'm doing well, Chris, I'm getting ready for Thanksgiving Friday. Am I right? I'm proposing Chris. I've come to you today to propose that we should celebrate Thanksgiving on Friday. Hear me out

CK: Okay.

DP: I'm not saying the whole country should do it. Just you and me and a few people in the know who might be listening right now. Most other people don't listen to this part. You keep doing your thanksgiving on Thursday, you're not going to change. It's cool. Do what you want. But here's my logic. There's a lot of fun things to do on Thanksgiving Day, okay like you can watch or even attend the Thanksgiving Day Parade. You can watch or even play some football with friends and family, go for a walk or a hike, have the whole world to yourself. It's so quiet. It's so nice to be out doing things on Thanksgiving Day while everybody else is locked in their houses, stuffing their faces.

CK: Where's is this going? Are you going to rob a bank on Thanksgiving because nobody's around or what?

DP: Look if that's what you're suggesting here on this show, Chris you know, I'll let your listeners take the lead from you. But here's the beauty of celebrating it the next day. All right. What do you like? What are your options? The day after Thanksgiving? You're going to be trampled in an attempt to get a deal on a TV you probably don't need.

CK: You make a good point that it's like one of those dystopian movies where yeah, everyone's disappeared from the earth, right?

DP: Yes, yes,

CK: The earth stood still or something. And it would be kind of cool to be out and about when everybody else is at home

DP: You have the world to yourself. There's no traffic. You can go hiking anywhere you want. Yes, obviously, most stores aren't open, but like, you can go anywhere and do anything and no one's going to get in your way. And then the next day, when you go to celebrate Thanksgiving, and you go to the bakery to get some pies. The pies are half price.

CK: Now wait a minute, hold on a second. You can't throw in good value on one hand. And on the other hand, motivate people by the notion of going out and hiking by yourself.

DP: Why are those not in line with each other my family enjoys hiking and bargains.

CK: I know you saved 15 bucks on pies is what you know, that's kind of a crummy reason to move Thanksgiving, but enjoying the world as if nobody existed for a day. I don't know that's sort of an uplifting, soulful approach. Right? First

DP: First off, just let the record reflect that your idea of a soulful time is a place where the rest of the world doesn't exist.

CK: You mean when everybody's dead. Good point

DP: right. One person's dystopian future is Chris his dream. But look, Chris, you whichever part of this plan appeals to you. I'm not going to tell you what's right or wrong. I can tell you that speaking from being especially for my wife, who loves a deal. The half price pies at our local bakery are a huge draw. So we go into New York, we watch the parade. We go out to eat at a restaurant on Thanksgiving. That's another thing you can do and not bother cooking.

CK: Hold on, you go out to eat with at a restaurant for Thanksgiving?

DP: No you go out to eat on Thanksgiving Day. And then you host the Thanksgiving meal at your house on Friday was half price pies and other discounted accoutrements.

CK: Where are you going to find a restaurant open on Thanksgiving Day? Are there lots of them?

DP: I mean, at least in New York, there's a fair number. Yeah, yeah, there's they do. They do a special menu when it's so nice. You know, it's relaxing. And then you again, you have the whole world to yourself. It's it's so great.

CK: Can I ask a question. I mean, let's get to the heart of the matter here. (Yeah) What is it about Thanksgiving that stirs your soul? I mean, why do you love if you do Thanksgiving,

DP: I do love Thanksgiving. I love that. It's sort of like it's a holiday that all people in America are welcome and invited to celebrate. And it's like all holidays it brings the entire family together. But I liked it. It has a universal message that I think people can connect with, regardless of their background.

CK: But the one thing I do love about Thanksgiving, everybody is sitting down at a table at the same day, enjoying a similar meal, not everybody, but that continuity, and that sort of companionship with the rest of America. So, you you're you're going to let everybody else celebrate Thanksgiving, and then go out date in a movie, but then you'll do it the next day. Don't you want to be part of that experience on the same day with everybody else?

DP: I don't think you quite heard me when I said half price pies.

CK: Okay, now we know okay, I'm going to have to come down and cook your pies when you're because you got to make your own.

DP: All right, I guess I guess I guess I could do that. Maybe but I don't know.

CK: Dan. Thank you. I'm not sure if that's a heartwarming sentiment around the half price pies. But you know, each to his own Dan, thank you.

DP: There you go. Thanks, Chris. Happy Thanksgiving

CK: You too

DP: Friday.

CK: That was Dan Pashman. He's the host of the Sportful podcast also inventor of the pasta shape, Cascatelli. Coming up J Kenji Lopez Alt, Nigella Lawson and more friends joining us to share what they're bringing to Thanksgiving dinner this year. That's right after the break I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. You know, every year Thanksgiving, the questions I get most often have to do with pies. Pies are probably the hardest thing anyone can make at home. So, this year, we thought we would assemble some of the questions and with me is Bianca Borges, one of our editors and cooks. Bianca, welcome to the show and fire away.

Bianca Borges: Hey, Chris, I've assembled questions and pies. So, let's get started. All right, let's start about the crust. Obviously, that is the main thing. And while working in the butter in the flour, you've pointed out more than once that it's important for the flour to absorb some of that butter fat. Why is that?

CK: Well, recipes always say cut the butter into pea sized pieces. That's ridiculous. What you really want to do is cut the butter most of the way in, you shouldn't see pieces of butter. A bunch of reasons for this, it'll mean the dose easy to roll out, it means the water will not have an easy time creating gluten in the flour because it's coated with butter. So cut it in it's easy to work with. And really the the simplest method,

BB: Alright. We've gotten the butter part covered. Everybody's usually okay with that part anyway, it's when the water starts getting added that things start to feel treacherous. What's your go to method?

CK: Here's the problem. People are so scared of adding water that they don't have enough, which means that the dough is dry. You roll it out, it starts to fall apart, right? (Yeah) but the most important thing about pie dough is you can roll it out and get it in the pipeline. So, I say add enough water so the dough really holds together nicely. Otherwise, you know you're going to give up and go buy a pie crust at the supermarket.

BB: Alright, next question. Remember when a splash of cider vinegar in the dough was said to promote tenderness and keep the flavor kind of fresh. Then along came vodka. And that was hailed as even better? Thoughts on that?

CK: Yeah, they're two totally different things. Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible, sort of, I think put forth this vinegar thing. I've tried it, I don't think it makes any difference. Vodka is a whole different story. Vodka is almost 50% alcohol, which means that you can use quite a lot of it up front, which means the pie dough is well hydrated and it's easy to roll out. i\In the oven half of that liquids going to disappear and turns out a really nice flaky pie crust. So, the vodka thing is really the best and easiest way to have an easy to work with dough.

BB: Alright, let's talk about the filling. Good o’l apple pie All American. You say no to cinnamon but yes to candied ginger.

CK: Look, cinnamon is a very powerful spice. it mutes the sharp notes in almost everything and it just takes over. So, I say don't use cinnamon apple pie apple pies about the apples. You want to taste the apples. Use two or three different varieties. If you want to use cinnamon an eighth of a teaspoon don't use anymore. The candied ginger is very bright you know it doesn't obscure the apple flavor. It's high notes. I would use no more than a tablespoon of chopped crystallized candied ginger, but that's once in a while. Generally speaking, I add no spices to my pie, salt, of course, sugar, half a cup for 8 cups of apples and let it go that apple pies about the apples.

BB: Yeah, I would agree with that. A pinch of cinnamon is a nice add but letting the apples

CK: Yeah, you want a bright fresh pie. So don't don't add ingredients that are going to make it dull.

BB: Okay, finally Chris. When it comes to apple pie, naked or a la mode.

CK: I don't want anything with my apple pie. I think apple pies nature's most perfect recipe. If done well. I understand a la mode. I think it works. But I would only put ice cream on a mediocre slice of pie. But you know I get it. It's a common-sense reasonable companion to apple pie. Bianca, thank you so much. I think we probably angered half the body here. Pies are personal, but there's a couple of good tricks here. And hopefully we've answered a few of the questions people have on Thanksgiving about pie making. Bianca Thank you.

BB: Thank you, Chris.

CK: So, if you'd like more tips on pie making or just to review what we just talked about, please go to Milk Street Radio.com. This year for Thanksgiving, I wondered what if we brought together some of the great chefs and authors and food and we invite them to share their favorite Thanksgiving dishes? What would a Milk Street radio potluck taste like?

Sohla El-Waylly: Hello, this is Sohla El-Waylly. And this Thanksgiving, I'm going to be bringing stuffing to the potluck. Growing up, we always made it out the box. So today, even though I make it from scratch, it's heavily inspired by box stuffing. I like to start by getting a really good loaf of bread. And then season it with butter or olive oil and lots of dry seasonings. And then sauté up some onion, garlic, apples, a little celery, carrot, and a lot of fresh sage. I mix it up with my croutons along with some high-quality chicken bone broth, a little bit of cream for richness and melted butter. And it's going to be delicious. Happy Thanksgiving.

J Kenji-Lopez-Alt: Everyone this is J Kenji Lopez Alt. I'm the author of The Food Lab and the Wok and this year for Thanksgiving. I'm bringing my Hasselbeck potato gratin. This dish is essentially a classic French style potato gratin with cream and potatoes layered, but instead of layering the potatoes flat, you kind of stick them up on their sides so that the edges poke up. So, what you end up with is this dish that's kind of crispy on the top and a really sort of comforting, creamy, tender bottom layer. So that's my Hasselbeck potato gratin and I hope you enjoy it, Happy Thanksgiving.

Meathead: This is Meathead from AmazingRibs.com. for about 30 years now my wife and I have been going over the river and through the woods, to our brother's house for Thanksgiving. He rose to Turkey, the Norman Rockwell style in the oven, and I bring a smoke bird. You know which one disappears the fastest. It's pretty easy to do a smoked turkey on any grill. And I'm not going to go through all the details of the Meathead method and my killer gravy here. But trust me, it's worth it. And the best part is, it leaves room in the oven for more pies.

Mary Giuliani: Hey there, it's Mary Giuliani. I'll tell you how to make a lot of friends at your Thanksgiving Potluck this year. And that's by bringing my favorite thing a drinkable centerpiece. Take a punchbowl put it right in the center of the table where that floral arrangement should probably be going. And you fill it up with my favorite Thanksgiving drink is called the tipsy turkey. Take a gallon of apple cider, a bottle of bourbon, agave syrup, cinnamon sugar, add some sliced apples and cranberries to give it a little bit more of a look. And I'll tell you something, it will make for a very lively Thanksgiving celebration.

Stacey Mei Yan Fong: Hey y'all, this is Stacey Mei author of 50 Pies 50 States. I did not grow up celebrating Thanksgiving in Hong Kong. But since I've moved to America, I am at one of my friends’ families Thanksgiving tables every year, and I couldn't be more thankful. But this year for Thanksgiving, I'm going to bring my three in one no stress pie which is a pumpkin pie with an apple butter swirl and a candied pecan top because Thanksgiving is about eating, elastic waistbands and napping on the couch with the ones you love and not really about being a stressed mess in the kitchen

CK: Thanks for sharing your Thanksgiving dishes with us Sohla El-Waylly, J Kenji Lopez-Alt, Mary Giuliani, Meathead and Stacey Mei Yan Fong. It also wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a little perspective from a very special guest.

Nigella Lawson: Hi there, it's Nigella Lawson. I am fascinated with thanksgiving. I always feel a bit nervous about talking about it because of course, in a way, one of the things it celebrates is getting shorter of our slot. So, it's not my party. But you know, I've often said it's in a way what you could cook a meta feast, which it's a feast that celebrates the good fortune of feasting. I can't think of hands of any other holiday that is quite so much about reaching arms around a table. And for that I'm envious and I'm admiring and I hope you all have the most wonderful Thanksgiving

CK: A special thanks to Nigella Lawson. And now for my contribution to the potluck, something simple, whole wheat soda bread. As many of you know, I grew up summers in a small Vermont town. The mainstay of noon dinner, we served at the old farmhouse was homemade bread and butter. The bread was baked in the wood cookstove the butter was the cow back, you know, soda bread appeals because it really is an every man's recipe. In Ireland. It's made with whole wheat flour, white flour, wheat germ brand and it's moistened with buttermilk. So, yeah, I buy a locally grown turkey, I braise it I make three kinds of pies. But every year is the sourdough bread that really lingers in the memory. It's a country recipe that reminds me of the pleasures of the simplest foods, which are of course bread, and butter. That's it for today. You can find full recipes from all of our potluck acid Milk Street Radio.com. There you can also listen to every episode of the show. To explore Milk Street and everything we have to offer this holiday season please go to 177 Milk Street.com. There you can become a member and get full access to every recipe, free standard shipping from the Milk Street store and more. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and cooking questions. Thanks for listening and wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving.

Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH, co-founder Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensabaugh. Senior Editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Assistant Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis, audio mixing by Jay Allison and Atlantic Public Media and Woods Hole Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.