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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep, good morning. If you're still wondering how to prepare your Thanksgiving meal, we can help.

(Soundbite of theme tune to TV show "America's Test Kitchen")

INSKEEP: This music goes with the public television program "America's Test Kitchen" It's hosted by Chris Kimball. He also publishes Cooks Illustrated magazine, and he's become a regular guest on this program at Thanksgiving time. Chris specializes in culinary miracles, but he describes that job a little differently.

Mr. CHRIS KIMBALL (Host, "America's Test Kitchen"; Editor and Publisher, Cook's Illustrated): We specialize in making horrible food.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KIMBALL: And then eventually...

INSKEEP: Trying to correct it again, later.

Mr. KIMBALL: Steve's laughing a little too much, I notice. Eventually we get it to good food, hopefully.

INSKEEP: Not too long ago, Renee Montagne and I welcomed Chris Kimball to Washington, D.C. We all met in my kitchen.

RENEE MONTAGNE: Hello.

Mr. KIMBALL: Renee, how are you?

MONTAGNE: Fine, thank you.

INSKEEP: It was more than just a social visit. He was here to answer your questions about Thanksgiving. And we began with what Chris says is the number one cooking problem in America.

Mr. KIMBALL: Pie dough is the number one cooking problem in America. I mean America has all sorts of other issues, but pie dough in the kitchen is the number one problem.

INSKEEP: There's like a pie dough crisis, basically?

Mr. KIMBALL: A pie dough crisis. It's a crisis of confidence.

INSKEEP: That problem afflicts Terry Schweitzer(ph) in Gillette, Wyoming.

Ms. TERRY SWEITZER: I'm actually a decent cook. However, it's become a family joke that my pumpkin pie is absolutely horrible. And this year I'm hoping to redeem myself. How do I make a really great pumpkin pie from scratch?

INSKEEP: In response to that question, Chris Kimball says the answer is all in the dough, made with a special ingredient.

Mr. KIMBALL: Two tablespoons of vodka. The secret is that alcohol doesn't react with the protein in the flour to create gluten, which makes it tough. And the other thing is when we bake it. About half of vodka is alcohol, 47 percent alcohol. That will dissipate. So you end up with a much drier dough and it's...

INSKEEP: Meaning you can't - I'm not going to be able to eat ten slices of pumpkin pie and be very happy at the end of the day?

Mr. KIMBALL: Unless you're an extremely sensitive guy.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Now, you don't need to be racing around for a pad and pencil to write down these ingredients. The complete recipes are at npr.org. There's even a step-by-step photo gallery of how to make this pumpkin pie from scratch. Finding time in your life to do this, not included.

Our next question comes from Cara Prisall(ph) who's said she's spending Thanksgiving in Denver with her fiancee and nobody else.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. CARA PRISALL (Caller): Because it's just going to be the two of us, I'm trying to find out how we can just have an intimate two-person Thanksgiving dinner, maybe a little bit romantic, but nothing that's going be huge and too much for us to eat.

INSKEEP: That was just the question that Renee and I put to Chris Kimball.

Mr. KIMBALL: Well, there's a two part question. One was about romance, which I can't answer, but the part about the turkey I can answer, which is instead of buying a 12 or 14-pound bird, what we would do is go out and buy just the turkey breast. And we're going to take the breast, we're going to put a little butter under the skin, and then we're going to roast it at a high heat for about an hour and a half, a little bit more than that, and you're done.

MONTAGNE: That is, I have to say, an odd-looking bird. It doesn't have any legs.

Mr. KIMBALL: That's why I said the romance - it's not as romantic as the full bird, as the full Monty. But it gets the job done. It's also - it's not 3 or 4 hours in the oven.

MONTAGNE: Which allows you a little more time for the romance?

Mr. KIMBALL: See, we did solve the romance problem.

MONTAGNE: Yeah.

Mr. KIMBALL: I just didn't know it.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ANN NAPPER(ph) (Caller): My name is Ann Napper, and I plan to celebrate Thanksgiving in Massachusetts with my family. And what is the right appetizer to serve? In the past I've had no success. I really need an idea that will unlock the secret of the Thanksgiving Day appetizer.

INSKEEP: Chris Kimball has a one-word answer.

Mr. KIMBALL: Cheeseball.

INSKEEP: We're not kidding, a cheeseball. It's easy to make in a busy kitchen. Sure, it might make you feel like you've been transported back to the early '70s.

Mr. KIMBALL: Actually, we made this about a year ago in the kitchen, and it lasted about three minutes. Everybody ate it. It's actually really good. So, we're going to use a food processor; shredded, grated mozzarella; a cup of blue cheese - which makes this whole process legitimate I think. Doesn't it? We have a little two tablespoons of mayonnaise and a tablespoon of port and one clove of garlic.

INSKEEP: Put it all in the mixer here?

Mr. KIMBALL: Yeah. And we're going to do it for 20, 30 seconds, scrape it down.

(Soundbite of food processor)

INSKEEP: It's looking cheesy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KIMBALL: It has to go into the refrigerator. We'll let that set for a few hours. Like that. OK? You know, when it comes out, we can actually shape it.

INSKEEP: Oh, well, here's a cheeseball.

MONTAGNE: Just about the time you're dying for a bite of an appetizer.

Mr. KIMBALL: I think you should open the front door and yell cheeseball.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KIMBALL: See how many people come running.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Let's move on to another question. It's one that many of you said online that you really wanted answered. And the question comes from Alan Sawyer(ph) in San Francisco. He's travelling several hours to see family for Thanksgiving, and he's been asked to bring something.

Mr. ALAN SAWYER (Caller): I'm a pretty good cook, and I want to bring something that shows that. But usually I end up being the salad guy or the bread and roll guy. So I'm trying to find a dish that will travel well and impress everyone at the family Thanksgiving.

Mr. KIMBALL: So we're going to do a roasted pear salad, but it's done in a saute pan. The only thing you need to know about this recipe is the pears need to be ripe, but still very firm.

MONTAGNE: What is a firm, ripe pear? Because I think of a pear, not soft, but, I mean, once it's ripe, it's ripe, right?

Mr. KIMBALL: No, you can have - pears when they're just ripe are still very firm. Because you're going to put them in a pan for, you know, two to four minutes a side to brown them and to caramelize them. It doesn't get to interfere with someone else's Thanksgiving if you're bringing it, and it's elegant.

(Soundbite of sizzling)

INSKEEP: OK. To recap so far. Our pumpkin pie, made from scratch, is in the oven. The cheeseball with the blue cheese is in our stomachs, for the most part. The turkey breast has finished browning after only about an hour and a half.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: And while those pears are being sauteed on the stove, it's time to check on the pie. OK.

Mr. KIMBALL: No, if you jiggle it - go ahead and jiggle it. You're going to see the center is going to still be a little jiggly. There you go, it's done.

MONTAGNE: Really good.

INSKEEP: I know. I love Thanksgiving.

MONTAGNE: Cheeseball, so far, our two food items.

INSKEEP: Wow. Very smooth. Chris Kimball, thanks for coming by.

Mr. KIMBALL: My great pleasure.

INSKEEP: And thanks for the pumpkin pie.

Mr. KIMBALL: Thanks for sharing your kitchen.

MONTAGNE: Real pleasure.

INSKEEP: And Renee, get back on vacation. Enjoy your time off.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, I'm out of here. The show's all yours, Steve.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: I bet you didn't know that my kitchen is a place where there is always some whimsical piece of music playing. We received lots and lots of online questions about Thanksgiving, many more than we have time for here in the broadcast. Here are two quick examples.

Ms. AMY RAIKO(ph) (Caller): My name is Amy Raiko, and I was wondering if I could get some advice on timing of dishes and getting everything to the table or to the buffet at the same time, warm, cooked, and to start to feel not in a state of panic.

Ms. PATRICIA YOST(ph) (Caller): My name is Patricia Yost, and my question for Chris Kimball is the last time that he prepared a Thanksgiving meal that wasn't a work project, I'm just curious what he would make for friends and family.

INSKEEP: Those are some of your questions about Thanksgiving. Answers and suggestions, by the way, for vegetarian dishes, if you'd like them, are all at npr.org. So good luck in the kitchen today and tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's your culinary home for the holidays. NPR News.

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