RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The holiday season is usually heavy on drink and food and, no, we're not going to lecture you on dieting and moderation. Instead, NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg gets some healthy holiday cooking tips from a queer source.
SUSAN STAMBERG reporting:
He is Ted Allen, the food guy on the Bravo cable show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." He's in our New York bureau.
Mr. TED ALLEN ("The Food You Want to Eat"): Hi, Susan.
STAMBERG: Now we know that your thing on "Queer Eye" is cooking fabulous food for entertaining. So tell us how you make the holidays extra special.
Mr. ALLEN: Well, you know, I'm a traditionalist, and so I have to have the turkey and I have to have the sage stuffing. I do tend to mix it up a little more with side dishes and try different things, but for me, it's always got to be that big old Tom in the oven.
STAMBERG: Yeah, but, you know, that Tom is terrifying to many of us because you can go so wrong so easily and you have to cook it for such a long time. So do you have any hints?
Mr. ALLEN: Well, I think you're right. I think there's no dish that inspires more fear across our great nation...
Mr. ALLEN: ...than that gigantic frozen bird, which is why turkey companies have (800) numbers to talk you off the ledge when you realize it's still frozen and your house is full of people. So I had an idea that I thought could help with this problem, which is the whole problem with cooking a turkey is that you're cooking a whole turkey. The breast meat doesn't want to get done at the same time as the dark meat, and it takes forever to thaw. And so I thought why not instead do sort of--I call it build your own bird. Cook the turkey in pieces. So you buy a turkey breast and you buy a couple of legs, or if you want to be funny, you could buy three legs and tell your kids it was an unusual turkey. You can buy thighs as well. You can brine them the same way you would a whole bird and I love doing it this way because it thaws in much less time. It cooks faster. No trussing, no stuffing and it's halfway carved when you pull it out of the oven.
STAMBERG: Yeah, but then you don't get to bring it to the table and go, `Tah-dah!'
Mr. ALLEN: Well, you know, I suggested this recipe to someone else and they said, `Can you piece it back together with toothpicks?'
Mr. ALLEN: I think that--well, you could. I think that grand trophy turkey scene really only exists in the Norman Rockwell painting. Don't most of us, you know, carve it in the kitchen so people can't see the carnage?
STAMBERG: Yes, and then bring out the nice--the perfect slices--Right?--on a platter.
Mr. ALLEN: On a platter. Dress it up with, you know, some sage leaves or orange slices or baby corn if you li--that kind of freaks me out.
Mr. ALLEN: I don't know. I'm afraid of baby corn.
STAMBERG: Imagine when it grows up. Right. But did you say brine?
Mr. ALLEN: Oh, have you not brined turkey yourself?
STAMBERG: No. Only pickles.
Mr. ALLEN: Oh, this is absolutely the most important step you can take to make your turkey moist and flavorful. For about 24 hours before cooking time, you submerge the bird completely or the pieces in a saltwater solution. And I've got proportions in my book. Lots of cookbooks have the proportions. Use a kosher salt. You can add some honey also to the mix and you want to make sure the water is very cold, you know, refrigerator cold. And what it does is the salt seeps into the meat of the bird and the salt retains water and it seasons the bird throughout and it makes the bird just succulent and wonderful. And I also always try to use an unfrozen free-range dolphin-safe Amish turkey.
Mr. ALLEN: Yeah.
STAMBERG: What about other main dishes for Christmas? A lot of people like roast beef or fancy--you know, those lamb chop things with the little paper skirts on the ends.
Mr. ALLEN: The little hats.
STAMBERG: Oh, is that what they are.
Mr. ALLEN: I don't know what you call those. Well, I love a standing crown roast of lamb and, of course, I like beef roasts of all kinds. But, you know, I have another idea. We don't always have to eat all this meat, and I've got a recipe that's actually not just vegetarian but vegan and yet perfect for the season. It's a roasted butternut squash pie wrapped in phyllo dough.
Mr. ALLEN: And it's really a standout centerpiece star of the table kind of dish that's a little bit better for you and--well, OK. There's butter. There is butter, but there must always be. It's the holidays.
STAMBERG: Yeah. But you don't have to make your own phyllo.
Mr. ALLEN: Oh, no.
STAMBERG: Oh, good.
Mr. ALLEN: Oh, no.
STAMBERG: Oh, good.
Mr. ALLEN: I'm afraid of that.
STAMBERG: Well, so now what's inside the phyllo then? What are some of the ingredients?
Mr. ALLEN: Well, you take the phyllo sheets and you can brush them with butter. You have to keep them moist. You can brush them with butter or you can spray it with a good quality grape seed oil and that's easier because you're not touching the stuff. So you layer several sheets of that in a square baking dish and then you've got butternut squash that's been cubed and roasted in the oven and it just caramelizes in the oven. And as with so many other vegetables, when you roast it, it just intensifies the sweetness and it makes for a really wonderful, wonderful flavor, and then you just take the ends of the phyllo sheets that have been, you know, draped over the side and flop them over to form the top, throw it in the oven and bada-bing.
STAMBERG: Thank you very much, Ted Allen, the food and wine guy on Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." His new cookbook is called "The Food You Want to Eat."
Happy holidays to you.
Mr. ALLEN: Thank you, Susan. Happy holidays to you.
STAMBERG: I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: And for the recipe of that roasted squash pie and of the deconstructed holiday turkey, go to npr.org.
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