Getting a Time-Saving Jump on Thanksgiving Dinner The recipe for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner includes a pinch of frenzy, a dash of angst, and a sprinkle of panic. Christopher Kimball, host of the public-television show, America's Test Kitchen, says the big meal can turn out just right and on time — with a little planning.
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Getting a Time-Saving Jump on Thanksgiving Dinner

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Getting a Time-Saving Jump on Thanksgiving Dinner

Getting a Time-Saving Jump on Thanksgiving Dinner

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: The recipe for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner includes a pinch of frenzy, a dash of angst, and a sprinkle of panic.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's a race against the clock to get everything baked, broiled, simmered and sautéed before friends and family arrive. If you start to feel overwhelmed, it's okay. Even professional chefs sometimes get swept up in the bedlam.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER KIMBALL (Host, America's Test Kitchen): My house is total chaos. We have four kids. They're running around, neighbors coming over. It wouldn't be Thanksgiving if it wasn't chaotic.

INSKEEP: That's Christopher Kimball, host of the public television show “America's Test Kitchen.” He's also the founder of Cook's Illustrated Magazine. And his culinary tips and tricks have become a MORNING EDITION Thanksgiving tradition, coming to you this year one day early because…

Mr. KIMBALL: We have a bunch of ideas for doing as much of the work for Thanksgiving ahead of time as possible. Recipes that can be made ahead of time, things that can be reheated, things that actually can be done very quickly on Thanksgiving morning. So we're trying to take some of that last-minute confusion, hopefully, out of Thanksgiving.

MONTAGNE: Chris Kimball usually works in a spacious kitchen, actually a TV studio, in Boston. This year he came to the nation's capital for a make-ahead Thanksgiving in a kitchen that's probably a lot more like yours.

(Soundbite of banging)

MONTAGNE: This is the Washington, D.C. home of MORNING EDITION'S senior producer Madhulika Sikka. She has a charming but snug galley kitchen. It's about as narrow as a spatula and you have to be a bit of a contortionist to avoid bumping into things.

MADHULIKA SIKKA: Watch your foot, by your right foot.

Mr. KIMBALL: So which way should I - can we go this way?

INSKEEP: When there's not a lot of elbow room or counter space, Chris Kimball says planning is critical.

Mr. KIMBALL: For example, make mashed potatoes ahead of time, like two or three ahead of time.

SIKKA: Which, by the way, Chris, sounds like a horrible idea.

Mr. KIMBALL: Well, we're starting from horrible to see if we can get to good here. Well, you know, the key is first of all, you start with five pounds of potatoes…

MONTAGNE: Russets are best.

INSKEEP: Not Yukon Gold, they're too bland.

MONTAGNE: Not reds, they're too waxy.

INSKEEP: White potatoes have no taste at all.

MONTAGNE: Russets are best. Chris Kimball says they're flavorful and fluffy.

Mr. KIMBALL: We actually start them, believe, in a microwave for about 15 minutes on high. Throw them in a hot oven for about half an hour, take them out, and then we put them into a mixing bowl and then we add a couple cups of cream, a stick of melted butter and then half a cup additional cream so it's very loose.

Then you put it in the refrigerator. When you come out and reheat it a day or two later it doesn't get that graininess that you often get with reheated mashed potatoes because it has plenty of liquid in it.

INSKEEP: What if you just do my family tradition and make them in the box? Is that okay?

Mr. KIMBALL: No, actually it's not.

INSKEEP: Oh, okay. Just checking.

Mr. KIMBALL: That's not okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: With the exception of powered potatoes, you'll find today's recipes and a few others at NPR.org.

INSKEEP: What do you got against powdered potatoes?

MONTAGNE: What's not to have against powered potatoes?

INSKEEP: Okay, okay. Let's go on, let's go on.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Here's a way to make a preemptive strike on mashed sweet potatoes. A day or so ahead of time, take two pounds of sweet potatoes, cut them into one-inch cubes and put them in a plastic bag. And then on Thanksgiving Day follow this stress-free recipe.

Mr. KIMBALL: It's as easy as the boxed mashed potatoes. You're going to like this. What we do is put them in a large saucepan, take four tablespoons of butter, a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream, salt, and we're going to throw in a little bit of sugar. And we're just going to cook this on low. And after 40 minutes you're done. Now that's a radio recipe. You could actually follow that. You don't even need to go to the Web site.

MONTAGNE: You could go to the Web site but actually you could probably remember everything you just said.

Mr. KIMBALL: And they're fabulous. They're really easy. You can mash them right in the saucepan and you get this great flavor.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Making the turkey ahead of time is not a great idea, but there's a way to cook your bird really fast so you can free up your oven for other things.

INSKEEP: A 14-pound bird usually takes about three hours to roast, but you can cook it in half the time but butterflying it. In other words, splitting the turkey in half length-wise.

Mr. KIMBALL: Normally when you roast a bird, since these were designed by a committee, the thigh meat especially is hidden. It doesn't get enough heat so it cooks too slowly. And our objective with butterflying is to get it flat.

INSKEEP: Vegetarians beware at this point. Preparations begin by surgically removing the turkey's backbone.

(Soundbite of clicking)

Mr. KIMBALL: Sounds really appealing, doesn't it? There we go. Now the fun part.

INSKEEP: Take the two halves of the turkey and place them breast-side up on the countertop and then grab a large rubber mallet - that's right, a mallet; the kind you use for knocking dents out of your fender - and get ready for a little exercise.

Mr. KIMBALL: Here's the breastbone, so you're going whack it down and get it nice and even.

INSKEEP: All right. Here we go.

Mr. KIMBALL: Go ahead; let it have it.

INSKEEP: Just beat the - like up here or…

Mr. KIMBALL: Yeah. Go for it.

INSKEEP: Okay.

(Soundbite of banging)

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: What are you laughing at?

Mr. KIMBALL: No, you're doing a great job (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of banging)

INSKEEP: I'm not sure I want to eat this afterwards.

Mr. KIMBALL: Okay, you did it.

INSKEEP: (Unintelligble).

Mr. KIMBALL: I think we're good.

INSKEEP: I'm kind of enjoying this.

Mr. KIMBALL: Put that down!

INSKEEP: I want to do this some more.

Mr. KIMBALL: No, you're done.

INSKEEP: Give me something else.

Mr. KIMBALL: That happens to everybody. They start it and they go, this is great.

INSKEEP: Once they've restrained you from beating the turkey anymore, wipe the sweat off your brow and preheat the oven to 450. About 90 minutes later, you have a perfectly roasted turkey and nobody has to know about the dark side of dinner.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Having taken the stress out of the turkey and yourself and everyone around you, it's time for a worry-free dessert: a no-bake pumpkin pie. It sets up inside your refrigerator and you can make it a day or so ahead of time. It uses a traditional pumpkin pie filling, but it has a secret ingredient.

Mr. KIMBALL: We're using gelatin. What we use is cook a pumpkin pie filling with the cream and the sugar and the pumpkin and spices. But what we're doing differently is adding some dissolved gelatin. And we're going to put that into the pre-baked shell and put that in the refrigerator, and that gelatin, you know, like Jell-o, it's going to set that filling. We wanted something that approximated the texture of a real pumpkin pie, and the gelatin gets you pretty close to that and it's a much easier recipe.

MONTAGNE: So, what do you think, Steve?

INSKEEP: Looks tasty.

Mr. KIMBALL: (Unintelligible)

INSKEEP: I'm ready.

Mr. KIMBALL: Okay.

INSKEEP: Mmm, yeah.

MONTAGNE: Pretty good.

INSKEEP: Yeah, yeah...

MONTAGNE: Wonderful.

INSKEEP: Excellent, excellent. What time is it and we're eating pie?

MONTAGNE: Yeah, it's an argument for having pie before turkey.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KIMBALL: Pie for breakfast is an old Yankee tradition.

INSKEEP: Nothing wrong with it.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: While the pumpkin pie was undergoing intense scrutiny by our investigative reporting team, 40 minutes had passed. So Chris Kimball's sweet potatoes were supposed to be ready for mashing. But when he took the lid off the pot, he got a soggy surprise.

(Soundbite of pan)

INSKEEP: Wait a minute, has something gone wrong here? Because the potatoes are quite wet looking.

Mr. KIMBALL: Do you need to go, because you said you had to leave.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: This is an investigative cooking segment.

Mr. KIMBALL: Actually, most of what we do in the kitchen is make bad food. We make bad food about 80 percent of the time. It's the last 20 percent where it gets good. So we're just going to simmer off some of that liquid and in about five minutes all that liquid will go away and we'll mash it in the pot.

INSKEEP: Even after all the years of cooking you get surprised? You opened that pot lid and (unintelligible) surprised.

Mr. KIMBALL: You don't even know the beginning. You know, cooking isn't about perfection; it's about figuring out all the things that can go wrong and heading people off at the pass before it does go wrong. So, yeah, you have to adjust a little bit.

MONTAGNE: Chris, thank you for...

INSKEEP: Hey, thanks very much.

Mr. KIMBALL: Yeah, my pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Thanks for the tips.

Mr. KIMBALL: Well, it was a challenge, but it all worked out.

INSKEEP: Well, we'll see.

Mr. KIMBALL: Mostly, yeah...

INSKEEP: (Unintelligible)

Mr. KIMBALL: Steve's got that wait-and-see attitude.

INSKEEP: Call me back on Thanksgiving, yeah.

MONTAGNE: Well, happy Thanksgiving.

INSKEEP: Happy Thanksgiving.

Mr. KIMBALL: And you, too. I hope you make everything ahead.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Chris Kimball is always prepped and preheated as host of PBS's America's Test Kitchen. You can check out his recipes and his tips at NPR.org.

INSKEEP: And have a timely Thanksgiving.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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