'Help, I'm Hosting': Ted Allen Dishes On Vegetarian Thanksgiving, Cooking Wild Turkey From menu planning to dealing with the unexpected, NPR's Weekend Edition's new holiday series offers advice to those hosting friends and family this holiday season, so it's a stress-free time for all.
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'Help, I'm Hosting': Ted Allen Dishes On Vegetarian Thanksgiving, Cooking Wild Turkey

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'Help, I'm Hosting': Ted Allen Dishes On Vegetarian Thanksgiving, Cooking Wild Turkey

'Help, I'm Hosting': Ted Allen Dishes On Vegetarian Thanksgiving, Cooking Wild Turkey

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Thanksgiving is four days away and with it, a holiday season of friends, family, fun and, of course, food. Now, about that food part, if you're hosting on top of all the fun, you get a big helping of responsibility, last-minute preparation and the unexpected. Well, we're here for all you hosts with our new holiday advice series starting right now called Help, I'm Hosting. Last week, we asked you to send in your questions about the big meal. And we have a very special guest to walk you through your Thanksgiving hosting anxieties - Ted Allen. He's the original food and wine expert on "Queer Eye" and the host of "Chopped" on the Food Network. Hello.

TED ALLEN: Hi, Lulu. How are you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I am great and looking forward to Thanksgiving. And what are you doing for Thanksgiving this year?

ALLEN: I'm going to be hosting. And I'm going to be cooking. And I love the Thanksgiving meal, but I've got a lot of practice at it. And one of the funny things about this holiday is that people who never cook all the rest of the year...


ALLEN: ...Suddenly are being expected to cook a giant bird.


ALLEN: It's a tricky critter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. We asked listeners what they need help with this year. And Robert Flynn (ph) from Kansas City, Mo., called in about how to cook his unconventional turkey. Here's his question.

ROBERT FLYNN: This is the first time that I've turkey hunted and gotten a wild turkey. And it's been cleaned, in our freezer ready to go. And I was just wondering what kind of preparation and cooking differences there might be.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Ted, what about that - not that most of us are out bagging our own turkeys. And maybe we need a shot of Wild Turkey bourbon before you start. But what do you say?

ALLEN: I think he might need a shot of Wild Turkey bourbon because according to - I'm not a hunter either. But I have a friend who lives up in the Catskills that - around him, people are hunting turkey all the time. My understanding is that on a wild turkey, the only part that's edible is the breasts. And so I think you might not have enough to feed enough people if you're relying on that. I would say research that a little more, Robert. But I think you might want to have a backup.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Bad news for our friend there. Some families, of course, don't have time or space to prepare for the holiday. Here's a question from Samantha Lynn (ph), who is living in Rome. She is hosting a meal for her non-American friends.

SAMANTHA LYNN: I don't have an oven. I live in a very tiny apartment. I have no idea how to cook my turkey. I feel a lot of pressure because this is the first Thanksgiving that many of my foreign friends will experience, and I'd like to give them something good. Please help me (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this is actually really interesting because she's in Italy, so I think her foreign friends are going to be pretty judgmental because there's a lot of good food there.

ALLEN: Definitely.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Any suggestions for those busy people who want to cook but can't spend hours in the kitchen or don't have the space?

ALLEN: Since she doesn't have an oven, my first question is, do you have access to a barbecue kettle? It's tricky, but you can do a really nice turkey with charcoal. I would have her come back with a counterproposal. And this is something I - another sort of general way to make your Thanksgiving easier. Do a potluck. And in her case, do a potluck at the home of a friend who does have an oven. Otherwise, why don't you just get pizza?


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Aw (ph), that's not in the Thanksgiving spirit. All right. A lot of people have asked about how to accommodate people with dietary restrictions. There are, of course, vegans and vegetarians and gluten-free people and dairy-free people. And I have to say a lot of vegetarians did not like us calling it Turkey Day last weekend. They wrote in to complain. Here is Mary Beth Kosanski (ph) from Rapid City, Mich. And she wrote in to say this. As a relatively new onset vegan, I have had the pleasure of attending Thanksgiving dinners and bringing a dish to pass around that was vegan-friendly. This year offers a bit more of a challenge and stress with the possibility of hosting this iconic meal. Tofurky just seems plain wrong, not to mention unhealthy. So she's asking, what is some alternative to that?

ALLEN: You know, it's - I have a couple - I have many vegetarian friends. And I have a couple that have served me meals in their home. And it's almost like a complete paradigm shift. People who really know how to live a vegan lifestyle - I hate to even dismiss it that way - learn a lot of skills that we meat eaters don't typically acquire. I agree with the idea that a tofu turkey is kind of - just seems kind of wrong to someone who's trying to get away from meat. Why would you want to simulate even the texture? I would think about non-American ethnicities that lean heavily on vegetables. There are so many cultures that are like that. Like, maybe - I don't know - something from Morocco or something from a place that does a great deal of vegetable cookery that doesn't depend on roasting meat. Do something a little bit creative.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I make a great seven-vegetable couscous.

ALLEN: That sounds fantastic. To me, I don't look at it as a burden. I look at it as something that focuses my plan for the dinner and gives me a challenge. You can still make a turkey, but provide something substantive for the vegetarians in your life.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is your biggest Thanksgiving disaster? Because mine was the fridge actually died the day before Thanksgiving. I had nowhere to keep anything. It was a disaster.

ALLEN: That's pretty bad. (Laughter) That's really bad. And also, probably a lot of the stores are closed. And...


ALLEN: I used to work at Chicago magazine. And our dining editor, who was responsible for the critics that reviewed all the Chicago restaurants and, really, was an important voice in the Chicago restaurant scene, I invited her over to my place. And I was going to start with some sweet rolls. And I had those in the oven without a pan underneath them. Oops. And you can see where this is going. So...


ALLEN: The second she rings the doorbell, I start to smell smoke. And the sugary butter had kind of, like, gushed over the sides of the pan and was in flames on the bottom...


ALLEN: ...Of my oven. The minute the dining editor of Chicago magazine walks in the door, she's greeted by a cloud of smoke. And she - was she nice about it? No.


ALLEN: She never let me hear the end of it (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ted Allen, thank you so much and Happy Thanksgiving.

ALLEN: Happy Thanksgiving to you. Thanks.


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