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Here’s to a delicious Thanksgiving: Your questions answered

Friends, the harvest holiday is upon us and some of you so kindly sent in questions for me to help make your holiday a little easier!

I have been making the whole Thanksgiving meal since I was 17. Yes, 17. I had one break in the last 17 years of cooking for the holiday: Last year, my husband melted something all over my oven, so when I came home after working 12 hours for my professional Thanksgiving to try and knock out my personal one, I had to clean an oven for two hours — I wasn’t happy. Needless to say, I’ve had all the hurdles you’ve had — and maybe some curveballs you’ve not experienced — and I’m excited to help you this holiday!

We love to brine our bird but this year we are only doing two turkey breasts, which we cook often but have never brined. Any major differences I should be aware of before I ruin Thanksgiving?

The only major difference between brining just a breast and a whole bird is the length of the brine. Because the breast is much smaller than a whole turkey, you just need to make sure the brining time doesn’t exceed 24 hours. And honestly, I’d stick closer to the 12-hour mark of it was me!

What’s an easy make ahead side dish to bring?

Whenever I bring something to a holiday gathering, I never want to add to the oven shuffle, so I normally opt for a cold side dish or appetizer. My favorite cold side dish is a cornbread panzanella salad (recipe below) and an easy appetizer is a layered Mediterranean dip — take hummus and spread it on a pie plate (or another plate with sides), add garlic sauce (toum is easy to find these days), some olive tapenade and sprinkle with feta. Serve with pita chips or fresh veggies.

Cornbread Panzanella
1 box Jiffy cornbread mix, prepared and cut into small cubes (or buy pre-made cornbread. No one will know!)
6 oz fontina cheese
1 English cucumber, cut into little half moons
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt & pepper, to taste
Lemon vinaigrette (or my favorite bottled dressing, Garlic Expressions)

Mix all the ingredients together and toss with dressing 10 minutes before serving so all the flavors can meld together and enjoy!

I keep seeing articles about stuff you can make days in advance. Some say that you can make mashed potatoes ahead of time, but I’m skeptical. Won’t the texture be weird?

There are absolutely things you can make in advance, and while I don’t think I’d make mashed potatoes ahead, to each their own. Some ways I set myself up for success: I always make my pies or whatever desserts I’m making Tuesday or Wednesday evening because there’s no point stressing about that the day of. I typically will do all my veggie prep on Tuesday evening, then it’s easy for me to grab and go to start prepping on Wednesday. I will absolutely make my stuffing, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and get some appetizers ready on Wednesday. Day of I typically will just do gravy, turkey and then start the task of moving things in and out of the oven. Additional tip: pull out the casseroles or sides you prepped on Wednesday and let them come to temperature before tossing them in the oven. They’ll cook much faster!

How soon should I thaw my turkey? And should I bring it to room temperature before putting it in the oven?

The rule of thumb is to allow 1 day of thaw time per 4 pounds of turkey. That should give you a nice and thawed bird in time. Bringing your turkey to temperature will allow it to cook much more evenly and will speed up the cooking time a bit. Make sure to appropriately heat your oven! When the bell goes off saying the oven is preheated, all that means is the thermometer in your oven has reached the desired temperature, meaning that the entire oven is not at that temperature yet. I highly recommend starting your oven a half an hour before you want to put your turkey in, which gives it plenty of time to come to room temperature.

Adding French Silk Pie to the table this year. The recipe calls for pasteurized eggs, but I don’t even know where to find those. The eggs won’t be cooked, just mixed in the mixer. Is it safe to eat just regular eggs?

Unless you’re using eggs fresh from a local farm, your eggs are pasteurized. Almost all the eggs sold in grocery stores are already pasteurized. You should be totally safe!

I feel like beverages and rolls always get short shrift on Thanksgiving. I’d love a non-alcoholic but festive drink for adults and kids. Are Parker House rolls the way to go or are there better options to accompany the traditional meal?

I love an Apple Cider Mule: bourbon (or vodka) with apple cider and ginger beer. Perfection. Kids could just have the apple cider and ginger beer as their special drink of the night! I love a Parker House roll — Martha Stewart has an excellent recipe — they’re pretty easy to make and bake up pillowy soft. We often do biscuits for our family’s meal — no messing with yeast and they’re beloved by all!

How in the world do you get everything to be ready and hot at the same time?

This is going to sound a little extra, but I PROMISE it will help you so much: Write an oven schedule. Decide what time you want your meal and figure out (while the oven is cold!) how many dishes you can fit in comfortably with your bird roasting. Rotate things in and out around your turkey.

Some other things to remember: utilize your other kitchen appliances! Mashed potatoes are awesome in a crockpot; you can use a microwave to reheat things like corn casserole or even green bean casserole and no one will be the wiser. Your turkey will need to rest when it comes out of the oven. Once my turkey hits 155° / 160° (it’s fully safe to eat at 165°) I pull it out to finish cooking on my countertop. This gives me time for more space in my oven and ensures I don’t have a dried out bird!

Bonus tip

A very long time ago I read in a magazine to lay out the dishes you’ll be using for Thanksgiving and put a Post-it for what will be going inside each one. This seems a little extra but I promise you it saves so much time and headache!

Thank you all for your questions! I hope these answers have been helpful and if you need anymore help just shoot me a message on Instagram! Have a very happy and peaceful harvest holiday!

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Allie Lyttle has been in the hospitality industry for the last 16 years working in every facet from bartender to restaurant manager to executive chef. She is currently building out her passion project: Ann Arbor-based restaurant, Lala's. When she isn't chasing around her 2-year-old daughter and pair of weenie dogs (Nathan & Vienna) she's trying to read the never-ending stack of cookbooks on her nightstand while her husband snores beside her.

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