Thanksgiving Hotline with Alex Guarnaschelli

The Food Network star answers iVillage community members' burning questions about cooking for Thanksgiving

Alex Guarnaschelli, host of the Food Network show Alex's Day Off, has generously agreed to answer the iVillage community's questions about preparing Thanksgiving dinner. You asked, and now she's delivering. Read her answers below!

From firecracker07042902: I'd like to try my hand at making a pumpkin pie from scratch, but I don't have the first clue how to go about baking and preparing a pumpkin. Do I include the pulp, but take out the seeds? How do I get it to be creamy and smooth like the canned filling?

I really love canned pumpkin. Canned pumpkin is commonly made from Hubbard squash. Peel and seed the squash. Place it on a tray with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Dot it with a little butter and brown sugar, put half an inch of water in the bottom of the tray and cook in a low-temperature oven until completely tender. Puree and drain in cheesecloth overnight.

From jenmakus: I have a family member who has recently started a dairy-free diet. Can you suggest a good diary-free substitute for milk and heavy cream in all of my recipes?

Honestly, there are many dairy-free dessert recipes that use great ingredients, from beet juice to applesauce. If you are making a recipe with milk, soymilk can be an excellent substitute. Know that soymilk has less fat than cow’s milk, so you may find that your dessert is a little less rich. For heavy cream, try skimming the fatty top layer off the top of a can of whole coconut milk and using it as a direct substitute for cream.

From wannabegoodcook13: I am looking for a good main-dish recipe for our vegetarian Thanksgiving guests—one that will go well with the other traditional side dishes served at our Thanksgiving meal (cranberry salad, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, dressing). Any suggestions?

I like to make vegetarians feel like they are part of the party, too. I love a root vegetable potpie. You can make mix of precooked turnips, parsnips, rutabaga and celery root, and cover it with a simple biscuit dough. Bake it off while you carve the turkey and serve up all your sides. Alternatively, marinate and grill some portobello mushrooms with a creamy dressing.

From sid52: When I cook my Thanksgiving turkey, I always remove the tent and brown the skin. Then, before carving, I remove that nice brown skin and discard it, because my family doesn't like to eat the skin. Is there really any reason that I should bother browning the skin?

I like to think that browning the skin gives the meat underneath it more flavor. That would certainly be a good reason. Browning the skin will help add more flavor to your drippings and, therefore, to your gravy.

From supermom2u: I am hosting my in-laws for Thanksgiving, and I have no desire (or time, or energy) whatsoever to cook every last thing from scratch. Outside of ordering the whole thing, what can I really get away with by using some store-bought/premixed stuff, and what should I focus my effort on?

I definitely think that things like cranberry sauce, some frozen peas cooked with a little black pepper and sugar or frozen green beans make great and easy additions to a Thanksgiving table. Roast a turkey, make some gravy from the drippings, bake some potatoes (or sweet potatoes) and mix them (peeled) with some cream and butter. To me, stuffing is not essential, but a great turkey and tasty gravy are.

From eemrenzas: I've heard a lot of mixed messages on trussing and stuffing the bird. Is it necessary to truss the turkey? What about the stuffing? Is it safe to stuff the bird?

Trussing the turkey is good for more even roasting. A quick truss will do. I like to cook the stuffing inside the bird (and any extra in a separate casserole). I always find the stuffing that cooked inside the bird to be more moist and flavorful. Worried about the temperature and safety? Test the stuffing with a thermometer and make sure it heats to 165 degrees Fahrenheit before serving.

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