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Your last-minute holiday cooking questions answered Add to ...

Lucy, to brine or not to brine? What’s your take?

I never brine free-range, organic or kosher turkeys, but every other kind is improved by brining.

For a wet brine, water, salt, sugar and flavourings are combined and the turkey is soaked in it for 24 hours. The drawback is that you need a large enough container to submerge the turkey and room in the refrigerator to store it. To each 4 litres of cold water, stir in 1 cup kosher salt. Look for Diamond Crystal at the supermarket; it is the best for both brining and cooking. You can add sugar to the brine if you wish, but it's not necessary. Herbs and spices can also be added, and proportions are fluid.

You will need a container that will allow the turkey to be completely immersed in the brine. Use a very large pot that fits the turkey. Measure the volume of the pot and make up that amount of brine. You will not need it all. Stick the turkey in neck side down. Pour over enough brine until the turkey is covered. Tie a lid on top in case the turkey bounces up.

Brining timing is a matter of how much salt you use in the solution. The heavier the solution the shorter the brining time. Brine about 6 hours on the counter or outside, 24 hours if you refrigerate it. Remove the bird, wash it off, pat it dry.

Dry brine is salt sprinkled on the turkey, which is then refrigerated for 12 hours. Rinse off afterward.

What are your secrets to foolproof gravy?

Once the turkey is roasted, you’ll find a lot of fat and some juice in the roasting pan. Spill most of it out leaving about 3 tablespoons. Place the roasting pan over medium heat and add 3 tablespoons flour. Whisk the flour into the fat as it cooks. Once the flour is incorporated start adding 3 cups turkey or chicken stock slowly, whisking. Bring to a boil once all the stock is incorporated, stirring occasionally.

For flavour, use any that you like. I recommend a teaspoon balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon soy sauce (or to taste), or red currant jelly. Use either homemade stock or low-salt shelf-stable packages. Butchers often carry good chicken stock, too. Only strain the gravy if it is lumpy, but you should not have any lumps with this method.

Here’s a recipe you can try.

I am feeding a group of 4. We don’t want a turkey but something festive. Any ideas?

I love capon, which is usually available over Christmas. It is tender, juicy and more flavourful than chicken because it has a higher amount of fat to self-baste and give taste. Capons are desexed roosters so they have bigger breasts for white meat lovers. The same side dishes you would serve with turkey work with capon. Here’s a recipe you could try.

Leftovers (if there are any) make wonderful next-day sandwiches. You could also roast a turkey breast as an alternative to an entire turkey – Try this recipe or this one.

I just learned one of my guests is vegetarian. What can I serve her that is tasty but will be manageable for me to make?

When I face this situation I love to make something that will feel meaty for my guests. Several years ago I stuffed portobello mushrooms with the same stuffing as was going in the bird, baked them at the same heat (they are forgiving) and it was a huge success. It is now my go-to dish. For vegans, omit eggs in the stuffing and substitute any stock with apple or orange juice. Here’s a recipe.

We love chocolate. Do you have ideas for a festive chocolate dessert?

A chocolate yule log looks the most festive. Essentially a soufflé mixture made flat on a jelly roll pan, it is rolled up with a chocolate ganache and can be decorated with icing sugar and little marzipan sculptures. It’s beautiful but it is a lot of work.

I find that chocolate lovers really enjoy a full-on chocolate mousse. I make a really rich, spicy one with mascarpone and it satisfies everyone’s chocolate urge.

My other go-to chocolate dessert is a flourless chocolate cake (which covers gluten-free issues, as does chocolate mousse).

Can you share tips on timing the holiday meal so it’s ready all at once?

Unless you have two ovens, it is very difficult to get everything ready at the same time.

I am definitely a reheater of vegetables. Use the oven you cook the turkey in to reheat roasted vegetables. Pile them in an oven-proof gratin dish and bake them until hot, usually about 15 or 20 minutes. Put them in just as you take the turkey out (the turkey should rest 20 minutes before serving). Pump the heat up to 400 while the vegetables are in the oven.

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