The Best of Andy Rooney

(This classic Rooney column was originally published Nov. 26, 2000)

These suggestions for Thanksgiving dinner are late, so put them in the freezer and save them for Christmas. Most of us have the same dinner for both holidays anyway:

-- We have nuts with cocktails before dinner. It's satisfying fun to slowly cook pecans or raw, blanched almonds in corn oil until they turn golden brown. The slower they cook, the crunchier they turn out. Spread the nuts on a big, flattened brown paper bag that absorbs some of the oil. Salt them before they cool.

-- The turkey should be bigger than you need for the number of people at the table. There will still not be enough dark meat for all the people who prefer it to white.

-- The better the bread, the better the stuffing. You may want more stuffing than the turkey cavity holds. Heat the rest of it in a shallow dish until it browns on top. It's good with gravy. I don't like soggy stuffing. Chestnut stuffing sounds better than it is.

-- Fix cranberries at least two different ways. They're easy to fix and both look and taste good. I like slivered almonds in one cranberry dish.

-- Squash is good cooked with a piece of ginger root. Take the ginger out before you serve the squash.

-- Gravy is hardest. Spray the pan you cook the turkey in and add some water to the bottom of it once in a while so the drippings don't burn. After you take the turkey out, scrape everything out of the bottom of the pan. Some of it will be lumpy and gooey. Put it in a blender with some water (or canned chicken soup) to smooth it out before you heat it and whisk in a brown roux. Don't overcook the roux. The mixture of flour and butter has more thickening quality the less you cook it.

-- Accept the fact that someone is going to spill wine, gravy or cranberry sauce -- and possibly all three -- on your good linen tablecloth.

-- Red wine is better with turkey than white wine. French and American wines are too expensive. It's fun and cheaper to try Australian, Chilean or Italian wine. If the wine is not great, no one really cares.

-- The traditional pies are pumpkin and mince, but almost no one makes real mincemeat. It's like haggis -- a mixture of finely chopped meat, suet, apples and lots of spices that the English let age before they use it in a pie. You can buy mincemeat in a jar, but who wants to make a canned pie? We have pumpkin pie and homemade ice cream.

-- For years I've been on an unsuccessful crusade to get Americans to make ice cream without using eggs. You make it with nothing but cream, sugar and vanilla. If you want some other flavor, start with vanilla and add stuff to that. Chocolate and coffee are hardest because it's difficult to get a concentration of those flavors. Fresh peach and strawberry are easy but out of season. Maple ice cream is good if you're rich enough to afford to put a pint of maple syrup in with the cream. Vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce is the best.

-- It's hard to put too much butter in mashed potatoes. The only way I cheat is by putting a small can of evaporated milk in with the milk or cream. The easiest way to keep mashed potatoes warm is in a bain marie . That's French for putting the pot in a bigger pan with water over a low flame.

-- One of the most fortuitous accidents of Thanksgiving dinner is that you can take the turkey out of the oven, cover it with paper towels and leave it for an hour before you serve it and it'll still be hot. This gives you time to heat the dinner plates and other stuff in the oven.

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