T-minus two weeks until the best food holiday of the year — Thanksgiving. As cliché as it may sound, nothing beats waking up to the smell of turkey and the sound of the parade (or football game!) playing on the television. If your job is just to eat and nap on Thanksgiving, then you’re already winning. If you are the person in charge of the kitchen, then you may be a little stressed as Turkey Day nears. That’s why cookbook author Katie Lee Biegel paired up with popular appliance brand Sub-Zero, Wolf, and Cove to destress holiday cooking.
In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Biegel opened up about the methods she uses for cooking anxiety and what her holiday dinner tables normally look like. The television personality introduced "kitchen therapy" as an important tactic to diminish stress. As Biegel makes cooking checklists, she also curates a food schedule for the day of. With inflation seemingly never-ending, the food critic also revealed her best budget food tips and the pumpkin croissant bread pudding you should definitely bring to the dessert table. Look no further for the best Thanksgiving turkey method and how to avoid mistakes with your stuffing.
How Katie Lee Biegel prepares for the holidays
I wanted to start out by talking about the holidays. Have you already started preparing? What are you doing so far?
In my opinion, the holidays start the day after Halloween, so we are ready to go in the Biegel household, already thinking about our menus. I’ve got a lot of Thanksgiving plans going, and Christmas as well. I really believe that planning ahead is what makes it an enjoyable process, so I teamed up with Sub-Zero, Wolf, and Cove for this kitchen therapy because 95% of Americans are like me — we find cooking to be soothing. But like I said, I really think the key to that is planning ahead.
Say it’s a few days before Christmas or Thanksgiving. What foods would you prepare first? What are you gravitating towards?
I’m all about checklists, so I make my game plan and I write out the menu, and I write out everything that I need. We’re very much about tradition in our family. We love food as nostalgia, so we have dishes that we always have to have. For Christmas morning, it’s all about the cinnamon rolls. I make a recipe that my grandma and my great-aunt have for this great refrigerator roll dome. I make the dough. You can do it about two days in advance — one to two days in advance.
The dough rises in the refrigerator — got that great Sub-Zero — and then you bake it in the oven. I got my Wolf right here. I always have to have the cinnamon rolls. That’s key. And of course, when we’re talking about Thanksgiving, I am so into making that Thanksgiving turkey, and I think that it intimidates a lot of people. But again, the turkey is about planning ahead. If you buy frozen, give it the time to thaw. Then I like to do a dry brine in the refrigerator.
Katie Lee Biegel reveals her Thanksgiving turkey method
Yeah. I do a dry brine. I’m not into the wet brine; I think that’s too messy. I do herb butter under the skin, and then I do a mixture of salt, garlic powder, [and] onion powder as my dry brine on the turkey.
You mentioned before that you partnered with Sub-Zero, Wolf, and Cove. Could you share one recipe that you use with their appliances?
Sure. Actually, this is my new kitchen. … We just moved in about a month and a half ago and did a renovation, and it was important to me that I have the appliances that I like. I’ve been using Sub-Zero for decades now, but there are many recipes [for which] it’s so crucial to have those good appliances you can rely on.
Behind me, this is my pumpkin bread pudding. … For a bread pudding, it’s important that you give it enough time to soak up all of that great custard that you make. I whisk together half-and-half eggs, sugar, pumpkin, and put it with cut-up croissants into the fridge. It goes into the Sub-Zero, and it spends at least an hour to overnight, and then I bake it here in my oven for about 55 minutes. What I really like to do is to serve this during the holidays. Put the dinner on the table. The minute the dinner goes on the table, the bread pudding goes in the oven so it’s nice and hot and the place smells great when everybody’s eating, and you’ve got this nice, beautiful dessert that comes out at the end.
How Biegel relieves cooking stress during the holidays
Say someone is making that [pumpkin croissant bread pudding] for the first time. Do you have a simple tip you could give them?
Bread pudding is perfect for anybody who doesn’t consider themselves a baker. I’m not a huge baker. I’m not great at making everything look beautiful. [With] a bread pudding, you can be a complete novice. I promise you it is foolproof. It’s just about giving it that time to let it absorb.
Thanksgiving in the kitchen can be quite chaotic, so you also introduced kitchen therapy. Do you have any tips for people trying to find those meditative moments in all this chaos?
Yeah, the holidays can be chaotic. I think that cooking is a good time to try to step away from the stress. Some people might say, "Wait a second. That’s what stresses me out," so it’s about carving out that time.
I actually write a schedule for myself on Thanksgiving because the oven real estate is prime. You’ve got all these things that need to go into the oven. If you make a schedule for yourself, the turkey’s number one. That’s going in [the oven]. Then the turkey needs to rest for a good hour to an hour and a half after it comes out of the oven. If you schedule yourself and know, "I got to put the dressing in. I’ve got to put a green bean casserole in. Here’s how long each of those needs," then you can take a deep breath and enjoy the process.
How does cooking act as a release for holiday stress for you? Because often, it’s a source of stress for many people.
Cooking during the holidays is what I use for stress relief. I really enjoy being in the kitchen. I’ve made it my career. When people ask me what I like to do for fun, I still say, "cook." I think of [the time I’m in the kitchen] as me time, and I’m also loving that I know I’m doing something that my family’s going to enjoy. If I’m making cookies or if I’m cooking that holiday roast, there’s a feeling of contentment that I get from knowing that it’s going to make everybody happy.
One of our big traditions is the day that we decorate the tree. I always make a beef bourguignon. I love the kitchen smelling like that. It’s simmering on the stove, and the whole place smells so good. Having that warmth and the feeling of nostalgia and creating traditions with our family feels really good.
Katie Lee Biegel reveals her best holiday budget tips
With Thanksgiving around the corner, what does your table normally look like? What are you normally in charge of? Everything?
Everything. I like to do everything myself, for the most part. Usually if I’m going to ask for help, I ask people to bring hors d’oeuvres. And if somebody’s bringing hors d’oeuvres, make sure that you ask the person who shows up on time. Don’t ask the friend who’s always late.
Do you have any budget-friendly food tips for Thanksgiving sides?
[For] the pumpkin chocolate croissant bread pudding, a great thing to do is go to your bakery and ask for their day-old pastries to make the bread pudding, because they’re always going to be [at] a high discount. They want to offload those. A lot of times, they’ll be 50 cents or $1, versus being, let’s say, $3 a croissant. That’s a great way to budget.
A lot of times, a frozen turkey is less expensive than a fresh one. Just allow yourself enough time to thaw it, again with schedules. Look to see how many pounds it is, and you need about a day for every 5 pounds in the refrigerator to thaw.
How many people do you normally host? I am trying to figure out the ratio between how big of a turkey you should get and the amount of people you’re hosting.
What I like to do [is], instead of having a really big turkey — because when you get into that 20-pound range of turkeys, a lot of times it is harder to cook and takes a really long time — so what I like to do is make a turkey breast the day before, and then make a smaller, regular-size turkey, a 14- to 16-pound turkey, [on the] day of and then reheat that breast. That way, you’ve got a lot of extra turkey meat. You’ve still got the beautiful big turkey that comes out, but you’ve got enough to feed everybody.
We’re having 13 people this Thanksgiving. My husband’s family’s coming to visit. That’s what I’m planning to do. I’m going to get about a 15-pound bird and a breast.
How to upgrade your stuffing, and the one ingredient Biegel loves
Are there any special ingredients that you put into your stuffing?
I’m all about sage for the stuffing. That’s my favorite herb for Thanksgiving, [and] for the holidays in general. My great-grandmother Pearl made the best stuffing, and she had so much sage in it. I do a cornbread stuffing. You can call it stuffing or dressing — it’s technically dressing because I bake it outside the bird. But I’m all about that sage.
What would you say the biggest mistake is that people make with stuffing?
When it dries out. You want to be sure with your stuffing that it’s getting the right ratio of wet to dry ingredients.
I’m going to switch gears to a more general food question here. What is one ingredient you could never live without?
What do you normally put garlic in?
We have a lot of pasta in this house. When I don’t know what to cook for dinner and I want something last minute, it’s usually pasta. A lot of times, I’ll do a simple garlic, olive oil, pepperoncini, and that’s it. Algio olio.
Biegel’s funniest behind-the-scenes moment on The Kitchen
You’re filming the 32nd season of Food Network’s "The Kitchen," and it’s currently airing its 30th season. What would you say is the funniest behind-the-scenes story you could recall between cast members while filming the 32nd season?
It was maybe last month we were filming. I won’t say who, but somebody made something that nobody liked, and that very rarely happens. In fact, I can’t ever remember a time that it happened. We all got the giggles so bad[ly] because Geoffrey Zakarian was trying to eat it and talk about it. We laughed so hard, we were in tears. All of us had to have our makeup touched up. It was so funny because we all like the food. It doesn’t really happen that we don’t like [it], so it was hilarious.
Could you tell me what that dish was?
No, because then you’ll know and watch the show.
You’re also the executive producer for the new Hallmark film "Groundswell." What has that experience been like? Is that out yet?
Its first airing was in August, and it’s still continuing to air on Hallmark networks. I wrote the book "Groundswell." It came out in 2011, so it’s been quite a long process. I wasn’t even in the headspace of thinking it could become a movie at this point. It had been so long. In 2018, my friend’s husband, who’s a producer, said, "Can I try to sell your book to Hallmark?" And I said, "Go right ahead." They bought it, but it had been years. Then last winter, I heard from them, "We’re making your book into a movie."
It was pretty amazing. Once the ball got rolling, it went very quickly, and it was an incredible process. I got to work very closely with the writers, and I got to be in the film at PMO and be on set during production in Hawaii.
Do you have any other upcoming projects you would like to share or anything else going on?
We are still in production for "The Kitchen," so I’m constantly writing new recipes for "The Kitchen," and I’m hoping to get my creative juices flowing and do another scripted project.
This interview has been edited for clarity.