November 23, 2021

The New York Times Cooking website is a growing behemoth in the online recipes space. And, if you’ll pardon the pun, it accounts for a growing percentage of the Times’ financial pie.

I assembled a few colleagues to talk about whether NYT Cooking has a plate at their Thanksgiving dinner table. The following Slack chat has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Ren LaForme, managing editor: It’s no secret that The New York Times is doing really well right now on the financial side. It’s notable that one big reason for that success is the Times’ paid Cooking and Games sections.

Our colleague Rick Edmonds wrote this about their third-quarter results earlier this month:

The New York Times paid digital subscription juggernaut rolls on as it announced a net addition of 455,000 in the third quarter, about 60% of that in news, the rest in vertical sites like Games and Cooking. Including print, its total circulation now numbers 8.3 million.

Today, eyeing the feast ahead of us on Thursday, I want to chat about NYT Cooking. It’s been wildly successful for the Times, which doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s barebones — there’s minimal storytelling or imagery or anything flashy — but it does what it does well: collects and shares great recipes from the Times’ vast catalog. And the reader comments are almost as helpful as the recipes themselves.

What are your plans for Thanksgiving and is NYT Cooking part of them?

Doris Truong, director of training and diversity: I have tried and true recipes that I got years ago from Epicurious. No plans to search for something not personally tested when stakes are high.

Sitara Nieves, faculty: We are going to my in-laws for Thanksgiving, but wherever we spend it, I usually stick with recipes that I know are great. Agree with Doris, I don’t want to test out something new on a high-stakes day.

Shannon Kellenberger, assistant to the president: I am cooking for the family, 6 of us total and everyone will be coming to my house. I browsed the NYT Cooking website, but didn’t find anything that jumped out to me. I tend to stick with my family favorites for important holidays!

Alex Mahadevan, program manager, MediaWise: We’re spending Thanksgiving in the mountains in North Carolina, and no, NYT Cooking is not part of them. We have family and personal recipes we use every year. While I love NYT Cooking, I usually screw up those recipes four or five times before getting them right and I’m always too shook to do that before a big holiday.

Sitara: Most of my recipes are hand-downs from my mom, with a couple additions collected along the way. None from NYT Cooking (though I do try recipes from there pretty regularly on non-Thanksgiving days).

Kelly McBride, senior vice president and chair of Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership: Yes. The recipes are well-researched. And I love the community commentary, and also that the most helpful comments are highlighted. Also, because I have a subscription, I feel it is my obligation to share recipes from Cooking with the rest of my Thanksgiving collaborators (my mom and my kids and my neighbors) who do not subscribe. And no, I don’t think that’s against the rules of a subscription. They are bringing the food to my house.

Doris: I do have a couple of NYT Cooking recipes I use regularly, including their creamy mac n cheese. That would be a great side for anyone cooking for a crowd.

Ren: Sounds like most everyone here thinks that it’s not a good time to experiment. I’ve got a couple of things saved in my Cooking recipe box that I’m planning to make this year: rosemary spiced nuts and everything bagel dip for appetizers and mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy for dinner. I’ve made those all before, but I did try and fall flat on my face with a new recipe for stuffing last year.

Shannon: A few years ago I found recipes from The Pioneer Woman for mashed potatoes and mac n cheese. They are my go-to recipes along with my cornbread dressing that originated with my great grandmother. I make several pies and again, they are ones I’ve been making for years.

Kelly: I think Thanksgiving is a great time for a couple new dishes. Because there’s so much food, you can just not put it out if it doesn’t work.

Ren: Totally agree, Kelly. And if you hate something, you can just leave it on your plate and claim you’re stuffed. That stuffing that I said I made was truly awful — it had the consistency of cat litter put through the food processor. But the folks who came last year are coming back so it must not have ruined the experience.

Doris: Depends on how many people you expect to feed. I don’t like something that doesn’t account for everyone having a taste if it’s good (or maybe to confirm it’s bad).

Alex: Also I feel like NYT Cooking is for a certain class/demographic of folks and we ain’t that.

Kelly: Yes, the recipes can be a little pricey.

Ren: I’m looking at NYT Cooking’s Thanksgiving recipes page right now and am a little intimidated. Let’s save the turkey for later and focus on these side dishes. What stands out and what sorts of responses do you think you’d get if you dropped some of this stuff on the T-Day table?

Doris: Starts out U.S. traditional and quickly veers to biryani and other dishes that you don’t see on menus at Boston Market or whatever. If biryani is your thing, seems like Cooking might not be your go-to source for how to make it.

Alex: Biryani??? I’m Indian but c’mon man.

Sitara: It was a point of pride in my family of immigrants that we learned how to make “traditional” Thanksgiving dishes, and I’ve pretty much stuck with that for Thanksgiving too — no biryani for me either for T-day.

Doris: I do love when people bring something that is more traditional in their own homes into the dishes. I’ve made stuffing (dressing if you prefer) with Chinese sausage and shiitake before.

Ren: I love that. Stuffing, I think, is a dish you can get really experimental with without too much complaining from the table.

Doris: I saw some chart where people overwhelmingly said “rolls” are the best part of T-Day.

My experience with their recipes is at least one ingredient usually needs to be procured at a specialty store. Who has fresh chestnuts?!

Shannon: The Fresh Market has fresh chestnuts! No excuses now, Doris!

Kelly: To Doris’ point, Publix no longer carries miso paste.

I think I’ve made those Brussels sprouts before and they are good. Plus, you can hardly ruin Brussels.

Ren: Brussels sprouts seem to be ruined by nature for some people.

Kelly: I feel this way about creamed spinach. But folks in my circle voted that in again this year.

Doris: They have been bred to be less bitter! I might have read that in NYT.

Kelly: Also, if you parboil them, they lose the bitterness.

Ren: I’m looking at these and seeing a lot of classics. (Sidenote, though: I’ve made the fluffy mashed potatoes recipe before and it’s great but the real winning recipe is in the comments section.) But there’s a lot of … creative stuff, too. I just don’t know how folks would react if I put rutabaga potato mash with bacon in front of them. It reminds me of the time a newly vegan friend brought eggplant parm to Thanksgiving.

Doris: My go-to potatoes are whipped with celeriac and mascarpone. Always a hit.

Shannon: Cream cheese in my go-to potatoes. Never knew they could be so creamy.

Ren: What about pie? Has anyone else found pie to be a divisive topic? One of my close friends considers pumpkin pie an abomination. Personally, I love it. But a sweet potato pie I can take or leave. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the North.

Doris: Who has room for pie after 3 plates of dinner? And the appetizers? Oh. Is that just me? I channel Pooh whenever around food.

Alex: Pie is dessert. All desserts are sacred. Unless there’s coconut in it. Then gtfo my table!!

Sitara: Pie is the one thing I will experiment with. I love pretty much any kind of pie. Lots of people had feelings about eating sweet potato pie the one year I made it. (I ate lots of it).

Shannon: After working all day in the kitchen I’m finally ready to eat once it’s time for dessert, so we have at least 2 pies, sometimes more.

Ren: I’m trying to imagine what would unfold if I dropped one of Cooking’s more experimental pies on the table. Cranberry curd tart? Crème brûlée? I mean, I started this conversation by suggesting that there’s not much editorializing happening on this site but maybe they’re trying to push us to try something new.

Doris: I’ve made the cranberry curd tart! Would make again!

Sitara: The chocolate pecan pie is great if you add 1/4 cup of bourbon to it

Ren: A quarter cup of bourbon is sure to make anything taste better.

Alex: I think desserts would probably be the most accessible bizarre NYT Cooking recipes for my Pasco family.

Kelly: I feel like they have to be a bit exotic, because the rest of the internet does the basics.

Alex: Experimental Pie is our new band name btw

Ren: Pass. Sounds too much like a jam band.

Kelly: So, my grandmother always made the apple pie, and I have handwritten paper with the recipe on it. And I screwed up the dough year after year. Then my mom finally confessed that the dough part of the recipe is off. And she pointed me to this foolproof dough, which is now on the NYT Cooking site.

Ren: Hahahah I love that, Kelly. How long did it take your mom to confess that?

Kelly: Like 8 years.

Doris: I do worry — more each year — that the holiday is not great because of its colonial roots.

And a friend was just saying his immigrant family celebrated Friday because turkey was cheaper then.

Ren: Let’s get to these turkey recipes. I don’t really eat poultry and my wife and friends are pretty ambivalent, so we’re having a “turkey-style seitan roast” from the local indie vegan shop. Feel free to roast me … and then share how you roast your bird. Will you be doing a Buttermilk-Brined Roast Turkey? A Turkey Breast Roulade With Garlic and Rosemary? Roast Turkey With Garlic and Anchovies?

Sitara: I have successfully avoided making turkey my whole life and I’m going to try to maintain my winning streak

Shannon: We’re going deep fried this year, first time ever … so I guess we do take risks sometimes.

Doris: Popeye’s! Then you don’t have to worry the fire department will be summoned.

Kelly: I have brined and fried and roasted birds. Some of them have been fabulous. Some of them have been dry or boring. And what I finally realized is that really big birds are harder to cook. So now we order from this place. And it’s so worth it.

Alex: I brine every year! And every year I have some sort of brine related calamity while trying to fit a giant bucket of bird water into the fridge

Doris: That’s a drawback of Florida. In colder climes, you can throw everything into a cooler outdoors.

Shannon: And that’s one reason we’ve never brined.

Doris: Pro tip: make friends with a restaurant owner. If they aren’t open Thursday you might be able to use their walk-in cooler. (I brined in a 5-gallon bucket at my parents’ business. They have since retired — unrelated to my cooking.)

Shannon: Several years ago we started spatchcocking and that’s really the way to go.

Doris: Some butchers will do it for you.

Ren: What does that even mean?!

Kelly: Slice the sucker in half!

Doris: Flatten all the bones.

Shannon: You take out the backbone, then it lays flat.

Ren: This sounds like that scene in The Hobbit when the trolls are discussing how to cook dwarves.

Kelly: Spatchcocking actually makes sense, because they cook so unevenly

Shannon: It’s quite an experience.

Doris: It’s no beauty for photos tho. No Rockwell image when cooked. But the cooking method is (Editor’s note: Doris used a chef’s kiss emoji from Jen Lewis here. It’s a fan favorite on our Slack channel but is not supported on our dear website.)

Alex: I have a confession. I’ve actually had Tofurkey every year since 2014.

Ren: What! Why is that?

Alex: Justine started doing it for Friendsgiving in college and it’s become part of our official Thanksgiving lineup! However we do fried and roasted Turkey as well.

Doris: Is it bird-shaped?

Alex: It looks gross, Doris. A cylinder.

Sitara: It’s not going to happen this year (see: eating at my inlaws house), but I want to do a Tofurkey next year. Or no turkey. I could just have side dishes and pie for Thanksgiving dinner and be very happy.

Ren: My mom surprised me with it once like 12 years ago and … it was not great. I ate enough to be gracious but it mostly went in the trash. I’m hoping this year’s is better.

Alex: Hail seitan!

Ren: OK, last question and then I’ll let you go pretend to work while you prep for Thursday. As much as I think the Times nailed a lot about Cooking, there are about a billion other sources of great recipes out there. You’ve already mentioned some, but where do you get yours?

Kelly: Barefoot Contessa.

Ren: My wife makes our pies and the recipes are all blue-ribbon winners from some county fair in, like, the 1920s. The book is old as dirt.

Sitara: Smitten Kitchen, Epicurious, and heavily creased and faded recipes handwritten by my mom 20 years ago.

Kelly: Milk Street.

Alex: I have an Alton Brown cookbook I use more than anything else. Sadly, it turns out he’s kind of a jerk. And it’s grating to read the recipes in his voice. But gosh darnit those recipes slap.

Ren: You sadly could have named plenty of worse chefs.

What do you like about these sources? Flavor? Ease of use? Tradition?

Kelly: Milk Street seems to me head and shoulders above. I’ve never had a bad recipe from them. Barefoot Contessa recipes are usually very easy, and also tasty.

Ren: Do you have to take your shoes off to make them though?

Doris: Recommended pairing is Barefoot wine.

Shannon: The Pioneer Woman. I have a couple from chefs in Mississippi/Tennessee. A cafeteria in my hometown made the best German chocolate pie, and I was able to track down that recipe years ago.

Sitara: I love the comments section in each — they generally make my recipes better.

Alex: There’s just enough experimentation in Alton’s recipes without making them too off the wall. I’m always surprised but don’t roll my eyes. It’s not weird for weird’s sake.

Doris: America’s Test Kitchen and Serious Eats.

Ren: I’m not actually publishing this and just planning to steal all of your best recipes to make the Avengers of a Thanksgiving meal.

Doris: Now I’m hungry.

Sitara: I want pie now.

Alex: I always want pie!!

Doris: Coconut coming right up.

Alex: Agghhh

Ren: If nothing else, I am happy to learn that Alex makes a traditional Tofurkey.

Any closing thoughts? As a kid, I used to look forward to poking through the ads after dinner and circling what I wanted for Christmas. These days, I’m more focused on a nice post-dinner drink.

Doris: The community and the sharing of stories are just as nurturing as the meal (awww)

Shannon: My dad is 73 now, so I’m just cherishing each year he’s still around, even if it means him telling us the same stories he tells every year.

Kelly: We didn’t even talk about cocktails.

Doris: Or leftovers!

Ren: Lightning round! Cocktails! Leftovers! Tell me your secrets!

Doris: Ice cubes made with mixers to avoid diluting the drinks.

Kelly: Don’t get drunk before everything is in the oven.

Doris: The Ross with the moisture keeper. (JK)

I usually spend the weekend making turkey broth for noodle soup.

Kelly: I actually like Turkey soup better than turkey.

Alex: Squash casserole gets better every day. Turkey chili in the crockpot. And Turkey sliders on kings Hawaiian rolls. I probably enjoy the leftovers more than the actual meal

Sitara: I dislike turkey, but enjoy turkey leftovers: sandwiches, pot-pie, sliders, chili.

Shannon: I can’t believe we didn’t have the cranberry sauce debate, but I’m team jellied/canned all the way.

Doris: I make a cranberry relish. It’s excellent frozen in batches so keeps through Christmas.

Ren: I’ll share my weird leftovers tip. My last place was super small and we didn’t have a microwave. So I got in the habit of assembling a bunch of leftovers on a pie tin, coating it with butter and putting it in the oven for 20 minutes. The flavors meld a little better and it cooks more evenly than when it’s nuked.

Doris: “Coating in butter.” Some cardiologist is ready to see you now.

Shannon: That’s not weird, that’s genius.

Kelly: On cocktails: One specialty cocktail is fun. But it can really drive up your costs if you are not careful about spreading the burden around.

Sitara: Even if all the food is terrible (which it won’t be), I’m really just happy we can spend Thanksgiving with other people this year.

Ren: So true, Sitara. I’d rather eat a table of Alex’s Tofurkey than spend another Thanksgiving quarantined.

Alex: Don’t tempt me with a good time, Ren.

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Ren LaForme is the Managing Editor of Poynter.org. He was previously Poynter's digital tools reporter, chronicling tools and technology for journalists, and a producer for…
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