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It's the old parlor game: "If you could eat dinner with anyone you wanted, whom would it be?" That may be fun for some, but for those who love to cook, wouldn't a more kitchen-centric twist be even better? Wouldn't you rather fantasize about whom you would like to get to help you fix that meal?

Particularly at Thanksgiving, the most food-centered of American holidays, who doesn't dream about having a great cook drop by to lend a hand?

Even the greatest chefs are not all created equal. Each excels at a slightly different aspect of cooking. So, with a menu as diverse as Thanksgiving's, what you really want is an entire collection of great chefs — a kind of Turkey Day Dream Team.

The trick is in identifying the talent and then matching it up with a specific course. For example, who knows more about cooking poultry than Judy Rodgers, who built San Francisco's Zuni Café largely on the basis of a wonderful roast chicken? On the other hand, for a bit of sheer luxury who better to turn to than Daniel Boulud, chef at Manhattan's four-star Daniel?

Michel Richard, chef at Washington, D.C.'s Citronelle, is a genius at putting a creative twist on familiar flavors, so he can do the vegetables — no boring old steamed broccoli from him. The list goes on: The French Laundry's Thomas Keller has built a career on elegant small bites to start the meal; he'll do appetizers. Lydia Shire, chef at Boston's Excelsior, will take charge of the cranberries — after all, they're grown in her backyard. And for a glamorous, over-the-top dessert, there's only one choice: Spago pastry chef Sherry Yard.

The only question now is: Whom would we choose to clean up?

The hors d'oeuvresAnyone who has eaten at the French Laundry or Per Se knows that Thomas Keller is fascinated by appetizers. Dinner at either of those restaurants begins with a parade of them (indeed, given the size of Keller's portions, it could be argued that they make up the entire meal).

Thanksgiving is no different. From the earliest holidays he can remember, dinner started with little bites. Of course, back then the menu was slightly different than today.

"Ants on a log," he remembers. "That's one I remember: Take celery sticks and mix up some cottage cheese with salt and pepper and parsley or chives and put it in the center. Sprinkle raisins on top. That's ants on a log. My mom fixed it every Thanksgiving."

They'd be accompanied by a hit parade of '60s favorites: "Always a crudité plate with radishes, cauliflower, broccoli and green goddess dip, or her favorite, which was onion dip. Oh, and stuffed mushrooms, the kind with bread crumbs on top that you'd put under the broiler. And canned artichoke hearts."

Today, appetizers are still an important part of the meal, though they're a bit more refined: marinated olives and jumbo macadamia nuts and a big tin of caviar and some smoked salmon. And different kinds of spreads spooned onto toasts or crackers. "But we're so sophisticated now," Keller quips, "we use Carr's water crackers. We always had Ritz when I was growing up."

Despite the menus' obvious differences, they share the same idea. The point of an appetizer should be not only to pique the appetite, but to set the meal in motion by getting people involved with eating. "It's about interaction with the food," Keller says.

A good example is the shrimp with avocado salsa, each piece set on its own fork. It's not fussy, but fun. "I love serving things that people can eat with their fingers," he says. The shrimp, which he uses as a passed appetizer at parties in the French Laundry's garden, has a sophisticated presentation, but it couldn't be easier to put together.

The salmon rillettes, a favorite first course at Keller's Bouchon bistros, in Napa Valley and Las Vegas, is nearly rustic in its preparation and simple in its presentation (well, at least for Keller). The surprising, almost herbal, flavor undertones and a combination of coarse and creamy textures come from mixing finely diced smoked salmon and silky chunks of the steamed fish (and, of course, a satisfying amount of butter). It can be made ahead and will even improve for several days, ripened in the refrigerator, sealed under a cap of … what else? More butter.

Divide the appetizers into smaller portions and position them at different points in the dining room, and you'll encourage mingling, getting the guests to interact with one another while they interact with their food. As Keller says, "Thanksgiving is about getting together with family and people you love and having a wonderful time."

The turkeyIf you should happen to run into Judy Rodgers driving around Berkeley on Thanksgiving Day, don't be surprised at the large bundle in her lap. It's her turkey. Rodgers and her husband celebrate the holiday every year with her sister-in-law across town, and even on this rare day off from the restaurant, the consummate roaster can't bring herself to give up the reins. "I know my oven and I don't know hers," Rodgers says. So she roasts the turkey in advance. Then she lays bath towels in her lap and cradles the cooked bird in its roasting pan for the drive over.

As you might expect, Rodgers has definite ideas about what makes a great bird.

In the first place, gender matters. "I like toms, not those big fat-breasted hens," she says. "They have better flavor, and they cook more evenly. You don't have those big Hoover Dam-sized breasts that you need to cook while everything else is getting completely overcooked."

Rodgers is an advocate of salting meat well in advance and letting it sit to season through. Because a turkey is so large, that method won't work, so she uses a brine. This means she can't stuff it or make gravy; they would come out too salty. But the absence of gravy doesn't bother her — she says her turkey turns out so moist it doesn't need any.

Never a big fan of stuffing, Rodgers instead makes a version of the same bread salad she serves with her famous roast chicken. "Doing it this way, you get such a mixture of textures and flavors," she says. "There's some crisp and some soft. And I really like the combination of dried cranberries and pecans."

According to Rodgers, two of the most important steps in roasting a turkey are often overlooked. The first is what she calls "tempering" the bird: letting it sit at room temperature after taking it out of the refrigerator and before roasting it. This lets it cook evenly — otherwise, the deep joints where the thighs join the carcass will hold the chill longer and may still be bloody even when the breast is nearing dryness.

The other is letting the turkey rest at room temperature after the roasting. This allows the muscle fibers to reabsorb some of the moisture that has been squeezed toward the center during the cooking. It is the key to both a moist bird and one that has flesh firm enough to carve easily.

And it fits easily into the Thanksgiving schedule, even one like hers that requires travel. "Actually, I've found that the trip from our house to my sister's is just about the perfect resting time," Rodgers says. "It's about a 20-minute drive and by the time everything gets loaded and unloaded, the turkey is perfect."

The potatoesDaniel Boulud has nothing against turkey. The chef at New York's Daniel (and several other restaurants) just thinks it lacks a little, you might say, luxury. Not in the sense of fancy ingredients, but in the old-fashioned way. In other words, "something very silky, buttery, tasty like that," he says. "Something to keep the moisture around it."

This doesn't mean serving the bird with foie gras. Perfectly humble ingredients work much better. One of Boulud's favorites is a sweet potato-winter squash purée. Caramelized apples and bananas give it silkiness when it's put through the food processor, and cinnamon, cloves, allspice, fennel seed and star anise spice it up. "This is one way of getting a complexity of flavor, combining things that go well with turkey in a way that you can't do unless you purée them," he says.

Mushrooms can also supply that luxurious quality. "What kind of mushroom might vary, but it's always some kind of fricassee," says Boulud. "Good wild mushrooms, butter and olive oil, a little rosemary and garlic. I always add a little bit of toasted bread crumbs or maybe just a little bit of flour to dry them out a little bit and to absorb the juices."

Even better, you can layer them into a potato gratin and bake them slowly, liberally bathed in cream. This way all of the disparate elements unite and form a harmonic "third flavor." This gratin tastes almost as if someone slipped in some black truffles. There aren't any, but you could certainly use them if you happen to have some lying around.

There's certainly nothing wrong with that kind of luxury, either.

The cranberriesWhen Lydia Shire was growing up in Brookline, Mass., the highlight of the cooking year was Thanksgiving. Today she's chef at Boston's Excelsior and Locke-Ober restaurants, but back then she was her father's kitchen helper. "From the time I was little I was always helping him cook," she says. "I couldn't stay out of the kitchen."

Shire's father died when she was 15, but she still makes the cranberry jelly that he'd adapted from a recipe in an old Fannie Farmer cookbook. This is cranberry jelly as God intended it to be and to taste it is to realize how far all those others have fallen (even if they do look cute right out of the can). It sets with a deceptively delicate jiggle that gives no hint to its deep flavor or its warm clove-and-cinnamon spice, one of those dishes that is almost impossible to stop eating.

It's incredibly easy to make too — you just boil cranberries with a packet of sweet spices until the berries soften and thicken and then strain the mixture, add sugar and cook it briefly again.

Even today, Shire says, "I have to have that flavor. I can't go through that day without having certain flavors in my mouth because it wouldn't be Thanksgiving." And helping out in the kitchen will be Shire's 14 1/2 -year-old son, Alex. "He's going to be a cook, you know," Shire says. "I'm absolutely sure of it."

The vegetable sidesAt his 55th birthday party last year, cooked by such chefs as Keller and Le Bernardin's Eric Ripert (and attended by others, including Boulud and Pierre Gagnaire), Michel Richard, whose jolly demeanor masks a deeply competitive nature, blew everyone away with a postmodern rendition of ratatouille: each vegetable reduced to its flavor essence, set into a firm but soft jelly and presented in a sculptural mix of cubes the size of playing dice.

Richard, chef at Citronelle in Washington, D.C., is one of the country's most creative and playful chefs, even when it comes to the Thanksgiving vegetable course — something usually tacked on as an afterthought.

Thanksgiving, as it turns out, is Richard's favorite holiday. It's the most French after all — centered around the table, he explains. "Thanksgiving I love," he says, "because I don't have to worry about buying gifts; I don't need to go to Mass; I don't need to do anything but sit down at the table at 4 o'clock with my family and my friends and eat good food, drink good wine and then go outside and drink Armagnac and smoke cigars."

While the deconstructed ratatouille may be a bit extreme for a family dinner, Richard did come up with two winners. In his stuffed Savoy cabbage, the whole leaves — pale green and silken after long, gentle cooking — are wrapped around duxelles, sautéed chopped mushrooms given an extra layer of nutty complexity by a hint of curry powder.

And it would be almost impossible not to love the very Franco-American combination of long-cooked earthy Southern collard greens and the meaty green lentils from Le Puy, France. The way these seemingly unrelated ingredients play off each other is astonishing (and delicious).

For his Thanksgiving at home, Richard's turkey will be a simple roast bird, albeit with a French twist: a stuffing made with chestnuts and boudin blanc. "My wife used to accept a very thick French accent, but now it's only a little French accent," he says. "My family likes a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but there is still a mixture of the two countries."

The dessertSherry Yard's Thanksgivings growing up in Brooklyn sound a little like "I Love Lucy." First of all, her mother didn't cook. Her dad did, but he had unconventional notions of what to serve. For Thanksgiving, she remembers, "he'd set up a gas barbecue out in the backyard and go out in the cold and do steaks or kielbasa sausage, anything but turkey."

Then there was the famous episode with the creamed corn. "My mother never opened the cans and emptied them into a pot; she just put them on a baking sheet and stuck it in the oven," she says. One Thanksgiving, disaster struck: "The oven blew up and we had creamed corn everywhere. It's just lucky nobody got hit by the can."

So it's no surprise that Yard's notions of a perfect Thanksgiving dessert are out of the ordinary. If she could have it her way, she'd eat chocolate cream pie, or cookies. She does love pumpkin, but, of course, has very definite opinions about how it should be treated. "A lot of Thanksgiving food tends to be a little bit on the sweet side already, so I don't like to make anything too sweet," she says. "And I like to use brown sugar, or honey, because they don't have the same monotone sweetness that sugar does."

In fact, her pumpkin dessert is a showstopper, kind of a pumpkin pie topped with a surprise. But it's not really a pie; it's a layered torte, built in a springform pan on top of a pastry crust. Pumpkin custard comes next, then a layer of whipped cream enriched with crème fraîche and flavored maple sugar, and for the crowning glory, a caramely pumpkin chiboust — like a cold soufflé. The chiboust, which has a slightly bitter note on its own, sets off the sweet pumpkin custard beautifully.

It may be a bit of a project, but actually it's not as complicated as it seems (you can even make it a day or two ahead, when things are a little calmer). And the results are well worth the effort.

After all, this is Thanksgiving, and if you can't fantasize about a dreamy dessert now, when can you?

*

Thanksgiving menu

Shrimp with avocado salsa

Salmon rillettes

(Thomas Keller)• 

Roast turkey

Cranberry-pecan bread salad

(Judy Rodgers)

Potato gratin forestière

Spiced sweet potato purée

(Daniel Boulud)

Duxelles-stuffed Savoy cabbage

Collard greens and lentils

(Michel Richard)

My father's cranberry sauce

(Lydia Shire)

• 

Triple silken pumpkin torte

(Sherry Yard)*


Recipes

Roast turkey

Total time: 3 hours, plus 2 to 3 days brining time

Servings: 12 plus leftovers

Note: Adapted from Judy Rodgers. You may need more brining liquid depending on the size of your turkey and the bucket used. Increase the amounts of water, salt and sugar proportionately.

2/3 cup salt

1/2 cup sugar

1 gallon cool water

1 (15-pound) turkey, preferably a tom

1 carrot, cut in chunks

1/2 onion, cut in wedges

1 bay leaf

2 to 3 whole black peppercorns

4 tablespoons melted butter

1. Dissolve the salt and the sugar in the water in a bucket large enough to hold the turkey. Rinse the bird well, place it in the brine to cover and let it sit in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days. If you don't have room in the refrigerator for a large bucket, place the bird in the brine to cover and leave it at room temperature for 10 to 12 hours. Pour off the brine and place the bird in a pan or on a deep platter, tent it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 2 to 3 days, turning it daily and keeping it completely covered in between so it doesn't dry out.This method produces a less complete cure, but is a good option if space is an issue.

2. The day before you plan to cook, make a stock for the bread salad. Cut away the neck and the tips and middle joints of the wing. Cut the neck into a few pieces and cut the wings in half at the joints. Rinse them and place them in a small saucepan. Add the carrot, onion, bay leaf and peppercorn and add water to cover by 1 1/2 inches. Bring the liquid to a simmer, skim any impurities that float to the top and add a few pinches of salt. Taste; you should barely taste the salt. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Tasting every 15 minutes or so, cook until it tastes like turkey, about 1 1/2 hours. The neck will be nearly falling apart. Strain and refrigerate until needed.

3. To roast the turkey, rinse and pat it dry inside and out and leave it at room temperature for an hour or two. Because it is not completely chilled, it will cook more evenly and rapidly. By arranging for the center to be 10 degrees or so warmer than the refrigerator before you start, you get a juicier result. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. A smaller bird, say a 10-pounder, should be roasted at 375 degrees.

4. Warm a shallow roasting pan on top of a burner (or heat it in the oven). Wipe the turkey back dry one last time and set the turkey in the pan. Because the skin is dry and the pan is hot, this will help prevent sticking later. Brush the surface of the bird with the butter.

5. Place the turkey in the oven and roast until it reaches a temperature of 155 degrees when a thermometer is inserted in the thickest part of the thigh, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the turkey, your oven and how cold the turkey was when you placed it in the oven. If the turkey isn't browning well when the internal temperature reaches about 130 degrees, raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees (or turn on the convection function if you have one). Basting occasionally will help encourage browning, but it is not as efficient as raising the oven to a higher temperature and it doesn't affect juiciness.

6. When the turkey has reached the desired temperature, remove it from the oven and place it in a warm spot, free of drafts, tightly covered with foil, to finish roasting as it rests for 20 to 30 minutes. Protected as described, the internal temperature will rise about 1 degree a minute for at least 15 minutes, and will continue to rise, although more slowly thereafter. Don't skip or rush the resting phase, or you risk serving hard, dry, chewy outer bits and moister but still chewy inner sections that may be incompletely cooked.


Each (4-ounce)serving: 264 calories; 32 grams protein; 1 gram carbohydrate; 0 fiber; 14 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 101 mg. cholesterol; 543 mg. sodium.*

Potato gratin forestière

Total time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Servings: 6 to 8

Note: From "Daniel Boulud's Café Boulud Cookbook," by Daniel Boulud and Dorie Greenspan

1 pound assorted wild mushrooms, separated by variety, cleaned, trimmed and sliced

2 tablespoons (approximately) unsalted butter, divided

Salt

Freshly ground white pepper

2 cloves garlic, peeled, split, germ removed, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon finely chopped thyme leaves

3 cups heavy cream

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated

nutmeg

4 pounds Idaho or other russet potatoes

1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a medium sauté pan or skillet over medium heat, sauté each variety of mushroom in just enough butter to keep the mushrooms from sticking. Season each batch with about one-eighth teaspoon salt and a pinch of white pepper and cook, stirring, just until the mushrooms are tender but not colored, a few minutes for each batch. When one type of mushroom is cooked, drain, turn it into a large bowl and repeat with the next type. You need to sauté the mushrooms separately because each type has a different cooking time.

2. Mix the cooked mushrooms together in the bowl. Stir in the garlic and thyme and set aside at room temperature until needed. (The mushrooms can be sautéed up to 2 hours ahead and kept covered with plastic wrap at room temperature.)

3. Place a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch baking dish.

4. Pour the cream into a large bowl and whisk in 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, one-half teaspoon white pepper and the nutmeg. (Add more salt than you might normally add because the potatoes will need it.)

5. Peel the potatoes and slice them into one-eighth-inch thick rounds using a mandoline, the thinnest slicing blade on the food processor or a knife. Toss the potatoes into the cream as you slice them.

6. Using your hands, remove enough potato slices from the cream to make a single layer on the bottom of the pan, arranging the slices in even, overlapping concentric circles. Make a second layer of potato slices and then pour some cream over the layers. Press down on the potatoes to compact the layers — when you do this, some of the cream should rise up between the slices.

7. Spread the mushrooms (minus whatever liquid may have accumulated in the bowl) over the potatoes and pour in more cream, again using your hands to press down on the ingredients and bring the cream to the top. Arrange the remaining potatoes in layers over the mushrooms, pouring in cream and pressing down as you finish each layer. You may not need all of the cream; you've added enough when, without pressing down, you see cream at the edges.

8. Dust the gratin evenly with the Parmesan cheese and place the gratin on a foil-lined baking sheet.

9. Bake the gratin 45 minutes, then check that it's not getting too brown. If necessary, lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees to keep the gratin from coloring too much. Bake an additional 30 minutes or until you can easily pass a slender knife through the layers.

10. Remove the gratin from the oven and keep it warm about 20 minutes to allow the potatoes to soak up more cream. To serve, cut into wedges.


Each of 8 servings: 522 calories; 9 grams protein; 42 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 37 grams fat; 23 grams saturated fat; 132 mg. cholesterol; 870 mg. sodium.*

My father's cranberry sauce

Total time: 25 minutes, plus

2 hours chilling

Servings: Makes 6 cups

Note: From Lydia Shire

2 cinnamon sticks

30 whole cloves

8 whole allspice

3 cups water

3 (12-ounce) bags cranberries

3 cups sugar

1. Place the cinnamon sticks, cloves and allspice in a cheesecloth bag and tie it shut.

2. In a large pot, bring the water to a boil and add the spices and cranberries. Simmer until they are soft and beginning to jell, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Place a strainer over a large bowl. Remove the bag of spices and pour the cranberries into the strainer, pressing them through with the back of a spoon and scraping from time to time to clear the mesh. You may need to do this in 2 batches. Discard the solids in the strainer.

4. In a clean pot, combine the strained cranberries and the sugar and bring the mixture to a rapid boil and cook until it begins to set, about 2 minutes or so. Pour into a serving dish or dishes. Place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Cool slightly, then refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.


Each tablespoon: 29 calories; 0 protein; 7 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 0 sodium.*

Duxelles-stuffed Savoy cabbage

Total time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Servings: 12

Note: From Michel Richard

1 to 3 heads Savoy cabbage (enough for 12 large leaves)

1 tablespoon hazelnut oil

(or olive oil)

2 pounds mixed mushrooms (button, shiitake and

portabello), finely chopped

1 teaspoon curry powder

Salt

Pepper

Olive oil

1 onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 cups chicken stock

1. Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage, choosing 12 of the largest. Blanch the leaves in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water just until they soften, about 2 minutes. Immediately remove them from the water and shock them in a bowl full of ice water to stop the cooking. Press them dry between sheets of paper towel. Cut away the thick white spine from the centers of the leaves and set aside.

2. Chop enough of the inner leaves to make 2 cups.

3. Heat the hazelnut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms and curry powder and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms soften, about 5 minutes. Season with three-quarters of a teaspoon salt and one-fourth teaspoon pepper, or to taste, and set aside to cool briefly.

4. Heat the oven to 325 degrees and grease a 9- by 13-inch glass baking dish with olive oil. Spread one of the blanched cabbage leaves flat on a work surface with the outside of the leaf facing down. Season it lightly with salt and pepper. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the cooked mushroom mixture into the middle of the leaf and wrap the leaf around it to make a little package. Place it in the glass dish seam side down.

5. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook until it softens, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped garlic, the reserved 2 cups of chopped cabbage and the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook 20 minutes.

6. Let the mixture cool slightly. Ladle the mixture into a food processor and purée it, then pour the mixture over the cabbage rolls. Bake uncovered 60 minutes, occasionally spooning the cooking juices over the top. Serve immediately.


Each serving: 50 calories; 3 grams protein; 7 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 1 gram fat; 0 saturated fat; 1 mg. cholesterol; 125 mg. sodium.*

Collard greens and lentils

Total time: 20 minutes, plus 2 hours, 15 minutes simmering time

Servings: 6

Note: From Michel Richard

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, diced

1/4 pound bacon, cut in thin strips

1 pound collard greens or mixed collard and mustard greens, ribs removed, chopped

2 cups chicken stock

3/4 cup green Le Puy lentils or other lentils

Salt and pepper

Balsamic vinegar

1. Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or ovenproof pot and sauté the onion over medium heat until it becomes translucent and begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the bacon and cook until it softens, about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and remove any excess oil by patting the bacon and onion with a paper towel.

2. Return the pot to the heat and add half the greens. This will fill the pot, but as you cook, stirring frequently, the leaves will wilt and shrink. When there is enough room, add the remaining greens and the chicken stock. Stir to mix evenly.

3. Cover the pot and place it in the oven to cook until the greens are well stewed and deeply fragrant, about 1 1/2 hours.

4. Add the lentils, stir, cover and return the pot to the oven until the lentils are tender but still a little chewy, about 40 to 45 minutes.

5. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Taste and add a little more vinegar if necessary. Serve immediately.


Each serving: 198 calories; 12 grams protein; 21 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams fiber; 9 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 7 mg. cholesterol; 147 mg. sodium.*

Shrimp with avocado salsa

Total time: 55 minutes, plus chilling time

Servings: 12 canapes

Note: Adapted from "The French Laundry Cookbook" by Thomas Keller

Avocado salsa

3 tablespoons very finely diced red onion

3 tablespoons peeled, seeded and very finely diced cucumber

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons very finely diced avocado

1 teaspoon olive oil

Squeeze of lemon juice

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1. In a small bowl, mix together the red onion and cucumber. Carefully fold in the avocado, taking care not to crush it.

2. Add the oil. Season with lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Shrimp and assembly

1 quart water

1 carrot, cut in 1/2 -inch rounds

3/4 cup coarsely chopped onions

1 leek, split lengthwise, washed and cut into 1/2 -inch pieces (about 1/2 cup), outer leaves reserved

1/2 medium fennel bulb, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)

2 green outer leek leaves

3 sprigs Italian parsley

2 sprigs thyme

1 bay leaf

3 black peppercorns

1/2 cup crisp, dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1/2 lemon

6 large shrimp, in their shells

Avocado salsa

1. In a large pot, add the water, carrots, onions, leek and fennel. Make a bouquet garni by tying together the leek leaves, parsley sprigs, thyme sprigs and bay leaf and add to the pot. Add the peppercorns and bring the mixture to a boil.

2. Reduce to a simmer and add the white wine and vinegar. Squeeze in the lemon juice and add the rind to the pot too. Simmer 20 minutes.

3. Add the shrimp to the simmering pot and cook 1 minute. Remove the pot from the heat. Place the shrimp in a large glass bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover tightly and refrigerate until chilled or for up to a day.

4. Peel the shrimp, removing the shells but keeping the tail tips intact. Dry the shrimp on paper towels. Cut each shrimp lengthwise in half down the back, and use a paring knife to remove the vein that runs the length of the shrimp.

5. Spear each shrimp half on the tip of a fork. Arrange the forks on a platter and place a spoonful of salsa on the fork behind each shrimp.


Each serving: 15 calories; 1 gram protein; 1 gram carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 1 gram fat; 0 saturated fat; 5 mg. cholesterol; 7 mg. sodium.

*

Salmon rillettes

Total time: 45 minutes, plus 60 minutes marinating and at least 1 hour chilling time

Servings: 10 to 12 (makes about 3 1/4 cups)

Note: From "Bouchon" by Thomas Keller. More clarified butter may be needed depending on the size of the serving bowls.

1 pound center-cut salmon fillet, skin and pin bones removed

2 tablespoons Pernod

Salt

Freshly ground white pepper

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided

1/2 cup minced shallots

1 tablespoon crème fraîche

1/2 pound unsliced smoked salmon, chilled, skin and dark layer removed if necessary, cut into 1/4 -inch dice and brought to room temperature

2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 egg yolks, lightly beaten

1/4 cup minced chives

1. Trim and discard any dark flesh from the salmon fillet. Place the fish in a shallow baking dish and sprinkle each side with 1 tablespoon of the Pernod, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and one-fourth teaspoon white pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 to 60 minutes, turning the fish over halfway through the marination.

2. Bring water to a simmer in the bottom of a steamer. Remove the salmon from the baking dish and place it in the steamer and cover with the lid. Steam gently for 5 to 8 minutes; if you see steam pouring out the sides of the steamer, lower the heat. Check the salmon by separating the flesh with the tip of a knife and peering at the center. It should be medium-rare. When it is cooked, remove from the steamer.

3. Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a medium sauté pan over low heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Season with one-fourth teaspoon salt and continue to cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the shallots have softened but not browned. Remove from the heat.

4. Put 7 tablespoons butter in a small bowl and beat with a rubber spatula until it is smooth and resembles mayonnaise in consistency. Stir in the crème fraîche. Set aside.

5. Put the cooked salmon in a large bowl and stir to break it into large chunks. Because you will be stirring in the remaining ingredients, you don't want to break up the pieces too much. Stir in the smoked salmon, shallots, lemon juice, olive oil and egg yolks. Season assertively with one-fourth teaspoon salt and one-half teaspoon white pepper, since this will be served cold. Fold in the butter mixture.

6. Transfer the rillettes to 2 ceramic or glass serving bowls, leaving at least one-half-inch of space at the top. Smooth the top of the rillettes and wipe the inside rims clean. Refrigerate for about 1 hour, until cold. Pour a one-fourth-inch-thick layer of clarified butter over the top of the rillettes to seal. (To clarify butter, melt the remaining one-half cup — 1 stick — butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Do not let it brown. Remove it from the heat and set aside for 5 minutes. A white foam will collect on top. Using a large spoon, remove the foam. Carefully and with a steady hand, pour off the clear yellowish liquid, leaving the milky solids at the bottom. )

7. Cover the bowls and store in the refrigerator for up to a week. To serve, break through the butter layer and remove it. Spread the rillettes on toast or crackers and sprinkle with chives. (Once the butter is removed, eat the rillettes within 2 days.)


Each tablespoon: 69 calories; 4 grams protein; 1 gram carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 5 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 32 mg. cholesterol; 168 mg. sodium.*

Cranberry-pecan bread salad

Total time: 45 minutes

Servings: 12

Note: From Judy Rodgers. She notes that "the bread should be made from unbleached white flour, water, salt, yeast and nothing else. No seeds, dairy or any other flours." The steps in this recipe are timed to coincide with roasting a turkey but the salad could be made independently.

1 1/2 pounds slightly stale, open-crumbed, chewy, peasant-style bread (not sourdough); ciabatta is best

1 cup plus 4 tablespoons mild olive oil, divided

1/2 cup Champagne vinegar

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup dried cranberries

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1 cup warm water

3/4 cup pecans, broken into large pieces

12 garlic cloves, slivered

4 to 5 bunches green onions, (2 cups) slivered, including a little of the green part

1/4 cup turkey stock or lightly salted water

12 cups arugula or torn red mustard greens, washed and dried

1. Heat the broiler. Cut the bread into large chunks. Cut off the bottom crust and most of the top and side crusts. Brush the bread with 3 tablespoons olive oil. Broil briefly to crisp and lightly color the surface. Turn the bread chunks over and crisp the other side. Trim any charred tips and tear the chunks into irregular pieces, a combination of: 2-inch pieces, some that are bite-sized and some that are no more than fat crumbs. You should have about 12 cups.

2. Combine 1 cup olive oil with the Champagne vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and one-eighth teaspoon pepper. Toss about three-fourths of this vinaigrette with the torn bread in a wide bowl (reserve the remaining vinaigrette). The bread will be unevenly dressed. Taste one of the more saturated pieces and if it is bland, season to taste with a little more salt and pepper and toss again.

3. Place the cranberries in a bowl and moisten them with the red wine vinegar and warm water and set aside.

4. While the turkey is roasting, place the pecans in a small baking pan and set them in the oven to warm through. Add them to the bread.

5. Place 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet; add the garlic and scallions and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until softened, about 3 minutes. Don't let them color. Scrape these into the bread and fold to combine.

5. Drain and fold in the cranberries. Dribble the turkey stock or lightly salted water over all and fold again. Taste a few pieces of the bread, a fairly saturated one and a dryish one. If either is bland, season to taste with salt, pepper or a few drops of vinegar, then toss well again.

6. Pile the bread salad in a large baking dish and tent it very loosely with aluminum foil. Place it in the 350-degree oven when you remove the roasted turkey to rest. Turn off the oven and leave it in for 20 to 30 minutes. Set a wide salad bowl in a warm spot. Remove the salad greens from the refrigerator so they will be at room temperature when you add them to the bread salad.

7. Just after you carve the turkey, tip the bread salad into the wide salad bowl. It will be steamy hot; a mixture of soft, moist wads, crispy-on-the-outside-but-moist-in-the-middle wads, and a few downright crispy ones. Add the greens, a drizzle of the reserved vinaigrette and fold. Taste again before serving and adjust seasoning.


Each serving: 429 calories; 6 grams protein; 37 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 30 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 300 mg. sodium.*

Spiced sweet potato purée

Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Servings: 10 to 12

Note: From Daniel Boulud

1 (1 1/2 -inch) cinnamon stick

3 whole allspice

3 whole cloves

1 star anise

1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 sprig fresh thyme

1 small bay leaf

1 (1- by 2-inch) piece of orange peel

1/2 medium butternut squash, cut in half lengthwise, seeds scooped out

1/2 large acorn squash, cut in half lengthwise, seeds scooped out

Salt

Pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 Golden Delicious apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 -inch cubes

1/2 medium banana, peeled and cut into 1/2 -inch slices

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 cup orange juice

3 pounds sweet potatoes (about 3 potatoes) peeled and cut into 1-inch dice

2 cups milk

2 cups cream

1/2 cup (1 stick) softened unsalted butter, divided

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the cinnamon stick, the allspice, cloves, star anise, fennel seeds, thyme, bay leaf and orange peel on a length of cheesecloth, and tie it up into a sachet. Set aside.

2. Place the butternut and acorn squashes cut side up on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast until tender, about 1 hour. Set aside.

3. While they're roasting, heat the olive oil in a large pot, add the onion, apple and banana, sprinkle with the sugar, and sweat them until caramelized, about 10 minutes.

4. Deglaze the pan by pouring in the orange juice, stirring and scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen any bits. Add the sweet potato, and stir to coat.

5. Pour in the milk and cream, add 4 tablespoons of the butter and the sachet. Bring to a gentle simmer, and poach the sweet potatoes over medium heat until they're very tender, about 45 minutes. Strain the sweet potatoes, reserving the poaching liquid. Discard the sachet.

6. Scoop the roasted squash out of its shells, and place the flesh in a potato ricer. Add the sweet potatoes and press through. You may need to do this in batches. Then pass the mixture through a fine sieve into a large saucepan.

7. Add enough poaching liquid to yield a silky purée, along with the remaining butter. Season with the sea salt and white pepper. May be prepared ahead up to this point, and reheated on low heat.


Each of 12 servings: 359 calories; 4 grams protein; 32 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber;25 grams fat; 15 grams saturated fat; 81 mg. cholesterol; 237 mg. sodium.*

Triple silken pumpkin torte

Total time: 2 hours, 15 minutes plus cooling time

Servings: 8 to 10 servings

Note: From Sherry Yard. Use your own pie crust recipe to make the dough for the bottom layer described in the first step.

Pumpkin custard layer

Dough for 1 (9-inch) pie crust

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 eggs

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

3/4 cup plain canned pumpkin (without spices)

1/2 cup sour cream

3/4 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons brandy

1. Roll out the pie crust dough to a 10-inch circle (one-fourth-inch thick) and press it in the bottom and slightly up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. The extra dough on the sides will compensate for shrinkage. Bake at the temperature your recipe indicates until golden brown and cooked through. Cool completely before filling with custard.

2. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, ginger and cinnamon. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the brown sugar, pumpkin, sour cream, heavy cream and brandy.

2. Pour the mixture into the springform pan on top of the cooled pastry. Cover the pan with buttered aluminum foil and bake until the custard is just set, about 1 hour.

3. Remove from the oven and cool at room temperature. The recipe can be prepared to this point 2 days in advance and refrigerated.

Cream layer

3/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup crème fraîche

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons maple sugar

1. Combine the heavy cream and crème fraiche in a large mixing bowl and beat until it starts to thicken and swell. Add the sugar and maple sugar and continue beating until stiff.

2. Spread in an even layer on top of the pumpkin custard and refrigerate.

Caramel pumpkin chiboust

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons water, divided

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons gelatin

3/4 cup plain canned pumpkin (no spices)

3 egg whites

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

3 tablespoons sugar, divided

1. Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.

2. Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger in a mixing bowl. In a heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, 1 tablespoon water, and the lemon juice and cook over high heat until the mixture turns caramel color, at about 335 degrees. This will take about 4 to 5 minutes.

3. Place the remaining 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Stir, then let it sit for 1 minute.

4. Remove the caramel from the stove and stir the brown sugar mixture into it. Add the softened gelatin and stir to dissolve. Whisk in the canned pumpkin and set aside.

5. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they foam. Add the cream of tartar and about 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat. Continue to beat, adding the remaining sugar in a slow, steady stream. Beat until the egg whites are stiff and shiny, about 2 minutes.

6. Lighten the warm pumpkin mixture by folding in one-third of the beaten egg whites using a balloon whisk. Pour the remaining egg whites over the top and carefully fold them into the pumpkin mixture using a rubber spatula. Fold in the whipped cream.

7. Carefully pour the chiboust mixture over the whipped cream layer and smooth the top. Refrigerate for 2 hours until set. This can be made a day in advance.

8. To serve, gently unmold the torte from the springform pan and set it on a plate. Garnish with additional whipped cream if desired.


Each of 10 servings: 459 calories; 5 grams protein; 48 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 28 grams fat; 16 grams saturated fat; 118 mg. cholesterol; 148 mg. sodium.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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