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Hands down this is my favorite family holiday of the year!  One year, an older gentleman restaurateur and I stayed up until the wee-hours of the night to create this menu together.   We had a ball preparing our festive meal for everyone even though the old-timer put way too much salt in our stuffing!  He's still a notable veteran in the restaurant and casual dining business but he's no longer allowed in my kitchen!

The real secret to this meal's success is to prepare it as much in advance as possible.  Because the turkey, cranberry sauce and apple pie were started the night before, I had more time to freshen up, adorn those high heels and spend plenty of time with Brad at our inaugural Thanksgiving party.  The atmosphere sitting down with family and new friends was one of the most delicious and magical evenings I can remember.

To top it off, we decorated our dining table by filling tall Hurricane vases with layers of fresh cranberries, whole chestnuts and Grimes Golden apple.  Scattered autumn leaves and small bird statues completed our natural and simple Fall look.

Each guest's place card was a small picture frame in cranberry and gold colors which made quite a fun take-away gift along with the loving memories shared that special day.

Menu
Autumn Salad with Pear, Stilton Cheese and Chicory
Perfect Bird with Cornbread and Andouille Sausage Stuffing
Spicy Cranberry Sauce
Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta
Creamed Leeks
Smashed Sweet Potatoes with Caramelized Apple
Caramel Apple Pie
Dirty Pecan Pie
Red Fruit Soup

AUTUMN SALAD WITH PEAR, STILTON, CHICORY & CHESTNUTS
Prepared in 25 minutes or less.

10 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups roasted, shelled and skinned chestnuts (14 oz bottled whole)
4 firm ripe red pears
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbs sherry vinegar
3 tbs shallots, finely chopped
1 head chicory (curly endive), rinsed and torn (12 cups)
8 oz Stilton cheese, crumbled

Heat 5 tablespoons oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté chestnuts with salt and pepper to taste, stirring, until crisp on outside (being careful not to burn or cook until hard), about 4 minutes.  Remove from heat.
Halve and core pears, then cut lengthwise into thin slices.
Whisk together mustard, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl and add remaining 5 tablespoons oil in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified.
Pour over salad and serve.  Serves 8.

PERFECT THANKSGIVING BIRD
Prepared in 4½ hours plus overnight in the refrigerator.

1 14 to16 lbs fresh organic turkey, rinsed, patted dry, giblets and neck reserved for gravy
3 cups coarse sea salt
5 cups sugar
2 medium yellow onions, coarsely chopped
2 medium leeks, rinsed well, white and pale-green parts only, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, rinsed and coarsely chopped
2 Bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tsp whole black peppercorns, plus extra ground pepper
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
¼ cup unsalted butter softened to room temperature
½ cup dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Sancerre
Garnish such as apples, pears, figs, fresh rosemary or sage sprigs
Salt and fresh pepper to taste
Cheesecloth, a loosely woven cotton cloth found in most supermarkets or specialty stores.

*Brine, a strong solution of water and salt used to flavor, is used on your turkey for 24 hours to make the meat tender.  Leave plenty of time for this recipe.

*If you don't brine yours, skip steps 1 and 2.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking the turkey until the thickest part of the thigh registers 180 degrees. For a moister bird, cooked to 165°F; it will continue to cook outside the oven as it rests.

Put salt, sugar, onions, leeks, carrots, celery, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, peppercorns, and 10 cups water in a large stockpot.  Bring to a boil, stirring until salt and sugar have dissolved.  Remove from heat; let brine cool completely.  Add turkey, breast first, to the brine.  Cover; refrigerate 24 hours.  Remove from brine; pat dry with paper towels.  Let stand at room temperature 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 425°F, with rack in lowest position.  Stir together melted butter and wine in a medium bowl.  Fold a very large piece of cheesecloth into quarters so that it is large enough to cover breast and halfway down sides of turkey.  Immerse cloth in butter mixture; let soak.

Place turkey, breast side up, on a rack set in a roasting pan.  Fold wing tips under turkey. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper inside turkey.  Loosely fill body and neck cavities with stuffing.  Tie legs together with kitchen twine.  Fold neck flap under; secure with toothpicks.  Rub turkey all over with softened butter; season with salt and pepper.

Remove cheesecloth from butter mixture, squeezing gently into bowl.

Reserve butter mixture for brushing. Lay cheesecloth over turkey.  Place turkey, legs first, in oven. Roast 30 minutes.  Brush cheesecloth and exposed turkey with butter mixture.  Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.  Roast, brushing every 30 minutes, 2½ hours more; cover with foil if browning too quickly.  If making gravy, add giblets and neck to pan 1½ hours after reducing temperature; roast 30 minutes, and reserve.

Discard cheesecloth; rotate pan.

Baste turkey with pan juices.  Roast, rotating pan halfway through, until skin is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers to 180°F and stuffing reaches 165°F, about 1 hour.

Transfer to a platter.  Set pan with drippings aside for gravy.  Let turkey stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes.  Garnish, if desired.

CORNBREAD AND ANDOUILLE SAUSAGE STUFFING
Prepared in 20 minutes.

1 lbs Andouille sausages cut into ⅓-inch pieces
6 cups crumbled cornbread
¼ cup fresh chopped parsley
1 tsp sage
2 tbs unsalted butter
2 cups chopped celery stalks and leaves
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green onions
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
Salt and fresh pepper to taste

In a large bowl, place cornbread, parsley and sage.  Next, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown Andouille sausages for 5-8 minutes then add to large bowl.

In the same skillet, melt butter then sauté celery, onions and garlic for 10 minutes or until soft.  Add mixture to large bowl.

Season generously with salt and fresh pepper and mix well with a large wooden spoon.  Serves 8.

SPICY CRANBERRY AND PINOT NOIR SAUCE
Makes 2½ cups  

1 tbs vegetable oil
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (about 8 ounces)
1 tbs minced fresh ginger
2 cups Pinot Noir or other dry red wine
1 cup sugar
3 tbs chopped crystallized ginger
½  tsp curry powder
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat oil.  Add cranberries and fresh ginger.  Stir until combined and berries just begin to burst, approximately 3-5 minutes.

Add Pinot Noir, sugar, curry powder and red pepper flakes.  Simmer for 15 minutes or so until mixture is reduced to 2½ cups.  Pour into a bowl and serve at room temperature.

WINNING BRUSSEL SPROUTS WITH PANCETTA
Prepared in 20 minutes or less.

1½ lbs Brussel sprouts
½ lbs pancetta, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 tsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tsp thyme, finely chopped
Salt and fresh pepper to taste

Boil a large pot of salted water.  Trim Brussel sprouts, remove any yellow leaves and immerse in boiling water for 4 minutes.  Place in cold water to cool then drain.

In a sauté pan, heat cubed pancetta until most fat is rendered and the pancetta is crispy approximately 10 minutes.

Remove pancetta, reserving a bit of the liquid fat in the pan.  Drain pancetta on paper towels.

Add the Brussel sprouts and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Return pancetta to pan with sprouts and add parsley, thyme, salt and pepper.  Serve immediately.  Serves 4.

From both the onion and garlic families, leeks are native to the Mediterranean countries.  With their milder, more subtle and year-round availability in most regions, leeks are enormously popular in the culinary world.

CREAMED LEEKS (THE OTHER ONION)
Prepared in 25 minutes or less.

3½ lbs leeks, root ends trimmed and thoroughly rinsed
2 cups bread crumbs (fresh from an artisanal loaf, crusts discarded)
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp fresh ground white pepper
¾ stick (6 tbs) unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream

Place oven rack in middle position and preheat to 450°F.

Cut each leek into 8-inch length sticks, measuring from root to end.  Next, halve lengthwise then cut, again, crosswise into 1½-inch pieces.  Yields approximately 8 cups.

Wash leek pieces in a large bowl with ice cold water. Stir.  Remove from water bath and transfer to another large bowl.  Repeat with cool clean water.  Drain.  Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook bread crumbs with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¾ teaspoon pepper and 3 tablespoons unsalted butter.  Stir until golden brown, approximately 3 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Using wax or parchment paper, cut out a round circle to fit inside a 12-inch heavy skillet.  Set aside.  Place leeks in skillet.

Over medium to low heat, cook leeks using rest of salt, pepper and butter.  Cover with wax or parchment round and cook approximately 10-12 minutes.

Discard wax or parchment paper and transfer leeks with a slotted spoon to a gratin dish.  Pour heavy cream over cooked leeks.  Scatter bread crumbs on top.

Bake in oven until cream is bubbling and slightly thickened, approximately 15 minutes.  Bread crumbs will be golden brown.  Serve immediately.  Serves 4.

SMASHED SWEET POTATOES WITH CARAMELIZED APPLES
Prepared in 20 minutes or less.

For the Sweet Potatoes:
4-6 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed and pricked with a fork
½ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
½ lemon, juiced and seeds removed
½ cup heavy cream
½ stick unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup light brown sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp kosher salt
Fresh pepper to taste

For the Apples:
3 tbs unsalted butter
3 McIntosh apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
3 tbs light brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375°F.

On a cookie sheet, bake potatoes for one hour or until soft when pierced with a knife or toothpick.  Remove from the oven. 

As soon as they are cool enough to handle, scoop out the insides with a serrated spoon.  Place the sweet potato insides into a large bowl set for an electric mixer.  Next, add the orange and lemon juices, cream, melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and fresh pepper.

Mix together until combined but not smooth.  Pour into a buttered baking dish.  Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt remaining butter.  Add the apple wedges and light brown sugar.  Cook for 5-10 minutes until apples are lightly browned on both sides.

Scoop apples and place them onto sweet potatoes.

Bake the smashed potatoes for 20-30 minutes.  Serve immediately.

THANKSGIVING CARAMEL APPLE PIE
Prepared in 70 minutes or less.

For the Pie Crust: 
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup plus 1 tbs butter flavored shortening, chilled
⅓ cup ice water
1 tbs vinegar
1 egg, room temperature, beaten

For the Filling:
6 cups Granny Smith apples
½ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
1 tbs lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
4 tbs heavy cream
4 tbs butter

For the Streusel Topping:
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 tbs sugar
1 tbs butter
2 toffee bars or 3 oz chocolate covered peanut or pecan brittle, crushed

For the Pie Crust:
Chill all ingredients, including the flour and vinegar. Combine the flour, salt and sugar. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles cornmeal. In another bowl, mix water and vinegar with the beaten egg. Add the liquid mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, to the flour mixture, tossing with a fork to form a soft dough.

For the Filling:
Preheat oven to 450°F.

Peel and slice apples.  Sprinkle with lemon juice.  Combine dry ingredients in large bowl and add apples.  Toss to mix.  Add vanilla and cream.

Melt butter in heavy skillet.  Add apple mixture and cook approximately 8 minutes, tosoften apples. Turn into pie shell.

For the Streusel Topping:
Combine the flour and sugar.  Mix in butter with fork until coarse crumbs.
Stir in the crushed toffee bars.  Sprinkle over pie.  Add top crust.

Seal, flute edge and vent top.

Brush with beaten egg white and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 15 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350°F and bake an additional 45 minutes.

DIRTY PECAN TART
This is a fabulous addition to any Thanksgiving or holiday meal. Prepared in 15 minutes plus 1 hour to bake.

½ cup sugar
2 tbs unbleached flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup light corn syrup
¼ cup melted unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbs Wild Turkey or bourbon
Pinch of salt
2 cups pecan halves, toasted in oven for a few minutes
8 oz. bittersweet dark chocolate, chopped
1 9-inch frozen pie crust, thawed and brushed with melted butter

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, sift together sugar and flour.  In another bowl, add rest of the ingredients, mix well.

Combine all ingredients into large bowl.  Pour into crust and bake one hour
or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Coulis, a fancy French term, simply refers to a thick sauce made from juices.  This "star" studded soup pulls its fragrant flavor from a homemade fruit coulis.

RED FRUIT SOUP
Prepared in 20 minutes or less plus overnight refrigeration.

For the Red Fruit Coulis:
¾ cup raspberries
¾ cup strawberries
½ cup blackberries
½ cup blueberries
½ cup red currants
¼ cup sugar
(Frozen fruit can be substituted)

For the Soup:
1 cup red coulis, a thick purée or sauce
¼ cup Pinot Noir wine
½ cup honey
1 cinnamon stick
10 juniper berries (Spice Hunter brand preferred found at gourmet markets)
10 pepper corns
10 coriander seeds
1 whole clove
2 Star anise
2 Bay leaves
½ lemon juice + zest
½ orange juice + zest

For the Red Fruit Coulis:
Set a large skillet over medium heat.  Add fruits and cook until fruits release juices, about 8–10 minutes.  Stir and sprinkle with sugar.  Add 2 cups cold water and dash of salt to the mixture.  Allow to simmer on low heat until fruit breaks down and liquid is very flavorful, approximately 12 minutes. 

Remove fruit mixture from heat.  Purée in a food processor or through a food mill set over a large bowl.  Discard solids then pass mixture through a chinois, fine mesh conical shaped sieve, over another bowl.  Discard any remaining solids and set aside. 

Combine in a boiling pot all the ingredients for the soup and bring it to boil, simmer for 10-15 minutes.  Pour soup into a big bowl with all the red fruit coulis.

Refrigerate for one night and serve it with some vanilla ice cream.  Serve cold.  Serves 4.

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