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Thanksgiving by the Books

Holiday dinner plans pulled from the best of new culinary literature


By B.A. Nilsson

Every year at this time the holidays loom like a marathon. Iím going to be cooking a succession of small meals and two or three big fill-the-table events for family and friends. I look for inspiration in the market, of course, as well as the traditions that have accumulated so relentlessly, but I wouldnít find fun in the kitchen without something new to try, so I also look to the latest cookbooks for new directions. Itís easy to get entrenched in a way of cooking something, so I count on better chefs to pull me from my ruts.

Ten years ago, Thomas Kellerís French Laundry Cookbook offered wonderful ideas on preparing and presenting food, albeit in the rarefied manner of his acclaimed Napa Valley restaurant. In last yearís Under Pressure, he redefined a temperature-controlled method of cooking that, given patience and some costly equipment, produces astonishing results. Now Keller has a cookbook for the masses: Ad Hoc at Home (Artisan), inspired by his comfort-foods restaurant but also offering a comprehensive course in kitchen techniques. Every time I read his guides I learn something. When I make my next round of burgers, for instance, Iíll grind a mix of beef cuts, seasoning them before they hit the grinder.

I wanted to design a Thanksgiving meal that would put the traditional ingredients into new or rethought contexts, beginning with a fresh turkey that will be brined before spending a few hours in a 210-degree smoker.

From Ad Hoc at Home I took the concept of turning sweet into savory by putting leeks, one of my favorite flavorings, into a bread pudding. Seasoned with thyme, nutmeg and Emmantaler cheese, itís also a wonderfully aromatic dish that gives the house a holiday scent.

I wanted another meat course, and turned to pasta as the vehicle. Four years ago we finally got one of Italyís culinary bibles, The Silver Spoon, in an English version. Donít dismiss this yearís Silver Spoon Pasta (Phaidon Press) as a mere spin-off: Many new recipes are included, with more great photography.

Adding a little chicken liver to a meat sauce gives it a sneakily different texture. If you donít identify whatís in there, even the most ardent liver-hater wonít notice. Pappardelle with meat sauce (al ragý misto) combines beef or pork (Iím using both) with chicken livers and pancetta with carrots, celery, red wine and tomatoes. And a pinch of nutmeg. Although sage isnít called for, itíll be hard to resist adding a little.

My latest passion is Thai food, which Iím learning to cook and thus now stock lemongrass stalks, galangel and kaffir lime leaves. Putting it all into a healthy context is the mission of The Elements of Life by Su-Mei Yu (Wiley), who is chef-owner of San Franciscoís Saffron restaurant. As she recounts in the introduction, Thai cooks routinely use food as curatives and provide a long-range balance of personal wellness by cooking according to natureís elements of earth, water, fire and wind.

To start my menu on a healthful note, Iím presenting her version of tom yum, a hot and sour soup filled with bite-sized fish and a mixture of bamboo shoots, arugula leaves, squash, cucumber, leeks and Chinese winter melon.

Momofuku Noodle Bar is the East Village restaurant that put Korean-born chef-owner David Chang on the map. Heís added three more NYC eateries, and his book Momofuku (Clarkson Potter) offers an engagingly written guide to his wide-ranging cooking philosophy. I got my Brussels sprouts recipe from his book. He writes, ďI remember walking through the Greenmarket one day after we opened and thinking, ĎWhat the fuck would I do with Brussels sprouts?íĒ

Specifically, how to do it without the bacon and chestnuts he found on everybody elseís sprouts. ďIt didnít take me long to come around to the bacon thing,Ē he continues. ďI usually do.Ē He finishes the dish with his own Napa cabbage kimchi and a garnish of julienned carrots. Iíll keep the carrots, but Iím taking the recipe in a slightly different direction, substituting an apple cider glaze for the pickled cabbage. Thatís because Iíll have cabbage in a slaw seasoned with lime, among other things, which will resonate nicely with the lime in both the tom yum and my cranberry sauce. ďWinter salads can be just as vibrant as Juneís blowsy, lazy salads, if you use a little creativity,Ē write Matt Lee and Ted Lee in The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern (Clarkson Potter). This one uses a mix of red and white cabbage, shredded thin, with baby spinach, roasted spinach, lime segments and flavors of cumin and mustard.

Laura Pensieroís Gigi Trattoria is a celebrated Rhinebeck restaurant; her new book Hudson Valley Mediterranean (William Morrow) celebrates our areaís ingredients with a season-by-season approach, refining or reinventing classic and original recipes to keep an eye on the health factor.

Iím going to try the restaurant soon; meanwhile, Iím using her recipe for a mashed potato-rutabaga-turnip gratin to see if the flavors meld as well as she promises. The trio is riced into a casserole dish and baked with Grana Padano, thyme and nutmeg, and the benefits of the root veggies within should be delivered with an appealing flavor.

How to Roast a Lamb (Little, Brown) is the incisive title of Michael Psilakisís new book, but it turns out to be an entire course in Greek cooking as practiced by the author in his Manhattan restaurants, including Anthos and Kefi. His cooking story is also an autobiography, a celebration of family and friends where food is central. Iím eager to roast a lamb according to his precepts.

Meanwhile, Iím borrowing the skordalia portion of a dish that also includes salt cod and pickled beets. Skordalia adds a garlic-vinegar purťe to hot, riced potatoes, and Iím eager to taste this alternative to slathering the spuds with butter.

I Know How to Cook, proclaims the title of Ginette Mathiotís classic French tome, a Gallic cross between The Joy of Cooking and The Silver Spoon thatís been around since 1932, but now itís been newly revised and translated (Phaidon Press). No question that Iíd find a recipe there for chocolate mousse. What surprised me, however, is that it calls for no heavy cream. Itís the classic French version of chocolate, egg whites and sugar, a simple and sweet way to finish this polyglot meal.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


Itís Beaujolais time, and the folks at Provence (Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany) invite you to join them for their 10th anniversary celebration with the 2009 release of George Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau. A three-course menu will be offered tonight (Thursday, Nov. 19) through Saturday (Nov. 21). For starters, choose mussels Marseilles, pumpkin-sage bisque or duck confit salad. Entrťes include braised black Angus short ribs, rotisserie-roasted stuffed heritage hog pork loin, pan-seared fillet of salmon with zucchini-wild mushroom sautťe, and boneless quail stuffed with tart cherry bread pudding. Dinner includes a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau, and thereís a choice of dessert. Itís $37.95 per person, and you can make a reservation by calling 689-7777 ( . . . Maestroís (371 Broadway, Saratoga Springs) continues its Five Dollar/Five OíClock entrťe special through Nov. 25, giving you a choice of four entrťes that are $5 apiece. The catch? Your entire party must be seated by 5 PMónot one minute later! Reservations are highly suggested, so call 580-0312 ( . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.

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