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Thanksgiving // You can go for the grand

Thanksgiving is the ultimate food holiday. It's a day devoted to celebrating the best of the table: growing, cooking, eating and gathering together.

For Thanksgiving cooks, the considerable work involved can be a joy. It's even close to a fair trade if the rest of the family and company put on their best manners and good humor _ and pitch in with the housecleaning and child care as well as the dishes.

The cook's grandest vision of a perfect Thanksgiving dinner combines favorite traditions with one or two proud new creations and yet proves not be an ordeal.

The key is planning, starting with the menu. If you want to make some additions, subtract a few dishes that have more hassles than popularity. Do you really need mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and dressing? Does anyone still like creamed onions? The emphasis is on warmth and comfort, so the tried and true flavors are expected, but you might not need all of them to deliver the familiar flavor.

In their place, select a simple new dish, preferably a fresh vegetable that's steamed and crisp or roasted and savory, or a green salad or a second stuffing.

Consider giving the meal a Florida accent with the local harvest of tomatoes, corn and avocados. Or make an oyster dressing. Since this is a harvest celebration, fresh and local ingredients are more important than expensive or gourmet additions.

And don't be afraid to farm out some of the courses, like dessert, to a friend or a bakery.

To make the whole meal work better, plan your space as well as your time today. Make room in the refrigerator and the freezer and start clearing off cabinet tops in the dining room. Put serving dishes on the table to make room in the kitchen.

You'll realize that food will take the place of a centerpiece, but if you want to decorate the table, do it simply with something movable. Consider a vase of fresh flowers or a bowl full of hard squash, tangerines and cranberries that you can move to another part of the house later.

Plan a rough timetable, working backwards from dinner hour to the start of cooking and even earlier to thawing, to decide when's best to shop and what you might do ahead on weeknights before turkey day.

Here are some recipes, both traditional and imaginative, that can add distinction to your holiday table.

Carrots With Chive Cream Sauce

8 to 10 medium carrots (about 1} pounds)

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt

Pinch of freshly ground

nutmeg

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1{ tablespoons heavy cream

Small bunch of chives, chopped

Peel carrots and cut in julienne strips (3/16- by 1-inch). Wash in cold water, drain and dry on paper towels.

Place carrots in saucepan with butter, sugar, pinch of salt, nutmeg and about 2 cups water. Cover pan and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes.

Uncover and raise heat; completely reduce cooking liquid.

Add lemon juice to carrots and bring to boil; add cream and boil for a minute or so.

Check for seasoning and turn out into warmed serving dish; sprinkle with chopped chives.

Serves 4-6.

Source: Roger Verge's Vegetables in the French Style (Artisan, $35).

Roast Turkey

1 (12- to 16-pound) whole turkey, fresh or frozen, thawed

Salt

Ground black pepper

Stuffing of your choice

Vegetable oil

Chicken broth

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Remove giblets, neck and any fat from turkey body and neck cavities. (Don't forget to check the neck.) Discard fat. Dry turkey inside and out with paper towels. Sprinkle cavities with salt and pepper.

If stuffing, lightly spoon some of stuffing into neck cavity, fold skin flap under back and fasten with skewers; loosely stuff body cavity and close with turkey lacers or skewers or truss shut. (If roasting unstuffed, tuck neck skin flap under and truss body cavity if desired.) Tie or clamp legs together. Twist wing tips under back. Rub skin with oil, salt and pepper.

Place turkey, breast side up, on rack in shallow roasting pan. Insert meat thermometer into center of a thigh next to the body (not touching bone). Pour 1 cup broth into pan. Roast 4{ to 5{ hours (3{ to 4{ hours if unstuffed), basting with pan juices every 30 to 40 minutes. Add more broth or water if pan seems dry. If breast starts to get too brown, cover loosely with foil.

Two-thirds of the way through roasting time (about 3 hours if bird is stuffed), untie drumsticks so heat can penetrate body cavity.

About 1 hour before turkey should be done, start checking meat thermometer. When it reads 180 degrees and center of stuffing registers 165 (insert meat thermometer through body cavity and leave for 5 minutes), remove turkey to serving platter or carving board. Let stand at least 30 minutes for easier carving.

Makes 12 servings.

Fresh Cranberry-Orange Relish

1 navel orange (about 8 ounces), unpeeled and cut into small chunks

1 (12-ounce) bag cranberries, washed and stemmed

} cup granulated sugar

Optional garnish: orange twist and whole cranberries

Place orange, cranberries and sugar in food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Cover and chill at least 1 hour and up to 1 week. Spoon into serving dish and garnish with orange twist and whole cranberries, if desired.

Makes 12 servings.

From America's Kitchen by Anthony Dias Blue (Turner Publishing, $34.95).

Honey And Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

[ cup olive oil

1{ tablespoons rosemary

Salt and pepper

12 to 16 medium new potatoes

\ cup honey

On a baking tray, place the olive oil and potatoes (sliced in half, cut side up). Sprinkle on the fresh rosemary (chopped), salt and pepper. Place the tray into a preheated 425-degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and add the honey. Return to oven and cook until done, about 30 minutes more.

(Editor's note: If you don't like the strong flavor of rosemary, leave it out.)

Serves 6 to 8.

Source: John Roberts of Krabloonik in Snowmass Village, Colo.

Cranberry And Sun-Dried Tomato Stuffing

\ cup olive oil

1 large white onion, diced

2 stalks peeled celery, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large shallot, minced

{ cup pine nuts

\ cup sun-dried tomatoes

1 cup cranberry juice

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup whole cranberries

loaf, French bread, cubed

Using a large saucepan on medium heat, place the olive oil, onion, celery, garlic and shallot. Saute until translucent. Add the pine nuts and diced sun dried tomatoes (be sure to reconstitute them with water); reserve the liquid. Deglaze the pan with the cranberry juice and season with salt and pepper. (Be sure not to overseason with salt, because the tomatoes can be salty.)

Add cranberries and cook until they begin to pop. Remove from the heat and add the cubed bread and mix so that the stuffing holds together. If the stuffing is too dry add some of the reserved tomato liquid to get appropriate consistency.

Editor's note: We tried this recipe using apple juice and 1 cup diced apples and about { cup cranberries instead of sun-dried tomatoes. You may also try apple cider. To get proper consistency, we added chicken broth to taste.

Sourdough, Sage and Wild Mushroom Stuffing

{ cup sourdough French bread, cut in 1-inch cubes

{ cup vegetable oil

2 cups white onion, cut in }-inch dice

1 cup celery, sliced {-inch thick on the bias

1 cup red and yellow bell peppers, diced in {-inch pieces

3 cups sliced mushrooms of choice (Porcini, shiitake, chanterelle)

\ cup chopped fresh sage

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1{ cups turkey or chicken broth

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup cooked sausage, diced (optional)

Brown the bread cubes in a 350-degree oven until golden brown, remove and reserve.

In a large skillet melt { cup vegetable oil and heat on medium heat. Add the onions, celery, peppers and mushrooms and saute three to five minutes. Add the bread and toss together and cook with the pan covered over low heat for three minutes. Add remaining ingredients, season to taste and toss well. Remove from heat after cooking for about two minutes further.

Stuffing can be used traditionally at this point or can be baked at 350 degrees in a casserole dish covered for 45 minutes then uncovered for 15 minutes until the top is browned and crisped.

(Editor's Note: If stuffing is too dry, add a little chicken or turkey broth.)

Source: George Mahaffey, The Little Nell, Denver, Colo.

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