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Talking Turkey with Cookbook Author Ted Allen

Ted Allen is best known for his role as the food-and-wine specialist on the television show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. But he is also a contributing editor to Esquire magazine and an author.

The Food You Want to Eat is Allen's current cookbook. He spoke with Susan Stamberg about holiday food, including these two recipes:

Roasted Butternut Squash Pie

Serves 4 to 6

Wine pairing: Ripe Gewürztraminer or rich, fruity Pinot Noir

What you need:

1/2 package (1 pound) frozen filo dough

1 butternut squash, about 2 1/2 pounds (or buy pre-peeled and cut)

2 medium red onions, sliced 1/2-inch thick

1 red bell pepper, halved, stemmed and seeded

2 teaspoons kosher salt

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1/3 cup for brushing the filo

1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger (about 1 inch, peeled)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup raisins

1/4 cup walnuts

2 medium garlic cloves, chopped

1 16-ounce bag of spinach, large stems removed

1 1/2 cups simple tomato sauce, store-bought OK

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove the filo from freezer and thaw at room temperature for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, trim off ends of squash, halve crosswise. Scrape out seeds and peel off skin with vegetable peeler. Cut into 3-inch chunks.

Put squash, onion slices and red pepper halves on baking sheet in single layer. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and 3 tablespoons of oil. Toss to coat. Roast 30 minutes, turning once. Remove pepper and turn everything again. Roast 10 more minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Put squash in a large bowl. Quarter onion slices and cut pepper into 1-inch cubes and add to bowl. Sprinkle the vegetables with ginger, cumin, cinnamon, cilantro, ½ teaspoon salt and pepper. Add raisins and toss gently.

Turn oven down to 375 degrees F. Toast walnuts 5 to 7 minutes, shaking pan a couple times. Remove from oven and chop, add to bowl, and stir gently.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil with garlic in a large frying pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add about 1/3 of spinach and cook, turning it with tongs until wilted, about 1 minute. Add rest of spinach in 2 batches; keep turning with tongs. Sprinkle with remaining ½ teaspoon salt and cook until all spinach is wilted, 2 to 3 minutes, total.

To assemble, have ready a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and a pastry brush. Pour 1/3 cup olive oil into a small bowl. Open pastry sheets flat. Keep long side of dish toward you, short sides to left and right. Brush dish with oil and lay one sheet of filo across left side of dish with half of sheet hanging out the long side nearest you. (No filo will hang over the short sides.)

Brush the part that touches pan bottom with oil. Lay a second sheet of filo on the right side, again with half of sheet hanging out near you. Brush bottom of that sheet, too. Now lay two more sheets, on left and right, but with extra length hanging out the long side opposite you.

Continue the same way, brushing bottom of each sheet with oil, until you have used 14 sheets. You have more than enough sheets, so just discard any that stick together or rip.

Line bottom of dish with half of spinach, spreading it out. Spoon squash mixture on top and gently flatten with a spoon. Cover with rest of spinach. Now, gently fold the excess filo dough hanging from the long sides up over the filling. Do 2 sheets on one side, then 2 on the other, brushing each sheet with oil once in place. Cover it all with 2 more sheets of filo, brushed with oil.

Bake at 375 until pastry is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes or serve at room temperature. Cut into squares and serve each square with some warmed tomato sauce under it.


Deconstructed Holiday Turkey with Sage Gravy

Serves 6

You can marinate the turkey in brine, as specified here, or you can skip that step and just rub the pieces with butter, salt, pepper, and herbs. I wouldn't skip it, though -- brining is the greatest thing ever to happen to turkey, producing lovely, moist meat, beautifully seasoned through and through.

What you need:

1 turkey breast on the bone, 6 1/2 to 7 pounds

3 turkey drumsticks (about 2 1/4 pounds)

2 turkey thighs (about 1 1/2 pounds)

1/4 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup honey

1 head garlic, cut in half

2 bay leaves

4 sprigs fresh thyme

2 large whole sprigs fresh sage, plus leaves from 2 more large sprigs, plus extra sprigs for garnish

2 teaspoons black peppercorns

2 teaspoons allspice berries

1/4 cup fresh celery leaves

3 tablespoons melted, unsalted butter

For the gravy

2 to 3 cups low-sodium chicken stock

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the turkey parts and put them into doubled 2 1/2 gallon-sized resealable plastic bags (or a large stockpot). Add the salt, honey, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, whole sprigs sage, peppercorns, allspice, and celery leaves. Then add enough cold water to cover the turkey -- about 3 quarts should do it. Press out the air, close the bags, and place them in a large bowl or other container in case they leak. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Remove the turkey parts from the brine and pat them dry on paper towels. Place the parts on racks in 2 medium roasting pans, skin side up (the more space there is around the parts -- i.e. the less crowded the pans -- the better the turkey will brown.) Scatter the remaining sage leaves all over and then spoon the melted butter over. Put the pans in the oven and roast about 30 minutes or until the turkey is starting to brown nicely. Turn down the heat to 400 F. Rotate the roasting pans (things towards the back of the oven tend to cook faster than towards the front). If the stuff on the bottom of the pans is beginning to get too brown, add about 1 cup water to each pan. (You will definitely need to add water either now or some time later, or the brown bits in the pan will burn, and you won't be able to use them to make the gravy.)

Roast until the turkey registers 160 to 165 F on an instant-read thermometer; legs and thighs will need 50 to 60 minutes total; a 5 1/2 pound breast will take about 1 hour total; a 6 1/2 pound breast about 1 hour 15 minutes. (Turkey dark meat is very forgiving so it's not a big deal if it overcooks by a few minutes.) Remove both pans from the oven. Remove the turkey to a platter and cover loosely to keep warm while you make the gravy.

For the gravy: Pour all of the juices from both pans into a 4-cup measure; let the broth settle then skim the fat that rises to the top. Put one of the roasting pans across 2 burners, add 2 cups stock to the pan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, scraping with a wooden spoon to pick up the crusty bits on the bottom of the pan. Pour that into the measuring cup as well and add chicken stock to equal 4 cups. Get a whisk and turn the heat to medium-low. Melt the butter in the pan, add the flour and whisk 3 minutes. Then gradually whisk in the stock along with any juices that have accumulated on the plate with the turkey. Cook, whisking, 5 minutes; the gravy should have thickened. (The gravy can be made in a saucepan if you prefer; it's a little easier to handle than the roasting pan but you do end up with another pan to wash.) Season the gravy with pepper and taste for salt. Slice the turkey and garnish with more sage; serve with the gravy.

From: THE FOOD YOU WANT TO EAT by Ted Allen. Copyright 2005 by Ted Allen. Photographs copyright 2005 by Bill Bettencourt. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.

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Nationally renowned broadcast journalist Susan Stamberg is a special correspondent for NPR.
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