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Holiday recipes from Little Rock pros 

Mix it up this year.

Everyone has that beloved Thanksgiving dish that must be on the table — giblet gravy, oyster dressing, fried turkey — but if you're one of those charged with making it every year, man, oh man, does cooking the same thing every year get boring. So, in what's become an annual tradition, the Arkansas Times has enlisted local chefs to help mix things up. Below, they offer recipes they cook for their families during the holidays. Some will be easier than others. Capital Hotel pastry chef Matthew Dunn's recipe for Sweet Potato Pot De Crème is in grams, which requires a kitchen scale, something that's pretty cheap and an essential tool for serious bakers. In any case, happy cooking and happy holidays.

SWEET THANKSGIVING: Trio's Capi Peck offers up a pumpkin mousse with toffee as a holiday treat. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • SWEET THANKSGIVING: Trio's Capi Peck offers up a pumpkin mousse with toffee as a holiday treat.

Capi Peck
Trio's

Trio's Restaurant celebrated its 29th anniversary this year with a party and a spate of renovations that has chef Capi Peck's dining mainstay looking as fresh as the food. There are few ingredients used more often in a Southern Thanksgiving feast than pumpkin, and this preparation combines it with decadent cream, dark rum and spices, then tops everything off with a delicious toffee crunch. Perfect for a side dish, dessert — or as something to snack on while everyone else is sleeping it off.

PUMPKIN MOUSSE WITH TOFFEE

For the crunch:

2 C. walnuts

1 1/2 C. toffee bits

3 T. packed dark brown sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

2 T. butter, melted

For the mousse:

4 C. chilled heavy cream, divided

1 1/2 C. sugar

10 egg yolks

2 1/2 C. canned pumpkin

4 T. dark rum

2 1/2 tsp. vanilla

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. ground allspice

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a sheet pan with foil and butter foil.

For the crunch, toss nuts, toffee bits, sugar and salt in a medium bowl to blend. Add butter and toss to coat. Place mixture in center of prepared sheet pan; pat to a single layer. Bake until toffee bits are soft but hold their shape, about 15 minutes. Cool crunch completely on sheet pan. Transfer to work surface; chop coarsely. Set aside.

For the mousse, whisk 1 1/2 cups of the heavy cream with the sugar and egg yolks in a heavy saucepan to blend. Stir over medium-low heat until thickened to pudding consistency, about 10 minutes, taking care not to boil the mixture. Transfer to large bowl. Mix in pumpkin, rum, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt and allspice. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour.

Beat remaining 2 1/2 cups heavy cream until cream holds peaks. Set aside 1 cup of the whipped cream for garnish. Cover and chill. Fold remaining whipped cream into pumpkin mixture. Cover and refrigerate mousse at least 4 hours or up to 1 day.

To serve, take 12 eight-ounce decorative glasses, layer 1/3 cup mousse and generous tablespoon of crunch. Repeat two more times (some crunch may be left). Garnish with whipped cream and a very light sprinkle of cinnamon. You can also present this in a trifle dish or other serving pieces.

GREAT POTATOES: Try Mark Abernathy's take on sweetening up sweet potatoes. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • GREAT POTATOES: Try Mark Abernathy's take on sweetening up sweet potatoes.

Mark Abernathy
Loca Luna and Red Door

There's nothing quite like a heap of sweet potatoes and a slice of pie after a big holiday meal, and chef Mark Abernathy of Loca Luna and Red Door has unique recipes for each to fit the bill. Abernathy has had a busy 2015, overseeing renovations of his flagship restaurant Loca Luna in Riverdale and creating new menu items, keeping current with the ever-changing culinary scene in Arkansas.

STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB PIE

Filling:

4 1/2 C. strawberries, destemmed, washed and cut into quarters

1 C. rhubarb cut into small pieces (frozen is acceptable)

1 C. sugar

4 T. minute tapioca

1 T. all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. lemon zest

1/2 tsp. lemon juice

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Pinch of salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 T. butter cut into chunks

1 egg white beaten with 1 tsp. water

Raw large-granule sugar (like Turbinado)

Directions:

Place one piece of pie dough to make a bottom crust into a pie dish. Put dish in refrigerator to chill. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

To prepare the filling, mix the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, tapioca, flour, zest and juice of lemon, dash of cinnamon and vanilla. Mix well in a large bowl, and pour out into chilled crust. Dot the top of the filling with the butter slices. Brush edges of piecrust with egg white wash.

Roll out the other piece of dough and place over filling. Crimp to seal edges and put a couple of small slits in the top center. Brush with egg white wash, and garnish with large granule sugar. Collar with foil to keep the edges from burning. Place the pie on a foil-lined pan and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Decrease temperature to 375 degrees and bake for an additional 45 to 50 minutes, or until the filling starts bubbling. Important: Let it cool before serving. This is a pie that's even better the next day.

BROWN SUGAR AND BALSAMIC GLAZED SWEET POTATOES

6 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch wedges

3 T. melted butter

1/4-1/2 C. light brown sugar

3 strips bacon, cooked crisp and chopped

2 T balsamic vinegar

3-4 green onions, sliced thin

Salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Toss and coat wedges with butter and spread onto a rimmed sheet pan sprayed with cooking spray.

Cook until tops of potatoes start to brown, remove from oven and turn the potatoes over. Cook until the potatoes are still a little firm but soft enough that a fork goes in easily.

Remove the potatoes and toss with the brown sugar and Balsamic vinegar. Return to the oven on a top rack for approximately 3 to 4 minutes to let the sugar caramelize.

Remove and gently mix in the bacon and green onions. Salt to taste.

STEAM IN THE GOODNESS: Matthew Dunn makes a rich and smooth dessert.
  • STEAM IN THE GOODNESS: Matthew Dunn makes a rich and smooth dessert.

Matthew Dunn
Capital Hotel

Matthew Dunn is pastry chef at the Capital Hotel, a unique and demanding position among chefs. Baking is a combination of both art and science, requiring precise measurements and temperatures to achieve the best results. Because of this, professional pastry chefs measure their ingredients in grams because, while volume measurements like cups and tablespoons can go awry through packing or settling, weight doesn't change.

SWEET POTATO POT DE CRÈME

This recipe is written for an oven that has a steam setting. If yours doesn't, create steam by putting a pot of water on a lower rack.

Sweet potato puree

1,000 g sweet potato

120 g good maple syrup

2 cinnamon sticks, divided

4 cloves, divided

2 star anise, divided

10 g fresh ground nutmeg, divided

Peel and dice the sweet potato and divide between two large shrink wrap bags. Place 60 g of maple syrup, one cinnamon stick, two cloves, one star anise and five grams nutmeg in each bag and seal.

Place the bags in the oven on full steam at 214 degrees and cook for 20 minutes until the potatoes are fully cooked. Cool the potatoes and remove all of the whole spices.

Pass through a potato ricer to make smooth.

Pot de Crème

250 g milk

600 g cream

400 g sweet potato puree

260 g egg yolks

160 g sugar

25 g vanilla extract

150 g crème fraiche

400 g sweet potato puree

Bring the milk, cream and first measurement of puree to a boil. Once at a boil, pass the mixture through a chinois.

Mix the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla. Temper the hot milk into the egg yolks and mix.

Add the crème fraiche and the next measurement of puree and mix well.

Add 100 g per pot. Bake at 200 degrees with 50 percent steam for about 20 minutes, or until set.

SOUTH AMERICAN TWIST: Heinz Koenigsfest has a different way of stuffing the bird. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • SOUTH AMERICAN TWIST: Heinz Koenigsfest has a different way of stuffing the bird.

Heinz Kurt Koenigsfest
Lulu's Latin Rotisserie & Grill

Heinz Kurt Koenigsfest recently opened Lulu's Latin at 315 N. Bowman Road. It's a return to his roots in Bolivia, where he lived and owned a restaurant until he and his family moved to Arkansas seven years ago. Lulu's specializes in Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken, Argentine-style steaks, empanadas, fried yucca, pisco sours, caipirinhas and other food and drink from across Latin America. Below, Koenigsfest offers his take on stuffed chicken and rice pudding.

RELLENO DE POLLO

1 whole chicken — deboned

1/2 lb. bacon (chopped)

1/2 lb. smoked ham, cut into small squares (can be omitted if desired)

5 Granny Smith apples

1/2 C. raisins

1 slice bread (soaked in enough milk to cover)

1 lb. lean ground beef or pork

1 onion (chopped)

1 egg (beaten)

1 T. salt

1 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. thyme

1 tsp. dry mustard

juice of 1 lemon

Debone chicken and set aside. You may want to ask your butcher to do this for you.

Stuffing:

Cover the bottom of skillet with olive oil and sauté the onion, ground beef or pork, ham and bacon until all of the pink is gone from beef or pork. Drain off any grease from the meat. Add the chopped apples and raisins, the bread, thyme, sugar, salt and pepper. Let the mixture cool and then add the beaten egg and hand mix.

In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, mustard and one tablespoon olive oil and set aside.

Place stuffing mixture inside the chicken. Roll the chicken together and secure with kitchen string. Rub lemon juice mixture over the skin of chicken and place in an oiled, ovenproof dish.

Cook at 350 for 1 1/2 hours, basting it with its own juices from time to time.

ARROZ CON LECHE

1 C. long grain white rice

3 C. whole milk

1 cinnamon stick

2 cloves

1 12-oz. can evaporated milk

1 6-oz. can condensed milk

1/2 C. port wine (optional)

Put rice, whole milk, cloves and cinnamon in a saucepan. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until rice is done. Add evaporated and condensed milk and cook for 10 minutes longer, stirring constantly. Mixture will thicken. Stir in port wine if desired.

Place in a serving dish and sprinkle with powdered cinnamon.

SOUTHERN STYLE: Pecans, pumpkin and cheesecake from Anne Wood. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • SOUTHERN STYLE: Pecans, pumpkin and cheesecake from Anne Wood.

Gilbert Alaquinez and Anne Wood
Forty Two

Too many times, Thanksgiving doesn't live up to what it should be for one reason: dry turkey. The popular holiday fowl is a very lean bird and can be easily overcooked by folks trying to get large turkeys done all the way to the bone. One method of defense against dry meat is to place the bird in a salt solution known as a brine. The action of the salt forces liquid into the bird, increasing moisture and providing some insurance against a hot oven. In addition, flavors added to a brine also penetrate the bird, so each bite will be succulent and full of flavor. Try out this recipe from Alaquinez, Forty Two's new executive chef, along with an intriguing variation on pumpkin and pecan pie from Wood, Forty Two's pastry chef.

TURKEY BRINE

7 quarts (28 C.) water

1 1/2 C. coarse salt

6 bay leaves

2 T. whole coriander seeds

1 T. dried juniper berries

2 T. whole black peppercorns

1 T. fennel seeds

1 tsp. black or brown mustard seeds

1 fresh whole turkey (18 to 20 lbs.), patted dry, neck and giblets reserved for stock, liver reserved for stuffing

1 bottle dry Riesling

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

6 garlic cloves, crushed

1 bunch fresh thyme

Bring one quart water, the salt, bay leaves and spices to a simmer, stirring until salt has dissolved. Let cool for five minutes.

Line a five-gallon container with a large brining or oven-roasting bag. Place turkey in bag. Add salt mixture, remaining six quarts (24 cups) water, and the other ingredients. Tie bag. If turkey is not submerged, weight it with a plate. Refrigerate for 24 hours, flipping turkey once.

PECAN PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE

Crust:

5 oz. graham crackers, crushed

3 T. pecans, toasted and crushed

3 T. sugar

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

8 T. unsalted butter, melted

Filling:

1 1/3 C. sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. salt

15 oz. pumpkin puree

24 oz. cream cheese, at room temp

1 T. vanilla

5 eggs

1 C. heavy cream

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Wrap the outside of a 9-inch springform pan tightly with foil. Spray the inside of the pan with cooking spray.

To make crust, combine the graham crumbs, spices, sugar and pecans in food processor, pulse until evenly ground. Add melted butter to the bowl and process until crumbs are evenly combined. Transfer the crumbs to the prepared springform pan and press firmly into an even layer on the bottom of the pan. Bake until browned at the edges. Let cool on a wire rack.

To make the filling, combine cream cheese, pumpkin puree and sugar in bowl of mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix until combined, scraping the edges midway through mixing. Next, add spices, salt and vanilla. Mix, add eggs, mix thoroughly and then add cream. Make sure everything is thoroughly combined.

Next, pour the filling into the prepared crust, smooth the top. Place springform pan inside a roasting pan. Set in oven, fill the roasting pan with very hot water half way up the side of the springform pan. Be careful not to splash water into the cheesecake. Bake until the cake is slightly jiggly all around and not just in the middle, about 90 minutes. Remove from oven and set on wire rack to cool. Refrigerate for four hours or overnight, run knife along edges of pan, open the springform pan and remove. Garnish with caramel and whipped cream if desired.

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