The Thanksgiving Starting Lineup

Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away. So, all this week, The Early Show will be sharing great recipes, serving ideas and timesaving tips.

On Monday, cooking teacher and cookbook author Tori Ritchie began at the beginning -- with the appetizer and soup.

She held forth at the flagship store in Manhattan of specialty home furnishings retailer Williams-Sonoma.

What should you serve your guests as they walk in the door on Thanksgiving? Or, conversely, what should you bring if your Thanksgiving dinner is a potluck event? You want to have something that will pique everyone's appetites, but nothing that will make them feel stuffed.

Ritchie likes to make savory little crackers that pair well with champagne or sparkling wine. And to start the meal, Ritchie suggests a soup course. She made a simple, chowder-like soup made of butternut squash puree.


Rosemary-Parmesan Icebox Crackers

According to Tori: "Enriched with cheese, herbs and spices, these buttery crackers boast an exceptional flavor and crunch that simply can't be duplicated by store-bought varieties. For a fanciful touch, use miniature leaf-shaped cutters to create decorative shapes from the dough rounds, then bake the cutout shapes along with the rounds."

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. coarsely ground pepper
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, salt, pepper and rosemary and pulse twice to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 pulses. Add the cheese and pulse twice to combine. With the motor running, pour in the cream and continue processing until the dough forms a single mass.

Transfer the dough to a work surface and roll into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.

Preheat an oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the dough into 1/8-inch-thick slices and place on the prepared baking sheet. If desired, using miniature decorative cutters, cut out the center of each slice, then place the cutouts on the baking sheet. Bake until the crackers are light golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.

Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack. When the crackers are cool to the touch, transfer them to the rack. Makes about 24 crackers.

Variations:

Cheddar-Cayenne Icebox Crackers: In a food processor, pulse together 1 cup flour, 1 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. cayenne as directed above. Add 4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter and pulse as directed. Pulse in 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, then 1/4 cup cream. Following the instructions above, refrigerate, slice and bake the crackers.

Black PepperLemon Icebox Crackers: In a food processor, pulse together 1 cup flour, 1 tsp. salt, 1 1/4 tsp. cracked pepper and zest of 2 lemons as directed above. Add 4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter and pulse as directed. Pulse in 1 cup shredded Asiago cheese, then 3 Tbs. cream. Following the instructions above, refrigerate, slice and bake the crackers.

Make-Ahead Tips: Prepare the dough, shape it into logs and refrigerate for up to 2 days before baking. If desired, bake the crackers up to 2 days in advance; store in an airtight container at room temperature.

(Williams-Sonoma Kitchen)


Butternut Squash Chowder

Tori says: "Chowder has a long-standing reputation as a communal dish. It's said to have originated in 16th-century French seacoast towns, where local fishermen would contribute part of the days catch to a stew that was shared by the entire village. The stew derives its name from the vessel in which it was cooked: a large pot known as a chaudière. Over time, chowder became synonymous with a type of thick, hearty soup that can be prepared with a variety of ingredients. Like our butternut squash version, classic chowders typically include chunks of potatoes or other vegetables, which add texture and substance."

4 bacon slices, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. chopped fresh sage, plus small sage leaves for garnish
4 tsp. kosher salt, plus more, to taste
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper, plus more, to taste
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup white wine
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 jar (32 oz.) butternut squash puree
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring frequently, until crispy, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Set aside.

Pour off all but 1 Tbs. of the fat from the pan and return the pan to medium heat. Add the onion, celery, bay leaf, chopped sage, the 4 tsp. salt and the 1 tsp. pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, just until the vegetables are soft, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the potatoes, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes.

Add the wine and simmer, stirring to scrape up the browned bits, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broth and bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and gently simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 12 minutes.

Add the butternut squash puree and bacon and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the cream and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Remove the bay leaf and discard.

Ladle the chowder into warmed bowls and garnish with sage leaves. Serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8.

Make-Ahead Tips: Make the soup (withholding the cream) up to 1 day in advance. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until just before serving time. When reheating the soup, stir in the cream.

(Williams-Sonoma Kitchen)
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