What A Chef Brings To Dinner
Try these favorites for your Thanksgiving potluck

Text By Elisa Bosley
Photos By Rita Maas

Thanksgiving is the pinnacle of feasts, with extended families often joining neighbors and friends to share their best home-cooked dishes. But what happens when you ask a professional chef to bring something to the party? Most likely, your dining pleasure will go up a notch or two.

“I must say, sometimes I feel people invite me because they know I’m going to bring something good to eat,” laughs Donna Prizgintas, a personal chef in Los Angeles. Sarah Stegner, dining room chef at The Ritz-Carlton in Chicago, has felt the same way. “When I go to other people’s houses, people expect something similar to what my restaurant does—not in that detail, but that level of quality.”

Fortunately, for truly gifted chefs, cooking is more than a job; it’s a daily delight, and preparing a favorite recipe for friends is a way to spread the joy. “As a chef, I’m always cooking for someone else,” says Prizgintas. “So when I attend a potluck, I make what I want. It’s a chance to play and do less-conventional things and not have to be so structured.”

Tory McPhail, executive chef at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, agrees that potlucks are a time to relax. “The honest-to-God truth is, I’m so glad to get out of the restaurant from time to time,” he says. “A potluck [provides a chance to] do all the hard work up front, then just enjoy yourself and your friends.”

Here, several top chefs from around the country share with us what they might bring to a Thanksgiving feast. Make one or more for your own gathering and consider it a gift from their table to yours.

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes with Citrus and Mascarpone

Serves 10–12 / From Sarah Stegner, dining room chef, The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago. Stegner, a Chicago native, promotes a seasonally driven menu featuring top-quality produce from small, local farmers. She also helped develop Chicago’s Green City Market, the city’s only venue featuring regional, sustainable produce. For the harvest holiday, her natural pick is sweet potatoes. “Almost everybody has some form of sweet potato on Thanksgiving,” she says. “This is a way of dressing it up and making it something special.” The consistency of the purée should be very light, “not thick like mashed potatoes.”

4 pounds small or medium sweet potatoes (to yield 2 pounds cooked sweet potato pulp), or 6–8 medium-large sweet potatoes
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
8 ounces mascarpone
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 whole orange
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh chervil

1. Preheat oven to 375º. Bake sweet potatoes until a fork can be inserted easily, about 1 hour. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise and carefully scrape pulp out of skins, leaving about 1/8 inch of potato lining the skin.

2. In a food processor, combine cooked pulp, orange juice, and 4 ounces mascarpone. Purée just until mixed. Add salt and white pepper to taste.

3. Refill sweet potato skins with purée. Heat through for 15 minutes at 375º. Preheat broiler. Dollop remaining mascarpone on top of each potato. Place underneath broiler just until mascarpone begins to brown. Watch carefully to avoid burning.

4. Using a fine zester, grate zest from one orange over potato halves and garnish with chopped chervil. Serve immediately.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (1/2 potato): Calories: 185 calories % fat calories: 51 Fat: 11g Saturated Fat: 8g Cholesterol: 31mg Carbohydrate: 20g Protein: 3g Fiber: 2g Sodium: 21mg

Goat Cheese Tart with Marinated Beets and Arugula

Serves 8 / From Teri Rippeto, chef and owner, Potager, Denver. A champion of seasonal eating, Rippeto buys produce from local growers and farmers’ markets for her renowned eatery. “I’m in this business because, in our own little way, it’s a showcase for what’s in season,” she says. She offers this recipe because “we still have beets and arugula that time of year; plus it’s a little bit lighter and adds color to the Thanksgiving table.” Use your favorite pie-crust recipe for the tart shell.

4-5 ounces soft goat cheese
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
Pinch each salt and pepper
1 9-inch prebaked tart shell (unsweetened)
8-10 medium-size fresh beets
Olive oil
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped lemon balm
Large handful fresh arugula

1. Preheat oven to 350º. With an electric mixer, beat goat cheese, eggs, yolks, salt, and pepper together until smooth. Pour into tart shell. Bake 10–15 minutes, until set. (If making ahead, refrigerate tart; bring to room temperature before serving.)

2. Preheat oven to 400º. Drizzle beets with olive oil. Place beets in a baking dish and cover with foil. Bake 45 minutes or until fork can be inserted easily. Remove foil and peel beets while still warm; skins should slide right off. Quarter or dice.

3. Whisk together red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, chives, and lemon balm. Pour over warm beets. Cool.

4. Just before serving, toss marinated beets with fresh arugula leaves and arrange on top of tart.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 266 calories % fat calories: 60 Fat: 18g Saturated Fat: 7g Cholesterol: 129mg Carbohydrate: 19g Protein: 8g Fiber: 2g Sodium: 243mg

Roasted Pear and Apple Cobbler

Serves 12–16 / From Tory McPhail, executive chef, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans. “I’ve always known that New Orleans is the place where I want to be,” says McPhail, who started his career in the Big Easy more than ten years ago. At Commander’s Palace, McPhail serves this harvest-fruit cobbler sweetened with sugar-cane syrup produced by a local farmer, but pure maple syrup also works beautifully. If pears or apples are not available in your area, use fruit that’s at its peak of season—“whatever’s ripe and full of flavor.”

4-6 pears, peeled and diced
4-6 Golden Delicious apples, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar-cane or pure maple syrup
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced small
2-1/4 cups low-fat or nonfat buttermilk
1/2 cup sugar-cane or pure maple syrup

Streusel Topping
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, finely diced
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
Powdered sugar and vanilla ice cream

1. Preheat oven to 450º. In a large bowl, combine diced pears and apples with salt and 2 tablespoons syrup. Mix gently. Place fruit on baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes, until fruit is caramelized on all sides.

2. While fruit is roasting, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda in another mixing bowl and blend. Add diced butter and blend together, making sure all cubes are separated. Add buttermilk and fold together until just incorporated. Do not over-mix. Batter should be the consistency of thick pancake batter.

3. In a separate bowl, combine all streusel ingredients and mix together by hand until crumbly.

4. Reduce oven heat to 350º. Prepare a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spread batter evenly in pan. Remove warm fruit from oven and place evenly on top of batter. Sprinkle streusel topping over fruit. Bake cobbler at 350º for 20–25 minutes.

5. When cobbler looks golden and hot, remove from oven. Pour remaining 1/2 cup syrup over cobbler and let cool for 10 minutes. If desired, sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 366 calories % fat calories: 18 Fat: 8g Saturated Fat: 4g Cholesterol: 18mg Carbohydrate: 70g Protein: 6g Fiber: 5g Sodium: 240mg

Pumpkin-Spiced Carrot Broth

Serves 8 / From Franklin Becker, executive chef, and Fred Brightman, chef de cuisine, Capitale Restaurant, New York City. Although housed in a fabulously restored 1894 building (and adorned by the world’s largest Tiffany ceiling), it’s Capitale’s food that’s getting all the attention, thanks to longtime culinary partners Becker and Brightman. For a potluck, they’d bring this soup, which combines autumn root vegetables with spices traditionally used in pumpkin pie.

20 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 onions, chopped
1 cup chopped celery root
1/4 cup chopped fresh ginger
1/4 cup chopped fresh garlic
5-6 tablespoons butter, divided
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon allspice
2 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cup orange juice
1 quart water
1 quart chicken stock
Salt and white pepper, to taste

1. In a large pot, sweat carrots, onions, celery root, ginger, and garlic in 3 tablespoons butter at very low heat until soft, about 30–45 minutes. Remove vegetables. Add 2 tablespoons butter and the spices. Cook for 5 minutes, gently toasting spices in butter to “bloom” the flavors. Add orange juice and simmer for 5–10 minutes.

2. Return vegetables to pot. Add water and chicken stock, cover, and simmer for 1/2 hour. Adjust seasoning with salt and white pepper.

3. Remove bay leaves and cinnamon sticks. Transfer soup in batches to a blender and purée until smooth. Return to pan to heat through. Serve hot.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 217 calories % fat calories: 37 Fat: 9g Saturated Fat: 6g Cholesterol: 23mg Carbohydrate: 30g Protein: 6g Fiber: 7g Sodium: 351mg

Iroquois Corn Pudding

Serves 12 / From Donna Prizgintas, personal chef, Los Angeles. Prizgintas, who cooks for some of Hollywood's best-known celebrities, rhapsodizes about delicate, roasted Iroquois cornmeal, ground from an heirloom variety. “[My clients] love the story of George Washington being given this exact corn variety at Valley Forge so that his troops didn’t have to eat their shoe leather,” she says. “It’s especially appropriate at Thanksgiving, as it may have been what the Pilgrims really ate.” Order it by calling 888.652.5628, or substitute any uncooked, noninstant corn grits.

1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
1-1/2 cups roasted Iroquois cornmeal
3 cups fat-free or regular half-and-half
1-1/2 teaspoons sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups low-fat milk
5 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen

1. Preheat oven to 325º. Prepare a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray or butter.

2. Sauté onion in butter and marjoram. Set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan, whisk roasted cornmeal with half and half. Add salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring, until mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat. Add onion mixture, milk, eggs, and corn kernels.

4. Pour entire mixture into prepared pan. Cook 45–50 minutes, until set and lightly browned.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 167 calories % fat calories: 23 Fat: 4g Saturated Fat: 2g Cholesterol: 93mg Carbohydrate: 24g Protein: 8g Fiber: 3g Sodium: 365mg This Thanksgiving, senior food editor Elisa Bosley fully intends to enjoy what everyone else brings to dinner.