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DOWN TO THE WIRE
IT'S ALMOST TURKEY DAY. ARE YOU SURE DINNER'S UNDER CONTROL?

Most of the shopping has been done; the table has been set; the desserts are waiting in the freezer. But still on this Thanksgiving Eve, a few questions may be wafting about.

What do you do if the turkey isn't defrosted when it comes time to roast it on Thursday, for instance?

(Put it, still in its plastic bag, under cold running water in the sink, making sure the drain runs clear. The turkey will defrost quickly.)

What can you do if there isn't room in the oven for everything to cook or heat up at once?

(Cook vegetables ahead of time and keep them warm with layers of aluminum foil.)

There are always last-minute queries that arise before the feast. To help answer some of them, I talked with Jim Cohen, the new chef/owner at the Park Lane restaurant. Buffalo-born, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Cohen, 43, has gathered all sorts of culinary experience and honors.

He has cooked everywhere, from a high school stint at the Burger King at the corner of Delaware and Hertel (the only time, he says, that he was ever fired) to prestigious Tante Louise in Denver and the Wildflower restaurant at the Lodge in Vail.

But Cohen is pretty adept at turning out family Thanksgiving meals, too. Here, for instance, are some of his tips on carving the big bird.

"There are several things to remember before you begin. For one thing, make sure the turkey is thoroughly cooked so the carving will be easier," he says.

(The thermometer should register 180 degrees when inserted in the thickest part of the thigh; juice should run clear.)

"Also, let the turkey stand out of the oven for at least 20 minutes before beginning to carve.

"And be sure to use a very sharp knife. Let the weight of the knife do the work. That way, you really don't have to exert much effort to do the job."

Here's how, step by step:

1. Remove the stuffing from the body cavities. Place in a casserole or side dish and keep it warm. Do one side of the bird at a time.

2. Insert a sturdy fork in the upper wing to steady the turkey. Make a long cut above the wing joint and disjoint the wing from the body. Place on a platter.

3. Grasp the end of the drumstick. Place knife between drumstick and thigh and the body of the turkey, and cut through the skin to the joint. Remove the entire leg by pulling out and back, using the point of the knife to help find the natural seam. Separate the thigh and drumstick from the body.

Cut the dark meat of the thigh into thick slices. Place on the serving platter. Place drumstick on the serving platter.

4. Now start to cut the breast meat: Slice straight down with an even stroke, beginning about halfway up the breast. When the knife reaches the cut above the wing bone, the slice will fall free. Continue to slice breast meat, starting at a higher point each time.

What about gravy?

Says Cohen: "Actually, I don't make thickened gravy very often. When I do, I just use the pan juices, reducing them slightly. Then I add small spoons of beurre manie (a thick paste made from equal parts butter and flour) and heat and stir until the gravy thickens. Add a little milk or cream if you like. And the chopped cooked giblets. And plenty of black pepper, too."

Another method Cohen uses:

"Slowly drizzle olive oil and butter into reduced turkey juices, beating until an emulsion is formed. Then add giblets and seasoning."

A more traditional way to make gravy is to remove the bird from the roasting pan and carefully pour the drippings into a measuring cup or bowl. Let fat rise to the surface, skim it off, and measure.

Return that fat to pan, put the pan over heat, and blend in an equal amount of flour, stirring until the mixture is well combined. Now slowly pour in turkey juice and/or chicken broth (about 2 cups for every 2 tablespoons of fat) and heat until the gravy comes to a boil and thickens.

As you stir, bring up the brown particles from the bottom of the pan. Add cooked chopped giblets to the gravy if you wish.

What happens if there are lumps in the gravy?

Thank your lucky stars for a food processor, is what you do. Put the gravy into the container and whirl away. Then reheat gently.

If you don't have a food processor, push the gravy through a strainer or sieve.

Time for wine

What wine should be served with turkey? Red or white?

Cohen thinks you should serve both red and white, and let your guests choose.

"When it comes to red, I would serve a California Pinot Noir," he said. For white, a Gewurztraminer or an Alsatian Pinot Blanc.

Other holiday meal questions

Q: How do I handle leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner?

A: The primary rule: Refrigerate or freeze them as soon as dinner is over.

Keep stuffing in a covered dish. In the refrigerator it will keep up to three days -- in the freezer, up to a month.

Cover the cooled turkey and use within four days. Or slice it and place the tightly wrapped slices in the freezer for up to three months.

Keep gravy in a covered dish in the refrigerator and use within three days. Q: And what if I want to use the leftovers right away?

A: Not what you call a serious problem.

"The very best leftover of all is what I call the Buffalo Classic Sandwich," says Cohen. "I've served it wherever I've cooked. It consists of two slices of good bread, sliced turkey, sliced Swiss cheese, coleslaw and Thousand Island dressing. It is the very best.

"Or you can make turkey soup: Save all the bones and the carcass of the bird and place it in a deep pan with water to cover. Add celery, carrot, onion, bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring to a boil; drop to slow simmer. Keep the soup cooking slowly all night long -- it's wonderful. The whole house smells of turkey.

"And you have terrific soup the next morning."

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