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A Chef's Holiday Meal

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This festive menu is a chef's dinner adapted for a home cook who is comfortable in the kitchen. The main courses offered here -lamb or duck- are not overly hard to master, and are great dishes to have in your repertoire. I've provided suggestions for side vegetables as well.

As with all multiple course meals, the idea is to savor it slowly, with ample pauses between acts. This dinner can -and should- take a couple of hours to eat from first course to after-dinner drinks.

1. Cremini Mushrooms Stuffed with Chevre and Leeks

This easy recipe for cremini mushrooms stuffed with chevre and leeks is a wonderful party dish. Chevre (fresh goat cheese) is mixed with sautéed leeks, the chopped and sauteed mushroom stems, and a bit of thyme for a delicious, savory finger food. The mushrooms can be stuffed and refrigerated several hours or even the day before baking. Plate 3 on a small bed of mache or microgreens, or, for a minimal look, alongside a few perfect spears of chive.

2. Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

This lovely soup recipe is actually a vegan variation of a classic cream based soup. Meat eaters can use chicken stock to enrich it, but I would skip the cream unless you're a huge fan of cream soups: it is a naturally sweet and light second act between the earthy mushrooms and the rich flavors of the entree. I usually garnish the soup with a bit of caramelized apple and crispy sage. If you are not fond of sage, use rosemary or thyme instead.

3. Roast Rack of Lamb or Crisp Roasted Glazed Duck

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Fragrant and tender roast rack of lamb with garlic and herb rub is a festive and elegant entrée for the holidays or a special occasion. This roast is lovely served with Pinot Noir Red Wine Reduction Sauce or Mint Chutney. Great sides include Oven Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Green Beans with Wild Mushrooms.

The festive whole foods recipe for crisp roasted duck with ginger, orange and pomegranate glaze is a wonderful holiday or special occasion entrée. Serve with roasted fingerling potatoes or root vegetables. A nice green vegetable like steamed green beans with a bit of lemon or spicy green beans with chili and mint is perfect for balancing the earthy flavors.

4. Salad of Honey Roasted Figs, Brie, Walnuts and Baby Greens

If you can't find fresh figs, use preserved ones or soak dry figs in warm water for 20 minutes. The salad is rich with layers of flavor and can be made with a sheep or goat cheese (such as chevre, Humboldt Fog, Ricotta Salata or Manchego) if brie doesn't appeal to you.

5. The Finale: Pear Galette and Chocolate Hazelnut Torte

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I think a dinner party warrants a choice of two desserts: one fruit based and one chocolate or some other rich and luscious thing. Both of these desserts happen to be gluten free (as is the whole meal, for that matter). Rustic Pear Galette includes a bit of good brandy and raisins, while the Chocolate Hazelnut Torte is dark, dense and rich. Offer organic pastured whipped cream and a non-dairy option on the side (coconut ice cream is great). Sprinkle a few raspberries on the plate with the chocolate torte.

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