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Deep-fried turkey testicles. Don't forget the hot sauce. | photo by Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times]

Before you stuff your piehole with stuffing and pie and turkey, why not watch others stuff theirs?

At 7:30 tonight, Chicago police officers will compete in a burger-eating contest at 25 Degrees, 736 N. Clark. You pay $25 for the privilege of watching Chicago's finest eat; proceeds benefit officer Al Porrata, a cancer patient, and the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation.

Less altruistic, but still entertaining, is the turkey testicle eating contest at 9 p.m. Wednesday at Timothy O'Toole's, 622 N. Fairbanks, followed by a pumpkin pie eating challenge at 11 p.m. Prizes are a whole frozen turkey (good luck defrosting that) and a $25 gift certificate, respectively. While we're talking nuts, there's always the Turkey Testicle Festival in Huntley -- no eating contest here, but proceeds are donated to local charities.

If, by Friday, you haven't tired of all things resembling the Thanksgiving meal, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon, will offer a cooking class from 1:30 to 3 p.m. on what to do with those leftovers. The class is free with museum admission ($9 adults, $7 kids).

What's that? You missed today's Food section? No, you didn't. It ran last Sunday - click here to find those stories and more to help you through the holiday weekend. 10-24 hale bannos21 5717.JPG

For our cover story, writer Lisa Shames profiled Jimmy Bannos, the Heaven on Seven patriarch and Thanksgiving dinner junkie. Bannos is a refreshing subject for many reasons; here, we discover that at home, Bannos cooks much like the rest of us -- or our grandmothers.

In his Thanksgiving arsenal: Chef Paul Prudhomme's Poultry Magic, which he uses in his stuffing; Wondra flour, whisked into his gravy along with heavy cream; and Kitchen Bouquet, a bottled seasoning sauce that fellow restaurateur Ina Pinkney turned him onto. Bannos rubs it all over his turkey; I've seen it used by a food stylist looking to add sheen to a burger.

There wasn't enough space to run all of the recipes Bannos gave us, but his turkey recipe is too much of a doozy not to share. Note that what follows is for a 25- to 28-pound turkey.

Roughly, you:

Preheat oven to 425.
Chop 1 bulb of celery, quarter 2 large onions and put those in a giant roasting pan with 2 bags of baby carrots.
Cut 2 pounds butter -- that's just the beginning -- into small squares and stuff in turkey's cavity.
Cut 1 pound butter -- there's more -- into small squares and tuck under the skin of the breast.
Massage 3 tablespoons of Cajun seasoning into the turkey.
Pour Kitchen Bouquet over turkey and massage all over skin.
Melt 3 pounds butter and pour over turkey.
Place turkey, uncovered, in oven and roast until "it gets a nice color brown, no longer than 45 minutes," Bannos says.
Then, cover with foil and continue cooking, basting every 30 minutes. Cook 15 minutes for every pound until done.

There is a reason why Thanksgiving comes but once a year. That reason is butter.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The GQ of food sections

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And 3, 2, 1... Thus begins Thanksgiving countdown madness in today's Food pages.

It somehow turned out that today's section was written almost entirely by guys. Am I the only one who finds that strangely delightful? Whatever your answer, our cover story -- columnist Neil Steinberg's ode to stuffing -- seems a fitting place to start our Thanksgiving hype, er, I mean coverage. People, Steinberg included, have strong feelings about stuffing. Indeed, he argues, stuffing, not turkey, is the holiday's "central foodstuff." He also says slightly crunchy celery and onions have no place in stuffing; I disagree. . . Discuss.

Today also is the debut of the Pour Man, our wine and beer column written by Chicagoan Michael Austin. Expect one wine column and one beer column a month from Austin, and zero pretension.

Our own Dave Hoekstra talks to cook-turned-musician Ben Weaver, who peforms Saturday at Schubas; Food Detective David Hammond looks at grass-fed beef's ubiquity, and Big Jones chef Paul Fehribach looks to the past, to when people put up food for the winter, and offers two delectable recipes -- for apple butter and fluffy Cheddar biscuits. Enjoy.

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Bummer for Nestle, which produces the iconic Libby's canned pumpkin, the go-to squash for millions of pie makers this time of year.

The company says heavy rains have forced it to cease harvesting its crop in Downstate Morton -- which may lead to a shortage during the holiday season of those recognizable orange cans.

But relax, people. You can still bake your pumpkin pie and eat it, too. A pumpkin is a gourd -- as are those oodles of beautiful winter squash with the poetic names (Kabocha, Hubbard, Delicata) crowding the store bins these days.

In my freezer, I have a Ziploc bag full of the cooked flesh of a red Kabocha squash. I bought the squash in early October from farmer Vicki Westerhoff (below) at Green City Market, for our story on farmers' favorite Thanksgiving recipes. Westerhoff is a something of a squash expert -- she grows between 11 and 18 varieties of winter squash on her St. Anne farm -- and her recipe for custard-filled squash is delightful. 10-24_white_farmer_1.jpg

In my first attempt at Westerhoff's recipe, however, forces out of my control prevented me from keeping a close eye on the squash -- or, more accurately, the clock -- as it baked (long story; just know it involved my two daughters). The beautiful, majestic squash collapsed on me in the heat, the filling spilling out across the baking sheet. Dang.

But it still tasted delicious, so I scooped all the flesh from the skin anyway, collecting it in a bag and popping it into the freezer. And next week, I'll be making pie with it.

Westerhoff says the three best substitutes for the canned stuff are the Blue Hubbard, Long Island Cheese and Butternut squash (though she assures me my red Kabocha also will work well).

"I would dare say other than a super pumpkin connoisseur, no one would know the difference," she says. "In fact, I think they work better than pumpkin in a lot of ways. The texture is smoother and the flavor is just really good."

So wherever you would have used canned pumpkin, try substituting a squash of a different stripe. It won't be the same old pie you're used to, but I don't think you'll be disappointed, either.

It's almost Thanksgiving. For us, that means once again drawing on the expertise of the Chopping Block's Shelley Young.

This is the third year Young has graciously agreed to be the subject of our Thanksgiving video how-tos. The first year, we asked her to show us how to carve a turkey. Last year, it was how to make gravy. And this year, she whizzes us through pie crust. You can check out all the videos here. 10-31 podgo turkey 4.jpg

There are two reasons why Young's business -- which started in a charming cottage on Webster Avenue in Lincoln Park and has since mushroomed into a grand space in the Merchandise Mart and a Lincoln Square location -- has been around for 12 years. She knows her stuff. And her stuff works.

Sun-Times editor in chief Don Hayner told me he watched and learned from the turkey carving video; he and I both carve our turkeys this way, now.

Young's gravy relies on a simple, easy-to-remember ratio. And her pie crust recipe, she says, is foolproof. Foolproof is a tall order. But watch the video, and then try it yourself - especially if you have a food processor, you're going to be giddy at how ridiculously easy it really is, this crust thing.

So for next Thanksgiving... Shelley, you know the drill.

(And for another take on Thanksgiving duties, here's Anthony Bourdain, another person we love, but for different reasons.)

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Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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