Custom made At this time of year, many people who usually venture into the kitchen only to make tea or coffee start getting out recipe cards in anticipation of having friends and family over for a feast. Cooking such meals is like being thrown in at the deep end - you sink or swim in a very public way. Some of these occasional cooks are quite experimental and prepare dishes they've never tried out before. This can be risky - if it doesn't come off, you have a tableful of disappointed diners, and you cannot simply order up a roast turkey with all the trimmings from Food by Fone or Cuisine Courier on Christmas Day (or any other day, for that matter). On the other hand, if you hit the jackpot with a fantastically delicious dish, you've just made a lot of people happy. If you're cooking a casual weekday meal for family, it's worth experimenting - it alleviates the tedium of making the same thing time and time again and if it turns out well, you've added to your culinary repertoire. When it comes to experimenting for holiday meals, though, it is wise to tread carefully. Traditional dishes (although "traditional" can be a highly personal concept) are popular during the holidays, whether it's the special matzo ball soup that you serve for Hanukkah or the time-consuming recipe for stuffing that's been kept a family secret for decades. But while there are dishes you should never mess with, lest your family moan at the changes, it's safe to add "extras" to the table. Go ahead and make the secret stuffing but if you - the cook - are tired of it, try out a different stuffing recipe and serve the two side by side; who knows, the new one might be preferred. Add another vegetable dish to the usual line-up and, if it's a success, work it into the meal for next year. When it comes to your main dish, it's safest to experiment within parameters. If you serve turkey every year, then make turkey - but strive to make it even better than last time. Last year, I was invited to a friend's Thanksgiving meal, for which the hostess had made turkey legs confit'd in olive oil and brined and roasted turkey breast. They were firsts for her but were a huge success - even I (not a turkey enthusiast) liked the meat, and went back for seconds; I even ate some of the breast (the part of the bird I usually avoid). Traditionalists might have moaned because there was no whole bird to carve but nobody could criticise the flavour of what was served, and it was so good she made it again this year. It's too soon to call it a tradition, but it could be the start of one. Truc (tryk): noun, masculine, trick, gimmick, device. A French word for a chef's secret.