creamy brussels sprouts and mushroom lasagna

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After making a few lasagnas that all started to look the same, I needed new ideas. Here’s one, cooked in homemade broth with meatballs between the layers of pasta, that breaks the mold. 19 steps! 125 miniscule meatballs! I’ve been excited about that recipe since the moment I saw it, almost a year and a half ago, but even with my obsessive weekend cooking habits, I haven’t found time to make it.

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This one isn’t quite that original, but I had never put brussels sprouts, one of my favorite vegetables, in lasagna before. I can’t remember adding heavy cream to lasagna either, instead depending on the bechamel and cheese to add rich creaminess.

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I did reduce the cream by half, and I still found it plenty decadent. The mushrooms dominated the flavor, but not in the overly earthy way of some pure mushroom lasagnas. It definitely hit the spot, even without meat or tomatoes, some of my standard lasagna crutches. But I still want a completely free weekend that I can spend making homemade broth and (125!) tiny meatballs to layer with fresh pasta.

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Creamy Brussels Sprouts and Mushroom Lasagna (slightly adapted from The Food Lab)

8-10 servings

Stirring the creamed mushrooms and the creamed brussels sprouts together does not result in an attractive mixture. However, it won’t make a difference in the final lasagna, and it simplifies the layering.

As the picture above shows, I divided the ingredients between a loaf pan and an 8-by-8-inch pan. I baked one immediately and put the other in the freezer for an easy and indulgent meal a few weeks later.

For instructions on boiling and rinsing the noodles, see step 4 of this recipe. You’ll only need half of a recipe of fresh pasta.

I’ve increased the brussels sprouts and decreased the mushrooms slightly, because even though I didn’t have enough mushrooms when I made this, they were the dominant flavor. I love brussels sprouts and want to taste them.

Mushrooms:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
16 ounces button mushrooms, roughly chopped in a food processor in 4 batches
2 medium shallots, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon picked fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup white wine or sherry
½ cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

Brussels sprouts:
2 tablespoons canola oil
24 ounces Brussels sprouts, shredded on the grated disk in a food processor
salt and pepper
½ cup heavy cream

Bechamel:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups whole milk
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
12 ounces mozzarella, shredded
salt and pepper

To assemble:
1 pound fresh lasagna noodles or 12 7-by-3-inch lasagna noodles, boiled and rinsed
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
½ cup (1 ounce) grated parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. For the mushrooms: Heat the butter in a large nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until the foaming subsides. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid they give off has evaporated and the mushrooms begin to sizzle and brown, about 12 minutes. When the mushrooms are browned, add the shallots, garlic, and thyme. Cook, stirring, until the shallots are translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits. Add ½ cup heavy cream and cook until the mixture is reduced to a loose paste, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl; wipe out the skillet.

2. For the brussels sprouts: In the same skillet, heat the oil over high heat until shimmering. Add the shaved Brussels sprouts and a pinch of salt. Cook, tossing occasionally, until well-charred on most sides, about 10 minutes. Add ½ cup heavy cream and cook until reduced to a loose sauce-like consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms; stir them together.

3. For the bechamel: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture is pale brown and nutty, about 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk in a thin, steady stream. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the nutmeg and 12 ounces mozzarella. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. To assemble: Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread one-sixth of the cheese sauce on the bottom of a 9-by13-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of boiled noodles, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Top with one-fourth of mushroom/sprouts mixture, another one-sixth of the cheese sauce, and a sprinkle of grated mozzarella. Repeat the pasta, sprouts, and sauce layering three more times. Layer a final layer of noodles, then cover with the remaining béchamel and mozzarella.

5. Transfer to oven and bake until heated through and top is browned and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with Parmesan and parsley, let rest 10 minutes, and serve.

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pumpkin apple pizza

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As a general rule, I’m not a big fan of adding fruit to savory foods – but the more I try to define that rule, the more exceptions I find to it. I like the occasional salad with dried currants, figs on pizza, bacon-wrapped dates, cranberry sauce on my turkey sandwiches. I won’t be adding fruit to every salsa I make, but clearly I’m not completely grossed out by sweet/savory combinations.

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Still, I strongly considered leaving the apples off of this pizza. I don’t even love apples and pumpkin together in desserts, much less for dinner. But Kenji indicated that the apples would blend in, enhancing the pumpkin more than calling attention to themselves, so I compromised and kept the apples, but reduced them by half.

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I don’t agree that the apples blended in; for me, they were the strongest flavor. But, surprisingly for this supposed sweet+savory hater, it was a flavor that I liked. Pumpkin on its own is more earthy than sugary, and that combined with salty pancetta and three types of cheese made sweet cubes of apple a nice contrast. I have yet another exception to my no-fruit-in-dinner rule, but I still don’t think I’ll be adding pineapple to my guacamole anytime soon.

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Pumpkin Apple Pizza (rewritten and slightly changed from The Food Lab)

Makes 4 generous servings

I made half the recipe but cooked the entire pumpkin and apple, using the leftovers and more cheese to top crostini the next day.

You can leave the pancetta out (using 1 tablespoon butter to cook the apples and wedge of pumpkin), but I really like the combination of cured pork with winter squash.

1 pound homemade or store-bought pizza dough
1 small sugar pumpkin, quartered, seeds and pulp discarded
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons maple syrup
pinch ground cinnamon
pinch grated nutmeg
4 ounces pancetta, diced
1 crisp baking apple, such as Golden Delicious, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves, plus ¼ cup roughly torn leaves, divided
8 ounces (2 cups) shredded gruyère cheese
6 ounces (1½ cups) shredded mozzarella cheese
2 ounces (½ cup) grated parmesan cheese
2 scallions, thinly sliced

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Place three of the four pumpkin wedges in a medium oven-safe skillet. Spray or rub with 1 tablespoon oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 45 minutes, until the pumpkin flesh is very tender. Scrape the flesh from the skins; transfer to a medium mixing bowl and mix in the maple syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.

2. Place a pizza stone on a rack about 3 inches below the broiler and heat the oven as high as it goes. Shape the dough into 2 balls; cover and set aside for 10 to 30 minutes to allow the gluten to relax so the dough will be easier to stretch.

3. Peel and dice the remaining wedge of pumpkin. Heat the same skillet used to roast the pumpkin over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until its fat has rendered and it begins to brown (it will finish browning while the pizza bakes); transfer to a plate. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the diced pumpkin and apple to the rendered pancetta fat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and softened, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons minced sage. Set aside.

3. Gently flatten the dough, then pick it up and stretch it out, trying to keep it as circular as possible. Curl your fingers and let the dough hang on your knuckles, moving and rotating the dough so it stretches evenly. If it tears, piece it together. If the dough stretches too much, put it down and gently tug on the thick spots.

4. Line a pizza peel (or the back of a baking sheet) with parchment paper and transfer the round of dough to the paper, rearranging it to something reasonably circular. Spread the roasted pumpkin mixture over the dough, leaving the outer ½-inch of dough uncovered. Top with half of the gruyere and half of the mozzarella, then half the pancetta, half the diced pumpkin and apples, and half of the remaining sage leaves. Top with half the parmesan. Transfer the pizza to the hot pizza stone.

5. Immediately turn the oven off and the broiler on (to high, if yours has settings). Bake the pizza for about 4-6 minutes, until the bottom is spotty browned and the cheese is bubbling. Transfer the pizza to a cooling rack; sprinkle with half the scallions. Cool about 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

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sweet potato cake

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As far as I can remember, my mom only prepared sweet potatoes one way when I was growing up, and I don’t know exactly what that is, because I wouldn’t eat them. They were the only dish I was ever allowed to skip without even a no-thank-you helping. She served them twice a year, at Thanksgiving and then a month later when we repeated the Thanksgiving meal on Christmas. I don’t think anyone ate them except my mom and my brother-in-law.

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I was in my twenties the first time I saw someone serve sweet potatoes any other way. They were simply roasted and served with salt and pepper. It was a revelation to me that sweet potatoes could be served without sugar and syrup and marshmallows. These days, I like sweet potatoes okay, but with dinner, I prefer to pair them with savory ingredients. Adding sugar to potatoes that are already sweet seems like serving dessert on the same plate as dinner.

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No, if I decide to add sugar to sweet potatoes, it will be to make them into something that is unmistakeably dessert. With only 1 cup of mashed sweet potatoes in a 3-layer cake, this cake doesn’t taste overwhelmingly of sweet potatoes, but it is a pretty orange color, not to mention light and fluffy and moist, everything you want in a cake. If you’re going to add a bunch of sugar to your sweet potatoes, this is the way to do it.

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Sweet Potato Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting (slightly adapted from Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne’s Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes )

Cake:
2 medium or 1 large sweet potato (12 ounces)
3 cups (12 ounces) cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
5 eggs, separated
2¼ cups (15.75 ounces) sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1¼ cups milk, room temperature

Frosting:
10 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, room temperature
3 cups (12 ounces) powdered sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons maple syrup

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Prick each sweet potato with a fork in 5-6 places; place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour or until the potatoes are very soft. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. When the potatoes are cool, peel off the skin and remove any dark spots. Cut the potatoes into chunks and puree in a food processor until smooth. Measure out one cup of potato puree; discard the rest or save for another use.

2. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Butter and flour the bottoms and sides of three 8- or 9-inch pans, or spray with baking spray. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper; grease the paper. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves; set aside.

3. In the bowl of electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Increase the speed to high and gradually add ¼ cup sugar. Continue to beat until the egg whites are moderately stiff. Transfer the egg whites to a separate bowl.

4. In the same bowl (no need to wash it), with the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sweet potato, butter, vanilla, remaining sugar, and salt; beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add the egg yolks one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl after each egg yolk is added. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add one-third of the dry ingredients, followed by half the milk, another one-third of the dry ingredients, the remaining milk, and the remaining dry ingredients.

5. With a large spatula, fold in one-fourth of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it. Fold in the remaining egg whites until no streaks remain, making sure to not over mix. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.

6. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake layer comes out clean. Let the cake layers cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks. Cool completely before frosting, at least 1 hour.

7. For the frosting: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese and butter on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer, add the sugar, and mix on low speed until the sugar is incorporated; increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until light and smooth, 2-3 minutes. Mix in the maple syrup.

8. To assemble: Transfer one cake layer to a serving platter. Evenly spread ⅛-inch frosting over the top. Top with a second cake layer and another layer of frosting, then the third cake layer. If you have time, spread a very thin layer of frosting over the top and sides of the cake; chill, uncovered, for 30 minutes; this step will reduce crumbs in your final layer of frosting. Spread the remaining frosting evenly over the top and sides of the cake.

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sweet potato mezzalune with sausage ricotta filling

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Last year, I got all excited about turchetta and couldn’t wait to get started cooking it as part of a big turkey feast. And then I waited, and waited, and waited, until I had time to spend two days cooking an extravagant meal (not required, I realize, but I love doing it). It was January before I could dedicate the time, plus round up some friends to help us eat all the food I insist on making.

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The wait wasn’t bad though, because it gave me time to peruse untold numbers of recipes to find just the right ones for my fusion of Italian food and Thanksgiving food. That was my favorite part. I had a lot of fun cooking too. The meal itself…well…of the thirteen recipes I made, I’ve chosen to share just four with you (although the rustic dinner rolls were really good too). The turchetta and wine-braised turkey legs were overcooked, the pumpkin panna cotta separated, the green bean pasticcio wasn’t beany enough.

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Or maybe the main meal just didn’t seem as good because I’d already filled up on the mezzalune I served as an appetizer. Mezzalune are like ravioli, but wrapped in gnocchi dough instead of pasta dough. Gnocchi dough, it turns out, is easier to work with than fresh pasta; it’s sticky, but on a well-floured surface, it stretches easily and doesn’t break.

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I made turkey sausage with the turkey tenderloins that don’t get used in the turchetta, but if you don’t feel the need to go overboard on everything, feel free to just buy some sausage, turkey or otherwise. (I also made these with homemade venison sausage for Game Night.) The mezzalune can be formed and boiled ahead of time, so when it’s time to eat, you just need to add them to a skillet with some butter and push them around a bit until they’re nice and crisp and brown. And then don’t spoil your dinner by filling up on them. Or, even better, make these your dinner so you can eat as many as you want.

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Sweet Potato Mezzalune with Turkey Sausage Ricotta Filling (mezzalune inspiration from John Besh; gnocchi from Gourmet via epicurious; filling from Lidia Bastianich)

Makes about 50 appetizer-sized dumplings

Dough:
1¼ pounds russet potatoes
1 (¾-pound) sweet potato
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1½ to 2 cups (7.2 to 9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
⅓ cup (0.67 ounce) grated parmesan cheese

Filling:
12 ounces turkey sausage
1 cup ricotta
¼ cup (½ ounce) grated parmesan
¼ cup minced parsley

4 tablespoons butter
additional minced parsley for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Pierce the russet and sweet potatoes in several places with a fork. Arrange on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, turning once, until no resistance is met when pierced with a fork or skewer. Cool the potatoes slightly, then peel and force through a ricer or the fine holes of a food mill into a large bowl. Spread the potatoes over the surface and up the sides of the bowl to allow steam to evaporate. Cool potatoes completely, stirring once or twice to release more steam.

2. Push the potatoes to the sides of the bowl, forming a well in the center. In the well, beat together the egg, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir the egg mixture into the potatoes. Add 1½ cups of flour and ⅓ cup parmesan to the potatoes, kneading to evenly incorporate. Add additional flour as necessary, until the mixture forms a smooth but slightly sticky dough.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sausage, ricotta, ¼ cup parmesan, and parsley.

4. Divide the dough in half. On a well-floured surface, roll half of the dough to 1/16- to ⅛-inch thickness (a millimeter or two), flouring the top of and below the dough as necessary. Use a 2½-inch round cutter to cut as many circles as possible. Scoop a scant 1 tablespoon of filling into the center of each round. Working one a time, pick up a round, gently pull two opposite sides of the circle, then fold the stretched ends of the dough over the filling, pinching the edges to seal. Transfer to a floured tray or baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining cut rounds. Before re-rolling the scraps, roll, cut, fill, and seal the other half of the dough. Re-roll the scraps as necessary to use up the remaining filling.

5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-high, add one-quarter of the mezzalune, and cook until they begin to float, about 2 minutes. Transfer the mezzalune to a tray or damp dishtowel. Repeat with the remaining mezzalune. At this point, the mezzalune can be covered and chilled for several hours before finishing.

6. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Transfer half of the mezzalune to the skillet. Cook, flipping occasionally, until browned and crisp on both sides, about 5 minutes. Repeat with the remaining mezzalune. Serve immediately, topping with the remaining parsley.

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pumpkin oatmeal brulee

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This is a great way to make oatmeal a little more special without making it much more work. It’s cooked the same way as regular steel-cut oats, except pumpkin and sugar are stirred in part way through cooking. The only extra step is a fun one – playing with fire.

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The biggest difference between brûléeing a solid custard like crème brûlée compared to brûléeing oatmeal is that oatmeal is wetter. This means the sugar has a tendency to dissolve into the oatmeal. Fortunately, once you pour the oatmeal into serving dishes, a skin starts to form on top after a few minutes, providing a dryer surface for the sugar to rest before it’s caramelized.

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Because of the crackly sweet layer on top of the oatmeal, only half a tablespoon per serving is necessary stirred in the oatmeal itself. That’s enough to bring out the flavor of the pumpkin and still provide a little constrast with the topping. Warm and soothing, spiced and sweet, this is a perfectly comforting cold weather breakfast.

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Pumpkin Oatmeal Brûlée (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Perfect Oatmeal)

I’ve had better luck brûléeing sugar with larger crystals, which is why demerara is recommended. Turbinado or sanding sugar should work too. Without any special sugars, an even mixture of granulated and brown sugar has worked well for me in the past. It’s difficult to estimate how much you’ll need, as it will depend on the size and shape of the bowls.

2½ cups water
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup steel-cut oats
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
demerara sugar, or a mix of white sugar and brown sugar, for topping

1. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the water and milk until simmering.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the oats and cook, stirring constantly, until the oats start to smell like butterscotch, 2-3 minutes. Add the spices and continue to stir constantly until the spices are fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour the oat/spice mixture into the milk and water.

3. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Add the pumpkin, brown sugar, and salt, and continue to simmer lightly, stirring occasionally, until the oatmeal is thick and creamy. Immediately pour the oatmeal into serving bowls. Set aside for 5-10 minutes for a skin to form on top.

4. Working with one bowl at a time, distribute an even layer of the demerara sugar over the oatmeal. With a butane torch, immediately caramelize the sugar. Repeat with the remaining bowls; serve immediately.

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cranberry almond crostata

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I’ve got nothing against pie – buttery, flaky crust, fruit filling, what’s not to like? – but I’m mostly a cake girl. Soft, spongy, tender, doughy cake. Brownies are good too. Or cookies. Pie is great, but it isn’t as good as doughy baked things, either to eat or to make.

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This crostata, however, is the perfect compromise, because the crust is made from cookie dough, not pie dough. The filling, on the other hand, is classic pie – thickened, fruity, juicy. It looked just like cherry pie as it baked.

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When I made this for my big Italian-themed turkey feast last year, I mixed and cut the dough the day before the meal, storing it in the freezer. I also cooked and chilled the filling overnight. The next day, I spent 15 minutes assembling the tart in the morning before anything else needed to go in the oven. After transferring the beautifully browned and sugar sparkly tart to a cake stand, I didn’t have to think about it again until it was time for dessert. This sweet and tart and buttery dessert was the perfect end to the meal – and it was just as good the next morning for breakfast, just like pie.

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Cranberry Almond Crostata (from Gourmet via epicurious)

For pastry dough:
⅛ cup whole raw almonds (¼ pound), toasted and cooled
2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1¼ sticks unsalted butter, softened
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten, divided
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon pure almond extract
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon salt

For filling and assembly:
2½ cups fresh or frozen cranberries (10 ounces)
¼ cup fresh orange juice
½ cup sweet orange marmalade
½ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1. Make the dough: Pulse the almonds with ¼ cup flour until finely ground (be careful not to grind to a paste). Beat together the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the beaten egg, chilled, for egg wash and beat the remaining egg into the butter mixture, then add the vanilla and almond extracts, beating well. At low speed, mix in the almond mixture, zest, salt, and remaining 1¾ cups flour until mixture just forms a dough. Halve the dough and form each half into a 5- to 6-inch disk. Wrap the disks separately in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.

2. Make the filling: Bring the cranberries, orange juice, marmalade, brown sugar, and salt to a boil in a heavy medium pot, stirring, then simmer, uncovered, until some of the cranberries burst and the mixture is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Cool the filling quickly by spreading it in a shallow baking pan and chilling until lukewarm, about 15 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with a foil-lined large baking sheet on the middle rack. Generously grease a springform pan.

4. Roll out 1 piece of dough between sheets of wax or parchment paper into a 12-inch round (dough will be very tender). Remove the top sheet of paper and invert the dough into the springform pan. (Dough will tear easily but can be patched together with your fingers.) Press the dough over the bottom and up the side of the pan, trimming the dough to reach ½ inch up the side of the pan. Chill.

5. Roll out the remaining dough into a 12-inch round in same manner. Remove the top sheet of paper, then cut the dough into 10 (⅓-inch-wide) strips with a pastry wheel and slide (still on the wax paper) onto a tray. Freeze strips until firm, about 10 minutes.

6. Spread the filling in the chilled shell and arrange 5 strips 1 inch apart on filling. Arrange the remaining 5 strips 1 inch apart diagonally across first strips to form a lattice with diamond-shaped spaces. Trim the edges of all the strips flush with the edge of the shell. Brush the lattice top with the reserved beaten egg and sprinkle the crostata with the 1 tablespoon granulated sugar.

7. Bake the crostata in the pan on the hot baking sheet until the pastry is golden and the filling is bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes. (If the pastry is too brown after 30 minutes, loosely cover the crostata with foil.) Cool the crostata completely in the pan on a rack, 1½ to 2 hours.

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bittersweet chocolate and pear cake

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Earlier this summer, one of my coworkers brought in peaches from his tree, so I took some and made peach cupcakes to share at work. Then a couple weeks ago, another coworker was giving away apples, so I took some and made apple pie-cake for everyone. After that, the apple grower was excited to find someone to offload her apples to, so she brought me another bag, and I made apple cake and then apple muffins. Also, my mom gave me pears, so I made pear chocolate cake.

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It sounds weird, right, pears and chocolate together? That’s what most of my coworkers said, but then they said that it definitely worked. It’s a fun recipe, with the eggs beaten until foamy and the batter spread in the pan with the fruit and chocolate on top. As the cake bakes, it rises up due to all the air beaten into the eggs, incorporating the fruit and chocolate.

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Just like in a chocolate chip cookie, the chocolate here provides a bitter richness to compliment the sweet butteriness of a fruit-based cake. Sugar and butter being, of course, the perfect compliments to almost any fruit. Basically, if you have too much fruit, give it to me and I will make cake out of it.

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Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake (rewritten but not significantly adapted from Al Di La Trattoria via Smitten Kitchen)

My homegrown pears were small, so I used five of them.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) sugar
3 pears, peeled, cored, and diced into ¼-inch cubes
¾ cup (4.5 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chunks

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick baking spray (or oil and flour the pan). In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a small skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. When the foaming subsides, start swirling the butter around the pan. When the milk solids sink and turn brown and the butter smells nutty, remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter into a small bowl or measuring cup so it stops cooking.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), beat the eggs until light yellow and thick, about 5 minutes on a stand mixer and 9 minutes with a handheld mixer. When the whisk is removed from the bowl, the egg should flow off of it in a thick ribbon. Gradually add the sugar to the eggs, beating for 1 minute after it’s all added. Reduce the mixer speed to its lowest setting and add one-third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, another third of the flour, the rest of the butter, and the rest of the flour, beating just until combined.

3. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Evenly distribute the pears and chocolate over the top of the batter. Transfer to the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 45-60 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. If desired, dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

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pumpkin chocolate chip bars

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I try to bring something for my coworkers to snack on once a week. Sometimes I feel guilty for ruining people’s diets, but mostly people seem to appreciate it, and, honestly, I don’t do it for them. I do it so I get to do some baking without doing lots of eating.

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Although squeezing baking into a weeknight isn’t always so easy. By the time we get home, work out, make and eat dinner, and maybe fold some laundry, there isn’t a lot of leftover time. I usually end up staying up later those nights, not to mention making us late for work the next morning while I garnish or cut into squares or whatever each particular dessert requires.

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Recipes like this one make it easy.  It’s mixed like a basic cookie dough, butter then sugar then eggs, half a can of pumpkin, stir in a bag of chocolate chips. There are no individual cookies to scoop, no fillings or toppings, just spread the batter in a pan and bake. And, most importantly, the bars that come out of the oven are soft and tender, pumpkiny and chocolately, and perfectly sized for someone to grab a quick square with their morning coffee.

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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars (adapted from Martha Stewart via Sparks from the Kitchen)

2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, spices, and baking soda.

2. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl if you’re using a hand-held mixer). Beat the butter on medium-low speed until it’s smooth, then add the salt and sugar. Continue beating on medium-low until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. With the mixer running, add the egg, then the vanilla. Beat in the pumpkin until blended. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until evenly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out dry, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.

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pumpkin pie

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Let me be frank: The recipe on the back of the can of pumpkin makes a perfectly good pumpkin pie. I have no beef with this pie. It’s the one I ate growing up, and I’ll still certainly grab a slice if it’s available. But at some point, it occurred to me that pumpkin pie is a custard pie, and it should be more custardy – smoother, richer, creamier. It still needs to be firm enough to form straight-sided slices, not puddles, but it shouldn’t be solid.

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I blame the evaporated milk. I like evaporated milk in my salmon pesto pasta recipe as a healthier alternative to cream, but we’re talking now about a dessert that’s eaten after one of the most decadent meals of the year. Is this really the time to cut calories? Stick with heavy cream for dessert.

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But there’s another requirement I have for pumpkin pie, and that is that it be easy. If the filling requires steps beyond mixing everything in the blender, I’m not interested. Not because a great dessert isn’t worth some effort, but because I’ve found that for pumpkin pie, extra effort just isn’t necessary. You can make yourself a perfect pumpkin pie – silky and rich, firm enough to form slices but still soft and smooth – with no more effort than it takes to make the recipe on the back of the pumpkin can.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Pumpkin Pie (adapted from Bon Appetit’s Spiced Pumpkin Pie and Cook’s Illustrated’s Silky Pumpkin Pie)

1 unbaked pie crust, rolled, transferred to pan, chilled (recipe below)
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
3 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup heavy cream

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Remove the pie crust from refrigerator; line the crust with foil and fill it with pie weights. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and the weights; bake 5 to 10 more minutes, until the crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove the crust and baking sheet from oven. Retain the oven temperature.

3. Combine all of the ingredients except the cream in the food processor or blender. Add the cream; pulse. Pour the mixture into the crust.

4. Return the pie plate with the baking sheet to the oven and bake the pie for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 300 degrees. Continue baking until the edges are set (an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center should register 175 degrees), 20 to 35 minutes longer. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and cool to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours.

Pie Crust (rewritten from Smitten Kitchen)

1 single-crusted 9-inch pie

1¼ cups (6 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, very cold
⅓ to ½ cup ice water

1. Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Cut the butter into ¼-inch cubes; add to the food processor and pulse until the largest pieces are pea-sized. Transfer the mixture to a bowl; stir in the water. Wrap in plastic wrap; chill at least 1 hour or up to 1 day. If chilled longer than an hour, leave the dough at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to soften before rolling.

2. Roll out the dough on a generously floured work surface to make a 12-inch circle about ⅛-inch thick. Roll the dough loosely around a rolling pin and unroll into a pie plate, leaving at least a 1-inch overhang all around the pie plate.

3. Working around the circumference, ease the dough into the pans by gently lifting the edge of the dough with one hand while pressing into the plate bottom with other hand. Trim overhang to ½-inch beyond lip of pie plate. Fold overhang under itself; edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Using thumb and forefinger, flute edge of dough. Refrigerate dough-lined plate until firm, about 15 minutes.

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mulled wine cranberry sauce

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This, finally, is the cranberry sauce I’ve been looking for – the one that is worth making not just because making cranberry sauce is fun, but because this is better than anything you could buy. And it’s no more effort than any other cranberry sauce; the only difference between this and the most basic recipe is that wine is used to simmer the cranberries instead of water, and there are a handful of warm winter spices thrown in.

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With so much wine, you might think that the sauce ends up tasting like wine, but that isn’t the case. It tastes like something much more than the in-your-face tart and sweet of regular cranberry sauce, but it isn’t particularly boozy. It’s just deeper, more complex, with a little buzz on your tongue.

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Unfortunately, with half a bottle of wine stirred into one bag of cranberries, there’s no chance of claiming that all the alcohol cooks off, so this isn’t the best cranberry sauce for kids. That’s why my friend offered to bring a can of jellied cranberry sauce for her kids when I invited them over for a big turkey feast.

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When she forgot, we figured what the heck, what harm could a few tablespoons of winey cranberries do? Not much at all, it turns out, as her son took one spoonful of sauce, noted that there was wine in it, and pushed it aside in favor of the stuffing. So maybe it’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely my new favorite.

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(turkey cranberry green chile sandwich on a crescent roll)

Printer Friendly Recipe
Mulled Wine Cranberry Sauce (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

I pressed the sauce through a food mill right after simmering, because I like my cranberry sauce smooth.

zest from 1 orange
1½ cups red wine
½ cup (3.5 ounces) packed brown sugar
½ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
12 ounces fresh cranberries

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered until the berries burst and the mixture thickens, about 20 minutes. Transfer sauce to bowl; chill until cold. (Can be prepared 1 week ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

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