maple nutmeg cookies

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There are more practical things I could be doing with my time, but none of them are as fun as baking cookies. This is why I have three types of Christmas cookie dough and a Christmas cake in my freezer. Plus I’ll be 8 months pregnant at Christmas, and I never know when my body is going to cry uncle and let me know that I can’t keep up my normal level of activity indefinitely.

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I have five more holiday treats planned (plus decorating that cake in the freezer), which seemed ambitious until I talked to someone who makes at least twenty types of cookies every December. Still, the only way I can get it all done and still enjoy my life is by spacing it out, and I have so many plans this year that my holiday baking spilled over into November. This is not a hardship, as I’m not sad about having more excuses to play with butter and sugar, even if it does mean using red and green food coloring before Thanksgiving.

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With no food coloring here, these cookies work for either holiday. They’re simple but not plain, as the maple flavor really is evident. Cutting them into fall leaves makes them seem more appropriate for Thanksgiving, but they’re going in my Christmas care packages anyway – along with at least five other treats.

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Nutmeg Maple Cookies (adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen)

Yield depends on size of cutters used; I made at least a hundred 1-inch cookies (which took forever)

I can’t find Grade B maple syrup where I live, but I do have maple sugar in the pantry, so I substituted 2 tablespoons of that for an equal amount of granulated sugar. The original recipe suggests adding a few drops of maple extract, if you’re more likely to have that around than maple sugar. I also considered starting with a couple extra tablespoons of Grade A maple syrup and simmering it down to ½ cup; if you do this, be sure to let it cool to room temperature before adding it to the dough.

I substituted some brown sugar for white sugar and added vanilla to the original recipe, because I thought both would help bring out the maple flavor.

I know it’s annoying to chill the dough and then have to wait for it to soften up again after chilling, but it’s so soft at room temperature that there’s no way you’d be able to transfer the cut shapes to a baking sheet. You could, however, roll it out immediately after mixing (you’d need a pretty big area) and refrigerate it until it hardens enough to cut and transfer, which would only take 15 minutes or so. I often do this with the scraps.

I tried baking the cookies for 8 minutes and for 10 minutes. The cookies baked for 8 minutes were just a bit chewy. The cookies baked for 10 minutes were crunchy, which isn’t usually my preference but was nice here. If you want your cookies softer, increase the brown sugar to ½ cup and decrease the granulated sugar to ½ cup and bake for 8-10 minutes, until the tops looks dry but the edges aren’t browned.

3 cups (14.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon table salt
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) light brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
½ cup Grade B maple syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a small bowl, combine the flour and nutmeg. 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) and beat on medium-low speed until it’s smooth. Add the salt and both sugars and continue beating on medium-low until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg yolk and mix until fully incorporated, then, with the mixer running, gradually add the maple syrup and vanilla extract. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until evenly combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or up to two days.

2. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

3. If chilled for longer than 2 hours, let the dough sit at room temperature until it’s just soft enough to roll out. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a thickness of ⅛-inch. Use floured cookie cutters to cut shapes; transfer the shapes to the prepared pans. Re-roll and cut shapes from the scraps, using as little flour as possible.

4. Bake the cookies until the just golden around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the pan for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack cool completely.

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marbled pumpkin cheesecake tart

pumpkin cheesecake tart 6

I’m finding that I don’t prefer eating the desserts I bring to events at the events I bring them to. For one thing, by the time I’m finished baking them, I’ve been surrounded by sugar for so long that I’ve lost interest in eating it. For another, and this is surely the real issue, I’ve usually spent the whole party grazing on the food that the host or other guests have provided, and I’m simply out of room for dessert.

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I haven’t figured out just what to do about this yet. When I brought the chocolate port wine cake to a crowded party, I didn’t think the host would notice that a slice was already taken out (for pictures! and to save for later), but much to my embarrassment, she most definitely did. I’ve taken to bringing a container with me and sneaking – or openly snagging, depending on how friendly I am with the host – a piece to bring home. Every bite of that treat will be savored over my tea the next morning, far more than if I tried to stuff in more food after gorging on stuffed jalapenos.

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This was a classic example. I brought it to a party last year, set it on the dessert table already crowded with cookies and cupcakes, then went outside to drink cocktails and eat pulled pork. One of my friends makes green chile cheese rice for most potlucks, and it’s one of my favorites, so that was my dish to overeat that night. After several servings, I was in no mood for a slice of tart.

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But I hadn’t yet established my policy of bringing a slice home for the next day, so I stuffed some down without the wherewithal to gauge flavor and texture details. So then I had to make it again. This time I just brought it to work, and after all the treats I’ve shared there, no one would begrudge me a tart with one slice removed. This time I got to eat it at home by myself after the workday; it isn’t as good as a weekend morning after a party, but at least I paid attention to how good it was this time.

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Pumpkin Cheesecake Tart (adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)

8-12 servings

The original version of this recipe has a full cup of cream in the pumpkin batter and none in the cheesecake batter. On her blog’s cookbook page, Deb mentions that she’s received feedback that the two batters were difficult to swirl together due to their different consistencies, so she recommends using two tablespoons of cream in the cheesecake batter and ⅞ cup (which is 1 cup minus those 2 tablespoons) in the pumpkin batter. I found that using a little more cream in the cheesecake batter and less in the pumpkin batter worked even better for me.

I used pumpkin pie spice because I’m lazy, but if you don’t keep it around, the original recipe calls for 3⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1⁄4 teaspoon ground ginger, 1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves, and a few fresh gratings of nutmeg. I’ve also added a step for pre-baking the crust to make it a little more sturdy.

4 ounces gingersnap cookies
3 ounces graham crackers (5½ full sheets)
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
¼ teaspoon salt

Cheesecake batter:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
pinch salt
1 large egg yolk
¼ cup heavy cream

Pumpkin batter:
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1¼ cups (10.5 ounces) pumpkin purée
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated white sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) brown sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
1½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup heavy cream

1. For the crust: Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In the food processor, process the gingersnaps and graham crackers until finely ground (or put the cookies in a large ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to crush them, then transfer them to a bowl); you should have about 1½ cups crumbs.
Add the sugar and salt and pulse to combine. Pour the melted butter over the crumbs; pulse until evenly coated. Press the mixture evenly onto the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch round (or equivalent size) tart pan. Bake until fragrant, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while preparing the filling. Increase the oven temperature to 425°F.

3. For the cheesecake batter: In a small bowl, use a whisk or hand mixer to beat the cream cheese until creamy. Add the sugar and salt, mixing until evenly combined. Add the egg yolk and cream, mixing until smooth. Set aside.

4. For the pumpkin batter: In a medium bowl, whisk the egg and egg white until broken up. Add the pumpkin, sugars, salt, and spices, mixing until smooth. Add the vanilla and cream and mix until evenly combined.

5. Spread the pumpkin batter evenly over the cooled crust. Use a spoon to dollop the cheesecake batter over the pumpkin batter, then run a knife through the cheesecake batter, dragging it into the pumpkin batter to create swirls.

6. Transfer the tart to the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking until the center of the tart is just slightly jiggly, 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely before serving. (Can also be covered and refrigerated overnight.)

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apple slab pie

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I’m such a hoarder. A couple months ago, I oh-so-casually asked my coworker how her apple tree was doing this year, and, just as I’d hoped, the next day she brought in a bag of apples. A big bag, which she said I was welcome to take, but she’d give away whatever I left behind to other coworkers. I really wanted them all – I had so many apple plans! – but I tried not to be greedy. I ended up with something like fifty apples.

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And I still have about twenty in my fridge. I made this, I made baked apple oatmeal, I made applesauce to put in the apple oatmeal, I made apple cinnamon rolls, I sautéed apples to top pancakes, I ate apples as snacks, and then…I kind of lost interest. Not that I ran out of apple recipes I want to make, but I also want to make pumpkin recipes and lemon recipes and chocolate recipes.

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Even this pie-that-serves-a-crowd hardly made a dent in my stash. It does have a higher ratio of crust to fruit than a regular pie, but if you make an excellent pie crust, one that’s flaky and crisp and buttery, that’s not a bad thing. But maybe it’s time to make a regular apple pie to use up some more apples. In fact, a deep dish pie is probably best. Or, maybe I can keep hoarding my apple stash for just a little while longer. I still have a few fun apple recipes up my sleeve.

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Apple Slab Pie (slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

3¾ cups (18 ounces) all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoons table salt
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, very cold
¾ cup very cold water

3½ to 4 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into approximately ½-inch chunks (about 8 cups)
⅔ to ¾ cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like your pies)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice

To finish:
2 tablespoons heavy cream

½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For the crust: Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Cut the butter into ½-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. Divide the dough in half and wrap each portion in plastic wrap; chill at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. If chilled longer than an hour, leave the dough at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to soften before rolling.

2. For the filling: In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt. In a large bowl, toss the apples with the lemon juice. Add the sugar mixture and stir to evenly coat.

3. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line the bottom of a 15-by-10-inch (or something roughly equivalent) baking pan with parchment paper.

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll one portion of the dough to a 18-by-13-inch rectangle. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet. If it breaks, patch the pieces together. The dough should overhang the pan rim. Roll out the second portion of dough to a 16-by-11-inch rectangle.

5. Spread the apple mixture evenly over the crust-lined pan. Top with the second portion of dough. Seal the edges of the two sheets of dough together, trimming excess if necessary. Crimp the edges if you’d like. Cut about twelve 2-inch slits into the top crust. Brush the top crust and edges lightly with the 2 tablespoons heavy cream.

6. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling, 40-45 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Cool about 45 minutes, until the pie is warm but not hot. (Can also be stored overnight at room temperature.)

7. For the glaze: In a small bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled pastry.

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caramel apple cinnamon rolls

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Okay, my coworkers are officially spoiled. Usually I pass off the treats I share with them as more for me to play in the kitchen than for them to indulge, but when your coworker brings you a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls still warm from the oven, covered in caramelly cream cheese frosting, you’re spoiled. And I’m spoiled too, because I got to eat a nice warm sweet roll (or two) at work too.

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It did take me all week, but that’s how yeast breads go on workdays. I could have skipped a whole wheat pre-dough on something so obviously not health food, but since it’s so easy and I knew it wouldn’t make anything worse, I figured a little extra fiber couldn’t hurt. After that rested overnight, I mixed the rest of the dough and let it rise most of the way before stashing it in the fridge. The third night, I rolled, filled, and cut the dough, then again let it partially rise before putting it in the fridge overnight. Finally, three days after starting the rolls, I woke up in the morning and preheated the oven to bake them.

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Well, the rolls took a little longer than I expected to bake and I was late to work that day, but no one minded. (My diabetic boss couldn’t care less about cinnamon rolls; he’s just a nice guy.) And I got a few “this is the best thing you’ve ever made” comments from my spoiled but appreciative coworkers, which, combined with indulging myself, makes it all worth it.

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Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls (adapted from Annie’s Eats)

Makes 12 full-size cinnamon rolls or 24 smaller cinnamon rolls

I made these partially whole wheat by making a pre-dough by stirring together 5 ounces whole wheat flour, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ½ cup water and letting it sit, covered, at room temperature overnight. The next day, I mixed this pre-dough with the butter, milk, yeast, sugar, and eggs before adding the remaining 1¼ teaspoons salt and 15-16 ounces flour.

Because I made small cinnamon rolls to share at work, even ¼-inch diced apples seemed too big. I gave them a few pulses in the food processor to chop them finer. The larger dice would work fine for full-size rolls though.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup milk
½ cup water
1 envelope (2¼ teaspoons) yeast
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1½ teaspoons salt
4-4¼ cups (20 to 21¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼-inch cubes
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) brown sugar, divided
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

¼ cup caramel sauce
1 cup (4 ounces) powdered sugar
4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1. For the dough: Melt the butter in the microwave or in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the milk and water. Transfer this mixture to the mixer bowl with the yeast, sugar, eggs, and salt. Mix on medium-low speed with the paddle attachment until evenly combined. Attach the dough hook, and, with the mixer running on medium-low speed, gradually add 4 cups (20 ounces) of flour. If the dough sticks to the bottom of the mixer bowl during kneading, add the remaining ¼ cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic (or knead for about 10 minutes by hand). It will be soft. Coat the bowl and dough with a thin layer of vegetable oil. Cover and set aside to rise until doubled in size, 1½ to 2 hours.

2. For the filling: Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the apples, ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) brown sugar, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are softened, about 12 to 16 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. When cool, add the remaining ½ cup (3.5 ounces) brown sugar and the cinnamon.

3. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with oil. When the dough is sufficiently risen, transfer it to a lightly floured work surface. Roll it out to a 12-inch by 16-inch rectangle. (If you want to make small rolls, divide the dough in two and roll each portion out to 12-inches by 8-inches.) Spread the filling evenly over the dough, leaving a ½-inch border along one longer edge free of filling. Starting at the longer edge with filling (for both full-size and smaller rolls), roll the dough tightly, sealing it with the clean edge. Using either a serrated knife or unflavored dental floss, cut the dough into 12 (or 24, for smaller rolls) evenly-sized rolls. Arrange cut-side up in the prepared pan. Cover and set aside to rise until puffy, about 1 hour.

4. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Uncover the rolls and transfer the dish to the oven. Bake until the tops are browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted near the center of the pan reads about 185 degrees. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack.

5. For the icing: Using a whisk or electric mixer, combine the caramel sauce and powdered sugar. Mix in the cream cheese until the mixture is smooth. Once the rolls have cooled for about 10 minutes, pour the icing over them. Serve warm.

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roasted brussels sprouts and butternut squash with bacon-porter dressing

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Vegetables, cooked right, are delicious, a fact all-too-often forgotten as they’re relegated to an afterthought. It’s fortunate that roasting vegetables has become popular, because those can be an afterthought and still be tasty with just salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, but what could happen if we put the same effort into a vegetable dish as we did the main dish? What could happen is that Brussels sprouts will be the most popular dish at your party.

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A friend and I threw a beer tasting party last month, with amber ale cheddar soup, stout-braised beef topped with potatoes, scotch ale creme brulee, and these vegetables. This was the dish that got the most compliments and recipe requests. (Although I need to ask my friend for the creme brulee recipe, because that had a really interesting and delicious bitter edge to the sweet custard.)

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Brussels sprouts and squash are roasted, which is always a good start, but then the ante is upped with a dressing made from bacon renderings, minced shallot, malty beer, mustard, and apple cider vinegar. I wasn’t sure about the pairing of Brussels sprouts and squash, but the earthy and sweet combination ended up being great, and it was all tied together with the sweet-tart dressing. I admit, it isn’t quite as easy as just throwing vegetables in the oven with salt and olive oil to roast, but every once in a while, don’t vegetables deserve to be the star?

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash with Bacon-Porter Dressing (adapted from Beer Bitty via Craft Beer)

8 servings

1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch dice
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped (or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme)
4 slices thick-cut bacon
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
4 ounces porter or brown ale
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted

1. Place a heavy rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack in the oven; heat the oven to 475 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the Brussels sprouts, squash, oil, cayenne, nutmeg, and thyme. Transfer to the hot baking sheet and roast until the vegetables are browned and tender, about 20 minutes, stirring twice.

2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate; when cool, coarsely chop or crumble. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the skillet. Add the shallot and garlic; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and maybe a little browned, 2-3 minutes. Add the beer and vinegar, increase the heat to medium-high, and simmer until reduced and slightly syrupy, 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the sugar, mustard, sage, salt and pepper. Pour the beer mixture over the vegetables and stir to combine. Top with the bacon and nuts; serve.

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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.

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

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 )

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

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

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

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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