lentil salad with squash and goat cheese

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The Great Cookie Craze that is December perplexes me. I understand that with various holiday-related celebrations, there are more opportunities for feasts and drinks than at other times of the year, but the cookie mania goes beyond parties. People send dozens of treats out to families and friends, most of whom are making their own dozens of cookies. The number of cookies in the world exponentially increases for a month.

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The tide turns in January, which, without any significant celebration of its own, becomes the Undo the Holidays month. Poor January, but really, it isn’t such a bad thing. After all, healthy food tastes good too, particularly healthy food that includes goat cheese.

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Tart goat cheese mixed with sweet winter squash is becoming one of my favorite flavor combinations, and kale, with its bitter notes, and lentils, with its meatiness, make it even better. Or, if kale isn’t your thing, arugula adds some freshness to the plate. Nothing about this salad feels like punishment for the past month’s excesses.  But have a cookie afterward anyway; December shouldn’t get to have all the fun.

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One year ago: Nutty Chocolately Swirly Sour Cream Bundt Cake
Two years ago: Chocolate Oatmeal Almost Candy Bars
Three years ago: Herbed Lima Bean Hummus
Four years ago: Pissaladiere

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Lentil Salad with Squash and Goat Cheese (adapted from Bon Appétit via Smitten Kitchen)

Serves 4

The original recipe calls for arugula, which I used the first time I made this. (Actually, the pictures seem to indicate I used mixed greens.) The second time, I used kale, which I like even more. I wrote the directions for kale into the recipe; if you use arugula instead, simply add it to the salad at the end. You can also use a smaller pot to cook the lentils if you’re not adding the kale.

¾ cup green lentils
salt
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes, seeds reserved
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 bunch kale, ribs removed, leaves coarsely chopped
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, plus additional to taste

1. Place the butternut squash on a sheet pan. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the spices, and ½ teaspoon salt; toss to coat. Roast the squash for 25 minutes, turning once. In a small bowl, mix the cleaned squash seeds with the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and a pinch of salt. Add the seeds to the baking sheet with the squash and continue to roast until the squash is tender and the seeds are browned.

2. Combine the lentils, ½ teaspoon salt, and 3 cups of water in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the lentils are tender, 18-20 minutes. Add the kale to the pot during the last 2-3 minutes of simmering. (The kale will overwhelm the size of the pot at first but will quickly wilt.)

3. Combine the lentils, squash, kale, goat cheese, and vinegar. Season with salt, pepper, and extra vinegar, if desired. Serve.

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squash kale pizza

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This recipe knocked me out of a months-long pizza rut. At about two homemade pizza dinners a month, that’s a lot of green chile-turkey pepperoni-mushroom pizza. Not that anyone around here was complaining.

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It’s the complimentary earthy flavor that squash and kale both have, combined with the contrasting sweetness of the squash and slight bitterness of the kale that make this pizza work so well. Onions with savory centers and caramelized tips bridge the gap, then the whole thing is topped with plenty of cheese, which is what really matters. I don’t know if it’s going to rival green chile-turkey pepperoni-mushroom for our next rut, but it was definitely a nice diversion.

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One year ago: Beef in Barolo
Two years ago: Steak au Poivre
Three years ago: Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

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Kale and Butternut Squash Pizza (from Bev Cooks via Cate’s World Kitchen)

I used acorn squash the first time I made this and delicata squash the second time. So technically, I haven’t made butternut squash and kale pizza yet!

Dough for two 10-inch pizza crusts (half of this recipe)
1½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into bite-sized cubes
2 small red onions, cut into wedges
3 cups kale (from about 1 bunch), cut in thin ribbons
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Divide the dough in two and shape each portion into a ball. Set the balls of dough aside for 10 to 30 minutes, loosely covered, to allow the gluten to relax.

2. Transfer the squash and onions to a large baking sheet; season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper and coat with 1 tablespoon of oil. Bake, stirring once halfway through, until softened and browned, about 30 minutes.

3. Heat the remaining ½ tablespoon of oil with the garlic in a large skillet; add the kale and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring constantly, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

4. Work with one ball of dough at a time on a lightly floured surface or a damp cloth. Flatten the dough, then pick it up and gently 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. Transfer the round of dough to a large square of parchment paper; slide onto a pizza peel.

5. Top the dough with half of each of the roasted vegetables, kale, and cheese. Slide the pizza with the parchment onto the hot baking stone. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the crust is browned around the edges. Transfer the pizza to a cooling rack without the parchment. Let the pizza rest for 5 minutes before serving. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

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sour cream pumpkin tart

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My brother majorly stuck his foot in his mouth a couple Christmases ago. He lives in the same part of the country as most of my relatives and had spent Thanksgiving with them; then he and my aunt and grandmother all visited for Christmas. As my aunt was mixing up the pumpkin pie, my brother recalled the apparently horrible (“completely tasteless”, I believe, were his words) pumpkin pie from their Thanksgiving festivities. “Who made that anyway”, he wondered?

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You know where this is going, right? Yes, my aunt had made the pie. And she was right there during this conversation, making more pumpkin pie. And it must have affected her confidence, because she forgot to add the sugar.

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(extra batter)

Fortunately, this pie was anything but completely tasteless. The spices were in perfect balance and it was just the right level of sweetness. I hope that my brother would approve – and that if he didn’t, he’d keep his mouth shut about it.

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Judy chose this pie (or tart) for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I exchanged the sour cream for 2% Greek yogurt, because I don’t often buy sour cream.

Two years ago: Herbed Lamb Chops with Pinot Noir Sauce
Three years ago: Truffles (chocolate comparison)

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normandy apple tart

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There seems to be a misconception among some people that I have my act together. Something like this tart, with its carefully arranged apple slices, presents an image of someone organized and calm and productive. Who knows – they might even think that I regularly clean my bathrooms.

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The truth is that I forgot about the apples while they were cooking down into sauce and was lucky that there was no harm done. The truth is that I sliced and arranged the topping while singing Chicago hits (you’re the inspiration!) and drinking champagne late Sunday night when I should have been getting ready for bed.

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I took the tart out of the oven long after my normal bed time. Then my hand slipped and mussed the carefully arranged apples and scalloped edge. The truth is that photographing the tart Monday morning made me even later for work than usual.

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Maybe the moral of the story is that even if you’re just fumbling through, things will probably turn out just fine. You can use two forks to carefully unmuss your carefully arranged apple slices. You can eat the broken edge first. And none of those surficial imperfections spoiled how incredible this tart tasted, with the apples in the sauce adding a bright contrast to the sweet browned apples on top. This tart, Chicago’s greatest hits, and champagne were worth staying up for – even if it means that any image of me having it all together is just smoke and mirrors.

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Tracey chose this tart for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the full recipe posted.  I followed it exactly, except, remembering a Cook’s Illustrated testing of applesauce and how the version with a pinch of salt was the favorite, I was sure to add a smidgen of salt to my sauce as well.

One year ago: Devilish Shortcakes
Two years ago: All-in-One Holiday Bundt
Three years ago: Linzer Sables

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apple pie cake

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Those accursed diamonds. Dorie Greenspan tells a cute story about how her grandmother used to make a similar recipe to this one and cut it into diamonds. Notably however, Dorie did not suggest the diamond shape. She recommends squares.

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But I thought the diamonds sounded so elegant and pretty. I considered and then disregarded how fragile the sharp diamond corners would be. I also considered and disregarded the impracticality of cutting a rectangular pan of pie-cake into diamonds. I powered on.

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The result was more crumbs than diamonds. I usually consider the fallen crumbs to be a little treat to snack on, but when half of a large pan of pie-cake crumbles as you cut it, that can be dangerous. Once the crumbs started getting really out of control, I shoved them all in a bowl before I could even consider eating them.

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Bu not even one coworker mentioned the broken diamonds when they came by to tell me that these might be the best thing I’ve ever brought to share. It didn’t even get mentioned when one coworker announced over the intercom how amazing they were. (I blushed.) I’m actually a little bit glad that I cut them into impractical diamonds, because now I have a bowl full of apple pie-cake crumbs stashed in my freezer.

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One year ago: Almost-Fudge Gateau
Two years ago: Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies
Three years ago: Thanksgiving Twofer Pie

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Russian Grandmother’s Apple Pie-Cake (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours)

As usual with Dorie’s recipes, I bumped up the salt – ¾ teaspoon in the dough and a pinch in the apples. And I completely forgot the raisins.

For The Dough
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lemon
3¼ – 3½ cups all-purpose flour

For The Apples
10 medium apples, all one kind or a mix
Squirt of fresh lemon juice
1 cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden)
¼ cup sugar
1¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon

Sugar, preferably decorating (coarse) sugar, for dusting

To Make The Dough: Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes more. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the baking powder and salt and mix just to combine. Add the lemon juice – the dough will probably curdle, but don’t worry about it. Still working on low speed, slowly but steadily add 3¼ cups of the flour, mixing to incorporate it and scraping down the bowl as needed. The dough is meant to be soft, but if you think it looks more like a batter than a dough at this point, add the extra ¼ cup flour. (The dough usually needs the extra flour.) When properly combined, the dough should almost clean the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each half into a rectangle. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or for up to 3 days. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months; defrost overnight in the refrigerator.)

To Make The Apples: Peel and core the apples and cut into slices about ¼ inch thick; cut the slices in half crosswise if you want. Toss the slices in a bowl with a little lemon juice – even with the juice, the apples may turn brown, but that’s fine – and add the raisins. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together, sprinkle over the apples and stir to coat evenly. Taste an apple and add more sugar, cinnamon, and/or lemon juice if you like.

Getting Ready to Bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter a 9×13-inch baking pan (Pyrex is good) and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Remove the dough from the fridge. If it is too hard to roll and it cracks, either let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes or give it a few bashes with your rolling pin to get it moving. Once it’s a little more malleable, you’ve got a few choices. You can roll it on a well-floured work surface or roll it between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper. You can even press or roll out pieces of the dough and patch them together in the pan – because of the baking powder in the dough, it will puff and self-heal under the oven’s heat. Roll the dough out until it is just a little larger all around than your pan and about ¼ inch thick – you don’t want the dough to be too thin, because you really want to taste it. Transfer the dough to the pan. If the dough comes up the sides of the pan, that’s fine; if it doesn’t that’s fine too.

Give the apples another toss in the bowl, then turn them into the pan and, using your hands, spread them evenly across the bottom.

Roll out the second piece of dough and position it over the apples. Cut the dough so you’ve got a ¼ to ½ inch overhang and tuck the excess into the sides of the pan, as though you were making a bed. (If you don’t have that much overhang, just press what you’ve got against the sides of the pan.)

Brush the top of the dough lightly with water and sprinkle sugar over the dough. Using a small sharp knife, cut 6 to 8 evenly spaced slits in the dough.

Bake for 65 to 80 minutes, or until the dough is a nice golden brown and the juices from the apples are bubbling up through the slits. Transfer the baking pan to a cooling rack and cool to just warm or to room temperature. You’ll be tempted to taste it sooner, but I think the dough needs a little time to rest.

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cranberry apple brandy

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When I was simmering sugar syrup, smashing fruit, and measuring alcohol for these cocktails, my mom made the excellent point that opening a bottle of wine is a heck of a lot easier. And while I appreciate how wine compliments food and how beer signals relaxation, I love cocktails too. Cocktails are special. They mean fun and celebration. You can’t help but be happy when enjoying a cocktail with friends and family. And that’s why they’re worth the trouble.

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This one takes more work than the citrus squeezing, liquor measuring, and syrup simmering of my favorite vodka gimlets and magaritas, as apples need to be sliced, then crushed along with cranberries before the liquor and syrup are stirred in – and that’s in addition to the squeezing, measuring, and mixing of citrus, liquor, and syrup, respectively.

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It’s a strong drink, undoubtedly, as it is mostly brandy.  But it has all of the ingredients in a good apple dessert – sugar, a touch of citrus to brighten the flavors, cranberries in case you needed another reminder that it’s the end of fall and the beginning of winter.  Fortunately, that’s just the time for celebrations worthy of the trouble involved with mixing up a seasonal cocktail.

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One year ago: Cranberry Apple Galette
Two years ago: Carne Adovada
Three years ago: Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms

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The Normandy
(from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser)

Serves 1

9 cranberries
2 thin slices green apple
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon simple syrup
2 ounces Calvados or other good-quality apple brandy

Combine 6 cranberries, 1 apple slice, the brown sugar, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker and muddle (crush with a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon). Add the simple syrup, Calvados, and a few ice cubes, cover, and shake well. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and garnish with the remaining 3 cranberries and apple slice.

maple pumpkin pots de creme

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The last few times I’ve made pots de crème, in any flavor, I’ve concluded that crème brûlée in that flavor would be far superior. Because what’s better than a dish full of sinfully rich baked pudding? Sinfully rich baked pudding topped with caramel.

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These custards are almost like pumpkin pie without the crust, and come to think of it, while I love flaky pie crusts on summery fruit pies, I think I could do without it for pumpkin pie. I love being able to focus on just the silky custard – or being able to snap through a layer of crackly sugar to the custard.

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I have a feeling I won’t be able to get away with skipping the crust on everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving dessert, but I wonder how people would feel about me torching the entire top of the pie? It’s tempting, but I suspect brûléeing is usually reserved for individual servings for good reason. Perhaps I’d better stick with whipped cream on top of pie and make individual pumpkin pots de crème when I want a crackly burnt sugar topping.

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Two years ago: Vegetarian Lasagna
Three years ago: Stuffed Sandwich Rolls

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Maple Pumpkin Pots de Crème (adapted from Gourmet via epicurious)

Serves 6

7 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
¾ cup whole milk
¾ cup pure maple syrup
½ cup canned solid-pack pumpkin

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a 9 by 13 inch Pyrex pan with a dish towel. Arrange six 5-ounce ramekins in the pan. Bring about 2 quarts of water to a boil. In a large bowl, whisk together the yolks, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.

2. In a heavy saucepan, whisk together the cream, milk, syrup, and pumpkin; bring just to a simmer over moderate heat. Add the hot pumpkin mixture to the yolks in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh strainer into a large measuring cup, then divide the custard among the ramekins (you may have some custard left over, depending on the size of cups).

3. Pour the boiling water into the towel-lined pan, coming about halfway up the sides of the ramekins and being careful not to splash water into the custards. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the custard just barely jiggles when shaken, a knife inserted in center of a custard comes out clean, and an instant-read thermometer registers 170 to 175 degrees from the center of a ramekin, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer the custards to a rack to cool completely, then chill, covered, until cold, at least 2 hours. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream. (To brûlée the pots de creme, pat the custard dry, then top each ramekin with a light coating of demerara, turbinado, or a mixture of brown and granulated sugar. Use a kitchen torch to melt and brown the sugar.)

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alsatian apple tart

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I recently congratulated myself on having become more practical now that I’m older and then almost immediately had to call my own BS. I tried to think of one example of having taken the more practical route lately and came up blank. My tendency to go overboard nearly always wins.

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Just to prove that I can, indeed, tone things down, I kept myself from perfecting the edges of my pastry cloth that always get crinkled after washing. Also, I only rearranged the apple slices on this tart once when they didn’t look the way I’d hoped. Even then, it wasn’t perfect, and I had at least a third of the apple slices leftover, but I had to move on with my evening.

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In the end, I think the tart came out very nicely. It’s pretty and it’s tasty. But. I think with the rest of the apples, it would have been even better – a little more tart to balance the sweet custard, and the apple slice design would have stood out more. I have to admit though, the difference isn’t so significant to make the time it would have taken to perfect it worthwhile. Sometimes, good enough is just fine.

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Jessica chose this tart for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. The recipe indicates that the tart will need to bake for 50-55 minutes, but mine was done around 35 minutes. The shorter time could be because it wasn’t as full, or it’s possible that I should have left it in the oven until the custard started to brown.

Two years ago: Alice Water’s Apple Tart
Three years ago: Basic Mashed Potatoes

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cranberry sauce with port and dried figs

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Have you ever looked at the ingredients of canned jellied cranberries? They’re exactly the same as homemade cranberry sauce: cranberries, sugar, water. The first time I made homemade cranberry sauce, I eagerly took my first bite and then…huh. It tastes exactly like the canned kind. Don’t bother making cranberry sauce from scratch if it’s because you’re expecting it to taste better than it is from the can.

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But there are other reasons to make it from scratch. The first is that it’s fun. Raw cranberries are neat, pucker-inducing and hard and dry. Then when you cook them, they pop. It only takes 15 minutes and can be done up to a week in advance, so why not spend a few minutes playing with your food?

The other reason is that you can play around with flavors, personalizing the sauce. Orange is the most common addition and after doing that for several years, I was ready for more experimentation. Sweet port wine and balsamic vinegar seemed like they would complement the tart cranberries perfectly.

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Even with all of the extra flavors in this – port, balsamic vinegar, figs, rosemary, black pepper, cinnamon – it didn’t taste so different from the stuff in the can. It had a warmer tone to it, and I liked the crunch of the fig seeds. But everyone would have been just fine with the canned stuff too. And that’s okay, because the few minutes I spent making this cranberry sauce were well spent just for the fun of it.

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Two years ago: African Pineapple Peanut Stew
Three years ago: Pumpkin Goat Cheese Ravioli

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Cranberry Sauce with Port and Dried Figs (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

At first, I served this as you see it here, but for the leftovers, I put the sauce through a food mill to separate the skins, and I much prefer the smoother version.

1½ cups ruby Port
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) packed brown sugar
8 dried black Mission figs, stemmed, chopped
1 6-inch-long sprig fresh rosemary
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar

Combine the port, vinegar, brown sugar, figs, rosemary, cinnamon, and pepper in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Discard the rosemary and cinnamon. Mix in the cranberries and granulated sugar. Cook over medium heat until the liquid is slightly reduced and the berries burst, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Transfer the sauce to a bowl; chill until cold. (Cranberry sauce can be prepared 1 week ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

yukon gold and sweet potato gratin

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This is not the potato dish I made for my big Thanksgiving meal last year. Last year, I made a potato and wild mushroom gratin, which followed my goal of including more vegetables in the meal. This gratin doesn’t fit that theme.

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Here’s the thing though: I cannot remember anything about that dish. I don’t remember it being bad, at least, but I don’t remember how good it was. Maybe there were too many mushrooms? I don’t know.

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I only made this Yukon gold and sweet potato gratin last week, but even if it had been last year, I know I would remember it. Potatoes baked in herby cream sauce and topped with nutty cheese are usually a hit, but adding sweet potatoes to the mixture makes it even better. I can’t guarantee the same thing for adding wild mushrooms to potato gratin.

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One year ago: Green Chile Mayonnaise
Two years ago: Wheat Berries with Caramelized Onions, Feta, and Lentils
Three years ago: Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin Medallions

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Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

8 servings

1½ pounds medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, sliced ⅛-inch thick
1½ pounds medium red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), peeled, sliced ⅛-inch thick
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
1½ teaspoons salt
¾ teaspoon black pepper
1¼ cups (5 ounces) coarsely grated Gruyére cheese

2. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small saucepan, combine the cream, milk, butter, and garlic; bring to simmer. Remove from the heat.

2. Butter a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Evenly spread half of the potatoes on the bottom of the dish. Top with half of the thyme, salt, pepper, and cheese. Repeat the layering with the remaining potatoes, salt, pepper, and cheese. Pour the cream mixture over the gratin, pressing lightly to submerge the potato mixture as much as possible. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Remove plastic wrap before baking.)

3. Cover the gratin tightly with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the top of the gratin is golden and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 25 minutes longer. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

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