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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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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cranberry grappa jelly

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Perhaps the lesson learned here is that cranberry sauce is better with alcohol. These are the only cranberry sauce recipes I can say that I honestly like. The plain stuff is nothing but sweet and tart, but adding a lot of wine or a little bit of grappa mellows those flavors while adding some complexity.

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Still, I have to admit, I’m not really sure what to do with cranberry sauce. I gather it’s supposed to be put on top of the turkey, but that’s where I keep my gravy. Mostly I make it because it makes an excellent sandwich when combined with leftover turkey, green chile, and mayo.

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I already had my mind made up that I prefer my cranberries without the skins, and this recipe is designed for that. Plus, it slurps just like the stuff from the can, but you can make it any pretty shape you want (and have a pan for). Of course it tastes way more interesting than the stuff from a can, and it does make one heck of a sandwich.

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Cranberry Grappa Jelly (from Gourmet via epicurious)

8 servings

1¼ pounds fresh or frozen cranberries (4½ cups)
1¾ cups sugar
1¾ cups cold water, divided
1 cup grappa, divided
2 (¼-ounce) envelopes unflavored gelatin (4½ teaspoons)

1. Bring cranberries, sugar, 1½ cups water, and ¾ cup grappa to a boil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then briskly simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until most of berries have burst and the mixture is thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Strain through a large fine-mesh sieve into a 2-quart measuring cup or a bowl, pressing hard on and then discarding solids. (You will need 2½ cups liquid.)

2. Stir together the gelatin and remaining ¼ cup water and let stand 1 minute to soften. Bring 1 cup drained cranberry liquid to a simmer in a small saucepan, then add the gelatin mixture and stir until just dissolved. Add the gelatin mixture and remaining ¼ cup grappa to the remaining 1½ cups cranberry liquid and stir well. Pour the cranberry sauce into a lightly oiled mold and chill, covered with plastic wrap, until firmly set, at least 12 hours.

3. To unmold, dip the mold in a large bowl of warm water (water should reach halfway up mold) for 5 seconds, then run tip of a thin knife around edge of mold. Tilt mold sideways and tap side against a counter, turning it, to evenly break seal and loosen jelly. Keeping the mold tilted, put a plate over mold, then invert the jelly onto the plate.

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turkey porchetta

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I have made this twice in the last year. Once, it was one of the most complicated things I’d done in the kitchen. The other, it was quite simple.

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The first time was part of a big turkey dinner I cooked in January, as I’ve gotten into the tradition of hosting the last several years. Starting with this recipe, the menu had an Italian focus – mashed potatoes with fontina, Brussels sprouts with pancetta, cranberries with grappa. And porchetta, a Italian dish of spiced pork belly (which I have never actually had).

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The turkey porchetta recipe uses just the breast, so Kenji also developed recipes for turkey thighs (braised in red wine, although mine mostly roasted on top of red wine and kind of dried out) and turkey sausage (which I stuffed into mezzalune – ravioli-type dumplings made from gnocchi dough; my favorite item of the meal). This meant breaking down the whole turkey into its parts, removing the legs and wings, carefully removing the skin without ripping it, then cutting off the breasts in whole pieces. One thing you should know about me is that I am terrible at breaking down chickens – and this was the same process but a lot bigger.

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After breaking down the turkey, butterflying the breasts, seasoning the meat, rolling it, tying it, letting it rest overnight, then browning it and roasting it, I got distracted by stuffing my face with turkey sausage mezzalune and accidentally overcooked the turchetta. A friend who grew up eating real porchetta in northern Michigan, however, loved it and said it tasted just like what he was used to.

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Still, I wanted to get it right. Months later, I tried again – this time starting with a boneless turkey breast. You can imagine that without breaking a whole turkey down into its parts, this was remarkably easier. It wrapped up into a thicker roll, plus I monitored its cooking time more carefully, and this time, it was everything I could have asked for. (You’d think I could have taken some new and improved pictures when I didn’t have guests over and ten other dishes to finish, but you’d be wrong.) The skin is browned and crisp, the meat is juicy and salty and spiced. When you don’t overcook it, turchetta deserves to be the star of a holiday meal – and if you start with a turkey breast, it’s not any harder roasting a turkey.

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Turkey Porchetta (not significantly adapted from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s The Food Lab at Serious Eats)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, plus ½ tablespoon whole black peppercorns
¼ cup fresh sage leaves
4 medium cloves garlic
½ tablespoon whole fennel seeds
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 whole bone-in, skin-on turkey breast (about 4 to 5 pounds), patted dry
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 quart low sodium homemade or store-bought chicken or turkey stock

1. Combine 2 teaspoons kosher salt, whole black peppercorns, sage leaves, garlic, fennel seed, and red pepper flakes in the bowl of a food processor. Process until a rough paste is formed, scraping down sides as necessary, about 30 seconds.

2. Carefully remove the skin from the turkey breast and lay it flat. Using your hands and a boning knife, carefully remove the breast meat from the carcass. Set aside the tenderloins for another use.

3. Lay one breast half on top of the turkey skin and butterfly the thicker end by cutting through it horizontally, leaving the last ½-inch intact, then folding out the flap. Repeat with the other breast half.

4. Make a series of parallel slashes at 1-inch intervals in the turkey meat, cutting about ½-inch into the meat. Repeat with a second series of slashes perpendicular to the first. Rub the spice/herb mixture into the meat, making sure to get it into all of the cracks.

5. Carefully roll the turkey meat into a tight cylinder, using the skin to completely enclose it. Tie the roast tightly with butcher’s twine at 1-inch intervals, as well as once lengthwise. Transfer the roast to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 2 days.

6. When ready to cook, adjust an oven rack to center position and preheat the oven to 275°F. Season exterior of turkey lightly with salt and pepper. Heat remaining tablespoon canola oil in a large cast iron or stainless steel skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add the turkey and cook, turning occasionally, until well-browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Transfer the turkey to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Roast until the thickest part of the turkey registers 145 to 150°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 hours. Remove from the oven, transfer to a cutting board, and let rest for 10 minutes. Snip off the twine using poultry shears. Carve and serve.

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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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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)

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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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rosemary gruyere and sea salt crisps

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Pretty much every year, I get it into my head that I want to make a big Thanksgiving-style turkey dinner. Geography doesn’t allow me to host the holiday for either my family or my in-laws, so I usually end up doing it on a random weekend in December. This time I had to wait until January. (My “insane amount of time spent in the kitchen” project for December was the Star Wars cookies, and there wasn’t time for another big project.)

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I had some friends over, and they brought the stuffing, but the rest was up to me. I spent almost one full day of a 3-day weekend preparing as much as I could ahead of time and the greater part of the next day cooking, then entertaining. It was glorious.

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I served these, along with glazed pecans and butternut squash phyllo cigars, as a snack before dinner (insurance against dinner being late – which, miracle of miracles, it wasn’t!). They’re a great recipe for a big meal like this, because almost all of the work can be done in advance – far in advance – and you still get to serve perfectly fresh crackers. I mixed, rolled, cut, docked, and froze the dough the weekend beforehand. The day of my dinner, all that was left to do was transfer the crackers to a baking sheet, spritz with water, and top with salt.  And beyond their convenience, their eminent snackability make these little grown-up Cheez-Its perfect for before a feast.

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One year ago: Chickpea and Rosemary Soup
Two years ago: Curry Coconut Chickpea Soup
Three years ago: Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese
Four years ago: Crispy Baked Chicken Strips
Five years ago: Caramel Flan

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Rosemary Gruyere and Sea Salt Crisps (from Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)

6 ounces (1½ cups) shredded Gruyere cheese
4 tablespoons butter
¾ cup (3.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary (from about 1 sprig)
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for sprinkling

1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor, processing continuously until the mixture resembles coarse, craggy crumbs, about 2 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large sheet of plastic wrap, gather it together into a ball, and flatten it into a thick square. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 15-20 minutes.

2. On a floured work surface, roll the dough to about ⅛-inch thickness. Cut the dough into 1-inch pieces. Dock each cracker with a skewer, then brush with water and sprinkle with sea salt. Transfer the crackers to a parchment- or silicone-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, or until the bottoms are lightly browned.

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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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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.

port cranberries 1

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.

port cranberries 2

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

Printer Friendly Recipe
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.)