Friday Faves

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Happy Friday!  I hope everyone is enjoying the gray, rainy weather that has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest. I have to admit, I’ve been pretty excited to dig out my sweaters, raincoats, and Hunter boots this week (driving in the torrential downpours, however, not so much).  The forecast looks like more of the same for the next few days, so I hope your weekend plans include lots of fun indoor activities (building a fire in the fireplace, carving pumpkins, maybe making lasagna or apple crisp).  In the meantime, some links and pics to get you to 5 pm a little sooner (hopefully!). Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend!

photo-66{my grandma on her 95th birthday last weekend}

photo-61{pumpkin donuts}

photo-60{new fall lipsticks – NARS audacious in ‘raquel’ and ‘anna’}

photo 1-22{sleeping baby snuggles}

Friday Faves

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{kate spade “one in a million” necklaces}

Happy Friday, friends! What are you up to this weekend? I’m still waiting for my baby nephew, if you can believe it.  At first I thought he was just fashionably late like his favorite auntie, but now I’m afraid he’s bordering on rude.  I had some fun plans this weekend that I’m going to have to miss, but of course it will be well worth it. I’m so excited to finally meet this little person, and to find out his name (my sister and her husband have it narrowed down to two and are going to flip a coin at the hospital – true story).  I have so many personalized and monogrammed items in my (virtual) shopping carts all over the interwebs, I can’t wait to finally complete my purchases with an actual name! Hint: it’s going to start with one of the letters above.

PSA: the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale ends on Sunday. So if you haven’t stocked up already, add that to your to do list for the weekend. My top five recommendations (aside from the Kate Spade necklaces) would be:

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{the beach this past weekend – this is literally a “#nofilter” photo}

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{new favorite face wash}

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{whale wins patio + summer white}

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{I put together this entire whale/beach/nautical themed package for Baby P, and intended for it to be a shower gift until I realized it needed to be “wrapped” in a Land’s End tote with his name on it – and of course we’re still waiting on a name.  And then I got impatient and gave it to my sister without the tote (which of course is in my cart, in two versions). But, isn’t it all just so cute? I’m pretty proud of the fact that I got every single one of these items on sale. The perks of having 20+ weeks to plan. Whale rattle here, beach towel here, all else long gone. Are you sick of all these baby clothes pics yet? At least we know there’ll be an actual baby by next week for sure.}

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Friday Faves

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{make your own ice cream sandwich at Hello Robin}

What are you up to this weekend? I’m heading to the coast for my cousin’s bachelorette party – we’re excited for some cooler beach temperatures after another sweltering week. And Baby Nephew Watch 2014 is officially ON – T minus one week to go.  I’m so excited I can hardly stay away from the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale bear it. Doctor says he might be early, so next week’s Friday Faves could be all baby pics (don’t say I didn’t warn you)!! My poor sis is more than ready for him to make his debut, but I’m hoping he sits tight until at least Wednesday so that he’s a Leo (not that I particularly care about astrological signs, but I’ve bought him a LOT of lion stuff and I don’t want it to be for naught). 

Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend. Links and faves to get you through your Friday morning (and the links even have a theme this week, I’m getting so fancy!):

  • How to grill anything and everything – so many helpful tips! 
  • How to make entertaining look easy – I would add “get yourself ready ahead of time.”  My aunt threw a dinner party this past Christmas and told me she told my uncle beforehand “our goal is to be sitting on the couch with a glass of wine half an hour before the guests arrive.” I’m usually still drying my hair when my guests arrive, but the thirty minute/wine/couch rule is now my goal too.
  • How to be the most popular person at a party – my friend Larisa brought these to a beach weekend a couple months ago and they were amazing! 
  • How to cure a headache – I need this! 
  • How to get really excited about this movie – ok this really isn’t a “how to” – but it does make me VERY excited for October 3rd!!  I hope you’ve all read the book – even if you hated the ending.  And if you haven’t read it yet, you have 2.5 months! 

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{my new summer obsession – stumptown cold brew}

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{love this organic lip/cheek color}

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{peaceful summer evening at the driving range}

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{some pics from my sister’s baby shower last month –  can you tell we were pretty into our alligator theme? invitations and banner from olive + star, alligator brownie toppers from etsy, DIY vases, cookie favors by yours truly, and cordy roy and his mini radio flyer from auntie/hostess Amanda}

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{and of course, my gift to baby p – hopefully he’s a baseball fan!}

Friday Faves

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{road trip + mcdonald’s cone}

Happy Friday, everyone! Look at me, two blog posts in two days.  I’m pretty proud of myself! (Taking two months off creates a bit of a FF backlog, but I’m going to do my best to catch up over the next few weeks).  I hope everyone has exciting plans for the weekend.  I’m helping out at my family’s annual charity golf tournament tomorrow – the forecast is 97, so wish us all luck not dying of heatstroke.  I hope your plans involve a beach or a pool instead!

Some fun links to get you through your Friday:

  • Orange lipsticks – what are your thoughts? I went to Nordstrom the other night in search of the second one (the most neutral, obviously) but tragically it’s been discontinued.  I was already at the MAC counter so I tried on the first one just for fun, but of course it made me look like a clown.  And by clown I don’t just mean like someone wearing an absurd shade of orange lipstick, I mean like someone you would pay to come to your child’s birthday party wearing a rainbow-striped wig and make balloon animals. Yikes.
  • I would like one of these right this minute.
  • I’m working my way through Emily’s monthly beauty buys – so far I’m still on April, but I’m loving this series (I bet she gets all her products as gratis too, no fair).
  • I don’t think I’m as obsessed with Ryan Gosling as much as the average female between the ages of 15-50 (I’m too busy planning my future with this man), but I find all of this freaking out pretty hilarious.
  • How to Write a Wedding Speech – I wish every best man would read this!

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{my dear friend alison’s gorgeous pacific palisades wedding}

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{new favorite pinot}

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{and favorite party punch from pinot release party}

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{new favorite skincare product – thanks emily!}

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{cuddle time with my (current) favorite newborn, sweet greta jane}

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{and her adorable big brother with his birthday cupcake and his trucks}

Cucumber Melon Salad with Feta, Basil, and Mint

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Happy summer, everyone! Sorry for the long hiatus from blogging – I wish I had a good excuse, but sadly I don’t. Life just gets so busy in the summer, who has time to cook? But, I’m back now and I have really good intentions of being more consistent. I have good intentions about a lot of things that don’t always come to fruition (gym, yoga, being punctual, curbing my binge-shopping for my unborn baby nephew – just to name a few), but I have a lot of recipes on my to-do list so I’m feeling good about my re-committment to the blog.

It’s finally summer here in the Pacific Northwest, where we can count on blue skies and sunshine only after the Fourth of July. And with temperatures in the 80s and 90s all week/weekend, what sounds better than a cold, crunchy, watermelon salad? I love getting my Martha Stewart Living each month, but I have this problem where I put magazines in a “to read” pile and then kind of forget about them (see above re: “good intentions”). But it’s my dad’s birthday today (Happy Birthday, Dad!!!) and watermelon is one of his all time favorite things, so when we celebrated earlier this week I dug through my pile and tried my best to copy the gorgeous picture on the cover.

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This salad really couldn’t be easier. Just cut up your melons and cucumber, throw in some herbs (you could use just mint or just basil – Martha only lists basil, and most watermelon salads only use mint – it was delicious with both but if you only have one or the other on hand it would be fine), toss with olive oil and lime juice, and you’re good to go.  The feta is totally discretionary – I liked it with, but it would be equally good without. You can prepare the salad ahead of time and then just toss with the dressing before serving. I like my watermelon as cold as possible, so keep the salad in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.

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Cucumber Melon Salad, adapted from Martha Stewart Living 

(note: Martha’s recipe is for one serving, mine serves a crowd)

One cantaloupe, cubed or balled
One small or one half large watermelon, cubed or balled
1-2 large or 3-4 small cucumbers, diced or sliced
Olive oil to taste
Lime juice to taste
Small handful mint leaves, torn or julienned
Small handful basil leaves, torn or julienned
1/4 cup – 1/2 cup crumbled feta, optional
Salt and pepper to taste, optional*

Toss together your melons and cucumber. I used the melon baller for my watermelon and diced the cantaloupe like Martha told me to, but you could cut both or ball both, whatever is easier. If you’re using regular cucumbers, I would cut them lengthwise into quarters and then dice them, but if you can find persian cucumbers (Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, etc.) you can just slice them. I read once that in salads like this everything should be the same size (pieces of watermelon = pieces of cantaloupe = pieces of cucumber), so I used that as a rough guideline.

Just before serving, drizzle the cucumber and melons with olive oil and fresh lime juice and toss with mint and basil. I used only a tiny bit of olive oil and two limes (heavier on the lime, lighter on the oil) but you can adjust this to your liking. Garnish with additional mint and basil and sprinkle with feta, if using (I used it this time, but Martha doesn’t and I might not next time – it was good with it but would be just as good without). Chill in the fridge if time allows. 

*I didn’t use salt and pepper as I didn’t think the salad needed any – but if you weren’t using feta I think a little salt would be good.  

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Friday Faves: Miraval Edition

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 early morning desert hike

Last week my mom, sister, sister-in-law, and I had the incredibly good fortune to hop a plane to sunny Arizona and spend a few days at Miraval, an amazing resort and spa outside of Tucson that I’ve been referring to as “Oprah’s Spa” (Oprah and Gayle went a number of years ago, and then Oprah sent an entire audience full of groups of girlfriends during her final season – if you were wondering).  Our days went a little something like this: breakfast, fitness class/hike/yoga, coffee/juice/smoothie bar break, classes or lectures (fitness, nutrition, cooking, mental health, photography, you name it), lunch, spa treatment, more classes or lectures, maybe some pool time, happy hour, dinner, bed.   Needless to say, our trip wasn’t nearly long enough and I can’t wait to get back.  A few highlights:

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life in balance spa – my new happy place

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hummingbird mama and her babies in their nest in the courtyard (in a kumquat tree!)

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pool time (not pictured: my prickly pear iced tea, so delicious!)

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desert sunset

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cooking demo with the pastry chef – lemon raspberry cookies and arugula salad with honey dijon vinaigrette (recipes coming next week, get excited!)

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downtime at the villa

Grandma’s Minestrone Soup

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My grandma is a pretty cool lady – she turned 94 this past October, and she’s still going strong. She’s been married for 68 years, raised seven children, and doted on 26 grandchildren and five great grandchildren (so far), with a few more on the way. She’s a three-time cancer survivor and has gone through three hip replacements, and even though she now uses a walker to get around and struggles with arthritis in her hands, she still loves spending time in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, she’d rather spend her morning shopping and then having lunch at the Nordstrom cafe (she and I have that in common), but even at 94 she still loves to cook for her family.

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Grandma is famous for her soups, though most of them don’t have recipes. Fortunately, she clipped this one out of The Oregonian (our local paper) many years ago, and we’ve all been gobbling it up ever since. It’s a pretty traditional minestrone soup, although you could definitely add/omit any vegetables and beans to your liking. It’s a great January soup because it’s so healthy  – especially if you didn’t add cheese and pesto at the end like my sister and I like to do. You could even omit the pasta if you wanted to, although it’s a pretty small amount so I usually leave it in.

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This soup comes together pretty quickly – you could even use the pre-chopped mirepoix that you can find at Trader Joe’s or high end grocery stores, although I kind of like the thick carrot coins that you can get by slicing them yourself. Of course I always use pre-chopped onions (Trader Joe’s was sold out when I went this time, so I used the onion-shallot-garlic mix, which worked just fine). If you don’t mind chopping onions, lucky you. If you do go with the pre-chopped option, however, all you have to do is slice the carrots, celery, parsley, and cabbage. Everything else just gets dumped right from the can into the soup pot.

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The recipe tells you to start with the broth and just dump all the veggies in. I like to start by sautéing the onions in a little olive oil, then adding the broth once the onions have softened up (5-10 minutes) and following the recipe from there.  I should probably note here that if you don’t have a really large soup pot or dutch oven, you might want to cut this recipe in half.  My dutch oven is a 5 1/2 quart (I think), and I could only add three of the four boxes of chicken stock before I started to worry that the pot would overflow once I added in everything else.  I have no idea what I used to make this soup in, but I’m now in the market for the 7 quart Le Cruset.

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Barely room for the beans and pasta, literally (add the pasta as close to the end as possible so the noodles don’t get too mushy). I ended up ladling about half of the soup into another soup pot and then adding my last box of chicken stock that way (2 cups in each pot). I’m now really thinking hard about what color 7 quart pot I want to get, though, because that just seems like an unnecessary step (read: any excuse to get a new Le Cruset!). This sounds like a shopping excursion for me and Grandma!

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Minestrone Soup, from The Oregonian, a really long time ago

4 quarts unsalted beef, chicken, or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons salt (less if you’re using store-bought broth – I used 2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
3 large carrots, sliced 1/4 inch thick
5 stalks celery, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 head cabbage, thinly sliced
2 cups chopped onions
1 10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes (you can use a 14 1/2 ounce can if you like a less tomato-y soup, but I love it with the bigger can)
1 6 ounce can tomato paste
1 15 1/2 ounce can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 15 1/2 ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup uncooked macaroni noodles
Parmesan cheese and/or pesto for garnish (optional)

Bring stock to a rolling boil in a large stockpot.  Add the salt (if using store-bought broth, reduce the amount of salt to 1-2 teaspoons to start with), pepper, oregano, parsley, carrots, celery, cabbage, onions, and spinach. [Variation: I sauté my onions in a small amount of olive oil to begin. Once the onions have softened, add stock, bring to a boil, and add veggies and seasonings as instructed above.] Return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until carrots are tender, about 30 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add the kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and pasta and  simmer until the macaroni is tender, about 10 minutes more. Turn off heat and let stand for one hour before serving. Garnish with parmesan and a dollop of pesto if desired.

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Holiday Rum Cake

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Happy Rum Cake Blog Post Day, everyone! This cake is one of my all time favorite things to make, and thus I had every intention of posting the recipe as soon as possible (or rather, as soon as seasonally appropriate)…but of course somehow this blog fell off my radar after Thanksgiving and all of the sudden it’s December 20. Yikes. (Let’s not even talk about how my Christmas shopping is going – double yikes).

But anyways. Let’s talk about rum cake, shall we? This recipe is courtesy of my friends Courteney and Kyle, or perhaps more accurately courtesy of their mom Cyndie, since of course they got it from her. I listened to Courteney talk about her mom’s rum cake all throughout college, but never actually tried it until Kyle served one at a Christmas party a few years ago. Alcohol in desserts isn’t usually my thing (weird, I know), but one boozy, buttery bite of this cake and I was hooked – as is everyone who tries it. It’s quick and easy and makes a great holiday dessert or hostess gift, which is why I meant to post this earlier in the season for everyone’s benefit – better late than never, though, right?

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Two recipes featuring boxed cake mix within one month, how embarrassing. I’m going to have to get a little more gourmet in January to make up for it. The “butter golden” boxes can be hard to find, though, so when I see them I have to stock up.

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This cake really could not be easier to make – start with the cake mix, add eggs and oil, a box of pudding mix to make it extra moist and yummy, and of course rum in lieu of water.

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Just blend all five ingredients together and pour into a bundt cake pan.

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Cyndie’s tip is to grease the pan really well with the “PAM for baking” spray – this ensures that the cake won’t stick to the pan at all, which will make it easier for the cake to soak up the glaze.

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Making the glaze is the fun part – just dump a little more rum in a saucepan, along with water, sugar, and a stick of butter. Heat until the butter is melted and then bring the mixture to a boil – make sure to boil for the full two-three minutes so that at least some of the rum cooks out (a quick google search re: how much alcohol remains in rum cake after baking was inconclusive, but at least some of it evaporates, right?).

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Pour the glaze over the cake and let it all soak in. Flip the cake, sprinkle with powdered sugar, and voilá, the easiest and most festive “semi-homemade” cake you could ever want or need.

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Cyndie O’Brien’s Christmas Rum Cake

For cake:
One box Duncan Hines Butter Golden cake mix
One small box instant vanilla pudding
4 eggs
1/2 cup Crisco oil (vegetable or canola oil will work)
1/2 cup dark rum, such as Meyer’s

For glaze:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup rum
1/4 cup water
Powdered sugar (for dusting), optional

To make cake:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Spray bundt cake pan generously with “PAM for baking,” or grease and flour the pan well. Mix all cake ingredients well – I usually use an electric mixer and blend it for a couple minutes, but you can do it by hand if necessary. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes.

To make glaze:
When the cake is almost finished baking, melt the butter in a saucepan with the sugar, water, and rum. Bring mixture to a boil and let boil for two to three minutes – watch carefully as it boils over easily if you aren’t stirring constantly.

To finish:
Once cake is out of oven, pour the glaze over the cake while it’s still in the pan – let the glaze soak into the cake and drain down around the edges where the cake will have pulled away from the pan a bit – this will allow the glaze to coat the sides of the cake and give the whole thing a nice buttery, rummy crust. Let the glazed cake cool in the pan for a minimum of 20 minutes (longer if possible). Flip the cake onto a cake stand or serving platter and dust with powdered sugar.

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I love making this cake in my mini bundt cake pan as well – one recipe makes six mini cakes, and they make the perfect dinner party dessert as well as great gifts. I’m also going to make bite sized cakes once I get my hands on this pan – anything for portion control! I’ll hopefully update with photos soon – there are six days left between now and Christmas (yes, I’m counting today and Christmas Day), which means there are plenty of opportunities for rum cakes of any size.

Update: bundt, mini bundt, and bite-size bundt:

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Wishing everyone a wonderful and relaxing holiday. Thanks to the lovely O’Brien ladies for letting me share their recipe! And happy rum cake baking to everyone!

Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Gratin

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I realize that by this point most of you already know exactly what you’ll be making for dinner this Thursday – whether you’re in charge of an entire Thanksgiving meal for 20, or just picking up a pie on your way to dinner. But in case anyone is in need of last minute ideas for sweet potatoes or veggies (I think this dish could fall into either category), I wanted to post this gratin that I made for a “practice Thanksgiving” a couple weeks ago. It’s from Smitten Kitchen, again – I promise that after this I really am going to start getting more creative with the blogs I copy recipes I share. I’ve been wanting to try this for the past few years, however, and since I finally made it, I thought it might inspire the few of you that are still looking for inspiration.

Full disclosure, I’m still debating what I’m going to be making – and I have to start grocery shopping tonight. As much as I love the old school sweet potatoes with brown sugar and marshmallows, about 90% of my relatives prefer a savory sweet potato dish like this one, so I’m going to be making a couple different casseroles (Grandma and I need our marshmallows!). Another favorite is this scalloped sweet potato and yukon gold casserole, which people go nuts for. If anyone has a favorite sweet potato recipe, sweet or savory, I would love to hear it in the comments.

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My mandoline will be a year old tomorrow – it was a birthday gift last year and I love it even more now than I did when I received it. It makes the thought of potato casseroles for 45 so much less daunting.

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The swiss chard is a pain to prep (wash, de-stem, chop), and made even more complicated because this recipe calls for the stems to be used as well – just separated from the leaves as they have to cook longer. They’re good for us, though, and if you use rainbow chard it looks so pretty!! I’m thinking of subbing spinach when I make it this time, just to save myself about three hours of chopping and stemming effort. You could use any green you like, I think – my friend Kirsten tried it with collard greens, which is even more Thanksgiving-y.

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But the rainbow chard stems are really pretty – and surprisingly delicious.

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Simply sauté the chard stems with a little diced onion, then add the greens, which will cook down significantly (I cut this recipe in half when I made it for practice Thanksgiving, and the raw chard filled my 5 quart Dutch oven; once cooked it was barely two cups of greens).

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A pile of grated Gruyère always makes me happy.  This is probably more than the recipe called for, oops! Five ounces, eight ounces, who’s counting? Not me.  It is Thanksgiving, after all.

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Layer: potatoes, herbs, cheese, chard, béchamel; repeat.  I’m starting to get concerned that all of my grocery stores are going to be out of fresh thyme again – I feel like it happens every year, and every year I swear I’m going to stock up ahead of time – and then forget to do so.  I couldn’t find fresh thyme when I made this the other week, so I just used dried (with fresh parsley) – but I bet it will be even better with the fresh thyme that I’m hopefully going to find tonight (fingers crossed).

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A little more cheese, and it’s all ready for the oven.  SK says (and I hope she’s right!!) that this can be prepped ahead of time, and just baked on Thursday, or fully baked ahead of time and then re-heated before your meal, assuming you have oven space.  Oven space is a hot commodity when you have a large group in a non-commercial kitchen, so neither option is ideal for me, but I’m just going to worry about that on Thursday.  The good news is a gratin will stay pretty hot.

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Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Gratin, from Smitten Kitchen

Serves 12

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 lbs swiss chard, leaves and stems separated and both cut into one-inch pieces
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups heavy cream or whole milk
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons flour
2 lbs medium sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick rounds
1 tablespoon minced fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
Fine sea salt
Freshly grated black pepper
1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) coarsely grated Gruyère cheese

Prep greens: cook onion in two tablespoons butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Add chard stems, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, until vegetables are browned, about 8 minutes. Increase heat to moderately high and add chard leaves by large handfuls, stirring, until all greens are wilted. Season with salt and pepper and then transfer to a colander and press out liquid with a rubber spatula or large spoon.

Make sauce: combine cream or milk and garlic in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer; keep warm. Melt two tablespoons butter in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat and stir in the flour. Cook roux, whisking, for one minute, then slowly whisk in cream/milk and bring to an almost-boil, whisking constantly, for one minute longer. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Assemble gratin: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 9 x 13 baking dish. Spread half of the sweet potatoes in the prepared dish and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a quarter of the herbs and a quarter of the cheese. Distribute half the greens mixture over the cheese, then sprinkle salt, pepper, a quarter of the herbs and a quarter of the cheese over that. Pour half of the bechamel sauce over the first two layers and then continue with the remaining sweet potatoes, more salt, pepper, herbs, and cheese, and then the remaining chard mixture, salt, pepper, and herbs. Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the gratin and then sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake gratin: bake the gratin for about one hour, until golden, bubbly, and most of the liquid is absorbed. Let stand for ten minutes before serving.

Do ahead: you can make the entire gratin but not bake it up to a day in advance (just store it in the fridge). You can also make and bake it in advance, and reheat it, though it will take almost as long to reheat as they do to bake in the first place.

My First Pumpkin Pie

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I love Thanksgiving as much as the next person, but truth be told, if I had to list my favorite things about the holiday, pumpkin pie wouldn’t even make it into my top ten. Now that I think about it, that list would consist of hardly any food items, but rather things like going to see the new blockbuster movie with a group of twenty cousins after the meal, getting up early for the parade the next morning, or the fact that thanks to this holiday, my late November birthday hardly ever falls on a work day (because we all know the Wednesday before Thanksgiving should not be considered a work day). And even in terms of food items, as much as I have a sweet tooth, I’m not really a pie person. Couple that with the fact that by the time dessert rolls around on Thanksgiving day, I’ve already consumed so much wine and chex mix turkey and mashed potatoes that I really can’t even bear the thought of one more bite, and somehow pumpkin pie never sounds that good.  I know I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two months going on and on about my love for pumpkin, but for whatever reason it’s never really translated to the most quintessential of all pumpkin desserts – until now.

Technically, this isn’t my first pumpkin pie. I made one once when I was little, although I’m sure it was the recipe on the back of the Libby’s can with a frozen store-bought crust. The details are hazy, but something went wrong and my mom threw it away.  And I really haven’t had the urge to try again, until this year. My aunt is hosting Thanksgiving for about 45 of us, so she sent out an email asking people to bring certain items, and for some reason I decided to sign up for pumpkin pie on a whim (along with sweet potatoes, which I think I’m going to try to do three ways – am I crazy?).   Despite the advice of many to just stick with the Libby’s recipe, I found this variation when I went to do a trial run for a “Practice Thanksgiving”/”Friends Thanksgiving” last weekend, and I’m so glad I did.  It’s a little more work than your basic pumpkin pie recipe, but if you’re in the mood to branch out this year I think this pie is worth it.

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To make homemade pie crust, or to buy store-bought? People feel pretty strongly about this, one way or the other.  Obviously the true food-blogger answer (even the true wannabe-food-blogger answer) should be homemade, but to tell you the truth, I’ve had some pretty delicious pre-made frozen pie crusts (you can buy really high quality French ones now, although my grandma has lived her whole life using Marie Callender’s and I don’t think anyone has complained). Having said that, it only takes one “did you make this crust from scratch” inquiry to make you feel like it’s worth the extra effort to do it yourself. I thought this crust looked perfect going into the oven, but somehow one half baked up perfectly while the other kind of shrunk – broke my heart, but it still tasted delicious.

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Cooking the pumpkin-and-yam-mixture on the stove really adds a depth of flavor to the pie. You can mash the sweet potatoes as you cook them (as the recipe suggests), or just puree the mixture with an immersion blender when you’re finished cooking it, as I did. Another note that I’ll add here, for lack of a better place to put it: it seems one of Cook’s Illustrated’s goals in tweaking this recipe was to make a pie that wasn’t overly spiced. While I can appreciate that, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg seemed almost under-spiced to me, so I doubled both amounts (and list the range in the recipe). I also added a tiny pinch of cloves. I thought my pie turned out perfectly, but you could definitely go with the lesser amounts if that sounds good to you. I also used ground ginger, as Deb suggests, mainly just to save myself the hassle.

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The straining step was kind of a pain, and I’m not sure it was necessary (especially since I used the immersion blender), but I will say the custard was incredibly smooth and creamy.  We’ll see if I do it again next week.

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I had read in the comments to Deb’s post that the pie takes a lot longer to cook through than the recipe suggests, so I was prepared for it to take longer than the 30-45 minutes listed. Mine took well over an hour though – probably closer to an hour and a half – so I was glad I had the temperature instruction as well. And leftover pie dough to cut into tiny pumpkins and leaves to cover the hole that my candy thermometer made in the middle of my pie.

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Pumpkin Pie, from Cook’s Illustrated by way of Smitten Kitchen

A half recipe of your favorite pie crust, chilled (Deb recommends hers, here; I also like Melissa Clark’s, here or here – or you can always buy one, I won’t tell).

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1 cup drained candied yams, from a 15-ounce can
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (or 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger, which is what I used)
1/2-1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used 1 teaspoon)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I used 1/2 teaspoon)
Pinch of cloves, optional
1 teaspoon table salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

To prepare the crust:

Roll out your dough on a generously floured work surface to make a 12″ circle about 1/8″ thick. Roll dough loosely around your rolling pin and unroll into your pie plate, leaving at least a 1″ overhang all around the pie plate.

Working around the circumference, ease the dough into the pie plate by gently lifting the edge of the dough with one hand while pressing into the plate bottom with other hand. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Trim the overhang to 1/2″ beyond the lip of the pie plate. Fold overhang under itself; the edge should be flush with the edge of the pie plate. Using your thumb and forefinger, flute the edge of the dough (or finish it however you like, with fork tongs or otherwise). Refrigerate the dough-lined pie plate until firm, about 15 more minutes.

To par-bake the crust:

Remove the pie crust from the refrigerator and line it with greased foil and pie weights (or old dried beans). Bake on a rimmed baking sheet for 15 minutes; remove the foil and weights, rotate plate, and bake for 5-10 more minutes, until crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove the crust and baking sheet from the oven.

To make the filling:

While the pie shell is baking, whisk cream, milk, eggs, yolks, and vanilla together in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine pumpkin, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves (if using), and salt; bring to a sputtering simmer over medium heat for 5-7 minutes. Continue to simmer, constantly stirring and mashing the yams against the side of the pot, until thick and shiny, 10-15 minutes (I didn’t worry too much about mashing the yams, as I used my immersion blender at the end).

Remove pan from heat (and use your immersion blender here if you want to – or put the mixture in a food processor or blender – or skip this step entirely). Whisk the cream mixture in slowly, until fully incorporated. Strain mixture through a fine (or medium) mesh strainer and re-whisk.

To bake the pie: 

Pour the warm filling into the warm crust. Return the pie, on baking sheet, to oven and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue baking until edges are set (and instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 175 degrees), about 20-35 more minutes. NOTE: in my oven, this took over an hour past the 10 minutes at 400. In many of the comments to Smitten Kitchen’s blog post, people complained that it took a lot longer to set, or that it never set. When I make this pie again next week, I’ll only turn my oven down to 350 rather than 300, and still budget about an hour of baking time. A thermometer is helpful to gauge when it’s done so that you don’t worry that you’re over-cooking it, but if you don’t have one, you’ll be able to tell it’s done when the center of the pie looks almost set and not too jiggly.

Once the pie is finished baking, transfer it to a wire rack and let it cool to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours. The pie will finish cooking with the resident heat; to ensure the filling sets properly, cool it at room temperature and not in the refrigerator.  You can serve the pie warm, cold, or at room temperature, but I’ve realized I like pumpkin pie a lot better when it’s chilled.  Top with lightly sweetened whip cream, cinnamon, and maybe a mini pie-dough cookie.  Or if you’d rather, just stick your pie on the dessert table and head out to the late showing of Catching Fire.  Something tells me it would make a pretty amazing pre-parade (or pre-shopping) breakfast on Friday morning as well – if there’s any left.