Thanksgiving Faves

IMG_4672{pumpkin pie cookies}

Happy Thanksgiving Week! Are you ready for Thursday? I’m clearly running behind this week, as this was supposed to be a Friday Faves post, and then a Monday Faves post, and now here we are, two days before the big day. You probably have all of your menu planning figured out, your shopping done, and everything prepped as much as possible by now.  But hopefully a few of these links might still come in handy, or perhaps like me, you can just bookmark them for next year.

FullSizeRender{Glassybaby + glitter leaves}

IMG_4646{my favorite side dish}

IMG_1041{Harper’s Thanksgiving present from Auntie}

IMG_4767{I got these outfits on sale at Baby Gap last fall – so excited they finally fit}

White Bean and Swiss Chard Pot Pies (with or without Pancetta)

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About two and half years ago, in the infancy of this blog, I posted a recipe for Barefoot Contessa’s chicken pot pies. In that post, I told you all that I don’t actually eat chicken pot pies. That still holds true to this day – I’ve made them a number of times between then and now, and I always give them away – I have a bite here and there just to make sure they’re edible, and I know they’re good, but they’re just easy for me to pass up. I first made this white bean version when Deb’s cookbook came out three years ago, and I haven’t made them since (until now) because I actually do eat them. I ate half of one when they came out of the oven the other night, even though I was going to dinner an hour later. I’m debating defrosting one for dinner tonight. My mouth is literally watering just thinking about them, that’s how good they are. They’re worth an extra mile or two on the treadmill – even if it’s an extra mile or two every day for the next two weeks.

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I think one of the reasons I love this recipe so much is because I just adore the white bean and greens combo – remember my soup? Deb also introduced me to this stew, which is essentially a fancier version of my soup – but it calls for wine, which is always fun, and you get to serve it on a piece of garlic toast. Next on my list: Molly’s braised beans with escarole.  Beans and greens just feel healthy and hearty and comforting to me, I guess – the perfect cozy fall or winter meal – although the sauce and crust definitely negate most of the health factor in this case.

Another reason I have a hard time turning these pies down is because the filling is absolutely divine – the sauce is creamy and velvety and decadent, basically like a chicken pot pie sauce without the chicken, but not quite as rich (it doesn’t actually contain cream). The recipe as written is technically called “Pancetta, White Bean, and Swiss Chard Pot Pies” – although Deb tells you to feel free to skip the pancetta. I eat chicken but not pork (don’t ask me to explain why) so I’m ok with chicken broth but I leave the pancetta out. You can make it fully vegetarian by using vegetable broth, but the chicken broth is pretty dang good. Of course I don’t miss it at all, but I’ve made these pies with pancetta in the past and the people I fed them to felt pretty strongly I was missing out, so if you don’t have an issue with pork I would recommend trying it – I include instructions for either version, or a combo of both, below.

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But finally, the thing I love most about these pies, the reason I was burning my tongue inhaling one the other night as they were steaming-hot-out-of-the-oven and I needed to save my appetite for dinner, is the crust. Yes, I love the beans and greens, but if I’m craving that I can make my soup (in a fraction of the time). If I want something richer and heartier I’ll make Deb’s stew. This pie crust, however, takes these from being really really good pot pies to absolutely freaking to die for delicious pot pies. And I’m not really even a pie crust person! Deb describes it as croissant-like, and she’s right, it’s a pie-crust-croissant-combination in the best way possible. She adds sour cream and vinegar to the dough, and I don’t know why we haven’t been doing that all along, with all pie crusts, because it does something really miraculous. The crust is flaky and buttery and slightly tangy – the filling really would make a delicious stew all on it’s own, but once you try this crust you would never not make it (although I will say, Ina’s version holds it’s shape much better, thanks to the crisco). If you’re wondering why I wouldn’t just use this crust for chicken pot pies, it’s because I’m perfectly happy not eating them, and I’m afraid trying them with this crust would give me a newfound love for chicken pot pie – which is basically the last thing I need.

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So now you know why I can only make this recipe once every three years, and/or for very special occasions (funny story, I actually made these for my cousin who just had her third baby, and who is a strict vegetarian – so as I was pouring the chicken stock into the pan it dawned on me that I’ll need to make her a new batch….and thus these are calling my name from the freezer). Apologies for the excess of photos, and the entire paragraph devoted to pie crust (it’s a long recipe, an even longer blog post – if my high school English teachers/law school legal writing professors could read this they would cry). Full disclosure, this recipe will take you about two hours – longer if your pies need extra time in the oven like mine did – but I think you’ll find it time well spent.

Two Years Ago: Pumpkin Pie Cake (there’s no “one year ago” as apparently November 2014 was a bad blogging month for me!)
Pot Pies, Previously:
Chicken, two ways

White Bean and Swiss Chard Pot Pies, from Smitten Kitchen (on her blog and in her cookbook)

Yield: 4 large pot pies (would also work well in an 8×8″ baking dish)

For the Crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
13 tablespoons (1 stick + 5 tablespoons from a second stick) unsalted butter, cold and diced
6 tablespoons sour cream or greek yogurt
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/4 cup ice water
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash (for topping crust)

For the Filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces (3/4 cup to 1 cup) 1/4″ diced pancetta, optional*
1 large or 2 small onions, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped (I used 2)
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped (I used 2)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
Thinly sliced swiss chard leaves from an 8-10 ounce bundle, approximately 4 cups (I just use an entire bunch, large or small, without worrying about ounces or cups)
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter (remainder of second stick from crust, plus an additional 1/2 tablespoon)
3 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, ideally low-sodium
2 cups white beans, cooked and drained, or from about 1 and 1/3 cans (I used two whole cans)

Make Crust: In a large, wide bowl (preferably one that you can get your hands into), combine the flour and salt. Add butter, and using a pastry blender or your fingers, mix butter into the flour mixture until it resembles little pebbles. In a small dish, whisk together sour cream, vinegar, and water, and combine with butter/flour mixture. Using a flexible spatula, combine until mixture forms a dough. You may need to use your hands to knead it a few times (it will be sticky). Pat into a flat-ish ball and refrigerate for one hour (or up to two days – but it needs at least an hour, which conveniently is about the time it will take you to chop your veggies and make the filling).

Make Filling: Heat olive oil in large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat (if using pancetta, see * below). Add onions, carrot, celery, pinch of red pepper flakes, and a few pinches of salt, and cook for about 7-8 minutes, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown. Add garlic and cook for one minute longer. Add greens and cook until wilted, about 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, transfer to a bowl, and set aside.

Make Sauce: Wipe out your pan, add butter, and melt over medium-low heat.  Add flour, whisk to combine, and cook for two minutes. Slowly whisk in the broth, one ladleful or splash at a time, mixing completely with each addition. Once all the broth is added, bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until sauce is thickened and gravy-like, about 10 minutes, and then remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Add white beans and veggie mixture (and pancetta, if using).

Assemble Pot Pies: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Divide filling between four large ramekins (you could also use ovenproof bowls).  There should be a total of 6 cups of filling, or 1 1/2 cups per ramekin (I somehow had a greater volume of filling and chose to fill all four ramekins very full rather than filling a fifth, which was fine except that they all boiled over; if you would rather have a pretty crust than a super-hearty portion – I certainly would! – make sure not to fill ramekins too full). Set the ramekins on a baking sheet. Divide the dough into four pieces and roll each into a circle large enough to cover the ramekin and leave a 1″ overhang (I used large ramekins and had plenty of dough). Whisk the egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon water) and brush it lightly around the top rim of the ramekins so that dough will stick. Drape pastry over each ramekin, pressing lightly so that the dough sticks to the dish. Brush crusts with egg wash, then use a sharp knife to cut slits or decorative vents in each to help steam escape. Bake until crust is bronzed and filling is lightly bubbling (hopefully only lightly!) through vents, 30-35 minutes (mine took about 45 to get the crust bronzed, and still not as bronzed as Deb’s photos).

To Make Ahead: the dough, wrapped in plastic wrap and then in a freezer storage bag, will last up to two days in the fridge or a couple months in the freezer. The filling can be made up to a day in advance and kept covered in the fridge.

*If Using Pancetta: Before cooking your veggies, sauté pancetta in one tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat until brown and crispy, about 10 minutes. Remove pancetta from pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Leave pancetta renderings in the pan, add an additional tablespoon of olive oil, and then sauté veggies as written above and go from there. Add pancetta back to filling when you add veggies and white beans to sauce. If you’re feeding a group that’s half pancetta-friendly and half not, rather than cooking all the veggies in the pancetta renderings, just make the pancetta-free version, cook the pancetta separately, and then stir it into the individual pot pies.

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Friday Faves

IMG_4132{post-halloween indulgences}

Happy first week of November! What are you up to this weekend? I have a family birthday party tonight, and my good friends’ housewarming party tomorrow….two excuses to do a little fall baking and perhaps sangria-making! Trying to soak up these crisp, sunny fall days before they turn into the rain we know is coming. Hope you have a lovely Friday ~ some links and pics, if you’re interested:

  • How delicious does this apple cider sangria sound?
  • Adele is back! (I’ve missed her).
  • Making these tonight for a children’s birthday party.
  • Can’t wait to binge-watch Aziz Ansari’s new show!
  • Should I ask for these for my birthday? (These are cute too, and on sale!)

IMG_4047{kabocha squash and ricotta toasts – more delicious than they look}

IMG_4216{red cups are here! (although apparently the “real” holiday cups debut next week?)}

IMG_4215{can’t wait to read this}

IMG_4218{cutest little pumpkin and little(r) ladybug!}

IMG_4217{and a bonus photo, just because – such mean parents and auntie!}

Butternut Squash Risotto with Pistachios and Lemon

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Ugh, you guys. I’ve been trying to get motivated to cook all week, and I really just couldn’t do it. When I first started this blog, I had so many recipes I was excited to make and share. I’m not sure if I’ve made all of them or what, but here it is November, the month of roasted veggies and soups and comfort foods and pumpkin spice and basically all of my favorite things, and I’ve been completely uninspired. Yesterday I decided I would perhaps just take the month off. I mean, I had posted consistently for the past seven weeks – that’s almost two whole months – so certainly I deserved a break. But then, this morning I remembered a recipe I’ve been meaning to make for the past five Novembers now (I know that it’s five because the cookbook where it comes from was a hostess gift from my friend Lindsay, when a group of us threw her a baby shower for her little guy who turns four next week, sob!). Butternut squash and risotto are two of my favorite things, so I don’t know how it’s taken me so long, but for whatever reason it has. All of the sudden I inspired not only for the blog, but for dinner too.

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Risotto is one of those things that I think a lot of people are afraid to try at home for fear that it’s too much work. Or at least, risotto is one of those things that I used to be afraid to try at home because I feared it was too much work.  While it does require a half an hour of hanging out near your stove, it’s a half hour where all you have to do is stir a pot and maybe drink a glass of wine (the recipe calls for one third of a cup, which leaves a lot of wine left for drinking). The prep time is pretty minimal – at least if you use a food processor to grate the squash – so all things considered this is a relatively easy meal to throw together. Once your squash is grated and your leek is sliced, you get to just stand by the stove and stir, chatting with whomever is in your kitchen or scrolling through your instagram feed from the day. I minced my garlic straight into the pan, and once the risotto was done cooking zested the lemon and squeezed the juice right in as well.

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I have a few tips, but they’re pretty minor. (1) I wasn’t sure how much half a pound of squash was, so I used two cups, the better part of the small squash I had on hand. (2) At first I found the rice was sticking the the pan quite a bit, which was why I used a little extra wine to deglaze the pan. Nothing like dumping wine straight from the bottle into a Le Cruset to make you feel like a real chef! (3) At the beginning my rice was absorbing the stock pretty quickly, so I was worried I would get through the 6 cups before the 25-30 minute cooking time, which is what happened. Although the sauce was creamy after 30 minutes, the rice was still a little crunchy, so I added a bit more stock and left it on the stove for five minutes longer, at which point it was perfect. (4) The reason the cheese is optional in the recipe as written is because Melissa’s husband doesn’t eat cheese. As such, she uses it as an optional garnish, but I stirred a bit in as well. The risotto doesn’t really need it, but I find that parm makes everything better. Finally, (5), I was a little iffy on the pistachios but decided to follow the recipe to the letter for the sake of the blog (you’re welcome). They’re $$$ – even buying a small amount in bulk was $10 – and hard to chop. I expected I would write that you didn’t need them – but while again the risotto would be delicious on its own, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they in fact add quite a bit both in terms of flavor and crunch.

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OK so there you have it – my “weekly” post at 4:30 on a dreary Thursday afternoon – late, but still with enough time for you to make this for dinner tonight. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

One Year Ago: Green Chile Posole
Two Years Ago: Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Risotto, Previously: Corn Risotto-Stuffed Peppers
Melissa Clark, Previously: Double Coconut GranolaOlive Oil Banana BreadSplit Pea SoupCorned Beef and CabbageRoasted HalibutCarrot Mac and CheeseKale SaladSesame Soba SaladBrown Butter Nectarine CobblerPort-Braised Short Ribs, Capellini with Bacon, Rosemary, and Tomatoes

Butternut Squash Risotto with Pistachios and Lemon

1/2 pound peeled butternut squash
6 cups (approximately) chicken or vegetable stock
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium leek, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 cups arborio rice
2 rosemary branches
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste (I used low sodium chicken stock and found that I needed quite a bit more salt)
1/3 cup dry white wine (I added a couple additional splashes)
Finely grated zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste ( I used quite a bit more)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped salted pistachios
Grated parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

1. In a food processor fitted with a grating attachment, shred the squash. (Or use a box grater, but it will be harder to do.  You can also just dice into small cubes, which will taste just fine but won’t dissolve into a sauce like the shreds do). In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Melt the butter in a large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute longer. Add rice, squash, rosemary, and salt. Stir until most of the grains of rice appear semitranslucent, 3-4 minutes. This means they have absorbed some of the fat from the pan, which will help keep the grains separate as they form their creamy sauce.

2. Pour the wine into the pan and let it cook off for about two minutes. Add a ladleful of stock (about 1/2 cup) and cook, stirring constantly and making sure to scrape around the sides, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Continue adding stock, one ladelful at a time, and stirring almost constantly until the risotto has turned creamy and thick, and the grains of rice are tender with a bit of bite, 25-30 minutes (Melissa says you may not need all of the stock, although I found that I needed more – my risotto was creamy after the 6 cups were used up but the rice was still a little too crunchy – it needed a couple more splashes of stock and five more minutes on the stove). Remove rosemary stems and stir in lemon zest, lemon juice, and black pepper. Taste and add more salt and lemon juice if needed (mine needed both). Garnish with the pistachios and optional cheese before serving.

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Cougar Gold Cheese Dip

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The Davenport is a lovely historical hotel in downtown Spokane, Washington, where I went to law school. It’s home to a bar called the Peacock Room, which is pretty swanky for Spokane, and back in my law school days I spent quite a bit of time there. How my friends and I had the time or money, I’m not sure, but we would go on Fridays for happy hour and order pricey cocktails, and the waitress would bring delicious little bowls of salted cashews out for the table. At the time, Cougar Gold Cheese Dip wasn’t on the menu, and thank goodness for that or we would have been frequenting the Peacock Room more often than we already were, spending that much more money and gaining that much more weight (or at least spending that much more time at the gym instead of at the law library). The dip debuted on the menu sometime after I finished law school, and I heard about it many times over the years, whenever anyone would go to Spokane and make the obligatory trip to the Peacock Room. I stayed at the Davenport a couple years ago when I was back in Spokane for my younger cousin’s college graduation, and finally had the opportunity to try it for myself. I’ve been dreaming about it ever since.

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Cougar Gold is a delicious sharp white cheddar cheese that’s made at the Washington State University Creamery in Pullman, Washington. As a Husky, I’m not supposed to be that into the Cougs, but I have to admit they make some pretty delicious cheese. When I was in college, the only place you could buy Cougar Gold was at the WSU bookstore, and any trip to Pullman included a special trip to the bookstore just to stock up on a few cans. Nowadays you can get it at the Metropolitan Market in Seattle, and at New Seasons in Portland. You can also order it online, and even with shipping it’s a lot cheaper than at Met Market and New Seasons. You don’t need the whole can, however – you only need four ounces for this recipe, and you can buy four ounce wedges at the grocery stores – it’s a lot more economical and you’ll eat a lot less cheese.  I love the can, though, so I splurged. Leftover cheese can be used for Mac and Cheese (there’s a Cougar Gold Mac and Cheese recipe, or you can use it in place of Beecher’s for the World’s Best recipe – legend has it Beecher’s was modeled after Cougar Gold), crumbled next to crackers for the easiest and most delicious cheese plate ever, or for any number of cheesy recipes.  Make this dip first, though – it literally takes five minutes and your friends/family/fellow tailgaters will thank you.

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One Year Ago: Chicken Lasagna Cacciatore
Two Years Ago: Crunchy Baked Pasta with Sausage (or Squash)

Hot Cougar Gold Cheese Dip, from The Davenport Hotel

Serves a crowd 

1 teaspoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
Handful of flat-leaf parsley, washed, dried, and chopped
12 ounces cream cheese, cut into small cubes
8 ounces gruyère cheese, grated
4 ounces Cougar Gold cheese, grated
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste
Baguette, apples, and carrots, and/or whatever else you like to eat with cheese, for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Heat olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside. Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl. Add shallot and garlic mixture and season with cayenne pepper and salt. Mix until well combined. Pour into four ovenproof ramekins or a 1 3/4 quart baking dish. Bake until cheese is melted and bubbling (8-10 minutes for ramekins, 12-15 minutes for larger dish). Finish under the broiler for a few seconds until top is golden brown and caramelized. Top with additional parsley and cayenne pepper and serve with sliced baguette, apples, and carrots.

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Warm Pear-Ginger Upside-Down Cake

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If you read this blog even semi-regularly, you might start to worry that I only own two cookbooks. While in truth I have about half a bookshelf’s worth, it would be a fair assumption since I sometimes don’t do a very good job of branching out. Last week, in search of an easy fall dessert, I remembered a pear upside down cake I had made a couple years back, when I was trying to use up some pears from a friend’s orchard and really into my cast iron skillet cookbook. I dug up the recipe, happily realized I already had almost all of the ingredients on hand (if you keep the Trader Joe’s ginger chews on hand like I used to, you might even find you don’t have to go to the store at all!), and whipped this up in under an hour. In a season flooded with apple and pumpkin desserts, often rich and heavy or overly sugary, I think this is a great addition to anyone’s fall recipe repertoire. The cake has a barely-sweetened cornmeal crumb, the pears are deliciously buttery, and the spicy ginger adds a little kick. And of course, what’s prettier than an upside-down cake in a cast iron skillet?

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I probably say this too often, in my attempt to encourage everyone to actually make these recipes rather than just read about them, but this really is so easy to throw together. The only caveat is, I do think you need a cast iron skillet. While you could definitely make something similar in a regular cake pan (or ideally an 8×8 brownie pan), the cast iron is ideal here, for the way it caramelizes the fruit and of course for it’s stovetop-to-oven multi-tasking ability. If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, consider buying one – the Lodge brand is relatively inexpensive and I use mine all the time. While I’ve done meat and fish in it a few times, I use it primarily for cheese dips and giant chocolate chip cookies – so if that doesn’t sell you I don’t know what will.  But make this first, because I know you have someone in your life giving you a basket of pears from their orchard that you need to use. And if you don’t, it’s a great excuse to buy a couple pounds at the farmer’s market this weekend! You could also use apples if you went on an overly-ambitious apple picking trip recently… but I do recommend trying it with pears first, because just like with cookbooks, sometimes you’ve got to mix it up a little bit!

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One Year Ago: Brown Butter and Bourbon Apple Crisp
Two Years Ago: Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup

Warm Pear-Ginger Upside-Down Cake, from The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook by Sharon Kramis & Julie Kramis Hearne

Serves 8-10

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
3/4 cup sugar, divided
2 pounds firm but ripe Bartlett or Anjou pears (about 4 pears), peeled, cored, and cut into eighths
2 tablespoons minced candied ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup medium-ground yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup boiling water
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
Fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for topping, optional

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Add 1/4 cup of the sugar, stir just enough to combine, and cook without disturbing until the sugar dissolves and starts to turn golden brown/caramelize, about 5 minutes. Beginning with the outside edge and working your way towards the center in a circular pattern, arrange the pear slices on top of the caramelized sugar. Sprinkle the ginger and nutmeg over the top. Cook until the pears are soft and the caramel starts to thicken, about 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Place the cornmeal in a large bowl, add the boiling water, and stir to blend.  Add the remaining 6 tablespoons butter and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar to the cornmeal mixture and mix until well blended.  (This can be done by hand). Beat in the eggs and vanilla.  Beat in the flour mixture, a little at a time, alternating it with the milk, making sure not to over mix. Pour the batter on top of the pears in the skillet.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the top starts to brown and the center of the cake feels firm and springs back when pressed, 18-20 minutes. Let the cake cook for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge to loosen it, and place an inverted plate on top of the skillet. Protecting both hands with oven mitts, flip the cake onto the plate. Replace any fruit that may have stuck to the skillet.  Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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Capellini with Bacon, Rosemary, and Very Ripe Tomatoes

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I know, it doesn’t sound that exciting. And it’s an odd recipe for me to make as I don’t eat bacon (and I try not to eat pasta, albeit usually unsuccessfully). Also I typically prefer my rosemary in cocktails.  So in light of all that, believe me when I tell you that you should make this for dinner tonight, that’s how good it is. I did a quick inventory of the blog archives the other night as I was searching for dinner inspiration, and realized that although I’ve posted a lot of Cook This Now recipes, I had never posted anything from September (the recipes are categorized seasonally, by month). Moreover, I had never even made anything from the September chapter. This pasta jumped out at me as it looked quick and easy (I didn’t have a ton of time), it still felt (still feels!) way too much like summer to start making hearty fall dishes yet, and most importantly, my cherry tomatoes were (still are!) falling off the vine faster than I could pick them. Leave it to Melissa to anticipate my every late September need.

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This dish comes together so easily as written, and although I know I’ll make it again, what I really love about it is that it reminded me how easy it is to make your own tomato sauce. There’s no need to get any fancy ingredients or even roast the tomatoes beforehand, you can literally just sauté fresh tomatoes – cherry, heirloom, roma, what have you – in a little bit of olive oil (or bacon grease, if that’s your thing), add some herbs, and you have a delicious meal in ten minutes. I made this, start to finish, during halftime of the Monday Night Football game. I even made a vegetarian version for myself (I added fennel per Melissa’s suggestion, and it was delish!). And it’s a great way to use those tomatoes that are on their last legs – mine are so ripe that they literally burst as you pluck them from the vine. Added bonus: it will make your kitchen smell AH-mazing.

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This sauce gets a little kick from the garlic and red pepper, and the balsamic is a lovely addition (I think red wine vinegar would be good too). And of course I love basil and parmesan on all pasta dishes/all things. Melissa specifically calls for Pecorino Romano but for some reason I had Parmigiano-Reggiano in my head. So I splurged on the $20/pound stuff (it’s the king of cheese!) and would very much recommend it – the dish is so simple that you can really taste the difference. But I’m sure Pecorino Romano would be delicious as well, and probably a little cheaper. A bowl of forbidden carbs, a delicious jammy fresh tomato sauce, fancy cheese, and of course the requisite glass of wine that must go along with any pasta – it was the perfect consolation prize as my fantasy team under-performed it’s way to 0-3.

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One year ago: Corn Risotto-Stuffed Poblano Peppers
Pasta, Previously: Penne with Asparagus and Chèvre, Crunchy Baked Pasta with SausageCarrot Mac and Cheese, Chicken Lasagna Cacciatore, Barefoot Contessa’s Mac and Cheese, World’s Best Mac and Cheese (yikes, that’s a lot of mac and cheese!)
Melissa Clark, Previously: Double Coconut Granola, Olive Oil Banana Bread, Split Pea Soup, Corned Beef and CabbageRoasted Halibut, Carrot Mac and Cheese, Kale SaladSesame Soba Salad, Brown Butter Nectarine Cobbler, Port-Braised Short Ribs

Pasta with Bacon, Rosemary, and Very Ripe Tomatoes, from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

8 ounces pasta (any kind you like)
3 ounces bacon, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces (using thick-cut bacon, 3 ounces will be 3 slices)
1 large bushy rosemary sprig
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 very large (or 3 medium) tomatoes, a mix of red and yellow is nice (I used 2 large handfuls cherry tomatoes)
Balsamic vinegar, optional
Soft herbs, if you want this to look pretty (I used basil and Italian parsley)
Pecorino Romano, optional (or Parmigiano-Reggiano)

1. Cook pasta in a large pot of heavily salted water
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer bacon to a paper-towel lined plate, leaving the grease in the pan (if it looks really greasy, spoon some out; you just need a thin layer, enough to sauté the garlic without burning).
3. Add the rosemary, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste to the skillet and cook until the garlic is lightly browned, 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and let the sauce simmer until the pasta is cooked.  Season aggressively with more salt and black pepper. If it tastes flat, add a few drops of vinegar.
4. Drain pasta and top with the sauce.  Sprinkle with bacon pieces, cheese, and fresh herbs, if using.

Note from Melissa: Onions or leeks are a nice addition if you have them on hand – sauté them in the bacon fat for a few minutes before adding the garlic and red pepper. You can also add chopped fennel, in which case save the fronds for garnish.

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Smitten Kitchen’s Spaghetti Squash Tacos with Black Beans and Queso Fresco

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I’ve had my Smitten Kitchen cookbook for almost three years now, and these tacos have been on my to-make list since the day I got it. Smitten Kitchen is one of my very favorite blogs, as I’ve probably mentioned at least a few (hundred) times already.  We had been anticipating her book for months before it finally came out in October of 2012, and I was certain I would cook my way through it immediately. But I guess life (and keeping up with her blog recipes) got in the way, as I just did a quick tally and realized that out of well over 100 recipes, prior to this one I had only made eight. Eight! In three years!

They’ve all been delicious – corn risotto-stuffed poblano peppers, white bean and swiss chard pot pies, the pumpkin gingersnap cheesecake tart, perfect pie crust, cherry-almond galette, peach dumplings with bourbon hard sauce, apple cake, and blueberry cornmeal coffee cake – but eight seems like way too few considering there are about 10 times that on my to-make list. (And please note that six of the eight have been from the “sweets” section of the book – busted!). Along with her peach and sour cream pancakes (yum) and butternut squash and caramelized onion galette (double yum), these tacos were on the top of my to-make list, so when my cousin brought me three gorgeous spaghetti squash (squashes?) from her garden last week I knew exactly what to do with them.

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I love squash in mexican food – the Cactus Butternut Squash Enchiladas are my all time fave – so of course this recipe was calling my name. I also love the combination of black beans and squash (like in this soup or this casserole) – I don’t know exactly what it is about this particular combo, but somehow it’s one of those instances where the whole is better than the sum of it’s parts. And that is definitely the case with these tacos, as I find spaghetti squash on it’s own a little blah.

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Additional reasons I’ll be making this a lot this fall: it’s pretty healthy, and couldn’t be easier. It takes 40 minutes to roast the squash (although you could do it in less than half that time in the microwave), but aside from that it takes about ten minutes to throw everything together, so it’s the perfect weeknight meal. While the squash is cooking, whisk your lime juice together with the seasonings, open a can of beans (I warmed mine on the stove because I don’t love the idea of eating things straight out of a can, but you don’t have to so long as you drain and rinse them well), dice up a little onion, chop some cilantro, and crumble a bit of queso fresco or cojita cheese. Deb uses queso fresco (not only in her tacos but in the title of the recipe) but says you could also use cojita or feta – I used cojita because it’s my favorite, but the other two would be great as well (and less expensive!). Once your squash has finished cooking and has cooled slightly, use a fork to scrape it out of the skin into long, stringy spaghetti-like strands, toss it with the lime juice mixture, and you have a delicious and healthy meal ready to go. The tacos look gorgeous once assembled, and if you have leftovers (which you likely won’t; I did only because I doubled the recipe and was serving a small group), they’ll keep for a few days. I stirred any leftover beans and toppings into the remaining seasoned squash and will have yummy lunches for the next few days – leaving me more time to get to work on my SK Cookbook to-make list. I’m thinking pancakes for dinner tomorrow!

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One year ago: Roasted Tomato Basil Soup
Two years ago: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies & Pumpkin Pecan Granola
Squash, previously: baked pasta, soup, salad (all butternut ~ good thing we’re finally mixing it up!)

Spaghetti Squash and Black Bean Tacos, from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Yield: 16 tacos; serves 4 generously or 8 modestly

3 lbs (1 large or 2 small) spaghetti squash
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 1 lime)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
16 6-inch corn tortillas
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained well
4 ounces crumbled queso fresco, feta, or cojita cheese
1/4 cup finely diced red or white onion
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
Lime wedges and/or hot sauce for finishing, optional

Cook the squash, either in the oven or microwave. [To cook it in the oven, cut squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds (I forgot to do this and had to scrape them out once cooked) and roast cut side down in an oiled baking dish at 375 degrees F for about 40 minutes. To cook it in the microwave, pierce the squash all over with a sharp knife (cuts about an inch deep) to prevent it from bursting. Cook at high power for 6-7 minutes, then turn over and cook for another 8-10 minutes, or until it feels a little soft when pressed. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before cutting it open.] Once the squash has cooled slightly, scrape the flesh out with a fork, loosening and separating the strands of squash as you remove it from the skin.  Discard skin. [Side note: if you roast the squash, and remove the seeds before roasting, you can then roast the seeds as you would pumpkin seeds. Just rinse them and spread onto an oiled baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, or salt and chili powder. Roast at 375 degrees for 7-10 minutes, stirring them about halfway through.]

In a small dish, whisk the lime juice with the chili powder, cumin, coriander, and salt. Pour over the squash strands and gently toss it all together. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

To assemble the tacos, heat a dry skillet over medium-high heat and warm/slightly blister each tortilla, about 30 seconds per side (I sometimes run mine under the broiler, which always seems more efficient as you can do 6 or so at once – but occasionally I do burn them so perhaps Deb’s way is better). Fill each tortilla with two tablespoons squash mixture, two tablespoons black beans, two teaspoons crumbled cheese, and a couple pinches of onion and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges and hot sauce (if hot sauce is your thing – it’s not mine).

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Melissa Clark’s Port Wine-Braised Short Ribs

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When I first started this blog two years ago (!!!), it felt like I was posting a Melissa Clark recipe every other week.  I forced myself to take a break for awhile, so that I wouldn’t post every recipe she’s ever written, but tragically that meant that this, my most successful dinner party recipe to date, never made it onto the blog. Since I don’t eat red meat, I can’t tell you from personal experience how delicious these ribs may or may not be. However, I’ve made them a number of times now, and have passed on the recipe to family and friends, each time with rave reviews. Since I cook primarily for the accolades, I make these ribs a lot.

This recipe comes from the January chapter of Cook This Now (Melissa organizes the recipes in this cookbook by month), so I had every intention of posting it two months ago. But as you may have noticed, Blueberries and Basil is off to a slow start this year, so my “January Short Ribs” are a little delayed – I hope you can forgive me.  After all, most of the country is still experiencing January weather. And even in the Pacific Northwest, where it feels like May, it turns out short ribs are still well received even when it’s 50 degrees at dinner time.

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Many of you are probably familiar with how to braise short ribs – but I really wasn’t, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover how easy it is. it’s the perfect make-ahead meal (dinner party or otherwise) because you can prepare it in advance, pop it in the oven, and not give it a second thought for the next three hours. Simply reduce your port* and wine**, brown your meat, sauté your veggies, dump everything into your Dutch oven and bake (technically braise, I suppose) for three hours while you clean your kitchen, make dessert, take a nap, run errands – you get the idea. Three hours to do whatever you like while a delicious meal comes together in the oven, all on it’s own. *Melissa uses port and wine, but if you don’t feel like buying a bottle of port only to use half a cup, I confess I’ve made them without the port before and haven’t heard any complaints. **The recipe calls for a dry red wine – I googled “dry red wine for short ribs” (because that’s the level of sophistication I have when it comes to using wine in cooking) and found most people recommend a petit syrah, so that’s what I’ve been using, but I think you could use whatever you have on hand.

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Meat usually grosses me out, but even I have to admit, they’re kind of pretty.  And they make your kitchen smell amazing!  The original recipe is technically for oxtails (speaking of being grossed out) rather than short ribs, so Melissa tells you the meat should be “almost” falling off the bone after two and a half hours. I’m assuming the rules for short ribs are different, as mine are usually actually falling off the bone after an hour or so. Again, I don’t eat them so I can’t say for certain, but I’m constantly asking people if they’re overdone and am assured they are perfect. But that said, if you needed to shorten the cooking time a bit I think you’d be ok. The beauty of braising, I’m learning, is that you really can’t go wrong. Bon appétit!

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Port Wine-Braised Short Ribs, from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine
1/2 cup ruby port
3 lbs beef short ribs
Kosher salt, for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 shallots, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium leeks, chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
3 thyme sprigs
2 rosemary  sprigs
1 bunch parsley stems (use some of the leaves for garnish, if you like)
2 bay leaves
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and diced small
Balsamic vinegar to taste

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the wine and port to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, brown the short ribs. Season them generously with salt and pepper (you will need at least two teaspoons salt and one teaspoon pepper, or possibly more – enough to get the meat well coated). In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter with the olive oil. Working in batches, arrange the short ribs in a single layer and brown on all sides.  Take your time with this and let them get good and brown; don’t crowd the pan, or they will steam and never develop that tasty caramelized crust. Transfer the short ribs to a bowl.
3. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the Dutch oven and add the shallots, garlic, leeks, and celery.  Cook the vegetables, scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan, until softened, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.
4. Arrange the short ribs over the vegetables and add the reduced wine-port mixture. Using kitchen twine, tie together the thyme, rosemary, parsley stems, and bay leaves, and drop into the pot. (You can skip the twine and simply drop the herbs into the pot if you don’t have kitchen twine on hand – although it’s a bit of a pain to fish them out before serving).  Bring the liquid to a boil on the stovetop, then cover and transfer the Dutch oven to the oven. Cook, turning the ribs occasionally (or not), until the meat is tender but not yet falling off the bone, 2 to 2 1/2 hours (mine always seem to be falling off the bone by the two hour mark, but I give them 2 1/2 regardless if time allows). Add the carrots and cook another 30 minutes.
5. Season with balsamic vinegar and additional salt, if desired. Serve over mashed potatoes and top with parsley.

*If you’re serving the short ribs right away, as I usually am, you can spoon some of the fat off of the surface if it looks a little greasy (mine never seem to). You can also refrigerate and serve the next day; in that case the fat is easy to scrape off – although you lose a lot of your vegetables with it.

**In lieu of short ribs, you could use: 4 1/2 pounds oxtail pieces, 4 lamb foreshanks, 2-3 pounds brisket or chuck roast, or 2 pounds boneless beef stew meat.

***In lieu of mashed potatoes, you could serve over polenta, roasted potatoes, roasted root vegetables, or anything else that suits your fancy. You could also serve it on its own, as a simple stew.

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Chicken Lasagna Cacciatore

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I’m not entirely sure if lasagna is a “sexy” enough topic for a blog post, but I’ve had enough people ask me for this recipe over the years that I thought I should share it with all of you. Plus, it seems appropriate to celebrate our first official week of rainy weather with a recipe from my “Celebrate the Rain” cookbook from the Junior League of Seattle. [Sidenote, my career in the Junior League was sadly short lived – but this cookbook was one of the best things I got out of it.]  I’m not ordinarily a huge lasagna fan – I don’t eat red meat, which means I often can’t eat it anyways, but even when there’s a veggie option I find it’s usually heavy and/or mushy and/or bland.  It’s hard for me not to like a dish made up of pasta plus cheese plus tomato sauce, but rarely have I experienced a truly stand out dish – this is one of the few lasagna recipes I’ve found that I can truly say I love. So much so that I made it for a dinner party last week, and have been pouting about lack of leftovers ever since.

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Chicken cacciatore is basically chicken braised in tomato sauce, usually with some combination of onions, garlic, mushrooms, bell peppers, and herbs. I made that definition up, but it’s a combination of the first five or so recipes I read after a quick google search. This recipe, as the name implies, is a combination of chicken cacciatore and lasagna. We make a “cacciatore sauce” of sorts using lots of fresh vegetables, shred the chicken into the sauce, and layer it with noodles (or pasta sheets!) like a lasagna, only using mozzarella and parm instead of your typical ricotta layer. While there is still plenty of cheese, it somehow seems so much lighter than traditional lasagna – and so full of veggies that you don’t even feel that bad about going back for seconds.

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This isn’t the quickest of recipes, but as lasagnas go it’s pretty simple to put together. The chopping takes some time, but it’s so worth it. I’m now really wishing I had doubled the recipe, as this will keep well in the freezer (baked or unbaked), and as long as you’re doing one, you might as well do two (or even three!) – the increase in time is marginal. Time saving tips include no-boil noodles or pasta sheets and rotisserie chicken. Boiling lasagna noodles is a total pain – no matter how much oil I add to my cooking water, they seem to always stick together and then break when I try to pull them apart. I’ve used no-boil noodles before and think they’re fine, but I know some people don’t like them – the pasta sheets really are the way to go if you can get them. They’re so easy and so fun, and it makes it a lot easier to serve your lasagna without having to worry about cutting in between the noodles (no pretty ruffles like regular lasagna noodles, though). Rotisserie chicken is a huge time saver, and I find the meat easier to shred. For once I can’t tell you to use the Trader Joe’s pre-chopped onions (my apologies to your eyeballs), but slicing doesn’t take too terribly long.  Pre-grated cheese seems so un-gourmet….but if that’s your thing, I won’t tell and it will still taste yummy.  Honestly though, if you can force yourself to be at least sort of efficient in the kitchen (slice onions while chicken cooks, slice mushrooms/mince garlic/dice pepper while onions cook, grate cheese while sauce simmers, etc.) it really doesn’t take that long to put together.

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Layer your lasagna: noodles, sauce, cheese; repeat; repeat again. Don’t the pasta sheets look so fun?!? Dump an extra can of tomatoes over everything (except the top layer of cheese) if you’re short on sauce (see my note at the bottom of the recipe). You can stop here and then bake later (if you’re making this ahead of time), or freeze now and bake later, or bake and then freeze – the possibilities are endless.  For my aforementioned dinner party, I put the lasagna together ahead of time, went about my day, and then popped it in the oven right before everyone arrived. The house smelled yummy, we had a lovely 30 minute cocktail hour, and then I took the lasagna out of the oven, popped dessert in, and we sat down to a bubbling-hot-out-of-the-oven dinner (and then an hour later, a bubbling-hot-out-of-the-oven apple crisp).  For someone who’s always scrambling around and doing everything last minute, I was pretty proud of myself!  Lasagna may not be the sexiest blog topic, but it gets major points for the make-ahead factor. Serve with a simple green salad and bread, and it’s a great meal to share with friends – you can sit and chat and enjoy yourself rather than frantically throwing everything together at the last minute. And with a fire in the fireplace and a couple bottles of wine, it’s the perfect meal with which to celebrate the rain.

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Chicken Lasagna Cacciatore, from Celebrate the Rain

Serves 8*

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
3/4 lbs. boneless, chicken chicken breast**
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
10 ounces button mushrooms, brushed clean, trimmed, and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2″ dice
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes***
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 lb. mozarella cheese, grated
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
12 cooked lasagna noodles OR 9 no-boil lasagna noodles OR 3 fresh pasta sheets

To make sauce:
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, add them to the pan, and cook until browned on the bottom, about 6 minutes. Flip the chicken and cook until tender and cooked through, about 5 minutes longer.  Transfer the chicken to a plate and let cool; reserve the saucepan. When the chicken is cool, shred it and set aside. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in the saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onions and sauté until tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the mushrooms and garlic and cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes longer.  Add the bell pepper and sauté until nearly tender, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, oregano, basil, salt, black pepper, and dried red pepper flakes. Add the chicken, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes.

To prepare lasagna: 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Oil a 9 x 13 baking dish. Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce (avoiding large chunks of chicken or vegetables) on the bottom of the dish.*** Line the dish with 4 cooked lasagna noodles or 3 no-boil lasagna noodles or one pasta sheet. Spread 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with 1/3 of the mozzarella and 1/3 of the parmesan. Repeat the layering of noodles, sauce, and cheese two more times.  (The lasagna can be prepared a few days ahead, covered with plastic, and refrigerated, or covered securely with plastic and foil and frozen for a few weeks). Bake the lasagna until the cheese turns golden brown in spots and the sauce is bubbling, about 30 minutes (if after 30 minutes the sauce is bubbling but the cheese hasn’t started browning, turn the oven to broil and watch the lasagna carefully – it will brown quickly).  Transfer the dish to a wire rack and let the lasagna sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

*The recipe says 8 servings, but I’ve found it usually yields closer to 10-12. You’ll want leftovers, though.
**You could use a store-bought rotisserie chicken here as a shortcut. I usually do, and wondered why I didn’t this time (not that it’s hard to cook the chicken, but I always manage to get oil splattered all over my stovetop). You’ll need about two cups cooked, shredded white meat, skin and bones discarded.  One chicken should yield this easily.
***Every time I make this recipe, I find that I’m way short on sauce (in part probably because my lasagna pan is bigger than 9×13, so this may not be as much of an issue for you). My new trick is to use an extra can of crushed tomatoes – you could use a jar of spaghetti sauce as well if you’re in a pinch.  I like to pour 1/2 cup – 1 cup crushed tomatoes into the bottom of the pan before I start building the lasagna (rather than using the sauce as instructed). Then I do the recommended 1 1/2 cups of sauce per layer (possibly a little more if it looks like that isn’t enough). Once I reach the third layer I’m a little short, so I use up the homemade sauce and then dump the rest of the can of crushed tomatoes over the casserole before I add the final layer of cheese.  You could use a 15.5-ounce can of tomatoes if your lasagna pan is closer to 9×13 size/if you find you aren’t that short on sauce, but I used an entire 28-ounce can this time and it turned out great.  You could also just add the second can of tomatoes to the sauce as you’re making it (along with the can called for), but my saucepan is usually close to overflowing so I’ve been doing it this way.  Making sure the top layer of pasta is fully covered with sauce is especially important if you’re using the no-boil noodles or the fresh pasta sheets as they’ll need the liquid to cook. photo 3