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}

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Pumpkin Custard with Cookie Crumble Crust and Bourbon Chantilly Cream

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If you were planning on making a pumpkin pie for that little holiday we have coming up next week, I have an alternative for you. All the creamy, custard-y, fall-spiced deliciousness of pumpkin pie, but without breaking out your food processor, getting flour all over your countertops, rolling out any crust, etc. And not a single can of evaporated milk. Sound good? I thought so too, especially when my batch yielded 10 individual custards instead of 8 and I was able to sample two one and still have 8, aka a full pie’s worth of servings, leftover.

Thanks to the blog post that introduced me to this cake, I ordered the “Rustic Fruit Desserts” cookbook this past June. As with most of my impulsive cookbook purchases, I had already forgotten about it by the time it arrived on my doorstep two days later. And as also with most of my impulsive cookbook purchases, I flipped through it and then put it in a pile of things I absolutely intended to carefully read and/or do something with ASAP, where of course it lay buried until a week ago. But it was meant to be, because I rediscovered it this week, in mid-November. I’m not sure pumpkin custards would have spoken to me as strongly back in June.

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We’ve done piecakecookies, granolamuffinscinnamon rollsbreadbread pudding, soup…..but I don’t think there’s such a thing as too many pumpkin recipes, especially when everyone’s favorite holiday is a week away. At least let’s hope not, since that list makes me realize that this is B&B’s 10th (!!!) pumpkin recipe. Aside from the pie tin and the pastry crust, this custard looks a lot like pumpkin pie – and as it turns out, tastes a lot like pumpkin pie. But even better, if that’s possible. And the best part is it takes literally 15 minutes to throw together (not counting the hour in the oven and the minimum 5 hours chilling in the fridge once it’s out of the oven – so it does require a bit of planning… and of course the potential trip to Crate and Barrel for whatever number of ramekins it takes to get you from the number you can dig up in your cupboards to 8).

The recipe as written calls for vanilla shortbread cookies for the crust – and the cookbook includes a recipe for them. I’m leaving it out here because I used a combination of store-bought gingersnaps and graham crackers instead (the recipe suggested gingersnaps as an alternative, I love a good graham cracker crust, and – confession – I first learned of the gingersnap/graham cracker combo from a recipe for a really yummy pumpkin cheesecake tart from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook that I’ve made every year since her cookbook came out, and it’s pretty much the best thing ever). You could use any type of cookie you like, however.

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Re: Chantilly Cream. Doesn’t that sound fancy? Turns out it’s just sweetened whipped cream. (As if we weren’t already sweetening our whipped cream?) The recipe told me to whip the cream by hand, which I tried to do but it didn’t take me long to switch to an electric mixer. Add a little sugar and vanilla halfway through, and perhaps a little brandy (as the recipe suggests), or bourbon (as I did). I’m not a huge bourbon drinker but I try to keep a bottle of Knob Creek on hand at all times, mainly for cooking but also because every once in awhile you have a friend that wants a glass of bourbon, and don’t real adults keep a fully stocked bar? Of course when I went to look for my Knob Creek as I was making the whipped cream I realized I was out (too many peach dumplings this summer!), but I did find a mini bottle of Maker’s Mark in my freezer. No idea where it came from, but it turned out to be delicious. I only used 1/2 teaspoon, and it was perfect – I would definitely recommend adding it if you have any on hand, although maybe not if you’re going to be feeding this to small children (I don’t think 1/2 teaspoon of alcohol in one cup of cream, which yields 2 cups once whipped, would be enough to hurt anyone when a single portion would work out to be 1/8th-1/10th of 1/2 teaspoon, aka a very trace amount, but just FYI. If I had offered the bowl of whipped cream to my one year old nephew I think he might have eaten the whole bowl, so just something to keep in mind).

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One Year Ago: Pumpkin, Sage, and Brown Butter Loafs
Two Years Ago: Carrot Mac and Cheese
Pumpkin, Previously: Cookies, Granola, Soup, Bread Pudding, Muffins, Cake, Pie, Bread, Cinnamon Rolls

Pumpkin Custard with Cookie Crumb Crust, from Rustic Fruit Desserts

Serves 8-10

1 1/4 cups crushed cookie of your choice (original recipe suggests vanilla shortbread, I used a combination of graham crackers and gingersnaps but either would be fine on their own)
2 cups half-and-half
2 eggs
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses (recipe suggests Barbados, I used Grandma’s because I had it in the fridge)
2 cups pureed cooked pumpkin, or 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (note: not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Chantilly cream (recipe below), extra cookies, and cinnamon, for garnish

Chantilly Cream:

1 cup cold heavy cream
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Recipe suggests adding Brandy, I used 1/2 teaspoon Bourbon (you could up it to 1 teaspoon but it might be pretty boozy)

To make the Custard: Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Divide crushed cookies among 8 5-ounce ramekins. In a small saucepan, bring the half-and-half to a light simmer over medium-low heat. Whisk the eggs and yolks together in a bowl, then whisk in both sugars and the molasses. Slowly pour the hot half-and-half into the egg mixture while whisking continuously. Stir the pumpkin, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and vanilla together in a large bowl. Slowly add the egg mixture, whisking just enough to combine ingredients; this will keep air bubbles to a minimum, which contributes to a creamier texture when baked.

Set a fine-mesh sieve over a 6-cup measuring cup or a bowl with a pour lip, then strain the custard into the measuring cup. Distribute the custard evenly among the ramekins, filling them almost to the top. Place a large roasting pan on the center rack of the oven, put the ramekins in the roasting pan, and carefully add enough hot water to the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake the custards for 50-60 minutes, or until puffed slightly on the edges and almost set when jiggled. Carefully remove the ramekins from the pan and place on a wire rack. Cool completely on the rack before covering lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerating for at least 5 hours and up to 2 days. Serve garnished with a small dollop of Chantilly cream.

Storage: The custard itself is best if eaten within 2 days, but any leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

To make the Chantilly Cream: Chill a metal bowl and whisk (or beaters). Pour the cream into the bowl and whisk until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla (and bourbon or brandy, if using) and continue whipping the cream until it hangs but does not fall from the whisk. Alternatively, if you are using an electric mixer, start whipping the cream on low speed, then gradually increase the speed until the mixer is on medium speed. (Recipe recommends whipping the cream by hand so that you have “more control over the process.” I tried that to begin with, but my arm got tired well before any soft peaks were forming so I happily relinquished control and switched to an electric mixer).

Storage: Chantilly cream is best if served immediately. You may refrigerate it in  covered container for up to four hours, but you may need to rewhip some of the cream at the bottom of the bowl before serving.

Top chilled custards with Chantilly cream, sprinkle cream with cinnamon, and serve with a gingersnap on the side. Yum!

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Friday Faves

photo 2{pumpkin ice cream with toasted marshmallow}

Happy rainy Friday! What are you up to this weekend? I’m hoping to get back on track in terms of my Thanksgiving preparedness…..and in that vein, I found some links that will hopefully be helpful for all of us. I get to go see John Oliver as an early birthday present from my dad (he is the best!!), and I’m also hoping to carve out some time to see this movie (and that we can still get tickets!). If I can squeeze in a manicure as well, I’ll be a happy girl (it’s a rough life, I know). Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend!

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{‘Evelyn‘ glassybaby in memory of my grandma Evelyn’s birthday earlier this week}

photo 1{view from the train}

photo-84 {coop’s thanksgiving present – dorky but I just can’t help myself}

photo-83{love these dimples}

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.