Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Cake of Gloriousness

Technically this is a Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake. But doesn't my name sound so much more...glorious?!

This is a complicated looking recipe, but it really wasn't that hard. I'm going to break it down into pieces.

To start, prepare two 9" round pans. Butter them, put a round of parchment at the bottom of each one, butter the parchment, and then flour the cake pans. Pre-heat the oven to 350.

The Cake:
3/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups all purpose flour
1.5 tsp baking soda
1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1.5 cups of plain pumpkin puree
1.5 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk

Melt the butter in a heavy duty sauce pan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and let sit for 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and buttermilk until very well blended. With a rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Gently whisk in the brown butter until completely incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans.

Bake the cakes until a tester comes out clean, about 28 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes before flipping the cakes out onto a rack. Allow them to cool completely.

The Topping:
1.5 tbs unsalted butter
2/3 cups pecans
1/2 cup raw, unsalted, hulled pepitas (I actually didn't use these because I couldn't find them, so if you can't find them, just use more pecans)
2 tbs packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbs chopped crystallized ginger

Melt the butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the nuts and cook until the pecans brown, about 2 minutes. Add the brown sugar and salt, and stir until the sugar melts and the nuts are glazed, about 2 minutes. Stir in the ginger pieces, and remove from heat. Allow to cool in the nonstick skillet.

The Frosting:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar

Melt the butter in a heavy duty sauce pan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and put in the freezer to chill until the butter is just firm. Using a spoon, carefully scrape the butter from bowl, leaving the browned solids at the bottom.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light in color and the brown sugar has dissolved, 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the confectioners sugar and continue beating until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Assemble the Cake:
Put one layer of the cake on a cake stand. Cover with 1/2 cup of the frosting. Sprinkle 1/2 cup (or about 1/2 of the topping) over the frosting, and then top with the second layer of the cake. Use the remaining frosting to frost the remaining cake. Add the rest of the nut mixture on top of the cake.

I know I know. There's a lot going on in this recipe. But it turns out really really delicious. And pretty!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Long Awaited Review: Andre's at the Monte Carlo

So, this is more than a month after I had my wonderful seven course tasting menu dinner at Andre's. Luckily I took extensive notes on the meal, and the restaurant kindly provided me with a copy of the tasting menu, and the wines they paired for me! Wonderful touch, and certainly a sign of the high caliber of this restaurant.

First, I want to mention the gorgeous decor, in my favorite color pairing! Chocolate and turquoise. The dining area was intimate, modern, chic, and extremely comfortable. Absolutely gorgeous. And on my trip to the bathroom I stopped in to check out the swanky cigar bar and private dining area. Pretty sweet. I'd definitely try to find my way there some other time.

So, I'm going to organize this post by course, since there was a lot of delicious food!

Amuse Bouche: Brown butter Dover sole mousse. This was delicate, extremely rich and buttery, but I could still taste a little bit of fishy. Fish mousse weirds me out (and reminds me of a horrible cod liver mousse my mom and I had in Paris!)

Round 1: King Crab Mignon,with smoked grabanzo, winter melon, and umbrian olive oil. Paired with a 2009 Whitehall Lane, Sauv Blanc, Napa Valley. The garbanzo and winter melon were very strange on their own. Rather salty. But when you put it all together, it really came together, and tasted pretty delicious. The wine was a great pair, because it had a very fruity nose with a crisp taste. It gave a nice sweet balance to the salty starter.

Round 2: Diver scallop, caviar, lotus root, with a coconut and yellow curry sauce. Paired with 2008 Chamisal, Chardonnay, Unoaked, Central Coast. This was my first foray into caviar. And, in all likelihood, my last. Blech. Just not my thing. The salty factor was fine, but I just couldn't deal with the fishy flavor. Sigh. But the rest of this dish was awesome. The curry was spicy, full of flavor, and incredibly delicious with the perfectly prepared scallop. The caviar was served on the lotus crisp, which was very beautifully plated. The Chardonnay was sharper than I'd expected, and helped to smooth the spicy scallops. A very nice pairing.

Round 3: Seared foie gras with roasted apples and five-spice angalise sauce. No wine pairing on this one. And no wine pairing was needed. This was AMAZING! It tasted like a buttery apple pie, with just a hint of woody smokey flavor. I took tiny tiny bites to savor this amazing dish, and was so sad when it was gone!

Intermetzo: pear sorbet with sparkling water and mint oil. This was lovely with mild flavors. There was a hint of mint and sparkle!

Round 4: Berkshire pork belly, with jeweled yam, tonka bean, puff pastry and a truffle jus. Paired with a 2003 Chanteclair Merlot, France. This was a pretty incredible dish. The sides were paired so beautifully with the pork. They were smooth, rich, and could almost have been a dessert. The tonka beans, which I'd never had before, tasted like butter. The merlot was a great pair for this very rich plate, because the merlot really cut through the fat. I loved everything about this plate.

Whew. I'm getting full. And then...

Round 5: Marcho Farms veal duo with maitaki mushroom, root spinach and cardamon jus. Paired with a 2003 Chateau Grand Bert, Saint Emilion, France. The duo was a veal steak and sweet breads. And this was a giant portion! The veal steak could have been served on its own, and I was already getting full. The steak was incredibly tender, peppery, and had a very delicate flavor to it. The sweet breads had only subtle flavoring, so it really allowed the flavor of the meat to speak for itself. The spinach and mushrooms were very salty, but tasted amazing in combination with the meat. Particularly the steak, because it wasn't salted but did have wonderful pepper flavor. The Bordeaux was full bodied, definitely the biggest wine of the night.

Round 6: Morbier with candied pistachios, and cassis and green peppercorn jam. I was so full at this point. The pistachios were really sticky. As in stick in your teeth sticky. Eating the cheese by itself was extremely strong. But in combination this was very good.

Round 7: Whew! We made it. And this. This dish was amazing. Chocolate marqius with milk chocolate and raspberry. Paired with a 2006 Sauternes, Charmes de Rieussec. Dessert wines. Meh. I just don't love them. Too sweet. My least favorite pairing. Paired with one of the best chocolate desserts I have ever had. This chocolate was delicious, decadent, and had a perfect smooth and creamy texture. And the raspberries and raspberry sauce really set it off. My grandmother, who doesn't like chocolate, ate her entire dessert. She loved it. And that is really saying something.

Overall, this was a fantastic experience. The service was impeccable. The chef came out to check on our experience. They always had at least two servers to take the silver dome lids off the plates. Yes. That's right. Silver dome lids. So French! And yet...this restaurant put an amazing new spin on classic French cuisine.

I guess I should mention the price. The seven course meal was $125. The wine pairing (which I did the 5 course wine pairing, not the 7), was an additional $65. And, you know what? It was 100% worth it. The five course meal skipped the cheese plate, which wouldn't have bothered me. But it also skipped the Foie Gras. And missing that would have been a mistake. So good. So so so good.

So, if you're in Vegas. Go big. And go to Andre's.

Thanksgiving - Part 1 - So It Begins!

We're T minus 5 days to Tday. I've tried to pick a menu this year that allows me to gradually make things over the next few days. Today's item: Cheddar-Cayenne Coins (or Crackers for, you know, normal people).

Got this recipe from Fine Cooking's 2009 holiday magazine. Seemed like a good appetizer to put out with veggies and dip. This came together very easily, and since you can make the dough up to a month in advance, and actually bake the crackers a week in advance, it allows for a leisurely build up.

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 oz sharp cheddar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk
2 tbs water
Kosher salt for sprinkling

Combine the flour, cheese, salt, and cayenne in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter, and pulse until coarse crumbs form. Combine the egg yolk and water in a separate bowl, then pour over the mixture. Pulse until the dough begins to form small moist crumbs.

Pile the dough on an unfloured work surface and push and smear it with the heels of your hands. Fold each side over onto the middle, rotate 45 degrees, and smear again. Shape into a 14 inch log (about 1 1/4 inch diameter), wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 1 month.

Pre-heat the oven to 375, and line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Cut the log into 1/4 inch slices. Arrange them 1/2 inch apart on the baking sheet (these crackers really don't expand). Bake until golden around the edges, about 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with salt immediately after removing from the oven. Let the crackers cool. Serve immediately, or wrap in plastic and store in an airtight container (or freeze them if you need them to last a few days).

Really easy to do. Total amount of time was, maybe, 30 minutes of activity. And they taste delicious!

Get ready Thanksgiving, here I come!