Saturday, November 23, 2013

Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake

Let me introduce you to your Thanksgiving dessert.  You should definitely skip the pumpkin pie this year and make this cake instead.  It is delicious.  

* See my notes below for a couple time savers before you get started (and before you buy the ingredients). 

Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake
Serves 8 to 12; by Jeanne Kelley from Fine Cooking Magazine

For the purée
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1 medium-large Sugar Pie pumpkin cut in half from stem to bottom and seeded

For the cake
6 oz. (3/4 cup) unsalted butter; more for the pans
9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the pans
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. table salt
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk
For the topping
1-1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter
2/3 cup pecans
1/2 cup unsalted, raw, hulled pepitas
2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. table salt
1-1/2 Tbs. chopped crystallized ginger

For the frosting
4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 oz. (1-1/4 cups) confectioners’ sugar

Make the pumpkin purée
  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. 
  2. Brush a 9x13-inch baking dish with the oil. Put the pumpkin halves in the dish cut side down and bake until tender when pierced with a fork, about 45 minutes.  
  3. Let cool.  
  4. Peel the pumpkin and purée the flesh in a food processor until smooth. You’ll need 1-1/2 cups of the purée for the cake. 
  5. Refrigerate or freeze any remaining purée for another use.

Make the cake
  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. 
  2. Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans with removable bottoms (or butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment, butter the parchment, and flour the pans). 
  3. Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. 
  4. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. 
  5. Pour into a small bowl and let stand until cool but not set, about 15 minutes. 
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves. 
  7. In a large bowl, whisk 1 ½ cups of the pumpkin purée with the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and buttermilk until very well blended.  
  8. With a rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture until just combined.  
  9. Gently whisk in the brown butter until completely incorporated. 
  10. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. 
  11. Bake the cakes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 28 minutes. 
  12. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. 
  13. Turn the cakes out onto racks, remove the pan bottoms or parchment, and cool completely.

Make the topping
  1. Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. 
  2. Add the pecans and pepitas and cook until the pecans brown slightly and the pepitas begin to pop, about 2 minutes. 
  3. Sprinkle in the brown sugar and salt and stir until the sugar melts and the nuts are glazed, about 2 minutes. 
  4. Stir in the ginger. 
  5. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool in the skillet.

Make the frosting
  1. Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. 
  2. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. 
  3. Pour into a small bowl and let stand until the solids settle at the bottom of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Carefully transfer the bowl to the freezer and chill until just firm, about 18 minutes. 
  4. Using a spoon, carefully scrape the butter from bowl, leaving the browned solids at the bottom; discard the solids. 
  5. 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. 
  6. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Assemble the cake
  1. Put one cake layer on a cake plate. 
  2. Spread 1/2 cup of the frosting on the layer. 
  3. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the nut mixture over the frosting and top with the second layer. 
  4. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. 
  5. Arrange the remaining topping in a ring 1-1/2 inches in from the edge of the cake and serve.

Make Ahead Tips
You can make the purée up to 2 days ahead.  The assembled, frosted cake can be covered with a cake
dome and refrigerated for up to 2 days.  Serve at room temperature.

My Notes
  • I did not make my own pumpkin puree, I used one can of Libby’s pumpkin puree (not pie filling).
  • I bought pre-made “Whipped” cream cheese frosting instead of making the frosting from scratch.
  • I did not make the nut topping.  (I generally don’t like nuts in or on my baked goods.)
  • I did not have crystalized ginger, so I just used ground ginger instead.
  • I drizzled the whole cake with salted caramel (store bought) because why wouldn't you?  And because caramel makes everything taste better.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pop It, Top It

What is Pop It, Top It you ask?  Well, it is exactly what it sounds like.  You pop the popcorn and top it with yummy goodness.  This is one of those ideas that I wish I would’ve thought of. 

I was lucky enough to receive a sample of Pop It, Top It; Candy-coated, Sninkerdoodle-flavored popcorn.  It is an easy and unique snack. You basically pop the popcorn in the microwave; put the candy coating in the microwave to melt it; drizzle it over the top of the popcorn; stir it together; and top with the “S” topping, which is basically a cinnamon mix.   

The first time I made this was with some girlfriends and we missed the last step of pouring it onto wax paper and letting it cool completely (I blame the vino).  We dove right in!   It was warm, gooey, very sweet, and very cinnamony.   (Maybe too cinnamon; and we didn’t even use all of the “S” seasoning.) 
My friend, Michelle, enjoying the warm Pop It, Top It
The second time I made it, I followed the instructions all the way until the end and allowed it to cool completely.  It was also really good.  I kind of liked it both ways equally.  The warm way was good and and gooey; and the cooled off version reminded me a little bit of caramel popcorn with an entirely different flavor.  Both versions were hard to stop eating; I had to step away from the bowl slowly and leave it alone.

I love this idea and I hope they come out with some new flavors.  I think a turtle version would be awesome with chocolate, caramel, and cashews.   Or a savory version, like a parmesan and herb concoction or something.  

Definitely kudos to these two local best friends, Mary and Maggie, for coming up with such a unique item that would make the perfect hostess gift for the holidays. 

You can buy it online for $7.00 here: or you can try to get your local retailer to carry it by going here: .  I always like to support local business owners.  I want everyone to be successful, especially when they are doing something they are passionate about.  And if the store decides to carry it, they will send you a dozen of their products free.   Win, win.  


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Cooking with Cereal

I’m not quite sure how I’m going to top my day yesterday, but I am sure that I will never look at cereal the same way again.  Yesterday, I had the pleasure of spending the day at General Mills playing with cereal.  

The day started out with a tour of the photo studios; where they photograph all of the recipes, products, and cookbooks.  I found myself dreaming of being a food stylist, and having serious envy over the prop room.  Yep, there are whole rooms dedicated to props for the photos.  What color and size of plate would you like?  Take your pick.  How about napkins?  Well there are about 50 shades of orange.  How fun to have all of these accessories at your fingertips.  General Mills proved to be quite the playground (and I haven’t even talked about the test kitchens yet). 

After the photo studio, we ventured to the archive room.  They have everything possible documented in there.  It was really cool to see all of the history preserved and so well organized.   And it was interesting to see some of the crazy products they had back in the day. Warm beef beverage anyone? 

Look Closely.... I'm not sure what the question is but I'm sure the answer is cake.  Answer Cake = Brilliant!

Then came a tour of the test kitchens….   Can you believe that some employees actually have their own kitchen as their office space?   Sure beats a traditional cubical (by far). 
Test Kitchens
Next up = lunch.  We were able to sample some great “cereal” dishes created by chefs.  They were very creative and tasty.  

My favorite dishes were:
Golden Grahams Fried Chicken with Hot Honey Drizzle
Cocoa Puffs Carbonara
Cinnamon Toast Crunch French Toast
Corn Chex Chilaquiles
Find the recipes for the above items here:

After lunch, we (myself and 5 other food bloggers) were let loose to play in the test kitchens and create our own cereal creations.
How amazing is this view? 
I had debated banana bread with peanut butter, chocolate chips and Reese’s Puffs, and then I debated a coffee cake or apple crisp using the Cinnamon Toast Crunch in the crumble on top.  But when I saw the plethora of ingredients at our disposal, I decided to go the savory route with Asian meatballs.
Amazing Selection of Ingredients to Choose from

These are the ingredients I selected for the meatballs:  Ground pork, beef, and veal; Shitake Mushrooms (chopped and sautéed); Garlic (minced and sautéed); Yellow Pepper (diced); Onion (diced); Cilantro (chopped); Ginger (minced); 1 egg; and Rice Chex (put into food processor).

I mixed all of that together and then formed the meatballs and sautéed them in a pan with olive oil, drizzled a little honey on top of each one, and finished them in the oven.

Action Shot  (photo by General Mills)
Action Shot from Above (photo by General Mills)
I had planned to make a Hoisin sauce but it turned out that Hoisin is the one ingredient they didn’t have. Therefore, I made a random sauce with every other ingredient I could find.  I added soy sauce, BBQ sauce, Ketchup, peanut butter, honey, garlic, Siracha, pepper and then reduced it.  It ended up being really salty from the soy sauce, so I had to add a cup of water and reduce it some more.  I wasn’t 100% pleased with it but ran out of time and decided it was “good enough.”  I drizzled the sauce over the finished meatballs, and topped them with my crunchy mix.
Crunchy Mix
I put peanuts and Wheaties in the food processor, pulsed those down, and sautéed them in butter to toast them.  I sprinkled the mix on top of the sauced meatballs.
Me and My Meatballs (photo by General Mills)
I’ll have to say, I was kind of impressed with myself.  I thought the meatballs turned out really well and I would definitely make them again either as meatballs or as a meatloaf. The Rice Chex worked really well as a binding agent (and made the meatballs gluten free).  I felt like the time flew by and I really wanted more time (as in a couple of days) to play.   There were so many ingredients and cereals that I wanted to experiment with.   I love playing and experimenting.  I'm envious that people get to do that all day as a real job.  

Being ambitious, I also ended up grabbing the sweet potato gnocchi and whipping up a quick dish with that.  (It had been calling to me and no one else grabbed it.)  I cooked the gnocchi in water and then browned some butter, threw in some sage, added the gnocchi, topped with fresh grated parmesan and Wheaties (for added crunch).  It was a very pretty and fall-like dish. And I like the crunch that the Wheaties provided.

The only things missing in my test kitchen experience were a glass of wine and music (two of my cooking staples).  But what made up for that was the fact that we didn't have to clean up after ourselves, which was good because we made quite a mess.
No pan left untouched
It was fun to see, and try, what everyone came up with.  We were a creative bunch.   In addition to trying each other’s dishes, we were hit with a round of dessert cereal treats. One of my favorite was the Kentucky Bourbon Bacon Chex Mix.   YUM!   Oh, and don’t let me forget the Lucky Charms martinis.

Seriously, I had such a great time; I felt really lucky to be there and to have had such a great experience.  I won’t deny that I’m daydreaming about how to get my own “office kitchen.” 

Until this experience, my “cooking with cereal” experiences had been limited to Rice Krispie treats, Special K bars, and Bran muffins.  I really enjoyed exploring the savory side of cereal.  There are so many great cereal flavors that can be used in place of breadcrumbs and crackers.  I am going to start using cereal to encrust fish, chicken, and crab cakes.  The possibilities are endless.  I love the idea of “thinking outside of the box” with cereal.  It’s time to get rid of the milk, bowl, and spoon and branch out.  

For inspiration, check out:

What is your favorite cereal?  


UPDATE - You can view additional photos here:   

Monday, October 7, 2013

March of Dimes Signature Chef Event

Last Thursday night was the March of Dimes Signature Chef event.  I was on the committee and was tasked with interviewing all of the chefs and writing up their bios.   It was a really fun experience to chat with the chefs and learn how they got into cooking and what they do for fun.  You can read all of the bios I wrote on the March of Dimes blog here (Aug. 21 - Oct. 1 is where my stuff is):

(FYI - Landon's bio from Haute Dish is missing because he is a busy dude and I couldn’t connect with him after many tries.)

The annual event was really well done and we raised a lot of money (loved watching the action during the live auction).  It was emotional to hear the stories of families helped out by the March of Dimes and it really showed the good work they are doing and the need for their services.  I was really proud to be a part of the event.  Okay, back to the food…..

There were 11 chefs and 11 amazing dishes being served.  After my volunteer duties were over, I was able to explore the food and enjoy a couple glasses of wine.  I was actually too busy eating and socializing that I didn't take many photos (sorry).  While everything was  good, I really enjoyed the “Junko’s Garden Kale Salad with Mozzarella from chef Carrie Nielsen, Mozza Mia; the “Heritage Hog and Spicy Farm Slaw” from Beth chef Fisher, Wise Acre Eatery; and the “Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Popcorn, Kale, and Cheddar” from Landon Schoenefeld, HauteDish.  

BUT…..  My favorite dishes were from Mystic Lake Casino.  Yep, you read that right.   When interviewing the executive chef, Richard Fisher, for his bio I learned that he’s a European Certified Master Chef.  There are only a couple hundred worldwide; and while he downplayed this fact, I was impressed.   
Chef Fisher focused on plating his dish.
His dish blew me away, and he was the only one to bring in his own “real” dishes – opting not to serve his signature dish on a plastic plate.   Very impressive.  You can see his passion for quality.  His dish was “Sugar Pumpkin Chowder with Scottish Langoustine and Pecan Pie Ravioli.”   It was delicious and crave-able.   

Tasty and Pretty

The pastry chef at Mystic Lake also had an amazing dessert; "Gianduji Marjolaine with Tahitian vanilla bean reduction and macerated berries."  With this winning culinary team in place, I seriously need to head down to Mystic Lake, especially now that they serve booze!   And they have free buses from all over town.   FUN!   Who’s in? 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Amazing Meat Marinade

My friend, Amy, made a grilled bison flank steak at a BBQ this summer and it was out of this world.  Seriously, the flavor was amazing.  She shared her marinade recipe with me (an old Bon Appétit recipe) and I made it a couple times this summer; and I’ve decided that recipe is too good to keep to myself.   If you can find Bison flank steak, that should be your first choice.  If not, then any old flank steak will do.  

Grilled Flank Steak with Rosemary Marinade

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary or 1 tablespoon dried
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 2 1/4-pound flank steak
  1. Mix all ingredients except steak in 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Add steak and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours, turning occasionally.
  2. Prepare barbeque (medium-high heat) or preheat broiler. Remove meat from marinade; discard marinade. Grill steak to desired doneness, about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare.
  3. Transfer steak to work surface. Let stand 5 minutes. Cut across grain into thin strips.

My Notes
  • I always marinate in a plastic baggie.  It makes it easier to turn and there is no plan to clean.  Simply toss the baggie when the meat hits the grill.   Note: You don't want to save any of the marinade that has raw juices in it from the baggie.  
  • I had my steak marinate overnight.  I’m thinking the longer the better; it really helped the meat absorb all of the yummy flavors.  
  • I added some dried red pepper flakes to the marinade (imagine that). 

Wine Pairing
Pair with your favorite red wine.  I’m partial to Zinfandel or blends.

I marinated these gorgeous, local green onions in the same marinade and they were awesome.  I also grilled asparagus that I just tossed with olive oil, and salt and pepper and topped with fresh Parmesan once I removed it from the grill.  Oh, and I made a spinach salad with goat cheese and roasted root vegetables.  

Cheers to flavorful meat!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

MN Cheese Festival

This past weekend I volunteered at The Minnesota Cheese Festival.  That’s right, there is a festival for cheese.  What a great use of my time.  I got to sit and chat with cheese lovers and try lots of great regional cheeses.   

Gorgeous Flowers in our Booth from the St. Paul Farmer's Market

I volunteered at the Forifty: a Food Community booth which is a local organization that I am a part of for food enthusiasts (check them out on Facebook -   We handed out recipes with cheese, chatted about our passion for food, and took frequent “cheese breaks” to sample the cheeses.  It was great to meet the actual cheese makers and witness their passion. 

Amazing Cheese Curds from Foxy Falafel

So, it turns out that it is possible to eat TOO much cheese.  I was so full (in a happy way) when I left.  There were some really great cheeses to try and to purchase.  And purchase I did; I spent way more than I anticipated but I now have a refrigerator drawer full of cheesy goodness.     

While there were a lot of great cheeses, here were some of my favorites.  You should keep your eye out for these or even request them at your store (for those out of the Midwest, some of the cheese can be ordered online).

Alemar Cheese - Bent River Camembert-style cheese and Good Thunder cheese.   The camembert cheese was creamy and delicious – I think it is best spread on a slice of a baguette or with red grapes and apples.   The Good thunder is a stinky washed-rind cheese soaked in Surly’s bender beer.

Redhead Creamery – Her offering of plain cheese curds tasted just how cheese curds should, with exactly the right balance of saltiness.

Singing Hills Goat Dairy – Herb-marinated Chevre.   This tasted so good and they suggested that it would be good with greens as a salad dressing or as a dip with a baguette and a bottle of wine (which is exactly my plan).

Rochdale FarmsHand rolled butter – yep, I deviated from the cheese and went for some butter.  It was so good - a little pat of butter on a cracker.

Pasture Pride Cheese - Juusto Baked Cheese.  This is a cheese that you heat in a skillet and serve warm.   A-M-A-Z-I-N-G - what is better than warm, melty, salty, cheese?  I think it would be great on a cracker topped with some chutney or mixed in with scrambled eggs. Yummmm…..

Shepherd's Way Farms - Morcella.  This is a soft-ripened sheep milk cheese with local morel mushrooms.  It is earthy and creamy and only available through Sept. (they only use spring and summer milk to make this cheese).  This farm also has a cheese CSA, which is intriguing....

Caves of Fairbault AmaBlu® “St. Pete’s Select” blue cheese.  This blue cheese seemed really balanced to me.  It had just the right amount of tanginess without being overwhelming.

Marieke Gouda - Marieke® Gouda Super Aged 18-24.  This Gouda was delicious and nutty with the little aged crystals throughout; unfortunately they had sold out by the time I went to purchase it.

Ahhh, I love cheese.  Let me know if you have any local favorites that I need to try.