Rye Pecan Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

When it comes to cooking, I find joy in creating complexity out of the most simple and base ingredients. Take carrots, for example. A boring carrot stick is something you pass by on your weekly grocery run in the produce aisle. Orange, stiff, sometimes with carrot top still intact (in which case, a no-waste carrot top recipe, here). A long ways from extraordinary. But when I think of  a well-made carrot cake, my eyes can’t help but twinkle, my mouth salivates. The marriage between sweet, earthy, and spicy undertones signifies a TRUE carrot cake, not disguised by extreme amounts of sugar, as they usually are. The colors of the cake itself remind me of the beauty of fall – orange from the carrots, brown from cinnamon and brown sugar, purple and mossy green from the rye.

Too often, carrot cake is done a disservice. Fatty and sugary sweet isn’t the cake I dream of. If it comes out of the pan shiny, covered in grease and oil, then you know it’s not done right. The texture should be moist, but grainy too. It should be fluffy and crumbly. My favorite way to make it is to keep the carrot shreds long, so that they break up the cake and are featured in their own right, rather than disappear into the flour, overshadowed by bread. With this recipe modified from East of Kitchen, I was able to create such a cake for a Friendsgiving gathering, with plenty of left-overs to boot.

It’s time to do carrot cake justice.

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For the cake:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups pecans, roughly chopped
  • 5 cups carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
  • 4 cups Bob’s Red Mill Stone Ground Rye flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • 8 large free-range eggs
  • 2.5 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups coconut oil
  • 3 tsp pure vanilla extract

The Process:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Grease two 9-in cake pans and line the bottom with a circle of baking paper and grease that, too.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the rye flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and set aside.
  4. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the eggs until frothy, about 3-4 minutes on medium speed. Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time and beat until the batter has thickened.
  5. With the mixer running on medium speed, add the coconut oil in a slow and steady stream.
  6. With the mixer set on low speed, add the flour mixture, and mix just until combined.
  7. Dump the grated carrots and the pecans in the batter and incorporate with the aid of a spatula.
  8. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  9. Allow to cool on a wire rack completely before removing to a cooling rack. When it is completely cooled, cut lengthwise through the middle with the aid of a serrated knife.

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For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 16 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tsp lemon zest

The Process:

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer beat the butter and cream cheese on low speed until everything is blended.
  2. Add the powdered sugar one tablespoon at a time, with mixer running on low, until everything is incorporated and smooth. Beat in the vanilla and zest.
  3. Refrigerate at least one hour prior.

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To assemble the cake:

  1. Place the first cake layer on a serving plate.
  2. Wrap wax paper around the circumference of the cake to create a tall wall to support the building of the cake.
  3. Spoon 2 tsp of milk over the cake. This will keep the cake moist.
  4. Spread a layer of the frosting evenly on top, then place the second layer over.
  5. Spoon 2 tsp of milk, and them spread another layer of frosting.
  6. Repeat with the third and fourth layers. Spread frosting evenly on top. There should be more than a fourth of the frosting reserved for the top layer. Reserve a small amount of frosting for the sides of the cake.
  7. Place the cake into the freezer without removing the wax paper. Let sit in the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour.
  8. Remove the cake from the freezer and remove the wax paper. Ice the sides of the cake with a thin layer of frosting. Place in the fridge for at least one hour to allow the frosting to set.
  9. The cake should be ready to eat afterwards. If you wish, decorate with sprigs of rosemary stems.

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Simple Almond Oatmeal

Monday night had us feeling tired after a long work day. Which meant we skipped the Monday night meal prep that usually ensues. We grabbed the left over fried rice from the fridge, and decided to worry about the next day’s lunches later. So when Tuesday rolled around and I was sitting at home, hungry, I was short on meal options for lunch, without the want for preparing. Feeling a bit sleepy, what with the fall weather beckoning both me and the cat back into the comfy bed, I was not about to whip out the cutting board and prepare all sorts of ingredients for a full blown meal.

Taking a cue from the cold and overcast late morning air, I instinctively thought to myself, “Oatmeal!” The easiest thing to prepare with ingredients already at hand in the pantry. Additionally, a poor <s> man’s </s>, woman’s meal, and quite in line with slow living. Here, I share with you the barest of oatmeal preparation guidelines. I wouldn’t call this a recipe per say, since every one already knows what making oatmeal entails. Consider it a reflection of what it took to make myself a meal this afternoon.

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup rolled oats (we buy ours from the bulk section)
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • A handful of almonds (also from the bulk section)

There was no plastic involved in the production of this meal.

The Process

  1. Boil the water on the stove in a medium saucepan.
  2. Once boiling, add the oats. Cook, stirring occasionally, for a total of five minutes.
  3. Remove pan from the heat and add the brown sugar, cinnamon, and almonds. Stir well, to incorporate all the ingredients.
  4. Let sit for two minutes.
  5. Add milk or honey, as you see fit.

If you’re like my grandmother, pour milk into the bowl until the oatmeal resembles cereal … and then some. If you’re like me, eat it plain as can be, enjoying it wholly. It’s a meal that can never be eaten slowly, no matter how late I was running for school. Unlike french fries or chips, the best way to eat oatmeal is by small (tea)spoonfuls . Slowly sneak back underneath the sheets and sidle up next to the cat, staring out into the world outside as you lose yourself in thought; of younger years, of simpler days, of what’s ahead.

Vegetable Dumplings

The quest for hunger-satisfying meat alternatives progresses as we trudge on through this vegetarian challenge. It has been two and a half weeks, not without relapses. I admit to taking the path of least resistance when I was offered a slice of pepperoni pizza at work, and the chicken empanada did not help either. Although neither I nor my husband foresee a long lasting meatless dining adventure, we have decidedly enjoyed discovering new vegetarian recipes together over the course of the past few weeks.

One such scenario where I miserably failed at resisting temptation was when we went out to our favorite ramen place for lunch. The bowl comes with chashu, and though I gave almost half of it to Mike, I still happily digested the first half before deciding that it was enough. I was brainstorming of alternatives to chashu meat, without getting the vegetarian bowl, when I came across this idea: Chashu donations to lucky Mike, and I will simply order a side of vegetarian dumplings to eat with my ramen. Which then had me thinking about vegetarian dumplings, the makings of which could not wait until the next ramen date. So I embarked on a journey to make my own.

Aligned with my practice of avoiding plastic like the plague at the grocery store, I have given up frozen foods for over a year now, amongst other things. Which also means passing up on extremely convenient, pre-made dumpling wrappers that my mother used to get when I was a child. I had to make these dumplings from scratch. Considering my new baking habit, it wasn’t all that foreign to me to make dumplings using flour and water. Off course, one could go the convenient route, but with Mother Nature in mind, I decided to make this recipe in the kindest I knew how.

The Ingredients

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Fresh Dumpling Wrappers

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • ¾ cup boiling water
Dumpling Filling:
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 peeled and minced garlic clove
  • 3 cups shredded cabbage
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms
  • 1½ cups chopped green onion
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • sesame oil for frying
  • salt and pepper to taste

The Process:

 

  1. While the water is boiling, mix the salt and flour in a bowl. Add the water, and using a stand mixer with a ceramic paddle attachment, mix the water into the flour. It will still be crumbly when you switch to the dough hook, and knead the dough for 7-8 minutes. After kneading the dough, cut the dough in half. Make each half into a round bagel shape but forming it into a ball and then using both thumbs to push a hole through the center. Allow the bagel rounds to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.
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  2. Meanwhile, cut up all the veggies. Once everything is chopped, heat vegetable oil in a wok. Add cabbage, ginger, and garlic. Stir fry over medium-low heat until cabbage has wilted. Add mushrooms, green onions and carrots, and continue to cook for 5 minutes more. Add soy sauce and a bit of sesame oil to your taste. I typically don’t even add salt and pepper, but you can.
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  3. At this time, the dough should be ready. Using a tortilla press, I shape the dough into small rounds. I then make the dough even thinner using a rolling pin, compressing the dough into a very thin, flat disk. Depending on the consistency of the dumplings that you prefer, you can go as thick or thin as you want. Typically, if I am going to fry the dumplings, I go for a thinner wrapper. If I am going to steam the dumplings, I like a thicker piece.
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  4. Place a scoop of the vegetable mixture in the center of the dough wrapper, and then fold the dough in half. Wet one edge with water, and then fold the other edge over and over again to create the dumpling design.
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  5. You can immediately cook them, but I prefer to lay them out on a tray and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, you can package them in a Tupperware and they can stay frozen for up to a few months.
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When we want to cook them, we just toss them on a hot frying pan, or steam them while the rice is cooking in the rice cooker. This time around, we decided to eat them with a bowl of hot ramen, summer nights notwithstanding.

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Vegetarian Coconut Curry

We’ve kind of took it upon ourselves to create a frugal challenge that requires us to become vegetarian for a week. The progress report: Grocery bills have been less than $40 for two, sufficiently providing three meals per day, seven days a week. Frugal challenges for the win! As if this wasn’t enough, the past few weeks, I’ve indulged myself in an even bigger challenge, one spurred by a visiting 24-year old cousin from Virginia. Her recent visit divulged the fact that she has been pescatarian for two years, in an effort to be non-contributory to the food industry’s ways. I did give up beef one year ago, along similar lines of reasoning, but could not fathom giving up anything more (this fear driven by a love of bacon). But her youth and drive to make a difference was very inspiring. I have a lot of friends who have gone pescatarian. Additionally, I know of two people who gave up meat at 8 years old. If I could be whole-heartedly against plastic, why can’t it be the same of food? I bade farewell to my far-off cousin with the promises of at least trying it. Off course, I decided to time my first week of trials with this month’s frugal challenge of vegetarian meals for one week.

The results are two-fold. Extreme sadness and ill-conceived hunger at all times. Giving up chocolate was easier than this. It’s not like I haven’t gone vegetarian for a week before. It’s just that I’ve never done it knowing there’s possibly of a week (or lifetime) or pescatarianism after. On the other side, experimental recipes galore unleashes an innate happiness that only creation can.

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Before we grocery shop, we always write a list. Firstly, because I am type-A. Secondly, because I despise wasting time in uncertainty. And lastly, to avoid getting any unnecessary items. Especially junk food and snacks! So when we were brainstorming for a week of vegetarian dishes, it was Mike who suggested trying an Indian dish. Some may call us crazy for trying a curry in mid-summer heat, but I wasn’t mad about the results. Plus, any excuse to eat rice is welcomed in my culture.

We’ve made curry before, but usually in the fall and winter, filled with squashes and, well, meat. We decided to try something a little different, with more summery ingredients. This recipe contains a good blend of spices, including bold Cayenne pepper. There’s a kick with every spoonful, balanced by Jasmine rice. It does already contain potatoes though, so if you are bothered at all by endless starches, maybe skip the rice. It tastes just as well as a soup! The carrots was Mike’s addition, and the spinach was mine. As with everything, personalize it however way you wish with your own selection of greens. Our recipe, below:

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Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup cooking oil
  • 3 heirloom tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon crushed cayenne pepper 
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled, and cubed
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut in 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 bunch of fresh spinach, washed and chopped

The Process:

  1. In a medium pot over medium-high heat, combine the oil and tomatoes and simmer for four minutes. You don’t want to burn the tomatoes, but you do eventually want their juices to come out. The tomato paste will go a long way with this dish.
  2. Stir in the spices and cook for another 4 minutes.
  3. Add the water and potatoes and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for about 10 minutes. It may be that you’d need to add more water. Don’t let the dish dry out.
  4. Add in the green beans, cover and cook 5-8 minutes more, or until potatoes are tender.
  5. Stir in the coconut milk and increase heat to medium. Once the mixture comes to a boil, add the spinach and stir, allowing the spinach to wilt, about 15-30 seconds. I personally still like spinach looking vibrantly green. The color makes it taste better, or so I tell myself. Once the spinach is wilted, it is ready. Serve and enjoy!
  6. Optional: Globs of Jasmine Rice on the side, stray rice included.

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