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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Quinoa Enchilada Casserole

As temperatures cool, I find myself wanting to envelope myself in the warm comforts of my bed (or the couch) more and more. The urge to jump up and start my day becomes subdued, replaced by the need to hunker down and cozy up. I find myself choosing yoga videos with titles such as “Salve” and “Soften”. My movements are slower, my joints and muscles a bit tighter. It’s a time for self-love, a time to take everything at a steadier pace than usual. I would say that wintry times call for easy-to-make recipes that allow me to enjoy more of, well, me-time. In particular, I am drawn to comfort foods, ones that would come out of my mom’s kitchen. Something warm to my belly, as well as my heart. I draw upon recipes for soups, pastas, and casseroles for the additional comfort that I’m looking for. I like to think that this is also the grub yearned for by our friends and family who gather indoors with us during this cooler season. Possibly only because it’s what I want to serve.

When feeding a large group of people, the easiest way to prepare is hours beforehand. It’s never any fun trying to entertain while also stirring a pot of boiling soup that may overflow at a moment’s notice. I don’t enjoy the rush of moving about the kitchen and adding ingredients last minute in an effort to make the salad taste fresh. I like the kitchen to already be clean as my guests arrive, and I like to have a calm mindset. I much rather prefer an atmosphere where I could place 100% of my focus on the entertaining rather than the cooking. So when board game night came around this past week, and I was looking to feed a group of seven, I pulled out my recipe for Slow-cooker Quinoa Enchilada Casserole, placed all ingredients in a pot, and let my friend, the slow-cooker, do all the work. Made with ground turkey, quinoa, black beans, and other veggies, it’s a much healthier option than ordering pizza. Served in a bowl right when the guests are ready to eat, and topped with an avocado slice (or three), this is the perfect meal to sit down with over a board game. Guests can opt to eat it like a soup, or as a dip for tortilla chips. Let them choose! I keep the slow-cooker on warm all night long, so guests can go back for seconds. And after the last friend has left in the wee hours of the night, the slow-cooker’s ceramic pot is an easy clean up after a good soak overnight. Let that be tomorrow’s problem. We’re taking it slow over here.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 can (15-ounce) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1 can (15-ounce) diced fire roasted tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 can (10-ounces) enchilada sauce
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper (optional)
  • Tortilla Chips

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The Process:

  1. Cook the ground turkey in a skillet prior to placing in the slow-cooker.
  2. Add all ingredients until the optional jalapeno pepper in the slow-cooker. Stir to combine. Cover and allow the pot to do the work on high for 3 hours or until the liquid is all absorbed into the mixture.
  3. Remove the lid and stir everything again. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. Stir in the half the cheese and sprinkle the other half on top. Replace the lid and let the cheese melt. Top with the chopped green onions, avocado, and cilantro.
  4. Serve with the chips at the center of the table. Enjoy!