Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Pumpkin Pecan Streusel Coffee Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

When the girls and I thought about doing a post about pumpkins, I was excited. I had never purchased a pumpkin before and I was eager to try something new. I decided on making a pumpkin cake (because cake is often delicious and I was craving cream cheese icing) and headed for the store to pick my perfect pumpkin. “Woohoo”, I thought, “my first pumpkin purchase!” As I entered the grocery store, I saw the giant bin of pumpkins right at the entrance. With wide eyes and a smile, I walked over to the pumpkins and looked inside the bin to find nothing but three sad, black-spotted, mangled pumpkins rotting in isolation. “S%*#!!!!!! I really need to stop procrastinating!” After recovering from my mild self-induced panic, I settled on pumpkin in a can and hoped, with everything crossed, that they weren’t out of canned pumpkin too (the stars must have been at least somewhat aligned because I found the last can of pumpkin puree in the entire store).
The recipe is adapted from the following website (I pretty much followed it exactly except that I added four ounces of cream cheese to the glaze and two more tablespoons of milk):

Williams Sonoma Pumpkin Coffee Cake with Brown Sugar-Pecan Streusel
To start, I buttered and floured my pan and made the streusel. Yum! I love streusel. I put the finished streusel topping in the fridge while I made the rest of the cake to keep the butter cold.

Then, it was time to mix the dry ingredients...
The next part of the recipe caught me a little off-guard….”um, an electric mixer?”…oops…should have read the ENTIRE recipe before embarking as I did not have an electric mixer. I mixed the wet ingredients by hand. This took a long time. I recommend you use a mixer but if you do not have one, a little elbow grease goes a long way. It was actually nice to make the entire thing by hand…felt like I could put more love into it and made me think fondly of my ancestors making cakes before mixers were even invented. First, I mixed the butter with the brown sugar... 

Then, added the eggs (one at a time), sour cream, and pumpkin... 
Like with most cakes, the recipe then called for mixing the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. This is my favourite part…seeing it all come together…

The recipe calls for a cake pan but I wanted a loaf instead. You can use the left over batter for muffins if you wish (that's what I did). The batter for this cake is thick and a bit hard to spread in the pan. I found it helpful to dip my fingers in flour and use them to pat the batter into the bottom of the pan.
I then layered the batter and the streusel until the pan was about three quarters full and then put the cake in the oven.

When the cake was in the oven, I thought, “well, that wasn’t too difficult”. As you will soon realize, this was a premature thought. I went to check on the cake and found that it was OVERFLOWING onto the bottom of my oven! I may or may not have started swearing again…
It was not a huge amount so I thought I would just leave it (I think I was actually in denial because, in hindsight, this sounds like a crazy decision)…it turns out, it was a crazy decision. The spilled batter started to smoke (quite a bit) and once my kitchen became a smoky haze, I decided to turn my oven off for fear of fire. “Oh no, this is a cake disaster,” I thought... this too was premature as it was about to get much, much worse. I was worried that the smoke would penetrate my cake, my cake with so much love and care baked in, so I decided to remove the cake from the oven until the smoke cleared. I reached in to grab the cake and the foil pan collapsed onto itself and a third of my cake fell onto my open oven door! “No, THIS is a cake disaster.” I took a deep breath, asked my husband for help, and cried a little. I started to take the road I often take by saying some not-so-nice things about myself to myself. I saw my cake splattered all over the oven door and the pan all warped and messy with overflowing batter and then I thought… “So what? I can handle this. I will clean up the batter and bake what is left of the cake…the pan had too much batter in it anyways :).” I did just that.

When the cake was out of the oven, I let it cool as instructed and then topped it with the cream cheese icing.

It’s not the prettiest cake but it’s darn delicious. In fact, it’s really, really delicious.  Super soft, super moist, crunchy pecans, cream cheese frosting…yum! This was truly an adventure in baking. Wouldn’t have been Halloween- festive without a Halloween-nightmare-cake-destroying trick, and a yummy pumpkin treat!

To Carve, or Not to Carve

Happy Halloween from the Building Beautiful team!  Today we're talking about pumpkins three ways.  First up is the debate of to carve, or not to carve a jack-o-lantern from the traditional whole pumpkin.   Later today, Lisa shows us how to make a pumpkin pecan streusel cake!

To Carve (Jess)
Carving a jack-o-lantern is one of those holiday activities that has a strong connection to my childhood.     It was always an activity for Dad and me, and I recreate those traditional steps nearly every year.   I have a hard time diverting from our tradition, from laying out our new paper, to plotting the face, and lining up the various carving implements.    

This year,  Dad's unfailing pumpkin logic has been improved upon via Pinterest.   Even he thought that it was clever!  
Carve 3/4 of the circle around the top, then bring it down in straight lines and across the bottom.   This made it MUCH easier to scoop out all those slimy innards.  Even getting into finer detail was easier because you have a whole new (and safe) range of motion.

Now what do you do with all those ooey gooey seeds?  Turn them into something beautiful by roasting them of course!

Honestly, cleaning the seeds took the longest time!  I found that running them under water, then swirling them in a mesh strainer gave just enough abrasion to get rid of (most of) the strings.  I dried them by laying them out on a clean dish cloth while I prepped the spices.

Heat oven to 350.  2 c. Seeds. 2 tbsp. vegetable oil, 2 tbsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice, salt.  (Experiment with the spices - I added in just a bit of Cajun spice and it gave them some heat).  Mix seeds, oil and spices until evenly coated.   Spray or parchment a baking sheet and evenly spread the seeds.  Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown.

Not to Carve  (Shannon)
Well, in our house, the approach we take when it comes to our Halloween pumpkin is different than in many other families.  We used to carve a jack-o-lantern, back when I thought pumpkins probably tasted as bad as they smelled.  But two years ago, I started to wonder if the rest of the world could actually be on to something with their pumpkin pies and things.  I took a leap of faith (mostly prompted by the fact that I had invested in a food processor) and decided that there must be a better alternative for my pumpkin than the fate I had been dealing at the end of a sharp butcher knife. 
So now, in our house, we buy our pumpkins and display them on the front step just like all the neighbours.  But we no longer carve them since my new opinion is that pumpkins are far too wonderful not to cook.  In an effort to keep the spirit of Halloween alive, we sourced out a jack-o-lantern alternative.

And now, our pumpkin proudly wears a reminder of its’ delicious fate:

So, if you’re looking for something to try with your pumpkin, I would strongly suggest my yummy jack-o-lantern alternative.

Pumpkin Soup

Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in pot.  Sauté 1c. chopped onion and ½ c. chopped celery (8 minutes)

Stir in:   2 lbs. of fresh pumpkin* (cooked first)
                3 c. chicken stock
                ¾ c. half-and-half cream
                2 Tbsp. brown sugar
                1 tsp. each of ground cinnamon and ginger
                Salt and pepper to taste

Heat through and puree.  Reheat before serving.  Garnish with a dollop of cream or grated cheddar cheese.  It’s not likely that you’ll have any leftovers, but just in case you do, it’s worth noting that this soup seems to freeze really well.  I can’t tell you how long you can keep it in the freezer though, mine never lasted more than a week!

* I don’t have a scale in my kitchen, so I have to estimate.  I generally add a medium-sized mixing bowl full of chopped, cooked, pumpkin. 

There we are.   Two jack-o-lanterns with two delicious outcomes.   What do your jack-o-lanterns look like this year?

REMINDER:   Look for Lisa's pumpkin streusel cake later today!
Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Learning to Garden

Until recently, my husband and I lived in a downtown condo in the core of Toronto and as much as I loved the pulse of the city and all the opportunities it had to offer me, I often dreamt of a future in which I lived my life in a totally different way. In this dream life, I grow my own tomatoes and somehow harvest ripe pears from trees in my own backyard without using a ladder (yes, I am terrified of heights). I imagine all those days I could spend harvesting fruit and making pie, jarring jam… perfect crust, perfect ribbons… I think about how lovely it would be to have the opportunity to nurture the very soil and plants that would feed me and would help me feed my family. Indeed, when I am trying to choose the least grotesquely enlarged apple from my local grocery store or squeeze my way past people and flies to get to the giant cardboard box of onions, I crave a life in which I walk outside my house and find everything I need, in a garden that relies solely on sunlight, earth, water, and love. So, naturally, when my husband and I decided to buy a house in the suburbs, I looked for a house with a yard that could give me just that, a garden of my very own. I am happy to say we found one and, as you can see in the pictures below, it most certainly came with a garden.

We recently took ownership of the property and I have become increasingly more aware of how much work it takes to actually grow things! So, although I dreamed of this day and although I thought I would just jump right into gardening, I, admittedly, have been more of a garden-worrier lately than a garden- warrior.  Over the past few weeks, I have managed to cut the grass and figure out the sprinkler system but avoided anything else because I had absolutely no idea where to start. So, today I decided that, in the interest of building a beautiful life and eating future yummy salads, I would challenge my anxiety and tend to my garden. Also, my mother informed me that apparently one has to prepare the garden for the winter?! Who knew? I thought, “I can do this”, walked outside, empowered and determined, with my chin up and my eyes focused, and surveyed the garden….and then it hit me...”Oh my goodness gracious me, how many bushes can one woman be expected to trim?!”
As many of you already know, gardening takes a long time and because I know that I cannot do it all in one day, I have committed today to raking the leaves, trimming the perennials, and learning about how to care for my roses, lilacs, and peonies throughout the winter months.
I started with raking the leaves…easiest to figure out how to do… It turns out it’s not as easy as it looks...in fact, it’s exhausting! Endless lunges to rake the leaves and a billion squats (this is only a slight exaggeration) to pick up the leaves and put them in the bag have me fearing my butt will be perma-cramped after this…ouch!

Time for a cup of tea…
My mom told me that I need to trim my perennials down almost to the ground so that they can grow stronger in the Spring. She said I have to cut the Hostas, Hydrangeas, and some other bushes we don’t know the names of down to about 3 inches. Being the obedient daughter I have always been, I did as I was told…

It seems so harsh...

Once I had trimmed the plants, I had done everything I knew how to do and decided to spend the rest of the day researching how to care for the roses, lilacs, and peonies, as well as the rest of the garden over the winter. Time for another cup of tea…
As expected, my research proved that I will need to learn A LOT about my garden before I can sufficiently care for it. I think I will start with calling my local garden centre and asking someone to come to the house and help me understand the individual needs of each plant. I sometimes feel myself becoming overwhelmed when I think about how much I need to learn and do in order to maintain the garden but I try to remind myself of what it means to me and what it means to my life to literally get my hands dirty in the soil.
This garden is not just a random arbitrary assortment of plants and trees. This garden is an opportunity for me to spend some quality time with Mom and an opportunity for her to share her knowledge with a younger generation.  It helps me express thanks and show gratitude by allowing me to care for something that cares for me.  This garden provides a lesson in self-care because caring for it now so that it can help me live a more beautiful life in the future is a lesson that applies to many areas of my life and is a lesson to live by. And, perhaps most importantly, this garden provides me with an opportunity to acquire new knowledge, knowledge that I, too, may pass on to future generations and in turn, it reminds me that I am...that we all are...part of something beautiful, something bigger, something meaningful… something whole.   
Take good care...