Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

We just had our fall Social Work department dinner last weekend. As we were signing up for what we would bring, I pleased to see that Debbie signed up for her Pumpkin Cake.  It wouldn't be the fall supper without it.  It is a tradition.  It is so delicious.  It's the most moist, perfectly pumpkin, slightly cinnamon-y cake with lick-your-fork cream cheese frosting.  I anticipate it every time.  I had never tried to make it myself…until this week. What was I thinking?

When I asked her for the recipe to the cake she recited the ingredients and proportions.  I was impressed.  When I asked her for specific directions for making the cake she replied, "You make it like you make a cake! You know: cream the first few ingredients, add the dry, just make a cake."   Debbie is a no-nonsense woman.  She is practical, intentional, and wise.

She always brings the unfrosted cake, along with a container of cream cheese frosting already prepared and frosts it on location.  How smart is that? No worrying about the frosting getting messed up, or the cake getting smashed in transit. (This cake doesn't require the "melding" time of having the frosting on for a day or so because this cake is so moist.)

After frosting the cake she handed the bowl to my husband for licking clean,  knowing his intense love for cream cheese frosting.  She just knows.  I'm telling you, the woman is wise. (This post was another day she spoke wisdom in my life that I wrote about.)

After eating a slice on Friday night, and wishing for another slice, I decided to make it as soon as I could buy a can of pumpkin at the store this week.  Lucy and I made it together and I told her my plan was to send a slice to each of the kids' teachers.  That way I could bless the teachers and restrict my eating of it to a couple of slices!  I knew I would whittle away with a slice here, and a bite there, and a fork-full here all week if I didn't ship it off.  

Lucy and I made the cake.  It is really fast to put together.  Yesterday I sliced pieces and put a "Happy Fall! We are thankful for you! love, The Hunts" post it notes on the containers.  My kids took them to their teachers.  Hopefully they felt the love and gratitude we tried to channel into the cake!

This recipe is so simple, it's hard to believe.  It is so good.  

from Debbie Simpler

1 cup canola oil
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 can pureed pumpkin
2 cups flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350˚.
Place oil, eggs, and sugar in mixing bowl.  Blend well.  Add pumpkin.  Blend well.  Add dry ingredients.  Mix thoroughly. 
Grease and flour Bundt pan (or use my favorite- Baker’s Joy)
Pour batter into pan.
Bake for 50-60 minutes depending on your oven.
Test for doneness with toothpick.  It should come out clean.
Let cool in pan for 10 minutes.
Using a table knife shimmy around the edges.
Turn cake out onto cooling rack. 
Cool well.
In the meantime make the frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8 oz. block cream cheese, softened
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
4 cups of powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix together the cream cheese and butter until thoroughly blended. 
Add powdered sugar.  Mix until smooth.  Add vanilla. 
When cake is cooled frost cake.


 If you are excited about Pumpkin season, check out these Pumpkin Muffins, or this Pumpkin Syrup for Coffee, or these Pumpkin Whoopie Pies that I wrote about in years past.  And if you have a Trader Joe's in your city, just walk in the door and you will be inspired- pumpkin butter, and breakfast  bars, pumpkin bread mix, herbal tea, and pumpkin cranberry scone mix. Of course I couldn't resist buying several of these items.  

I hope you can find a reason to make a Pumpkin Cake (or two) this season! 


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Cobbler Crumb Bars

It's September but these days are still feeling like summer here in Tennessee.  I am ready for fall weather and so are my kids!  We can't wait for relief. 
One benefit, however, to these ever-lasting hot days is the good produce we are still getting.  
Corn on the cob, tomatoes, cucumbers, fruit.  My neighbors have blessed us with a steady stream of amazing tomatoes this summer.  What a gift! 
Last week I found these beautiful artichokes at Trader Joe's and had to buy them and make them the main dish. 

Isn't this beautiful?
It's like a flower. 

Summer on a plate

I will be sad to say goodbye to peaches! I wish they had been more bountiful and affordable in my life this summer.  They are one of my very favorite foods.

We had a picnic lunch gathering and I was to bring a dessert to share.  I thought it should be a bar or cookie for ease of serving and eating.  But I really was wishing for something like COBBLER! That's when I thought of these bars.  I had never made them but the recipe is from an old Everyday Food magazine that I had looked at many times.  It seemed like the best of both worlds.

Though the original recipe called for fresh blackberries, I made it with fresh blueberries and diced fresh peaches.  It was so delicious and easy for picnicking.  I love that it has a cake bottom, fruity filling and crumbly, but not too crumbly top.  It's like a hand held cobbler!

borrowed from Martha Stewart Everyday Food Magazine

6 Tbsp. butter, melted; and ½ cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
½ cup packed light-brown sugar
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking powder
1 cup confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)
½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
10 ounces (or enough to make a layer in the pan) of fruit (blackberries, raspberries, peaches, strawberries)

Preheat oven to 350˚
Butter (or spray with cooking spray) an 8-inch square baking pan.  Line bottom with parchment paper, leaving an overhand on two sides; butter and flour paper, tapping out excess.

Make topping:  In a medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, brown sugar, and ¼ tsp. salt; add 1 cup flour, and mix with a fork until large moist crumbs form.  Refrigerate topping until ready to use.

In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining ¾ cup flour, baking powder, and remaining ¼ tsp. salt; set aside.  In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat room-temperature butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy; add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Reduce speed to low; mix in flour mixture. 

Spread batter evenly in pan; sprinkle with fruit, then chilled topping.  

Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 40 minutes. 

Cool completely in pan.  

Using paper overhang, lift cake onto work surface; cut into squares. (To store, keep in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.)

The recipe doubles well.  

This is a little trick I use when I am needing to transport a dish and either it is too warm to
cover with wrap, for fear of wetness from condensation forming;
or if it is too awkward to get foil or saran to stay put.
I just use one of my largest tea towels and tie it by corners in the middle to
create a covered "package' for transporting.

I made the bars a second time when we were celebrating my Dave and our friend David's birthday.  I cut large slices and served it with vanilla ice cream (so it can be a plated dessert as well).   I made it with fresh raspberries that we found on sale at the grocery that week.  It was also a great variation. I haven't yet tried using frozen fruit, but I imagine it would work fine.  I'll let you know.

October is just around the corner, as hard as that is to believe.  Soon it will be time for pumpkin spice everything.  So, quick, grab some fruit and make some Cobbler Crumb Bars!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hummus: Cracking the Code

We play this game in my family, when we cook something that is pretty, or yummy, or special.  We say, "How much do you think this would cost at a restaurant?" And then we speculate about how much it might cost.  Sometimes we actually look up menus online to see what a similar meal out would cost. And then we discuss how much it probably cost to make it at home, which is usually a fraction of the price of buying it out.   

Or when we are at a restaurant eating something that we think we could make at home fairly easily, we then play the game in the opposite way. "I wonder how much it would cost to make this meal at home?", we might say.  And then we try to remember the details of the plate, meal, cookie, (fill in the blank)…so that we can go home and try to recreate it. 

I saw this sticker on a light post when I was in Washington D.C. last spring. 
It inspires me on those days that I don't want to cook.  
 Hummus is one of those things that I buy in a grocery, and buy in a restaurant and make at home. Though I have been making hummus for many years, I have never felt like my homemade hummus was equally as good as bought hummus- until this summer! I had hummus that a friend from church, Christi, made that was the great texture that store-bought has.  She gave me the recipe, which came from Cook's Illustrated  The Science of Good Cooking and gave her tips to me as well.  The trick to the texture is in dealing with the chick pea skin.  It is what can mess with the texture and make it chunky and/or mealy rather than smooth.  Baking soda is the remedy and I have explained in the recipe below how to deal with the skins when using canned beans as well as dried beans.

I have always had an internal conflict with the Tahini aspect of Hummus because it is the most expensive and only fatty part of the recipe.  I have made it without it at times.  However, I do think the Tahini is important- for texture and depth of flavor, but in my recipe I reduced the tahini drastically from the Cook's Illustrated proportions.

The garlic/lemon/spices/salt proportions are purely a matter of personal taste.  So, you will want to make it and then tweak it, taking notes as you do it, so that you find the right amounts for your liking.  (I wrote here about notating recipes.)

my motley taste testers
Another great thing about Hummus made at home is that you can tweak it to your liking.   Some like it zippier, with more lemon; or more garlicky; or herb-y.  We did a taste test at my house. And, as is typical in our home, there was diversity of opinions.  So we divided the hummus and seasoned a small batch of each.

the varieties they came up with :smoky paprika party; moving cumin;
and spicy red (with cayenne pepper)

Ultimate Hummus
adapted from The Science of Good Cooking
(Makes about 2 cups)

½ cup dried chick peas, picked over and rinsed
(¼ cup chick pea cooking water reserved from cooking them)
½ tsp. baking soda
4 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. tahini
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 small garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground cumin
pinch of cayenne pepper or smoked paprika (or more to your liking)
(optional- 1 Tbsp minced fresh cilantro, basil, parsley or roasted red pepper)

1. Place beans in a large bowl, cover with 1 quart water, and soak overnight.  Drain.  Bring 1 quart water, beans, and baking soda to a boil in large saucepan over high heat.  Reduce heat to low and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, about 1 hour.  Drain, reserving ¼ cup bean cooking water, and cool.

2. Combine water & lemon juice in a small bowl or measuring cup.  Whisk together tahini &  2 Tbsp. oil in a second small bowl or measuring cup.

3. Process chickpeas, garlic, salt, cumin, and cayenne in food processor until almost fully ground, about 15 seconds.  Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula.  With processor running, add lemon juice mixture in a steady stream.  Scape down bowl and continue to process for 1 minute.  With processor running, add tahini mixture in steady stream; continue to process until hummus is smooth and creamy, about 15 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed. 
4.Taste and add more ingredients to your liking- lemon, garlic, tahini, salt, oil, or spices

5. Transfer hummus to serving bowl, top with a  sprinkle of paprika, cayenne, herbs and/or a drizzle of olive oil.  Serve. 

(Hummus can be refrigerated for up to a week.  When ready to serve, stir in 1 Tbsp. warm water if texture is too thick).

If you are making from canned chick peas:
1 can chick peas- drained and rinsed for the ½ cup of dried peas
¼ cup tap water to replace the “cooking water”
and 1 ½ tsp. baking soda for the ½ tsp.

And exchange step #1 with this step #1
1.     Drain can of beans.  Rinse and drain.  Place in a bowl.  Mix 1 ½ tsp. baking soda with beans and heat in microwave or in a pot on the stove until hot.  Pour into a bowl of water and rub chickpeas vigorously between your hands to get rid of most of the skins.  (They will easily come off and float to the top of the bowl of water – it’s pretty great. )
Change the water 3-4 times to remove all of the baking soda (or it will give a soapy taste).

This was the hummus dinner plate I made the other night.  A pile of greens, topped with sliced tomatoes, olives, feta, greek dressing and a portion of hummus - eaten with some crackers.  I think at Fido, a favorite eatery of ours, their Mediterranean salad, which is similar but with less veggies, is $6.99.   Which adds up when you add beverages and tip 
(and 5 people on the ticket).  Their veggies and hummus bowl is $5.99.  I estimate it costs about $2 to make a batch of hummus. 

P.S. A recent development: Asher, my "I hate beans" son, wrote on his student profile sheet for his new teacher- that his favorite snack was Hummus and Pita Chips.  I was astounded.  This is big y'all. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mile High Biscuits & Motherhood

At times days creep by in this very full life (especially the last weeks of summer break), yet the years seem to be flying by.  It has dawned on me lately, with my 12 year old son, that  I don’t have many more years with him in my home!!!  Dave and I are potentially nearing the end of being his primary influences.  Oh dear mercy.  This is a hard reality to face. And I can’t imagine life without him in the daily fray.  But I can’t really think about that today.

This reality has caused me to step back and consider what I haven’t yet passed on to my kids that I want to.  I have begun to pray for wisdom to know what they need from me that I can show them or teach them while they are still under my roof. 

I realized one morning when I called out, “Anyone want to make biscuits with me?” and my 10 year old yelled back, “No thanks, Mom!”, that she had never made biscuits with me and I really needed to teach her.  It would be a misstep if she were launched into the world without knowing how to make some of our favorite foods. I decided that instead of a general ask, I needed to pursue her and invite her into the secrets of biscuit making.  I told her I wanted her to come and let me teach her, because it was something I wanted her to know how to do!

She agreed to come and stand beside me and learn how to make from-scratch biscuits. As we did, I had to slow down and become more patient as she took far longer to cut the butter into pieces than my comfortable-with-a-knife-hands are.  She didn’t like the sticky mess that was part of the job.  I realized that this was perhaps one of the reason she had opted out of the task every time.  (These are good moments for life lessons- life is sometimes really messy, but it's often worth the mess to enjoy the finished product.) She wanted to use a spoon, but I told her that I think our hands are our best tools, as they are calibrated and intuitive more than any other kitchen utensil. *(see footnote on this idea) She had to be taught that biscuits must be handled lightly and not pressed down – which is different from the sugar cookie cut outs that she is more familiar with.  I told her it’s like people.  Some people need to be handled more carefully – a truth she knows well.  I told her I would love for her to be the biscuit maker of the house.  She lit up at that suggestion.  We have talked about people’s “signature” dishes that are so fun to discover. I told her that this biscuit recipe is new to me and my favorite yet! We are never too old to learn a new trick.

I have made biscuits of many varieties through the years.  This Cheddar Biscuit is one of my favorites.  But these biscuits are even more magical because of the stacks of flaky, buttery layers. The layers are similar to the scones I love so much from The Bread Bible.  
This recipe for “Mile High Biscuits” is from In Praise of Leftovers.  (I have mentioned this blog before and posted her Blueberry Muffins on the blog that are amazing!) 
Sarah reports in her blog post that people in her life call them “Sarah’s biscuits” but she kindly encourages readers to “call them yours”.

I have told Lainey that these could be “Lainey’s biscuits” if she wanted.

They require quick and careful work but are so simple for the amazing results they yield. (Sarah actually has posted these biscuits twice- once in January 2010 and another time September 2012.  Her instructions are a little different in each as to how to handle the dough.  I recommend you try them both and then find the method that creates the best results for your altitude, oven, and hands!)

borrowed from In Praise of Leftovers
2 cups flour

1 Tbsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. coarse salt

8 Tbsp. (one stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup cold milk + a little more for brushing the tops
Preheat oven to 450˚
Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl.

Drop butter in and cut in with your fingertips until mixture has pea-sized lumps of cold butter all through it. Do this as quickly as possible so the butter doesn't get too warm.  Pour the cold milk evenly over and mix quickly with a wooden spoon, forming a ball.
Let dough rest for one minute.

Now for the rolling-out part.  This is what gives the biscuits their flaky layers.
  • With a floured rolling pin on a floured surface, roll your ball of dough into a rectangle, about 6" x 11" and about 3/4" thick- though don't roll it too hard. 
  • Turn the rectangle around so you're standing parallel to the long end.  Fold the short ends of the rectangle in toward the middle (like a set of french double doors).
  • Now take the folded rectangle and fold the whole thing down toward you in half.
  • Roll that dough out into a rectangle again about 3/4 inch thick. Cut biscuits.  Take scraps, do the same procedure, and cut biscuits out of that.
Place 1/2" apart on baking sheet.  Brush lightly with milk. 
Bake until golden on top but not burned on the bottom, 10-14 minutes, checking frequently after 10 minutes.

I'm praying to be a good steward of the time I have to teach my children about life and love and God.  I find that oftentimes these moments happen in the kitchen or around the dinner table. 

* In May of 2012, I wrote the following on my blog, and it bears repeating:
In An Everlasting Meal, (which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago), the author Tamar Adler writes about using our senses to assist in cooking. She talks about using your sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing in the kitchen.  She writes, "You must taste and taste.  Taste everything and often.  Taste even if you're scared...

Listen as though you could cook something just by hearing it...

When you touch the food you cook, you develop intelligence in your fingertips.  I cook mostly with my hands:  they're calibrated, by now, to turn things at the right moments, to choose correct amounts of salt."