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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies

These brownies combine two of my favorite velvet and cheesecake :) The vibrant color-contrast between the cream cheese and red velvet is especially gorgeous when swirled together on the top layer, making these bars a show stopper dessert perfect for entertaining. Typical cheesecake can be a lengthy and tricky process, but these cheesecake bars are a lot simpler. I did my research while creating this recipe, and most of what are available online have almost identical brownie ingredients. I tried those recipes and although the end result is yummy, I always felt like the brownie layer alone was sickeningly sweet and didn't taste amazing. The use of butter didn't contribute much to the base flavor of the brownies, and using oil like I do in my recipe will produce moist brownies and cut back on the saturated fat.

Not that these bars are healthy by any means...this is definitely a special occasion dessert...preferably to be shared immediately and without saving any at home ;)  The first time I baked these they were gone within the hour and I thought of them everyday until I made them again...

Makes 24 brownies

-1 cup oil
-1 1/2 cups sugar
-1 tablespoon vanilla
-2 tablespoons red food coloring
-2 teaspoons white vinegar
-4 eggs
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1/2 cup cocoa powder
-1 1/2 cups flour
-1/3 cup white chocolate chips (optional)

-16 ounces cream cheese (I used 1/3 reduced fat)
-1/2 cup sugar
-1 teaspoon lemon juice
-1 teaspoon vanilla
-dash of salt
-2 eggs

To make
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-In a bowl, cream together oil and sugar, then add vanilla, food coloring, vinegar and eggs in the order listed. Add salt and cocoa powder and mix well. Add flour and mix with a spatula (by hand, not using an electric mixer at this point) just until combined. Place about 1 cup of the batter aside.
-Line a 9x13 pan with foil, pushing it into the grooves of the edges completely and letting 2 inches of foil extend over each end (this is so you can easily remove the brownies after they have baked). Spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray and then gently spread the brownie batter into the pan (minus the 1 cup batter that is placed aside).
-Sprinkle the brownie batter with optional white chocolate chips.
-Wash your mixing bowl and dry. Using the whisk attachment of a mixer, blend the cream cheese to avoid lumping. Add the vanilla, sugar, lemon juice and salt and continue whisking. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix just until well blended.
-Spread the cheesecake filling over the brownie batter until it smoothly and evenly covers the surface. Spoon the reserved brownie batter in sections over the cheesecake filling and using a butter knife, carefully make swirls in the batter to combine the cheesecake and brownie. Be careful not to go all the way down to the bottom layer of brownie batter.
-Bake in a preheated oven for 30-35 minutes (I took mine out at 33 minutes) or until a toothpick in the middle comes out slightly wet. This can be tricky because the cheesecake layer will firm up as it cools and you do not want it to be completely set while baking otherwise your brownies will be dry.
-Refrigerate until cool and then cut into bars and serve. Store leftovers in the fridge.

*This recipe can easily be halved by cutting all the measurements in half and baking in a 8x8 pan for about 20 minutes

It was so hard to wait for these to cool!
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Monday, November 24, 2014


Babbaganoush is a versatile salad, dip, appetizer or side dish consisting of roasted eggplant and fresh vegetables. It has gained in popularity as a healthy vegan option in the past few years and there are lots of variations out there. I'm sharing the traditional Middle Eastern way as prepared in Syria. Other versions that are made with tahini are actually an eggplant dip (imtabal) while this is more of a chunky salad. I love having leftovers of this salad sitting in my fridge for a quick lunch. Babbaganoush is a sensory experience of different flavors and textures, and lots of bright colors that enhance any food display.

Serves 2 as a main salad or 4 as an appetizer or dip

-1 large eggplant (aubergine). Mine weighed 1.25 pounds
-1 cup diced tomato
-1 cup chopped walnuts
-1 cup chopped parsley
-1 cup fresh pomegranate seeds
-2/3 cup finely diced green onions
-1-2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (plus more to drizzle at the end)
-1 teaspoon lemon zest (or lemon juice, but I like the flavor of zest more)
-salt to taste
-Optional: drizzle of olive oil at the end

To make
Roasted, cooled and ready to be peeled
-Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Wash and dry the eggplant and pierce all around with a knife, creating pockets for the steam to emerge while roasting. Place on a baking pan and put in the center rack of your preheated oven for 45-60 minutes until the peel looks dry and the eggplant is very soft to the touch. Remove from the oven and let it cool before handling. As it cools and the steam emerges it will collapse. If you are preparing this in advance at this point you can refrigerate it for several days.
-Peel the cooled eggplant and place the insides into a mixing bowl. Add the chopped tomatoes, walnuts, parsley, pomegranate and green onions. Add pomegranate molasses, lemon zest and salt. Stir and taste. Adjust pomegranate molasses and salt to your taste.
-Top with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses and optional olive oil. Serve with pita chips or pita bread.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sweetened Whole Wheat with Walnuts and Pomegranate

My kids really like this unique dish. We eat it for breakfast or a snack throughout the day and it's a great boost of energy that really fills us up. Traditionally it is a cultural treat called
Slee'a that Syrian's eat to celebrate the first tooth of a baby, signifying the baby's ability to chew foods.  Years ago a family friend introduced us to it with the addition of pomegranate and I was impressed with the flavor combination. Now, we only make it with these edible rubies and sweeten it with honey for added health benefits.

The flavors are simple yet complex, and you really only need 3 key ingredients (wheat, walnuts and pomegranate seeds) to make this. Feel free to swap out the honey with agave for a vegan option. Anise seeds or vanilla beans would be a good substitute for the fennel if you're looking for something different. Whole wheat is sold in many different forms, and I buy the peeled kind because it cooks faster. You can get 10 minute farro from Trader Joe"s and follow the simmer instructions on the back of the bag for boiling, then proceed with the rest of this recipe. You can also use unpeeled wheat, but will need to increase the boil time to about 40-45 minutes.

Serves 6-8

-1 tablespoon fennel seeds
-2 cups rinsed and drained peeled whole wheat
-5 cups water
-1/3 cup honey (you can add more to sweeten to your liking)
-2 cups walnuts
-3 cups pomegranate seeds
-optional: 2 tablespoons flax seeds

To make
-Place walnuts in a bowl and break into small pieces. Soak in water while completing the other steps. (You can skip this portion but I like to do it because it washes away some of the bitterness from the skin and gives the walnuts a fresher taste)
-Heat a medium sized pot on the stove and dry toast the fennel seeds until lightly browned and fragrant.
-Add 5 cups of water and 2 cups rinsed and peeled whole wheat.
-Bring the water to a boil then reduce heat to medium. Loosely place lid on the pot (allowing some steam to escape) and simmer for about 15-20 minutes (stir every 5 minutes or so) until the whole wheat is tender with a chewy texture. There should be a little liquid left in the pot. If the wheat soaks up all the water, add a little more.  Remove from heat.
-Sweeten with honey and allow the mixture to cool completely.
-Once the wheat mixture is at room temperature, drain the walnuts from their soaking water and add them along with the pomegranate and flax seeds to the wheat. Stir to combine.
-Serve at room temperature or cold. Store in refrigerator for about 1 week.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Beef, Pea and Carrot Stew

Busy weeknights have me turning to this quick meal time and time again. Most of the ingredients are staples in my fridge/freezer and it comes together in about 30 minutes. Wholesome, hearty and enjoyed by all, I love cooking this and my family loves eating it. Typically it is served with white rice, but I always cook it with bulghur and vermicelli instead to really provide some whole grain nutrition. The sauce soaks up into the bulghur really well for a very satisfying dinner.

-1/2 large onion, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
-1 lb lean ground beef
-1 tablespoon ground coriander
-1 tablespoon allspice or 7-spice
-2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
-1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
-2 cups chopped fresh carrots (sweet potatoes are a great alternative)
-1 lb frozen peas
-1 6 ounce can tomato paste
-6 cups beef broth or water (I like to make my own broth and freeze it for easy access, if I don't have any handy I use water)
-salt and pepper to taste

To make
-Heat a large pot on the stove and add onions and ground beef. Break up the beef into small chunks as you cook. After about 2 minutes add the coriander, allspice, salt and ground cardamom. When the meat is about halfway cooked add the fresh carrots and let them soften as  the beef juices dry up.  Cooking the meat should take a total of 10 minutes or less.
-Once the meat is cooked, add the frozen peas, tomato paste and broth (or water) and bring to a boil. At this point taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning to your liking, adding more of the spices listed in the ingredients if you find it necessary. If you are using water instead of broth you will likely need to add more seasoning.
-Lower the boiling mixture to medium low heat and let it simmer until the carrots are soft and the sauce has thickened up a bit. If your sauce is too thick add more broth, and if your stew is too runny let it boil a little longer.
-Serve with rice or bulghur.  I like to add freshly cracked black pepper or hot sauce to the adult servings for an extra kick.

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Bulghur and Vermicelli Pilaf

Most Middle Eastern dishes are served with a side of white rice and vermicelli. As a kid it was always my favorite part of the meal and I used to beg for a plate of plain rice without whatever stew it was accompanying. As I've become more health conscious over the years I've started to replace white rice with bulghur and I really enjoy it. I've watched from the side lines during the quinoa craze as I continue to cook my bulghur because it is in fact higher in nutrients than brown rice, couscous and even quinoa. Bulghur is a cracked whole wheat that is most commonly known for it's use in tabbouleh. It comes in various sizes and I use the largest size when I cook it as a pilaf.

Serves about 3 (as a side to a main entree)

-1 tablespoon olive oil
-1/3 cup vermicelli noodles
-1 cup bulghur #4
-2 cups water (preferably boiling)
-salt to taste

To make
-Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Place bulghur in a strainer and wash it well. Toast vermicelli noodles for about 2 minutes on high heat, until they become golden brown (careful not to burn, it happens quickly!)
-Add washed and strained bulghur to the pot and saute until toasted, about 5 minutes. If you have a perculator I recommend heating water during this time so you don't have to wait for it to boil in the pot. 
-Add water to the toasted vermicelli and bulghur mixture and bring to a boil. Add salt to your liking and taste the water. It should be a bit saltier than you like it as the salt flavor will lessen when the bulghur absorbs the water. 
-Place the lid on your saucepan and reduce the heat to medium low (just above the low setting) and let it simmer for 20-25 minutes.  On my stove it is always cooked at 22 minutes. Once 20-25 minutes have passed, uncover the pot, stir the bulghur and cover again and let it rest for 5-10 minutes. The pilaf is ready when the water is absorbed and the bulghur looks fluffy and has a soft and chewy texture.
-Serve with your main entree and enjoy!

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Vegan Orange Poppyseed Muffins

You want a bite of this.
These are fun muffins that feel like a baking experiment. I'm always intrigued with vegan recipes, and back when I first started making these 5 years ago, quality, simple vegan recipes were just starting to emerge. The first time I made them I followed the cookbook instructions and made a cake...and it would not set. The flavor was delicious so I tried again two more times and got the same results...a runny cake that stayed liquid in the center even after baking 3x longer than instructed. After the third failed attempt I switched these to muffins and victory was achieved ;) 

Took these to a play-date and went home with none ;)
These have held their own through the years and these little muffins have developed quite a following among my taste testers. I like to introduce this recipe in my cooking classes for beginning cooks and young children learning to bake because of the weird use of apple cider vinegar and the healthy inclusion of turbinado sugar. No cracking of eggs, no mixer required and these muffins are mixed, baked, cooled and glazed in under an hour! What surprises me every time is how much KIDS love these muffins. I even bake these for them when they're sick for a sweet dose of vitamin C ;) It's totally worth noting that I'm not a huge fan of citrus desserts but make a happy exception for these muffins!

Slightly adapted from Alice's Teacup cookbook.
Makes 16 muffins

-2 1/4 cups flour
-1 1/4 cups turbinado sugar
-1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
-3/4 teaspoon salt
-1 tablespoon poppy seeds (optional)
-1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional)
-1 1/2 cups orange juice (fresh tastes awesome, but refrigerated from concentrate also works)
-1 1/2 tablespoons orange zest
-1/2 cup of melted coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
-1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
-1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Orange Glaze
-1 tablespoon orange zest
-1 tablespoon orange juice
-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
-1/2 cup of powdered sugar

To make
-Preheat oven to 375 degrees
-Line a cupcake pan with liners or spray cavities with a non-stick cooking spray. 
-In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, poppy seeds and chia seeds. 
-In a medium bowl combine the orange juice, zest, coconut oil, apple cider vinegar and vanilla. If the orange juice is cold and causes the coconut oil to harden microwave the mixture for 30 seconds until the coconut oil is in liquid form again.
-Add the wet (orange juice mixture) ingredients to the dry (flour mixture) ingredients and stir until well blended. 
-Fill the lined cupcake cavities 3/4 full and bake on a middle rack in oven for 13-18 minutes (mine were perfect at 15) or until a few moist crumbs stick to a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin.
-Remove the muffins from oven and allow to cool.
-While the muffins are baking, in a small bowl blend together the orange zest, juice, vanilla and powdered sugar mixture. I use a mini whisk to get a smooth texture. When the muffins have cooled, dip each muffin top into the glaze and hold upside down while the extra glaze drips off back into the bowl. I like to dip each muffin twice for a nice glazed coating.  Allow glaze to harden and serve.

Cooled down and ready to be double GLAZED!
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Please, help yourself :)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Roasted Garlic Acorn Squash Soup

I have this weird thing where as soon as it rains my brain thinks "SOUP." I can only eat soup when its cold out, otherwise I avoid it completely but in the back of my mind I'm dreaming of when the weather will allow me to enjoy it again. Like I said, weird. I'm a huge fan of all types of textured soups, from broth-y kinds to smooth purees to super chunky one-pot meals. Last year I made an acorn squash soup and have been waiting to make it again, and this year I've really perfected this recipe. Acorn squash is a good winter vegetable (I know it's really a fruit, because it has seeds...) to cook with because unlike it's cousins the pumpkin and the butternut, it's less sweet and therefore works extremely well in savory dishes. 

This squash is so good roasted that we ate half of it without even pureeing it. Roasting the squash on its own is a delicious side dish and you could stop at that part of the recipe and still have a winner. If you're weird like me and have been waiting for soup all year, I recommend you finish the process to the end and really enjoy yourself.

Pureed soups have a depth of flavor but can be lacking in texture. Since food is a sensory experience, I find the toppings are very important and add a lot to the finished product. Have fun experimenting with different topping combinations! 

-10 cloves garlic, peeled
-1 acorn squash, washed and cut in half
-1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
-1 tablespoon ground ginger
-1 tablespoon salt
-1 tablespoon pepper
-1 teaspoon curry powder
-1 teaspoon mustard powder
-1 teaspoon marjoram
-1 teaspoon cumin seeds
-cooking spray or 1 tablespoon olive oil

-1 teaspoon olive oil
-1 cup chopped red onion
-6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
-1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
-1/2-1 cup whole milk

-shredded parmesan cheese
-fresh chopped parsley
-toasted pumpkin seeds (or another toasted nut)
-pomegranate seeds
-pesto or nut oil

Good enough to eat straight from the oven
To make
-Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.
-Line a pan with foil and place acorn squash cut side up on the pan.
-Fill the squash cavities with garlic and evenlu sprinkle pumpkin pie spice, ground ginger, salt, pepper, curry powder, marjoram, mustard powder and cumin seeds all over the squash and garlic. Drizzle with oil or spray non-stick cooking spray over the seasoned squash.
-Place the pan in oven and roast for about 45-60 minutes, until the squash in tender and browned on the top.
-Heat a large pot on the stove and add 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add chopped onions and cook until soft and golden.
-Scoop out the acorn squash from its shell and place the squash and roasted garlic into the the pot.
-Add the broth to the pot. Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until smooth. (See * if you do not have an immersion blender)
-Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
-Stir in black sesame seeds and slowly add desired amount of milk. Using more milk will take away from the flavors of the spices.

*If you do not have an immersion blender, I recommend pureeing the squash and garlic with some of the broth and THEN adding it all together in a pot and bringing to a boil.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Skinny Banana Maple Oat Muffins

Today I present to you breakfast perfection. Its not often I can enjoy a dessert as breakfast and be completely satisfied with it's flavor AND nutritional content. These are the optimal loaves to bake when you're looking for something sweet but don't want to indulge.  No matter how healthy I make a dessert, in the back of my mind I'm always bothered by the flour. My banana bread recipe is incredible, and it is definitely a low guilt treat because of it's low sugar and oil content, but the flour is still present.  I experimented with the measurements of that recipe to create this oat version and I'm really happy with the results. Making oat flour is so easy, you'll feel like a baking expert when you try it for yourself!

A wholesome and delicious start to the day
Mornings around here are pretty rushed and this is a great quick breakfast that I feed my family knowing that they're starting the day with a good serving of whole grains, fruit and nuts. I love that these are portable and that they're not too sweet to have on an empty stomach. Enjoy this with a cup of milk and its like eating a bowl of  oatmeal, except as a tastier, baked-good version.  I'm having one as I type with my morning coffee and I feel great about it! I calculated the nutritional information for these babies and they're only about 77 CALORIES per muffin (or 130 calories per mini loaf)!!!! This is without the optional chocolate chips. That's honestly incredible...even with some added sweetness from the chocolate that's still a very low amount! What did I tell you about guilt free?! On that note, please excuse me while I go grab another muffin ;)

You can make these as muffins using a cupcake pan and decreasing the baking time by 3-6 minutes. Start checking them in oven at around 14 minutes for mini loaves and 12 minutes for muffins, as there is no bigger crime than over-baking a sweet treat ;)

Have fun with the mix in options...there are many different creations that can really alter the flavor! You can also swap out half the banana with pumpkin puree for a deeper orange shade and a varied dose of nutrients and taste.

Makes 12 mini loaves (or about 20 muffins)

-2 eggs
-1/2 cup brown sugar (if not adding any sweet mix-ins you may want to add 1/4 cup more sugar)
-1 tablespoon maple extract (use vanilla extract if you don't have access to maple)
-1/2 cup 0% Greek yogurt
-2 tablespoons pumpkin butter (maple syrup or honey are good substitutes but add 1 teaspoon more cinnamon to dry ingredients to adjust flavoring)
-2 cups mashed banana (about 4 large bananas or 5 medium)

-2 cups whole oats or 1 3/4 cup oat flour (instant oats will grind quicker and yield a smoother baked texture than old fashioned oats, but either work)
-1 1/2  teaspoons baking soda
-1 teaspoon baking powder
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
-1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
-1 tablespoon flax seeds (optional)
-optional: 1 cup mix ins (I used 1/4 cup pecan pieces, 1/4 cup cinnamon chips, 1/4 cup pumpkin chips, 1/4 cup chocolate chips)

To make
Creaming the eggs and sugar
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray the cavities of a mini loaf pan or line with baking cups.
Using a mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar and maple extract (or vanilla) for about 5 minutes on high speed, until fluffy and golden.
-While the eggs are whisking, in a food processor combine 2 cups oats and grind until they are a fine powder, also about 5 minutes. If you want a super fine texture you can sift the oat flour, but I don't do this because I like the addition the small bits of oats add.  Add baking soda, baking powder, salt, ground cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice. Pulse in your food processor together until well incorporated.
-Once the eggs have finished whisking, turn the mixer off and with a spatula gently stir in Greek yogurt, pumpkin butter and mashed banana (another easy way to mash the bananas is to transfer the oat mixture to a clean bowl and then place the bananas in the food processor and puree. Once completely smooth, I add the Greek yogurt and pumpkin butter then pulse until well mixed. Then I gently stir the banana mixture into the whipped eggs and mix it with a spatula).
-Add the dry ingredients and optional flax seeds to the wet mixture, mixing with a spatula just until the dry ingredients are moistened.  Do not overmix, as this will cause the batter to become dry as it bakes.
-Add your desired mix ins and scoop 1/3 cup of batter into each mini loaf pan (fill about 3/4 of the cavity). I pressed one chocolate chip into the center of each mini loaf and sprinkled flax seeds on top of some of them.
-Place pan into the lower rack of your preheated oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs attached. These will firm up a bit more as they cool down (Baking range for muffins in a cupcake pan is about 13-17 minutes). My loaves were perfect at 14 minutes (and muffins at 15).
-Serve hot or room temperature and enjoy!
In case you missed the instagram video of my little helper grinding oat flour

Ready to hit the oven

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Sending a thank-you treat to my daughter's teacher

Monday, November 3, 2014

Cheese and Parsley Pasta

Middle Eastern Mac n' Cheese!

Every culture has it, and here is ours :) Syrian cooking does not involve much pasta, and this is one of few recipes I know. Adults and children love this pasta because the ingredients are simple and unfussy, and the flavors are cheesy and yummy. This is commonly a brunch item and the leftovers taste just as good. I'll often keep the cheese and parsley mixture ready in the freezer and then just toss it with boiled pasta and pop it in the oven for a quick meal that is sure to satisfy the whole gang.  The cheese mixture is similar to my cheese pastries, but this is pasta-style for more of a main meal. Either recipe is amazing...queso blanco is a really good mild flavored white cheese that tastes good cold or melted....excuse me while I go heat a bowl of this stretchy, gooey pasta heaven!

Serves 6

-1 pound elbow pasta, boiled al dente
-2 cups shredded queso blanco cheese
-1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (you can leave this out if you don't want it to be too cheese-y but in this dish I think the more cheese the better the taste)
-1 cup parsley, finely chopped
-1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
-1/3 + 1/2 cup seasoned or plain bread crumbs
-1/4 Parmesan cheese (optional)

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
-Spray a 9x13 inch casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray and sprinkle with 1/3 cup bread crumbs
-Mix all ingredients together (except for bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese) and spread into casserole dish.
-Sprinkle bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese on top and bake in oven for 20-25 minutes until cheese is melted and bread crumbs have browned. Sometimes I turn the oven to broil and brown the top quickly to speed up the process.
-Enjoy, or as the Syrian's say, "Sahtayn iw hanna!" :)

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P.S. How cute is my pumpkin tree?!