Carrot Muffins

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To gluten or to gluten-free? Is that the question you are asking yourself lately? Or you may be asking, what’s all the fuss? Well, GF is soooo now, soooo current, so hashtaggy, so Paleo and so prevalent as to have influenced the kitchens of pizza joints and white-linen establishments alike to offer GF versions of everything from the bread basket to dessert—pasta included.

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I offer you carrot muffins because as a person who cooks and eats 99.9% gluten-free due to— a) digestive intolerance and b) vanity (oh! the carbs! oh my waistline!)—what I truly miss, on occasion, is a really delicious bakery treat to eat with a nice hot cup of tea. Go to Starbucks—no gorgeous GF muffin there. Go to a diner or a local cafe around here, and you can get a bear claw pastry the size of a manhole cover, but no sweet, moist GF confection that will make you feel a part of the post-agricultural-era human race again. There are a lot of GF cookies and snacks on the grocery store shelves these days, and I’m grateful for a cracker that is GF and actually tastes good (Glutino), but I tend to avoid most of these because of reason “b” above. These are all very high in carbs, and sugars, loaded with gums and starches to help with the binding that the missing gluten normally provides, and the grainy texture of most of these products (thanks in large part to rice flour), has a mouthfeel reminiscent of finely ground cat litter. Not worth the calories.

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This carrot muffin recipe is from Bouchon Bakery cookbook, one I’ve been browsing in a lot lately while wistfully thinking about visiting my son, who lives in Napa near the original Bouchon Bakery. I whip up a batch of these whenever I teach a morning cooking class, and put them out with coffee and tea fixings for my students. It’s not a GF recipe per se, (get it? Per Se, another Thomas Keller plug!) but substituting the all-purpose wheat flour for a GF flour mixture like Keller’s excellent Cup4Cup, turns this well-crafted recipe into a GF delight. It’s everything you want from a muffin. It’s moist and has a springy, cake-y texture with a substantial crumb. The streusel makes it special and puts it in the same dreamy league as any coffee cake you’ve ever had, and that can be made GF too. It still has carbs and sugar and fat, but one bite through that crunchy streusel, into the perfectly soft carrot-y cake without a hint of grainy, and you will think what I think: Now this is worth the calories. Put the kettle on!

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Now just a word about gluten and whether you should try living without it. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what’s toxic. Not nuclear-waste-dump toxic, but more personal. I’ve been having to look closely at what has been toxic in my life in recent years: certain relationships, patterns of behavior, how I treat myself, how I may allow others to treat me,  how I thought things like depression, ulcers, hopelessness, pessimism and self-doubt were part of who I was instead of the effects of a poison that had infiltrated my being. There is nothing like a fresh start (aka divorce) to make you sit up and pay attention to how good it feels when you stop hitting your head against a wall, when you stop doing what isn’t good for you, what pains you, and start listening to your gut.

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It’s the same with gluten. What’s your gut telling you? When you eat products made with grains that contain gluten (wheat flour, white flour, oats, barley, spelt) do you notice bloating, gas, bowel mayhem, reflux, acid indigestion, or heartburn? Are you on medications, Rx or over-the-counter, to regulate these symptoms so you can continue eating these things? Just look how many stomach ailment products are on the shelf the next time you go to pick yours up. Americans have come to accept that it is perfectly normal to have bad digestion. You may not be experiencing these symptoms, (or you’ve gotten so used to them you don’t even notice them anymore) but you may instead have chronic inflammation, arthritis, achy joints, headaches, weight gain you can’t lose, rashes or late-in-life onset of allergies, ( if you are murmuring, “yes, yes, yes” start throwing out all the gluten in your pantry).  If you are suffering from any or all of the above, it may be time to think about giving up what’s poisoning you, including all the antacids. It may not be gluten, it could be gluten and dairy, or gluten and too much sugar, but here is how you can find out if it is, without involving expensive doctors visits and lab tests. Just stop eating it for two weeks. Just stop banging your head against the wall for two weeks. No pasta, no bread, no flour, no crackers, no bagels, pizza, etc.  Stick to fruits and vegetables and salads and proteins and the dozens and dozens of other things you can eat besides processed foods made with flour. If you feel better, there is a good chance that given another week off gluten, or a few months off gluten, you’d feel even better. Stomach issues tend to clear up pretty quickly (and a relapse bowl of pasta will show you just how fast your stomach can blow up again), but the symptoms like joint pain and inflammation take longer without the gluten to clear up.

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You know what they say—”one woman’s meat is another woman’s poison.” It’s up to us all to find out which is which in our lives and in our diets; to find out what feeds us and empowers us and feast on that, while taking a pass on what doesn’t.  Whether you decide that gluten is your poison or not, these muffins are worth making and savoring. Like I said, put the kettle on!

ingredients

For Muffin
1 ¾ cups plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour mix
½ teaspoon + 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
Rounded ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Rounded ¾ teaspoon Kosher salt
½ cup canola oil
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 ¾ cups shredded raw carrots, peeled

For Streusal Topping:
1 all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour mix*
1 ¼ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
½ cut toasted wheat germ
½ cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut in ¼ inch pieces

directions
  • Make the streusel: Combine all of the ingredients except the vanilla and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (this can be done by hand if you don’t have a mixer) and mix on a low speed to combine. Add the vanilla and mix until evenly distributed. Toss in the butter and mix for about 1 minute (or use fingertips to break butter into dry mixture) or until the butter is incorporated, with no large chunks remaining.

    Transfer to a covered container or resealable plastic gag. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days or freeze for up to 1 month. Use the streusel while it is cold.

  • For the batter: Place the flour in a medium bowl. Sift in the baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon. Add the salt and whisk together.

    Combine the sugar and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and mix on low speed for about 1 minute. Add the vanilla to the sugar mixture, and mix for 30 seconds to distribute evenly. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, add the eggs, and mix on low speed for about 1 minute, until just incorporated. Add the dry ingredients in 2 additions, mixing on low speed for 15 seconds after each, or until just combined.

    Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate any dry ingredients that may have settled there. Stir in the carrots. Transfer the batter to a covered container and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes to let carrots soften. (Keller recommends refrigerating the batter for 36 hours or at least overnight. I have never had the time or foresight to do this, and I’m not sure it is a good idea to do this when using GF flour. I get great results without this long hold time, but I always do these GF.)

  • To bake the muffins: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line the muffin pan with muffin liners and spray the liners with nonstick spray. Spoon the batter evenly into the papers, stopping ¼ inch from the top. Sprinkle 3 rounded tablespoons of the streusel on top of each muffin and press gently into the batter. Place the pan in the oven, lower the oven temperature to 325 F and bake for 40 to 43 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Set the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely.

    The muffins are best the day they are baked, but they can be wrapped individually in a few layers of plastic wrap or stored in a single layer in a covered container at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 week.

Valentine Soup?

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Allow me to be the Scrooge of Valentine’s Day. You see, my marriage is over and I’m not going to get a card from my husband this year and I’m not going to give him one and I’m going to be fine. I’m not going to feature a “romantic” treat in the shape of a heart, oozing chocolate and steaming with sentimentality. I’m going to make soup. An easy soup, with real ingredients that you can most likely find in your pantry, on a day when the snow is coming down in flakes the size of toilet paper sheets and your patio furniture just became an undefined lump under it all. I want something to warm me.

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I’ve saved Valentine’s cards for many years, as if I needed to hold on to some documentation that I am indeed loved, and do love after all, and the ones from the last couple of years throw an interesting light on the state of my marriage. Our messages to each other contained a lot of references to the “ups and downs,” the “good times and bad,” “weathering the storms” and how it was all worth it because we have such a beautiful family and all this history, and how we were going to grow old together and that was that—as if (sigh) that was what decent people did no matter how nauseous they were from the roller coaster ride. And all that Happy Horses#@t goes out the window when someone in this noble, venerable arrangement runs smack dab into a mid-life crisis complete with all the cliches you could insert into the narrative—as though it was a MadLib for the Baby Boomer crowd. I know someday I’ll think it’s hilarious, but just like a MadLib, it doesn’t seem funny until you are all done with it and you read it back.

So, there are going to be some big changes in my life over the next year and they will likely show up here too: the dissolution of my marriage of 21 years; my daughter going off to college; a name change; the growing pains of a new business I need to take to a whole new level for both financial and emotional reasons; and the cooking up of a new identity for me. Hell, my dog died, as if I needed that on top of all this, but it did give me a good reason to mourn EVERYTHING with one powerful sob-a-thon last week!

I’ve grappled with the idea of “living out loud” in this space. I’ve known about this for months and haven’t said anything. The blog is very public, but if it is going to have any meaning to me, if I’m going to take time out of my life and business to do it, it also has to be my authentic voice. I’m not interested in a blog that is all recipes and no real ingredients from my heart and soul. Things I say here about my personal life involve people I don’t want to hurt or embarrass, so I’m not going get all “Housewives of NJ” on you! But, these pages are my voice and my voice is not always perky.

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Now, the soup. I made it yesterday afternoon with a group of kids, ages 11-13, who are taking a series of classes with me that I’ve called “At Home In The Kitchen.” I’m teaching them basic cooking skills, but real ones. I don’t believe in doing gimmicky “fun” food with kids. My mission is to get them hooked on cooking and feeding themselves well and taking responsibility for what goes into their bodies. You don’t do that by decorating cupcakes and making endless versions of pigs-in-blankets with commercial refrigerator dough. One week we did “breakfast” and I taught them, hands-on, how to make eggs five different ways, perfecting scrambled, an omelet that was a sunny yellow (not crusty brown), hard-boiled eggs that were exactly right and peeled with ease, a heavenly custard and a deviled version too.

Yesterday, we did a lesson in “Lunch” and made this version of a classic comforting tomato soup I remember from my childhood that was served by a relative of my mother’s who was simply “Tante” to me, and thank God for that because I later found out her name was Yetcha and that is enough to scare any little girl. Despite her witchy name, she was a gentle, elderly woman who always plopped a spoonful of cold sour cream in the middle of the steaming red soup. It could have been from a can for all I know, but the creamy dollop I swirled to decorate and balance the tangy soup, made it one of the my indelible food memories. The recipe I’m sharing with you adds creamy goodness as part of the finish, along with fresh herbs, and layers of real-food flavor that come from the patient caramelizing of mire poix (onions, carrots and celery) and oven roasting the tomatoes to concentrate their sweetness. Using an immersion blender to puree it, I like leaving it with a little texture, which makes it feel more substantial.

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Ok. I know. Soup may not be the sexiest thing. It’s not roses and chocolate and oysters and champagne. But if your life hasn’t delivered a scenario this week that matches up with a jewelry store ad (does it ever?), know that you can show yourself a lot of love on this day and do something that feels good to you. Maybe it’s soup! XOXO

ingredients

Creamy Tomato Soup aka Valentine Soup

2 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, drained with juice reserved
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 stalk celery, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 small or 1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chicken broth
2 bay leaf
2 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 cup half and half
Pint of sour cream to dollop each bowl (optional)

directions
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Strain the chopped canned tomatoes, RESERVING THE JUICES, and spread onto a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, to taste, drizzle with 1/4 cup of the olive oil and roast until caramelized, about 15 minutes.

  • Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat remaining olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the celery, carrot, onion and garlic, cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the roasted chopped canned tomatoes, reserved tomato juices, chicken broth, bay leaf and butter. Simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add basil and cream, if using. Puree with a hand held immersion blender until smooth.

  • BTW: This soup makes a great sauce for pasta too….just reduce the soup down further, perhaps another 15 minutes to thicken it, or simply reduce the amount of stock you use by 1 cup, as cook as directed. Throw leftover soup over some bone-in chicken and bake it…or some white flaky fish.

Homemade Dog Treats

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I lost my little Rat Terrier, Ruby Tuesday this week. I stare across my yard, the domain over which Ruby truly ruled, (along with the house, my other old dog, Phoebe and the two nonchalantly terrorized cats) and know that it will eventually come back to life. The two feet of snow that covers everything alive and lively there will melt and all will be renewed in the spring, but Ruby won’t be there and it makes my heart ache.

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She was 13, a good, long life for a dog, but still. She had a slow growing brain tumor that made her drink too much water and pee too indiscriminately on rugs, while sporting a sort of senile Tasmanian Devil look across her face.

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In the last few weeks her appetite waned and it was hard to get her to eat anything, even homemade chicken dog stew, but until the end she always took the little biscuit I’d give her as a bedtime ritual. Even if she didn’t eat it, she wanted to make sure Phoebe didn’t get it. That was Ruby. She was a fierce protector. A Doberman in an 11-pound Terrier body that made UPS men and dogs five times her weight walk a wide berth around her yapping bravado.

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I was given a copy of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery cookbook by my son, Max who works for Keller at The French Laundry. I have another story about the book that I’ll save for another post, but when I saw this recipe for Dog Treats I teared up thinking of Ruby and how she would have gone crazy for these chicken-liver-infused treats. I wish I had made them for her. And isn’t that the hardest part of grief, of losing someone you love, the wishing for more time to do what you didn’t get a chance to, the wanting so badly to take back the moments you weren’t at your best with them? Loss steals away any illusions about the luxury of time we think we have to appreciate and acknowledge all we hold dear to us.

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I’m going to make these for Phoebe, and she’s going to love them.

ingredients

For the treats:
1 pound sliced bacon, cut into 1-inch wide pieces
13 ounces chicken livers, in into ½-inch pieces
¾ cup + 1 tbs fine cornmeal
3 cups + 3 tbs all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken stock, unsalted

For the glaze
3 tablespoons ketchup
1  egg white

directions
  • Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Line two sheet pans with silpats or parchment paper.

  • Heat a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add the bacon and cook for 4-5 minutes, until it has rendered its fat and is a rich golden brown.  Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.

  • Pour off all but a generous film of bacon fat.  Add the chicken livers to the pan and sauté, turning them frequently and smashing them slightly for about 5 minutes, until broken down to a paste.  Remove from the heat.

  • Place the bacon in a food processor and pulse a few times to grind it.  Add the chicken livers and process to combine, then add the cornmeal and process until you have a coarse mixture.

  • Transfer the mixture to a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add the flour and mix to combine.  Slowly pour in the chicken stock and mix until the dough begins to gather around the paddle and feels moist to the touch.  Remove the dough from the mixer and knead it just enough to combine.

  • Place the dough between two pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap and roll it out to a 3/8-inch thick sheet.  Using the dog bone cutter, cut out the treats and arrange them on the prepared sheet pans.  Knead the trimmings together, roll out, and cut out the additional treats.

  • Bake until the treats are completely dry, about 1 ½ hours in a convection oven (3 hours in a standard oven).  Remove from the oven and lower the temperature to 200 degrees.

  • For the glaze: combine the ketchup and egg whites; the glaze will be very thick.  Brush it over the top of the warm treats.  Return the pans to the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the glaze has set.  Place the pans on a cooling rack and cool for 5-10 minutes, then transfer the treats to the rack to cool completely.

    The treats can be stored in a covered container for up to 1 month.

January Garage Kitchen Class Schedule

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Click the link below to download the latest group class schedule in the FFK Garage Kitchen. Also available for private group events, birthday parties for kids, corporate team building, bridal events and showers. Contact us for further details.

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Chocolate Ganache Thumbprint Cookies

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The holidays always remind me that I’m not Martha Stewart. My house does not become a festive winter wonderland ready to  be captured on the cover of the some high-end products catalog as the McMansion of the month. I string lights around my mantle but the wires show, (which is very uncatalog-like) and my Christmuka tree is “realistic” but not real. Presents I wrap don’t have perfect edges or artistic bows and the invisible tape is not quite invisible.

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But I can cook. So I do that, a lot of that, and I have to say, it makes me happy and fills me with a holiday spirit that is as real as my tree isn’t. And when you deliver a batch of cookies to someone, like I just did to the ladies in the office at my daughter’s school, it feels right and it defines the holidays for me in a way that all the picture perfect Christmas catalogs can’t get close to. Giving. Feeding. Nourishing. Sharing. Taking the time to surprise someone with a gift. Food gifts are one way to bundle all that into one tin, brown bag or box. Make something and give it away and you are not just giving food, but your time, your love, your energy, your planning, your thoughts and your effort.

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Here is a simple recipe for a delicious, buttery cookie you don’t have to be a great cook to make well. Put some holiday music on in the kitchen…

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Give these a try and then give them away!

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Wishing you a happy, messy, unperfect and perfectly wonderful holiday season! xoxo Rachel

ingredients

Chocolate Ganache Thumbprint Cookies

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon baking powder (omit if making thumbprints, ball cookies, or spritz cookies)
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
¾ cup heavy cream
¾ cup crushed peppermints or walnuts (optional)

directions
  • Make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Beat butter and granulated sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy (I prefer the paddle attachment for this, if you have one). Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, and beat until combined. The dough will be somewhat crumbly and look almost like fudge. (Make ahead alert: Dough can be refrigerated overnight or frozen for up to 1 month.)

  • Roll dough into 1-inch balls, then roll in crushed candies or nuts (optional), if using. Arrange on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing each 1 inch apart. (Tip: to make this part easier and more efficient, I take a big hunk of the dough and roll it out on the counter top into a long tube about 1-iunch in diameter. Then I cut the dough into even 1-inch pieces and then roll each piece into a ball. Try it this way…it beats standing there and individually scooping out five dozen balls of dough!)

  • Press a well into the center of each using your finger, the tip of a wooden spoon or the back of a small measuring spoon (see picture). Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 7 minutes. Remove from oven, and press well again to preserve it’s shape. Return cookies to oven and bake until firm, 7 to 9 minutes more.

  • Make ganache: melt chocolate in a microwave safe bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir to distribute heat. Melted chocolate may be warm enough to melt remaining hard chocolate without heating in microwave further. If not, continue to heat in 10 second intervals until chocolate is fully melted. Warm cream for 30 seconds in the microwave. Add warmed cream to melted chocolate and combine fully. (Adding cold cream will make the chocolate seize up. If this happens add a tablespoon or two of boiling hot water to the chocolate mixture and stir until softened and smooth again.  Cool mixture completely at room temp or in the refrigerator before using.

    Spoon ganache into thumbprints and let the ganache set for 30 minutes or more before serving. Tip: The neatest and most efficient way to fill the cookies is to place the ganache in a plastic squeeze bottle or pastry bag fitted with a narrow decorating tip and pipe or squeeze the glance into the well. You can also use a plastic bag, with a very small corner cut off to pipe the ganache in.