Won’t You Be My Neighbor Carrot Muffins with Brown Butter & Currants

10 Feb

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A friend of ours just recently purchased a new home and I took it upon myself to be kind and neighborly and to make something sweet from scratch…the only problem? She wasn’t home and wouldn’t be for hours. Raj couldn’t bear the thought to leave these muffins out in the cold on her porch…SO? We ate them. ALL. And have no regrets!

We’re not as rude as this sounds, but they were WARM and smelled delicious and why leave something out in the cold when WE could enjoy them? Plus, they’re easy enough to bake again some other day when I’m feeling especially kind and charitable (not often). The fact that they have currants in them and Raj still loved them says a lot. As you know, currants are fancy for raisins, which I’m not especially fond of either, but in this recipe, they add the right amount of layer on top of the carrots, orange zest and spices.

Carrot Muffins with Brown Butter and Currants

(makes 12 muffins)

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup dried currants
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup (about 2 medium) peeled, grated carrots
  • Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

 

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin pan with paper liners and set aside.
  • To make brown butter, place butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until the butter solids are browned and smell toasty, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes or a little longer. Watch carefully so the butter does not burn. As the butter browns, the foam rises to the top and dark brown particles stick to the bottom of the pan. As soon as the butter is dark golden brown, pour it into a small bowl and set aside to cool to room temperature.

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  • Combine the currants with the water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer until the currants are plump, about 10 minutes. Remove the currants from the heat, drain, and transfer to a small bowl to cool to room temperature.
  • Into a bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and ginger together twice, then set the dry ingredients aside.

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  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, sugar, orange zest, vanilla, and salt. Using the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until thick and pale, about 3 minutes. The egg mixture should begin to “ribbon” but not hold the ribbon.
  • Remove the bowl from the mixer. Without stirring, place the carrots and currants on top of the egg mixture. Then pour the dry ingredients on top, and using a rubber spatula, gently fold everything together. Finally, fold in the browned butter, combining everything thoroughly and gently.
  • Scoop the muffins into paper-lined muffin cups, dividing it evenly, using about 1/3 cup, of batter per muffin.
  • Lightly sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon of the turbinado sugar on top of each muffin. Bake until the muffins are cooked through and golden, about 18 minutes, rotating the pan once halfway through the baking time. A wooden skewer inserted into a muffin should come out with a few crumbs clinging but no batter.

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  • Remove the pan rom the over and cool on a wire rack about 10 minutes before unmolding.

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DO NOT LEAVE THESE MUFFINS UNATTENDED. Someone may decide to steal them. They are best enjoyed warm with a cup of afternoon coffee or tea.

 

Way Too Much Work Veal Meatball Pie

2 Feb

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In my recent quest to make Friday Night Pizza more interesting than the usual “Raj’s Pizza,” comprised of red sauce, pepperoni and mozzarella (for the past six years!), I’m continually seeking out pies that will sway Raj towards variety. The latest, a Veal Meatball Pie, was amazing, but WAY too much work for anyone who works, has a life, hobbies, a dog that needs walking… The recipe is comprised of FIVE separate recipes (which I had to break down between two days) if you count making the pizza dough, sauce, meatballs, caramelizing the onions, and compiling the pizza…but for those of you with lots of time and motivation, knock yourselves out. Raj says this is a keeper–but then it would have to be relegated to Saturday Night Pizza–he won’t be seeing the likes of this pie anytime soon.

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Veal Meatball Pie

  • 1 ball of dough–I used is the same one I always use–my whole wheat standard (see Raj’s Friday Night Pizza)
  • 1/4 cup Basic Tomato Sauce (see below)
  • About 2 ounces fresh Mozzarella, pulled into 5 clumps
  • Scant 1 tbl Caramelized onions (Oh my God–all that work–1 HOUR of pure devotion for 1 tablespoon of them?! See below)
  • About 5 pitted Alfonso olives–good luck finding these at any other place than Whole Foods (Did I mention shopping for the ingredients took lots of time too?)
  • About 3 tbl Parmagiano-Reggiano, grated
  • 4 or 5 Veal Meatballs, broken in half
  1. Put pizza stone in oven about 8″ from broiler. Preheat oven on bake at 5oo degrees for 30 minutes. Switch to broil for 10 minutes.
  2. Place dough on pizza stone (you can also assemble the pie on a peel and then slide it onto the stone, but I’ve never had luck doing this), spoon tomato sauce over surface and spread evenly, leaving about an inch of the rim untouched. Distribute mozzarella over the sauce. Space meatballs evenly over the pie. Distribute the onions evenly on top, then the olives. Sprinkle the Parmagiano.
  3. Broil for 4 1/2 minutes under gas until the top is bubbling and the crust is nicely charred but not burnt.
  4. Using the peel (yes, I use it here with the help of a spatula), transfer the pizza to a cutting board. Sprinkle additional Parmagiano over the pie. Slice and serve immediately.

Basic Tomato Sauce (SO SIMPLE that it really shouldn’t be called sauce)

  • 28 ounce can peeled Italian plum tomatoes
  • 2 tbl extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  1. Using your hands, squish the tomatoes in a bowl. 
  2. Stir in olive oil and salt. (I only used about half of the sauce and froze the rest for next week’s pizza)

Veal Meatballs

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  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 pound veal
  • 1/2 medium Idaho potato, peeled
  • 10 grinds black pepper
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves
  • Leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 tbl whole milk
  • 1 tbl canola oil
  1. Bring salted water to gentle boil in medium saucepan and cook the potato until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain and then pass through food mill (which I don’t have so I grated it).
  2. Add the veal, salt, pepper, garlic, thyme leaves, and milk and blend thoroughly, but gently, with your hands. With moistened hands, roll into meatballs about 1 inch in diameter. You should have about 35 to 40.
  3. Coat a saute pan with the oil and brown the meatballs for about 7 or 8 minutes over medium heat, until they medium (just a bit pink in the center). Set aside until you are ready to use them, or let cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

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Caramelized Onions

  • 3 medium onions
  • 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbl extra-virgin olive oil
  • leaves from 2 thyme sprigs
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  1. Cut the onions in half and then into 1 1/2-inch-thick slices. With your fingers, separate the slices into strips and put them in a medium bowl. Toss with the vinegar, oil, and thyme leaves.
  2. Transfer the onions to a 10-inch saute pan. Cover and cook, stirring every few minutes, over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Do not burn. Uncover the pan and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden and soft, about 30 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle with the salt, transfer to a platter, and set aside to cool to room temperature.

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Syrian Furniture in Situ (Part II)

26 Jan

We bought our first piece of Syrian furniture (a chest and mirror) while we were in Amman before we even had a house in sight. Luckily, the chest and mirror fit beautifully in our new home. Here’s the chest while it sat forlornly in Amman:

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And here it sits proudly in Alexandria:

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Just before Raj left Amman, he was able to pick up a few more pieces, with the house in mind (but without my opinion). I have to say he did an excellent job and surprised me with these pieces for Christmas. He’s been waiting for the homage to Raj since then, so here goes. How lucky am I to have such a generous, sweet, and tasteful husband?

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Floor pillows for extra seating–these were a surprise–I never thought Raj would go for these. I’m indebted to Jenna at the Embassy for helping Raj choose these two coordinating ones.

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An inlaid chest that fits perfectly into the niche

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Felted Valentine’s Day Garlands

19 Jan

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My newest fascination is with wool felt balls. Why? Because they are adorable, inexpensive, and make my home festive. I bought 200 in multiple colors just before Christmas to string for garland for the tree. I loved the garland SO much that I decided to purchase more in Valentine’s day hues.

I ordered the felt balls online from TaDaaStudios and I have to say, the packaging is adorable.

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I strung up a few shades of pink with white and hung them in the kitchen…

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Detail of the embroidered heart

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Side view of the garland draping on the bakers rack

…and on the menu board…

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…and I can’t help myself, so I’ll share with you AGAIN, my fabulous felt Valentine’s Day calaveras (skulls) from last year–though I couldn’t do them justice being housed in Amman.

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…and since I’m on a roll, I’ll just add one last Valentine’s day touch in the kitchen…another embroidered tea towel.

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Happy pre-Valentine’s day and stay tuned for my next Easter garland.

Not Raj’s Regular Friday Night Pizza–Caramelized Onion and Prosciutto Pizza

7 Jan

So the traditional Friday night routine of Raj’s favorite pizza has kind of come to a slow death. With our multi-step progression of moves, our lack of a working kitchen up until recently, and my boredom of the same pizza every Friday for the last several years, I finally took a stand a switched it up a little. Here’s my first attempt at a deviation:
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Caramelized Onion and Prosciutto Pizza
  • 1 whole wheat pizza dough (see Raj’s Friday night pizza post for the recipe)
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • 1 half red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • salt to taste
  • parmesan cheese, to taste
  • 10 ounces, mozzarella di buffalo
  • about 10 slices of prosciutto

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions and brown sugar and toss/stir for several minutes, or until onions are brown and cooked. Set aside.

Roll out pizza dough. Drizzle olive oil, sprinkle on a little salt, followed by a little parmesan.

Lay slices of mozzarella evenly over the top of the crust. Arrange caramelized onions over the top of the mozzarella. Randomly lay slices of prosciutto over the onions.

Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the lower half of the oven, or until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and cut into squares. Serve immediately.

I’m happy to report that despite Raj’s reluctance, he happily enjoyed the switch and he is looking forward to a next Friday night’s “Surprise Friday Night Pizza.” Stay tuned.

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The accompaniment, a sparkling Vouvray.

 

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Home Sweet Gingerbread Home

23 Dec

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Last year for Christmas we were in Cairo…this year Alexandria–not Egypt, but Virginia. As a result, last Christmas Eve, we promised to do next year’s Christmas BIG…well, not that big, but anything is bigger than last year. What a difference a year can make.

Check it out…I’m pretty pleased…but now I have more pressing things to do, like unpack our final shipment of furniture and such from Jordan that arrived yesterday.

Here are the steps:

1. I created a template from thin cardboard, fashioned after a picture of our house.

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The bay window on the third floor in my attempt at perspective.

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2. Make the gingerbread dough. I used Martha Stewart’s recipe here. http://www.marthastewart.com/342245/molasses-gingerbread-cookies

This picture is really just to show off my new mixer.

This picture is really just to show off my new mixer.

3. Roll out the dough; place template pieces over dough to cut out shapes; bake.

4. Here’s my favorite part. I smashed up butterscotch candy to melt into the windows so that they would light up.

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butterscotch candies

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Place smashed candy into window and bake at 350 degrees, watching closely until melted.

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Perfectly melted window

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…and some more windows…

5. Assemble all of the pieces.

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6. Assemble the house using royal icing as the glue. This step got a little dicey with no one to help hold the roof into place, resulting in a slight slope.

7. And the finished product…

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Taken in full light…

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…and in the dark, but with the flash you can barely tell there’s light behind the windows…

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Side view of the Necco roofline

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I cut out a square on the back of the house and placed a battery operate tea light like this one into the center to illuminate the stained butterscotch glass windows.

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Cross-Stitched, Handmade Christmas Stockings–A Year in the Making

16 Dec

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With my underwhelmingly open schedule while living in Jordan, I had lots of time to bake homemade bread almost daily, make Greek-style yogurt, read, exercise and craft. A lot! Here are two fine examples of what my idle hands were able to stitch in record time. Normally, such projects would take countless months to make each one; not so in Jordan. I did both of these stockings in about two months. I’m not a skilled sewer, unlike my highly gifted mother, whom I managed to convince (connive?) that no one else would be able to sew the final products nearly as well as her. I think they turned out spectacularly, even better than I imagined with lining, piping and all.

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Raj’s is sewn on a tan linen, and mine is sewn on an off-white, extremely fine Irish linen.

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