Choice Cuts: Artichoke hearts, carrot muffins and junk food.

July 19, 2012

Summer's barely halfway through, and I've savored so many terrific dishes and meals, I feel blessed. And stuffed.

Want to hear about two of the very best things I've eaten? Grilled marinated artichoke hearts at Rosario's in Watchung Plaza, and carrot muffins with frosting at Montclair Bread Co. on Walnut Street. The muffins were just introduced this past weekend, so it's a good bet you haven't tried them yet. I just wandered in and man, did they call to me. But be warned – they're (addictively) fabulous.

Frosted carrot muffins
What brought me into the bakery? I had purchased a terrific bread from them a few weeks back at the Farmers Market — a crusty, crunchy, yeasted corn bread with diced fresh jalapenos and Asiago. It was so good, I had to stop in and buy another. Unfortunately, they hadn't baked any that day.

But Rachel Crampsey's 100 percent whole grain carrot muffins with frosting managed to pull my attention away from the missing cheese bread. And did I mention they happen to be vegan? I bought three to go and savored one for dessert that night..

After I ate it, I knew I had to have a conversation with Rachel, the new owner/baker, who took over the space May 2nd. "The breads are all my creations," she told me. "Breads are really my thing!" She shared a key recipe detail: "I make a polenta first that has Portuguese roots. But since this is a specialty bread, I don't have it all the time in the shop; I kind of rotate my specialties."

When I raved about the muffin with frosting, I could feel Rachel beaming over the phone. "You must have come in this weekend, right? Because we just started selling them!"

It was so good I'm almost sorry I tasted it, because I can't stop thinking about it now. But I'll certainly be back for more.

Grilled artichoke hearts
I can say the same thing about Rosario Barbalace's grilled artichoke hearts, a prepared dish I stumbled on at his perfect little gourmet food shop, which specializes in butchering. The artichokes are so good that as soon as I've purchased them, I actually open the container in the store to eat them, marinade running down my fingertips.

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