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My Life in Recipes: Debbie's Carrot Cake

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On her 60th birthday, Deborah Cohen Kosofsky, TODAY Food's Senior Producer, reflects on her lifelong love affair with food and shares her delicious carrot cake recipe.

There are milestone birthdays and then there are milestone birthdays. I looked for a rhyme to take the place of this particular number, but sixty is one of those words that just doesn’t rhyme with anything! (And that’s first on the list of the many jarring issues with turning this age.)

Of course I am grateful to be celebrating and joyfully reflecting on the decades of life-affirming memories I’ve lived, strung together by love and loss, and blessed by family, friends, marriage, children, and professional happiness. When I halt and reflect at this particular moment, I find the memories waiting in categories. One of the driving arches? Food. Glorious food. Shared at home or at a restaurant with family or friends, whether it’s a simple meal around the dinner table or an elaborate feast acknowledging a momentous occasion.

These are some of the most worthwhile moments I’ve lived. But to be fair, I am blinded by a passion for food. It’s safe to say, if you ask someone to rattle off words to describe me, that "food” would be somewhere in the mix. Eating it, cooking it, and talking about anything from recipes to restaurants, food is part of my makeup, and luckily part of my job here at TODAY. And it’s a family affair. My children and nephews and nieces indulge me with discussions about what we should cook or where we should eat. Emotionally and spiritually, I am under its spell.

It’s easy to pinpoint the origin of this love affair. My mother was a meticulous and wonderful cook. She would dissect and discuss recipes. It baffled me how she could sit with a cookbook and enjoy engulfing its pages as though it were a juicy romantic novel. She also loved to entertain, confessing it was the only time worthy of experimenting with a new recipe. She would transcribe tips and details on any scrap of paper within her reach and thus, a collection of assorted, uneven, scribbled recipes are now kept in a box that is a prized collection. At the other end of the spectrum, her mother, my elegant grandmother, fancied herself above the culinary duties. She had no interest in setting foot near the kitchen and preferred to almost exclusively dine out in New York’s glamorous restaurants. And, so, I came to cherish both.

My first, and only, entrepreneurial venture into the food world was in high school when I started my own carrot cake business at home. Throughout my teens and twenties, dessert was my obsession. And, while in high school, I stumbled upon a carrot cake that I found so delicious that I tweaked and memorized the recipe, and convinced my parents to turn our kitchen into a professionally inspected and approved grade A status carrot cake operation. And, thus, “Debbie’s Carrot Cake” was born. I got one order. From my dad. An order of 200 to be given out as a corporate holiday gift. My mother, may she rest in peace, never faltered in her commitment to stand beside me in our mix-master frenzied kitchen, peeling carrots until our hands turned orange. For weeks, we took turns sifting flour and cracking eggs and, ultimately, wrapping and labeling dozens upon dozens of carrot cakes. That experience sealed my entrepreneurial fate. I never wanted to see another carrot and I closed up shop.

I dabbled in the restaurant world after college only to get sidetracked when a friend offered me the chance to interview for a job in television and I never looked back. My path in TV has been incredibly fulfilling and magical. And although I would not have changed a thing, I never let go of my love affair with all things related to food. As a producer at a Boston morning show, I even volunteered to be hypnotized in an effort to suppress my addiction to sweets. Good TV, but ineffective nonetheless.

So against this background, I treasure the power that sharing bread together has to both unify and melt hearts. For me, cooking also contains a spiritual and therapeutic element. I think things through when I’m cooking. I connect with my children when we’re in the kitchen together. You’d be surprised how a conversation focused on chopped basil can also illuminate other agendas. It’s a great equalizer, where neither age nor skill is a factor. It’s a place where everyone is wanted and included. For me, it enriches connections in a way that only food can do.

There’s something deeper happening when you share that experience. During the good times and the not so good, cooking can in many ways help heal us. More than we realize, how we share food is part of life’s greatest rituals. And that is what this birthday feels like to me. A time to share what matters most. Togetherness. So, throughout the year, I’ll offer recipes that are tried and true. That never fail to deliver, and more importantly, open the door to the life-nourishing culture that I've been blessed to tap into. My hope is to share delicious, fool proof, worth-the-effort recipes to create at home for family and friends.

Nothing brings us together quite like food and I’m continually surprised by the imprint it leaves. And in this ever-changing, complicated and technology-driven world, it’s a return to basics. If you let the wide breadth of cooking get under your skin, you’ll never be the same. Neither will those you love. And, if you’re like me, when you fall in love with the magic of food and its powerful effect, you’ll fall forever.

Debbie's Carrot Cake Recipe

This a moist and delicious carrot cake. I serve it without frosting, because I don’t think it’s needed. However, a cream cheese frosting can always be added.

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 1½ cups vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups grated carrots
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a large loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla. Mix in the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Stir in the carrots and nuts. Pour into prepared pan.
  3. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. It's done when a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  4. Cool on a wire rack if you can and then invert. Enjoy!

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