Instant Chocolate Cake – Microwave Mug Cake

DSC_0456

Much more than cooking I love baking, infact I am crazy about baking. The only down side is that I love the calorie filled end products even more. That does not really help me in pursuing my knack for baking. So while whipping up a cake or a bunch of cookies may be good for my blog, the following couple of days will find me consuming a lot more of carbs than I would like to. And hence my conscious decision to not make such goodies.

But then there are times – maybe after days of salad crunching and workouts, or when you are sad and need a little break, or you are having a very happy moment – that you want to give in to that sweet temptation. You suppress that voice inside you reminding you of what-not-to-eat.

DSC_0459

Yesterday afternoon found me in such a mood. And just for clarification, No, I am not on a diet…I never diet (Period!), neither am I sad or in a celebratory state. Do cravings need to have any reason or logic? I recalled seeing a couple of 2 minute cake-in-a-mug microwave recipes – no elaborate preparations, instant and a portion size that will not make me indulge later. This is one such recipe that perfectly fits the bill.

DSC_0454

Ingredients:

  • All purpose flour – 4 tbsp
  • Cornstarch – 1/4 tbsp
  • Sugar – 4 tbsp
  • Unsweetend Cocoa powder – 2 tbsp
  • Egg – 1
  • Milk – 3 tbsp
  • Oil – 3tbsp
  • Splash of Vanilla extract
  • Chocolate chips or any nuts of your preference.

DSC_0464

Method:

  • Grease a Microwave safe cup/mug tall enough to allow the cake to rise.
  • Add the dry ingredients: Flour, cornstarch, sugar and cocoa. Lightly mix with a fork or spoon.
  • Break an egg into the cup and stir the mixture vigorously so that everything is well incorporated.
  • Add the wet ingredients: Milk, Oil and Vanilla. Again give it a good mix scraping the sides of the cup so that the dry and wet ingredients are well mixed and there are no lumps.
  • Stir in chocolate chips / nuts if desired.
  • Microwave the entire mixture on high power for 2-3 minutes. You will see the cake rising from the brim of the cup which is perfectly normal. In case you are unsure of the size of your mug and want to avoid any kind of mess, I would suggest placing the cup onto a microwave safe plate so that clean up, if required, is easy.
  • Let it rest for 1-2 minutes after which serve it immediately as is or with a side of your favorite ice cream. This cake, if allowed to sit for longer, will be come a little chewy or hard, so make it just before you want to serve.

DSC_0469

Advertisements

Onion Pakoda / Pyaaji

DSC_0434

Remember those animals we had read about who hibernate during winter, what will I not give to be one of them! As much as I would love the splendor of wishing away the winter or sleep away this harsh weather in my cozy bed, it is not a realistic dream. This has been the coldest / longest winter till date, and though every time it snows it feels surreal and beautiful, I am getting a little tired of it. So … so… long to see the spring colors around me.

Like the weather, things are a little challenging these days and every time I get to my blog, words just don’t seem to flow at all. I do not know if this is what is so commonly referred to as a writer’s block. But then, I am no writer. I merely write about my recipes and my thoughts as and when it comes to my mind. However these days I am missing the fluidity of my thoughts. Life seems to be reaching a crossroad, yet again, the only difference being I can’t see where that cross road is, just have a feeling that it is around the corner. And till I reach that point I have basically put everything on hold. As with me, all I can do when this kind of a phase strikes me, is stop doing things that used to make me happy, and in turn keep sulking the whole day.

DSC_0436

I was on such a sulking mood when this mail came from my friend ‘A’. She had been visiting US a couple of days ago and we got some chance to catch up, have some good food and a good chat… She dropped me an email on her return to India referring to that wonderful day spent while we talked and talked as the sun set outside the window and it grew dark. It was much later that we realized our plates had dried up from the sumptious lunch and evening had set in. Such moments are not that frequent these days, so are much cherished.

As I was replying to that email and giving her some advice (which, am sure, was not needed, but had to be given considering my agewise-advanced-status) on taking charge of your life and keep enjoying whatever comes your way, I realized it was time I applied that to me too. So what if things are a little uncertain now, so what if I am not sure of what is ahead of us right now, isn’t that what is exciting about life? As Forrest Gump’s momma always said – “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”

So on that note I shrugged the slumber out of me and got going. I will continue doing what I love – read and read a lot, write, cook, explore my interests, stay active and most importantly stay positive. Put on some music and clicked on my blog which brings me to today’s recipe – Onion Pakoda or “Pyaanji” in bengali.

I usually do not make too much of fried food at home, but this is my friend A’s recipe or as she says – her mom’s recipe. The other day when she came to my place she made it for us with almost no help from me. I just clicked the pics and helped in finishing off the plate. Ideally, I would not post recipes / pics that are not prepared by me, but I am making this an exception. I know there are multiple variations of this recipe but this is the best I have had till now. Thank you ‘A’ and A’s mom!

DSC_0433

Ingredients: All ingredients are approximates, adjust according to your taste

  • Onions, sliced – 2 large onions
  • Fennel seeds – 1 tbsp, coarsely ground
  • Green chillies – 3-4 finely chopped or to taste
  • Fresh curry leaves – handful, finely chopped
  • Salt – to taste
  • Besan / Gram flour – 1 cup approx. adjust as required
  • Water – a couple of drops or as required.

Method:

  • Heat sufficient oil in a wok for deep frying.
  • In a big mixing bowl add the sliced onions, Ground fennel seeds, green chillies, chopped curry leaves and salt. Mix everything well. Keep it aside for 5 mins so that the salt releases the moisture from the onions,
  • Gradually add the besan/gram flour (as required), mix it and keep it aside for a 5- 10 mins. The moisture from the onions will help in binding everything together.
  • If required, gradually add a few drops of water while mixing so that everything comes together and forms a batter.
  • When the oil heats up sufficiently, drop small dumplings of the batter into the hot oil and fry them in medium heat till they start getting a nice golden brown color.
  • Flip on the other side and fry for another couple of minutes till they turn crispy and deep golden brown. The frying may take some time but do not put the flame on high or else they will get the brown color without getting completely cooked.
  • With a slotted spoon drain the pakodas onto a plate lined with tissue paper.
  • Repeat for the rest of the batter frying in batches of 5-6 pakodas at a time, or more depending on the size of the wok.

Serve immediately with some dip or chutney or simple ketchup and a cup of tea to go along.

My Notes: Adding a little bit of rice flour might make them even crispier. You can also add some chopped coriander if you want.

DSC_0431

Aloo Morich – Potatoes in Black pepper – for Saraswati Pujo

DSC_0412

Decades ago this day, the day of Saraswati Puja – the day of praying to the Goddess of Learning , was one of the best celebrations of the whole year. Not that we were too religious ever, but this was the day when we were officially banned from studying or reading and writing. Can you imagine what fun it was as a child?? All the books, copies, pens/pencils, musical instruments – for us it was the harmonium – anything that is related to knowledge and ‘vidya’ was not to be touched and were offered to the goddess for her to  shower loads of blessings on them and we in turn would be blessed. Having studied in a convent school in U.P., unlike my cousins in Kolkata, we did not have holidays for Saraswati Puja; so – and here comes the good part – for years, on our parents instructions we bunked school and had great fun the whole day. We would show off the ritually sanctioned abstinence from studies infront of our classmates who would be going to schools wearing the same old boring uniforms while we adorned new clothes in varying shades of yellow, representing the color of Basant Panchami which marks the onset of Spring Season.

My grandmother would ask me the same question every year – “who comes first( as in who is more important) : Ma Lakshmi or Ma Saraswati?” It was a question that would always puzzle me -” whom to choose?” The goddess who gives financial success and money which helps me to go to school or the goddess who gives us knowledge and enriches our brain which makes us successful enough to do good in life and become richer. It was as puzzling as the age-old dilemma of  ‘the chicken or the egg’. Had she been alive today, I might have answered her with a counter question of how life and the universe came into being. And that would have taught her a lesson to never bother me with such disturbing questions.

DSC_0416

Getting back to the celebration – The night before the puja, me and my mother would do all the preparations like decorating the goddess and her podium with flowers, paper cuttings, thermocol cuttings and painting the floors with traditional decorative art called ‘alpona‘, arranging the books next to the podium, filling up of ink pots with ‘kacha doodh’ (raw milk) and ‘khager kolom’ (bamboo quills) and washing all the fruits ready to be cut in the morning for presenting to the deity. Making ‘Alpona’ was something that I learned very early from my mother and grandmother. I would steal some chalk pieces from my class so that I could sketch the outline of the alpona on the floor before proceeding to finish it with soaked rice flour using cotton balls. My father would be the priest chanting the mantras  while we would wake up early, get showered, and decked up for Pushpanjali (empty stomach, mind it!).

This was also the time we were allowed to have the fruit ‘Kul‘ (‘Jujube’ in English and ‘Ber’ in Hindi). Year long me and my brother would crave for the forbidden fruit, as we were told for reasons unknown to me, it was only to be eaten during Saraswati Puja.  The next day morning, before school we would take flowers and ‘bel pata‘ from the goddess’s feet and tuck it inside each book, write some prayers on the Bel leaf with the bamboo quills dipped in raw milk and offer it to Ma Saraswati post which we would expect extremely good results in exams. And that marked the end of the celebrations.

DSC_0423

As we grew up the much enjoyed ban on studies were relaxed and in high school there was no option of not studying as this was the time for preparing for Board exams.

In college hostel Basant Panchami was celebrated with lot of fun and galore. After I moved to Kolkata for higher studies I realised that this day is also known as Bengali Valentine’s Day! The streets would be full with girls in yellow sarees and boys in kurta payjama roaming hand in hand as if this was the day of officially ignoring the Indian conservative mindset and giving open permission for romance.

During my MBAs in Kolkata when I was staying at our apartment with my brother and uncle I started the ritual of having Saraswati Puja at home, though my parents could never be with us as they were still in U.P. So I would invite my cousins, friends of mine and my brother’s and everyone would come to our place for Anjali. I had my friends stay over the night before so that they could help me with the decorations; the cook whom we had hired for our daily meals would prepare huge quantities of Khichudi, labra, tomato chutney for all of us. I feel good that by the time I got married my dad had retired and moved to our Kolkata apartment and my mom took over the Puja preparations. Though I am not present there now, they still manage to invite friends and relatives and make a big celebration out of it.

Well, for me – sitting in the US and lacking the motivation of having a Puja done here, I skyped with my family and my inlaws and tried not to feel sad at missing out on all the fun. It was pretty nostalgic to see the ‘P.K.De.Sarkar’ English Grammer book from our school days lying next to the deity just the way it used to be decades ago. I guess somethings never change….

So while there was no Pujo done we celebrated it with food as usual… :-). I made pure veg food (which means not only no non-veg but also no onions/garlic) for yesterday’s dinner- Porotha, Cholar Dal (sweet chana dal) and Aloo Morich (Potatoes with black pepper). Left over Aloo morich with luchi/poori for lunch today.

Here is the recipe for the Aloo Morich  which is my Ma-in-law’s recipe. I love it for its  simplicty in taste and preparation. You will understand it if you decide to make it.  In addition to her recipe I just added some fresh dill leaves that I had got the day before. This is the first time I used dill leaves and just loved the flavor. However it is completely optional.

DSC_0414

Ingredients: (Most of them are to taste so adjust accordingly)

  • Potatoes – 4-5 small to  medium sized, boiled and cubed
  • Ghee – 1-2 tbsp. (No cringing please!!! This recipe demands it so be generous, if required go for more)
  • Green chillies – 3-4 or to taste, slit lengthwise. If you dont want it too spicy reduce the amount as the black pepper will have a strong flavor.
  • Freshly ground black peppercorns – a little less than 1 tbsp or to taste. Note: For the right taste it is required that the pepper be freshly ground and not store bought.
  • Fresh Dill Leaves – a handful chopped (optional)
  • Salt – to taste
  • Water 1 tbsp, if required.

Method:

  • In a pot boil the potatoes really well so that they can be mashed up easily if required. You do not have to mash them just cube them.
  • Heat a wok and add ghee to it.
  • Once hot, add the green chillies and freshly crushed black peppercorns and give it a stir.
  • Add the boiled and cubed potatoes and chopped dill leaves, salt and mix well. Since the potatoes are well boiled some of them will mash up a little bit as you stir, or you can do that with the back of the spoon. That’s how you want it, not completely mashed but just a little.
  • If you want add 1 tbsp of water to it so that everything mixes well and does not stick to the bottom. However remember this is a dry dish. Additionally, if you want, you can add a drop of ghee at the end to garnish.

Serving suggestion – Serve it hot with paratha or puris. I usually make the paratha/puris and then prepare this dish as it dries up when left to cool. Once the potatoes are boiled it takes only couple of minutes to finish it so I prefer making it at the end.

DSC_0401

The Xmas Cake – Fruit Cake

DSC_0354 copy

Love this time of the year… (in spite of the weather..). Everyone around  in a celebratory mood, all the houses  lighted up, people swarming in decorated shopping malls, families and friends exchanging gifts and holiday greetings… everything just rubs off onto you. Usually Thanksgiving to Christmas/Year end is, for us, our vacation time in India. However, for some reason, we could not make our annual trip back home or any other within-the-country trips. Still it has been a good one overall. Went out for Christmas shopping, spent time with friends… eating in and eating out whenever our hearts desired… Lots and lots of baking at home and an overdose of magic and romance with the Hallmark movie channel.

DSC_0357

My usual recipe for cake, as and when occasion calls for it, is my mom’s sponge cake recipe . This is a sure shot recipe that all my friends have tried and succeeded without fail. However I was getting a little bored with the same recipe and was longing to try something different. I never planned for the fruit cake, rather I had come across a wonderful coffee cake recipe and would have made it for sure. And then the Bongmom posted that she was using Alton Brown’s fruit cake recipe for her Christmas cake. To me it looked like a lot of ingredients and effort. But I thought – “what the heck… it isn’t as if I have a lot of important tasks at hand…!’… why not? So, made a list of all the required ingredients, bought whatever I could easily find, bought a new Bundt pan and got all hyper-excited about it.

DSC_0358

Once I finished making it, I surely had to revise my opinion on the effort part – trust me – it is not that much work as it looks like. Just don’t get over whelmed with the whole thing. What takes time is – 1. soaking the fruits in the alcohol (you also have a shortcut microwave method for that) and 2. Cooling of the boiled mixture to room temperature (as described below). You don’t even have to tire your hands beating the batter or use a mixer/processor, so it really is pretty easy.

DSC_0319

Usually this cake is made 2-3 weeks to a month ahead of time and then stored and sprayed with brandy every once in a while. However, I started making it 2 days before Christmas and skipped on the spritzing process. I used gold rum as the recipe suggested, but I read online that you can use sherry or any other wine of your choice too. Again, if you do not want to use alcohol, feel free to substitute it with any fruit juice of your choice. 

DSC_0374

Ingredients:

  • Dry fruits: 3 cups (The recipe called for a little more with some variations but I adjusted the amount and the mix according to my preference)
    • Raisins – 1 cup
    • Mix of dried and chopped Blueberry, strawberry and cherries- 1 cup
    • mixed dry fruit mix – 1/2 cup
    • Prunes or dried plums, chopped into bite size pieces – 1/2 cup
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Gold Rum – 1 cup. (substitute with fruit juice if required)
  • Butter – 5 oz or 10 tbsp  1 1/4 stick
  • Sugar – 1 cup
  • Apple Juice – 1 cup. The recipe calls for unfiltered apple juice but I used apple cider instead.
  • Cloves – 4 whole
  • All spice – 6 whole berries
  • Ground cinnamon – 1 tsp
  • Ground ginger – 1 tsp
  • All purpose flour – 1 3/4 cup
  • Salt – 1/2 tsp
  • Baking Soda – 1 tsp
  • Baking powder – 1 tsp
  • Eggs – 2
  • Toasted and roughly chopped nuts – 1/4 to 1/2 cup. I used 1/4 cup pecans and 1/4 cup silvered almonds
  • Brandy – for spritzing/spraying. Can use any fruit juice instead. I did not use it at all.

Method: You may want to check out Alton Brown’s recipe video here

  • Put all the dry fruits in a pot along with the zest of lemon and orange. Add rum and soak it for 24 hours. This process is called maceration. The alcohol acts as a preservative and also enhances the flavor of the cake when it is stored. When in rush, microwave the mixture on high for 5 minutes, though the flavors might not be that intense.

photo 1

  • Dry grind the cloves and all spice berries.
  • Place the macerated fruits along with the liquid in a nonreactive pot. Add butter, sugar, apple juice, ground spices – cinnamon, ginger, cloves, all spice. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring continuously and then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let it cool down completely. If the mixture is not cooled to room temperature, adding the flour might make it lumpy.

DSC_0247

  • At this stage you can also refrigerate the cooled mixture to a maximum of 2 days if you wish to bake the cake later. However, if refrigerating, let the mixture come back to room temperature again before proceeding.
  • Preheat the oven to 325 F and prepare the baking pan. I used a Bundt pan and greased it with butter and lightly dusted with 1-2 tbsp of flour. Shake off the excess flour. You can also line the greased pan with parchment paper.

DSC_0302

  • Sift the dry ingredients – flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder into the mixture. Mix well with a wooden spoon till everything is well incorporated.

process

  • Add the eggs, one at a time and stir into the mixture till it is well incorporated.

Collages

  • Add the chopped nuts and fold into the batter.

DSC_0299

  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake it on the middle rack for 50-60 mins or till a wooden toothpick inserted in the cake come out clean. While baking place a tray half filled with water and place it on a rack underneath the cake. This ensures that the cake remains moist and does not have cracks on its surface.

DSC_0309

  • Once the cake is done, remove it from the oven and place it on a cooling rack. At this stage if you want you can spray/spritz it with some brandy or some fruit juice; I skipped it as it was sufficiently moist.

DSC_0327

  • Let it cool for 10 minutes and then flip it onto a tray or the wire rack. Flipping it before letting it cool or letting it cool down too much (more than 10-15 mins.) might result in the cake to break.
  • If you want to store it, wrap it in a foil and keep in an airtight container. Mine was used up within 2 days so I did not need to store it. If storing, check the cake every 2-3 days and if it is drying up you may want to spritz it with brandy or some fruit juice to keep it moist.

Note:

  1. As the recipe suggested, the flavors of the cake enhanced in the next 2 days so maybe next time I will make it a week ahead.
  2. Feel free to play around with the dry fruits/nuts. Use what you want or is easily available and also can reduce the amount to your taste.
  3. Just to remind once again – You can make this cake without alcohol if you want. Just substitute equal measure of any fruit juice of your choice.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all…!

DSC_0377

Nan Khatai / Indian Eggless Cookies

DSC_0240'

Last time it snowed this heavily (at the beginning of this year) I remember taking out my baking gear, kneading a dough and whipping up a bunch of cookies. What is it with winter that we crave for warmth in silly things like a cup of hot chocolate or a plate of cookies or croissant, warm and fresh out from the oven. And no … the store bought ones cannot give that balmy feel. What is winter if your home does not fill up with the aroma of freshly baked goods. While there is nothing like curling up on the couch, snuggling happily under the comforts of a soft plush throw flicking through the pages of a gripping thriller, it is equally rewarding to bake up something sweet or savory for the cold weather. And well who can say no to a little respite from the chill outside as you open the oven door to check on the progress.

DSC_0163

Now the  year has almost come to an end and the first heavy snowfall of this winter inspired a baking spree yet once again. This time I thought of making NanKhatai from Arundhati’s blog. I had already tried this recipe before and it was such a super success that I did not bother looking for an alternate recipe.

For those who are hearing this name for the first time and wondering what on earth it could be – well its another name for Indian egg less cookies, primarily made with clarified butter called ghee (or butter). But they have an Iranian/Persian origin as I concluded from some research on the web. To know more read this article.

DSC_0238

As a child we would get these cookies/biscuits from the bakery man who would come to our doorstep with bread and baked goods. They were always special and less accessible than the usual Marie or ParleG biscuits. As the article rightly says – The soft crumbly nankhatai brings back many a fond memory! To be able to make it at the drop of a hat gives a lot of joy to me and brings it all back home. Sharing this wonderful and super easy recipe.

DSC_0193

Ingredients:

  • All Purpose Flour/Maida – 1 cup
  • Gram Flour Besan – 1/2 cup
  • Baking Powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Baking Soda – 1/4 tsp
  • Cardamom Powder – 1/4 tsp
  • Butter/Ghee – 100 gms or 7 tbsp
  • Powdered Sugar – 1/2 cup
  • Milk – 1-2 tbsp. as required
  • Chopped nuts for garnishing, I used chopped cashews and pistachios

Note – The recipe suggests butter or ghee but strongly recommends using ghee. However  I made these using butter.

DSC_0199

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with a parchment paper or grease it with some butter/ghee.
  • Seive All Purpose Flour, Gram flour, Baking powder, Baking soda into a mixing bowl.
  • Add cardamom powder to it.
  • In a separate bowl beat the softened butter or ghee and sugar together.
  • Next add the flour mixture and knead it into a dough. At this stage, if you need, add little milk at a time to help in the kneading process. I added 1-2 tbsp but you can adjust the amount as required.
  • Once the dough is done make small balls and flatten them a little with your palms.Top them with chopped nuts for garnishing and press them a little.
  • Place the cookies onto the lined baking sheet, a little apart from each other.
  • Bake them at 350F for 12-15 minutes or till done. Oven timings may vary. The recipe suggests 18-20 minutes, but mine were done in 12 minutes. Test the ‘doneness’ by inserting a toothpick till it comes out clean.
  • Once done remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Always remember that cookies continue to cook for a while even when out of oven, so prevent over-baking.