Apr 30, 2011

Eggless Chocolate Cake - Made with Ricotta Cheese

When a few girls get together, anything can happen. Some girls get together, go for a movie and dinner and paint the town red. Some girls get together and start a band and rename themselves with different spice names. Some girls get together and go save the world helping out calamity stuck nations. Some girls get together and solve mysteries and their stories appear in yellow hard covered book with a certain Drew as their lead girl. Some girls get together and just start their own reality show or fashion show or whatever.

But, what happens when a few girls who never met each other, ever, and who live in all different parts of the world meet together? They start talking about the one favorite passion they all share in common. They start sharing everything they have on that passion. And then one of them decides to get these girls in a group and start doing stuff together and share. I’m talking very much about food blogging here since that’s the passion all these girls share, well..so passionately.

One fine day in spring, Madhuri from Cook Curry Nook emailed us about this wonderful new group called Free-Spirit Bloggers. And here is what she came up with -for starts, Free-spirit Bloggers is a closed-group of 8 bloggers. Every month, the FSB group will pick a theme and share eight appropriate tongue-ticking recipes with you by the month-end. Be it dishes/bakes, we’re all going to be sharing different recipes each but we will still be sticking to the central premise of the theme that month. Let me give you examples of the kind of exciting themes you can look forward to in the coming months – We each pick a personal favourite Chef and cook a signature dish of his/her’s. We each share a family heirloom recipe. We each choose a personal vice and create a dish/bake based on it (How about a slow-cooker dish from the lazy-bum? Or an eye-popping chocolate treat from the sinner?!!). You get the drift? It IS different. The themes chosen will just act as a guide and not suffocate those creative juices. It also gives each blogger the flexibility to cook/bake according to their personal choice, style and palette so every month, we churn out a potpourri of veritable recipes for you guys to devour from. Sounds like fun? Each of us is working towards putting our best food forward for you guys every month, and I sure as shooting hope that you will all enjoy these bursts of ‘free-spirit’, blog-readers and bloggers alike. All of us on FSB are thrilled to bits, and we hope that you will encourage and motivate us like you always have. Who knows, if we get a good response from y’all out there, we could even maybe start taking ideas from you guys for our themes…somewhat like recipe requests, with a twist.

And do check out Madhuri's own detailed post on this event including all the members and their impressive profiles. 

We had a list of more than a dozen different egg substitutes to pick from and bake our very own chocolate cake. Just the word chocolate had me going here. The rest just falls in place. And so, I picked Ricotta cheese. I also picked Pureed pears but haven’t gotten to making it yet. Once I do, you’ll know about that too.

This recipe uses a basic Chocolate Pound cake recipe provided by Mads. I made small tweaks to the recipe to reduce the sugar and butter quantity since Ricotta cheese itself has a little richness and I can always use a little less sugar.

Here’s the ingredient list –
All Purpose or Cake Flour – 2 cups
Sugar – 11/2 cups
Butter – 1 stick
Cocoa Powder – a little less than ½ cup. You can use ½ cup if you want it really chocolatey.
Eggs 4 – Substituted with Low fat Ricotta cheese – 1 cup
Baking Soda – 1 tsp
Baking Powder – ½ tsp
Salt – ¼ tsp
Vanilla Essence – 1 tsp
Milk – as required, to adjust batter to dropping consistency – max ½ cup

Take 2 cups of the all purpose or cake flour in a mixing bowl.

Add the cocoa powder. I used a little less than ½ cup – somewhere in the middle between ¼ and ½. Now, I hope that’s really clear..

Add 1 tsp of baking soda

And ½ tsp of baking powder

And about ¼ tsp of salt

Sieve all of these fry ingredients together for about 2-3 times so that you get an even smooth dry flour mix.

Measure out 1 ½ cups of granulated sugar.

Bring to room temperature or melt slightly about 1 stick of butter. Move the butter and sugar to a mixing bowl and beat together at a low-medium speed until combined together well.

Next, add the 1 cup of ricotta cheese on to the butter-sugar mixture and mix well in medium speed until all combined well. When done, add 1 tsp of vanilla essence and mix for a min.

On low speed, gently mix the dry ingredients a little at a time along with the wet ingredients and mix well to combine.

Finally, add a little bit of milk to the batter just enough to get a dropping consistency.

And there, lo and behold, is the batter. You can see that this is still thick but perfect to be dropped in a cake pan.

Butter and flour the cake pan. I actually just spray them with the baking spray and they turn out perfect each time. So if you don’t have one, get one of those sprays immediately – they cost like 2 dollars but is the best baking  assistant you can buy off shelves!

Pour batter and spread out even on top. Bake in a pre heated oven at 350F for about 35 mins or so – until the toothpick test passes!

I think because my pan was a really wide pan, the top when done was a little cracked. But did I become really sad and cry my heart out. No. Never. Because I had a wicked plan. A wicked sinful plan to cover the whole cake with an awesome Coconut-Pecan frosting.

Like I said, this was wicked. I used a store bought frosting to cover the cake. Because a simple chocolate cake with a  coconut pecan frosting is what the Germans like to eat. And so magically, my simple chocolate cake suddenly transformed into a German Chocolate Cake.

Sorry, I can’t resist showing you how wicked and sinful this frosting really is. And yes, I’m not sad anymore about the cracks on top. Who would even know?

So, now all that’s gotto be done is to slice up a piece of heaven, and add another few drops of heavenly chocolate sauce on top and serve with a couple of soft sweet strawberries. If this is not what heaven looks like, I don’t even want to go there ever. But I’m sure this is a pretty good idea of heaven. And when you eat this, you can actually go there and come back to earth. Cool, isn’t it!

I've got to tell you, this was a pretty dense but soft and really chocolatey cake. It was a perfect taste every time you bit into this. And I know how many times that was but not telling you all about it. The cake was not over the top sweet and felt like it just had the enough sweetness to complement the chocolate flavor. The frosting added all the extra sweetness for those with a really sweet tooth. I actually for once liked the cake better just by itself without the frosting. Yeah, maybe I’m getting old. Who cares though!

I actually packed this and took it for our camping trip to share with our friends. This just made the trip even more sweeter!

So make yourself some chocolate cake soon and enjoy the sweet things in life. Life is meant just for that.

This piece is for my other FSB Bloggers - Madhuri, Lata Raja, Nags, Deepti Pawar, Divya Karthik, Mrudu Mohan and Siri - its been fun baking with you and I'm looking forward to all our other adventures in the kitchen this year!

Enjoy. Peace Out!

Click here for Printable Recipe

Apr 24, 2011

Greek Salad

Sometimes a big bowl of refreshing salad is all you'll need for dinner. But again, if you live with a guy like mine who says salads are for sissies..things are different. So in our household we do salads on the side usually along with soup or pasta. 

One of the easiest and tastiest salads to prepare is a simple Greek salad. Lettuce, tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, peppers, red onions dressed up with some EVOO and feta cheese is all that needs to be done. Simple. Ain't it? 

This time though I changed things a little bit. Instead of just raw peppers in the salad, I decided to crisp them up in the oven and then add to the salad.

Chop up about 1 green and 1 yellow pepper. Red peppers would be perfect too if you can add them.

Toss the chopped veggies with some olive oil and spread on a baking sheet and bake in a pre heated oven at 350F for about 5-7 mins or until you see the veggies turn a little tender. Set aside and let it cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, chop up lettuce, tomatoes and the small persian cucumbers if you can find those. Throw in everything into a big mixing bowl.

I found some fresh oil drenched olives at Henry's. These were the super salty types. So a little went a long way.

Roughly chop up the olives and make sure there are no seeds. Throw in with the lettuce, tomato mix. Sprinkle a little salt (remember the olives are salty too, so don't sprinkle too much), and grind some fresh black pepper in here.

Circle cut red onions and add a few pieces in here.

Next, add the cooled and toasted peppers in with the rest of the salad ingredients.

Finally add about 1/2 cup of fresh crumbled feta cheese. And then add about 1-2 tsps of extra virgin olive oil to blend it all together. Toss well and serve! Done!

Serve fresh salad and enjoy a healthy meal with your family. I served it along with some store bought veggie bread slices dipped in marinara sauce.

Say a big "Opa" and dance and eat your salad. Its all good and feels good!

Enjoy. Peace out.

Apr 15, 2011

Sweet Somasi

Wishing all my Tamil and Kerala readers a Happy New Year and Vishu. May this year bring you all that you want and a little more. My new year celebration yesterday was very simple - actually I just made a whole big tray of Pongal and went to the temple here for the puja and aarti. So many people had bought so much food and it was a complete feast with chakkara pongal, ven pongal, kesari, puliyodharai and so many other delicacies.

On  my personal front, life has been crazy hectic for the past few weeks. I've taken up a new job and my schedule and routine is gone for a toss and everything is changing fast around me. But, I know I have to move quickly with all the change and get accustomed to my new routine and plan all my things so that at the end of it, its all harmonious. Well, that's my plan anyways. We'll see what happens.

This recipe has been sitting as a draft for a long time and I thought today would be a perfect day to post this. What day is not perfect actually to talk about Sweet Somasis. My forever memory of somasis are during Diwali season. My mom would never make these but my neighbors did every year and we always got our share to eat year after year. And this had become a sweet I would look forward to every Diwali. Even when I was almost suffocated with all the sugar, I would still pick these up and eat.

This was my version of the somasi filling - a coconut and nut based filling. This can also be made with many different fillings - people stuff them with a coconut and jaggery filling, a coconut-kalkand-nuts filling, a coconut -rava-sugar-nuts filling and many other varieties.

Let's get started with making the filling. Take about 2 cups of assorted nuts - I used Pistachios, almonds, cashews, pecans and walnuts. Add all the nuts to a food processor and pulse for a few times until you get a coarse powder of the nuts.

Like this. A few big pieces are fine too - as that will be the pieces you actually bite into.

Also, pulse about 1/2 cup of raisins or even chop them up fine and add to the powdered nuts. So, you can see here that I have a little more than 2 cups of all the nuts and raisins.

And for the coconut, I decided to use the sweetened coconut flakes. These work really good for the sweet stuffing and you don't have to add any extra sugar. If you are using regular coconut, just scrap the coconut into thin shreds and cook with sugar. For 1 cup of coconut, add about 1/2 cup of sugar. Add both together in a pan and cook for a few mins, the sugar will melt and carmelize the coconuts. Remove and them mix with the nuts.

Since I was already using the sweetened coconut, I added 1 pack of the coconut flakes to a pan. Set the heat on low-medium.

Add all the powdered nuts with the raisins in here and mix well with the coconut. The sugar in the coconut would slightly melt and bring together everything to a slightly sticky mass.

Now, there in a couple of mins, the stuffing is ready! Set aside and let this cool down.

Now for the outer cover, here is the ingredient list.

2 cups Maida
1 cup Rava
1/2 cup melted butter
Pinch of salt
Water - few drops as required

Add the maida, rava and salt to a electric mixing bowl or a regular mixing bowl. Using Kitchenaid for this if you have one, is the perfect way to go as the dough hook makes a soft and pliable dough very easily.

Add the melted butter to the flour mix.

Using a dough hook, process the dough adding water a little at at time. Add as little as required to make a tight dough but still making sure that all the flour is incorporated completely in the bowl.

You see the dough coming together. This dough will be very soft and pliable. If you are mixing with hand, just make sure you knead well for about 5-7 mins or until you get a soft, pliable dough.

Move the dough to a mixing bowl and let it sit for about 20 mins.

Then make small balls out of the dough - make sure they are all approximately equal sized.

Roll out each ball similar to a roti to make a thin cover.

Using something that is of a perfect round shape, I used just a regular dabba cover with sharp edges. Place on the rolled out layer and press to get a perfect round shaped cover.

Remove all excess dough from the sides.

And there, you have a perfect little round cover that is ready to be filled.

Take a small ball of filling - roll it up into a tight ball using greased hands.

Place the filling in the center of the cover.

Fold one half over the other to form a semi circle. Using a fork, press down and seal the edges.

You can use a pizza cutter to make sure that the edges are smooth and not jagged. Cut off a little excess and make sure that the entire semi circle has an even edge.

Now these are ready to be cooked. Traditionally these are deep fried in oil. Which even in the modern day, tastes the best! But, this time I fried half the batch and baked the other half. Because I was sharing with some friends who were off the deep fried stuff.

See how even the edges look because you used that pizza cutter? Just say yes, even if  you don't think so. Please.

If you are baking these, pre heat the oven to 375F and bake for about 15 mins or until the top turns golden. Brush all the somasis with warm oil before you move them to the oven.

Once they look done, brush again with a little oil or butter on top.

And this batch is done. Ready for you to grab one. Go ahead - no one is watching.

And these are the somasis that were deep fried. Trust me, I know its not as healthy as the baked ones - but these taste the best. Way better than the baked ones. The baked ones were good - but too crisp on the outside - these had that perfect crispy and chewy texture on the outside. So, if you can afford the deep fried indulgence, go ahead, say a prayer and just do it.

Sorry I don't have great pictures this time - which was why this was in the draft mode for a long time. But, hey, its a good recipe and I don't want the lack of great pretty pictures to stop me from sharing this with you.

Enjoy. Peace Out.