Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Espresso Brownie (Box Mix recipe)

Basic Brownies...DONE!
What next?

Let us combine our favorite things..Chocolate and Coffee..
Now why won't these just ROCK!

I first saw this recipe on Food Network. Instantly impressed! Who would'nt be? But the icing bit scared me. If you are a follower of my blog, you will realise, that icing and me don't go hand in hand. I don't particularly enjoy iced desserts. I find them too sweet! Well that's just me!
But the way this recipe was shown, made it sound really simple and interesting. It started with a BOX MIX and a really super thin layer of icing.
Nothing else gets me started faster than a box-mix recipe. So many steps out of the way. Why wouldn't anyone make this?? So I got going..
End result? Bliss!

Espresso Brownies are a sure shot crowd pleaser! They are fudgy, chocolatey and oh so yummy!
The coffee in the recipe is not overpowering. It doesn't make your brownie taste like coffee! Just makes the chocolate more intense. And that can never be a bad thing! EVER!
The icing on the brownie is very sweet. But as we just apply a thin layer, it doesn't make this dessert too sweet! It just makes it even more perfect, if that is even possible..

I will end with a small note. Please do not replace espresso powder with instant coffee powder. Unfortunately, instant coffee in these amounts, make the brownies and the icing bitter. So make a trip to your grocers and get a small bottle of espresso powder. Trust me, it will be well worth it!

And as I believe in "All good things, need to be shared!"...here are Espresso Brownies for you!

Level: Easy
Serves: 10 - 12 people
Source: Food Network (Giada at Home - Giada De Laurentiis)

For the base:
1 pack Brownie Mix (any brand)
Eggs, as per box instructions
Oil, as per box instructions
Water, as per box instructions
2.5 tblsp espresso powder
1 cup chocolate chips (any kind. I used semi-sweet)

For the glaze:
0.75 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp espresso powder
2 tblsp water
1 tblsp unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Step 1 - Preheat oven to 350 Deg. F. Line your baking tray (I used 9 X 13 baking tray) with parchment paper and spray some oil over it.

Step 2 - Prepare the brownies as per the package instructions. Do not over mix. Stir in the chocolate chips and the espresso powder.

Step 3 - Pour the batter into the prepared pan. If the mixture is thick, spread it around the pan with a spoon or a spatula. You do not have to take much efforts to even the batter out. Just make sure it does not all clump up only in the center of the pan. The baking process will spread and even out the batter.

Step 4 - Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 mins. The best way to know if your brownies are done is when a toothpick entered in the center of the cake comes out with some fudgy crumbs for fudge brownies and clean for normal brownies. It should  not show wet ingredients on it. Other ways of knowing if your brownies are done, is when they have little cracks on the surface and they are no longer shiny, but have a matt finish to them.

Step 5 - Let the brownies cool down completely for about 30-35 mins.

Step 6 - Meanwhile let us get to the glaze. In a small bowl, add the powdered sugar, espresso powder, water, unsalted butter and vanilla extract. Whisk it together till it forms a smooth lump free paste-like batter.

Step 7 - Pour the glaze on the cooled baked brownies. Spread it around with a spoon or a spatula. You want a thin layer over the brownies.

Step 8 - Let the glaze set for 10-15 mins. Cut into pieces.

You can serve these with some vanilla ice cream or just as is!

I used a 9 X 13 pan. As you can see, that gives us thinner brownies. That is what we prefer. As the glaze is very sweet and strong, a thin layer is perfect for us. If you want thicker and stronger brownies, use a smaller pan. Just make sure you increase the baking time a little.

I always line my baking pan with aluminum foil before placing in the parchment paper for brownies. This is not really necessary, but I like to be safe than sorry.

I used a 19.8 oz brownie mix pack. But any brand between 18 oz to 20 oz will do.
I used the Fudge Brownies package. You can use normal plain brownies too, if fudgy is not your thing.

You cannot substitute the powdered sugar with granulated sugar. The icing would be too runny and will not set properly.

Do not be impatient and pour the icing over warm brownies. Instead of a glaze, you will have coffee icing soaked brownies. Not pretty!

You can refrigerate these brownies for a week and freeze them for a month. Just make sure you get them to room temperature before you serve them.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Farasbi chi Bhaji (French Beans/Green Beans Veggie)

French Beans or Green Beans or Pole beans are slender beans with green, rounded pods. The pods can be eaten whole, including the immature seeds, which are juicy and tender. They make for an attractive little side dish.

I use French beans in salads, vegetable soups, curries etc. But today I will share a simple dry Maharashtrian style preparation of this super cute bean. This preparation has a slightly sweet, spicy and nutty flavor. It goes well with hot chapatis as well as rice. 

Usually, to speed up the cooking process,especially if I am in a hurry, I place my chopped french beans in the rice cooker for steaming. This takes about 10 - 12 mins to get to 80% cooked. While the beans are steaming, I prepare all the other ingredients for this preparation. A huge time saver! That being said, steaming of the french beans is not mandatory. You can add raw chopped french beans while making this dish. Just make sure you cover and cook the dish for a longer time, stirring occasionally till you are done.

If you want to know how I steam my veggies, go right down to the tips section below this recipe. 

Now let us get cooking.

Level: Easy
Serves: 4 to 6 people

1 lb french beans, cut into tiny rounds
3/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3 to 4 pinches asafoetida
8 to 10 curry leaves
1 green chilly, finely chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chilly powder
2 tblsp roasted peanut powder
2 tsp goda masala
1 marble sized jaggery
Juice of half a lime/2-3 kokum 
Salt to taste
1 tblsp coconut for garnishing (optional)
Coriander for garnishing 

Step 1 - Steam the french beans in a rice cooker or in a steamer or a pressure pan. Make sure you do not over steam them. They should maintain their crunch as well as their texture. You need the french beans 80% cooked. How do you check for it? Try to break a tiny piece in between your fingers. It should be slightly tough but easy to break. You can also pop one in your mouth and check if it is cooked. Make sure you do not overcook these.

Step 2 - In a large pot or pan, heat 2 tsp oil. Add the mustard seeds. When they splutter, add the asafoetida and cumin seeds. Saute till the cumin seeds get to a light brown color. Add the curry leaves and green chilly. Mix in well.

Step 3 - Add the turmeric powder and the steamed french beans. Mix well. Add the red chilly powder, jaggery, goda masala, and crushed peanuts. Saute everything well and cook covered for a couple of mins.

Step 4 - Once the french beans are thoroughly cooked, squeeze some fresh lime juice and sprinkle some fresh coconut and coriander leaves on it.

Serve hot with some hot chapatis or with daal and rice.

Happy Cooking Everyone!

How do I steam the veggies in my rice cooker?
Add 3 cups of water to the rice cooker bowl. Place your steamer over it and put in your french beans in the steamer basket and spread them around. Try not to stack up the beans on top of each other. We need even cooking. Turn on the rice cooker and your timer for 5 mins. After 5 mins, stir the french beans around with a spoon. Cover them again and keep the timer on for another 5 mins. Check on the french beans for 80% doneness. You should be done by now. Keep cooking for 2 - 2 more mins if your french beans are not ready yet. Simple ain't it?

You can also pressure cook the beans for 1 whistle.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Til Gul for Makar Sankranti!

"Makar Sankranti" is the first auspicious occasion at the beginning of the year.
It is on this day that the sun starts it's northward journey (Uttarayan) and enters the zodiac 'Makar' aka 'Capricorn'.
'Sankranti' means 'transmigration'. Represents the transition of the sun from one sign to another. Now, there are 12 transitions in a year, as there are 12 zodiac signs! But it is particularly auspicious in the month of January (Magh) as it marks the harvest season and also the end of winter. From this day onwards, the days start becoming longer in the northern hemisphere.

Most of the Indian festivals are celebrated based on the lunar calender. But 'Makar Sankranti' is celebrated based on the solar calender. Hence the date for celebrating Sankranti is always Jan 14th.
Then why wasnt it this year? This year Sankranti falls on Jan 15th!!
Lord Wiki explains....
Scientifically, the shortest day of the year is around Dec 21-22 after which the days begin to get longer. Hence actual Uttarayan is Dec 21. This was the actual date of Makar Sankranti too. But because of the Earth's tilt of 23.45 degrees and sliding of equinoxes, has caused Makar Sankranti to slide further over the ages. 1,000 years ago, Makar Sankranti was on Dec 31 and now on Jan 15. 5,000 years later, it shall be by the end of February, while in 9,000 years it shall come in June.. Interesting!!

This festival is celebrated differently across India. Let me tell you how people from Maharashtra enjoy this festival...
Maharashtrians celebrate it by worshiping the sun and distributing Til Gul laadus. People visit their friends and relatives and exchange Til Gul laadus and say "Til Gul Ghya ani Goad Goad Bola", which literally means "Have til gul and speak sweet words". It is a day where we forget all our indifference and start our relationships afresh with a whole lot of love.
 - Newly-wed brides are dressed up in black saarees gifted to them by their in-laws. They are accessorized with jewellery made out of sugar candy which is to be created by her sister-in-laws. Haldi-Kumkum is organised where close friends and family are invited.
 - Babies who celebrate their first Sankranti celebrate "Bor-Nahaan". Lots of other tiny kids are invited to this function. Assorted goodies consisting of bor (a fruit), sugar candies, chocolates etc. are slowly poured over the toddler's head and all the other kids rush to pick up all that they can!

The food prepared is closely linked with the climate at this time of the year, like it is during most of the Indian festivals. Til (sesame seeds) and Gul (jaggery) used in sweets on this day has properties in them that keep our body warm.
Sweets like Til Gul laadu, Til Gul Vadya, Gul Polis etc. are some of the traditional sweets prepared on this day.

Enough said...? Maybe not!
Now, let us get to making some crispy and crunchy Til Gul Laadus shall we?

Level: Medium (heat involved)
Serves: Makes coin sized 16 Laadus

1 cup white sesame seeds
1/4 cup broken roasted peanuts
3/4 cup grated jaggery (any kind - a blessing!)*
1 tblsp milk (If you do not want the til gul laadus very hard)
1 tblsp clarified butter/ghee + some more
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg powder
A mini-muffin pan
A small bowl of cold water (for syrup testing)

Step 1 - In a pan, dry roast the sesame seeds on a low flame. Stir continuously. Do not leave it alone even for a bit. They burn very quickly. When the seeds turn light brown, slide them onto a flat plate and let them cool down completely.

Step 2 - Grease the mini-muffin pans with clarified butter/ghee. (Liberally if you dont have a non-stick variety mini-muffin pan). Grease another glass plate similarly for pouring the final mixture at Step 6.

Step 3 - In the same pan, heat the clarified butter/ghee on low flame. Add the grated jaggery and keep stirring it rigorously till it all melts and starts forming a smooth paste. When it starts bubbling, every 1 min drop a tiny drop of jaggery in the cold water and try to form a ball with your thumb and index finger. It should not dissolve in the water. Once it forms a small soft ball inside the water, the syrup is ready. This should not take you more than 3 to 4 mins into the heating process. So be alert.

Step 4 - Pour in the roasted sesame seeds and peanuts into the melted jaggery. Mix it well. Confirm the heat is still on low. The mixture will start turning runny again. Don't forget to keep stirring.

Step 5 - Immediately pour in the milk, cardamom powder and nutmeg powder. Mix well again for a minute. We are done!

Step 6 - Pour this mixture onto a greased plate to help it cool and to stop it from cooking further. Start scooping the mixture into the greased mini-muffin moulds. Make sure you keep pressing the mixture down so you get a good solid shape. You don't want empty pockets in between. Leave them to cool for 30 mins.

Pop these out onto a plate or into your mouth. Perfect!

* Generally, "chikkicha gul" - a sticky variety of jaggery is used to make this preparation. I failed to find any in the Indian stores around my home. This is the reason I put the mixture into moulds as it is difficult to roll out the mixture into rounds with regular jaggery. Plus I don't like handling very hot jaggery. Did it once, not pretty!

You can also plate the hot mixture onto a greased plate and shape it into an even flat layer. Then, when it cools down a little, but is still warm, you can cut it into squares or diamonds or any other shapes. Do not pull them apart just yet. Let them cool completely and then break them apart.

1 tablespoon of milk does not make these laadus chewy! Just crunchy enough to eat a lot at one time...without breaking a tooth!

And last but not the least... use a mini-muffin pan and NOT a normal muffin pan!

Til Gul Ghya ani Goad Goad Bola!