Thursday, January 14, 2010

Chocolate Sensation!

The recipe you're about to see here is a show-stopper. It's not fancy, though, so don't be fooled into thinking that you can't do this. Sure, it may never be served in a Michelin-star restaurant, but it deserves to be. The inspiration for it comes from the oh-so-retro, humble pineapple upside-down cake - remember those?! I think everyone's mother or grandmother had a go-to recipe for that. Most likely it would appear at every party, garnished with those hideously unnatural (just my opinion) maraschino cherries. I'm seeing a resurgence of this pineapple dinosaur once again in the foodie blogosphere. But then, I understand how one can have fond memories of childhood favorites - plus, you all are so creative that you're putting your own spins on it, and making the darn thing look way better than I remember it ever being!

Still. I can top that.

You heard me. I, who am the least confrontational person you'll ever meet (really, I'm a mouse), can bet my last dollar that the version of upside-down cake you're about to see here will blow Granny's tried-and-tested pineapple one out of the water. Kablooee. Vaporized. Sorry Grandma.
See this? This is a magical amalgamation of caramel, pears, and deep, dark chocolate. Not a maraschino cherry in sight. It's bold. It's sexy. It will take you hostage and leave you weeping for more. This cake is for you and your lover, to be savored in the naughty hours of the night. Serve with caution.

Upside-down Caramel-Pear Chocolate Cake (found the recipe on Project Foodie; reprinted from Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More)
Serves 12-14

Click here for printable recipe

Ingredients for caramel-fruit topping:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water

3 firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into wedges OR use canned pears in a jiff

1. Butter a 9-inch round baking pan.

2. Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan, and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, then cover and cook for 1-2 mins.

3. Uncover the pan and continue to boil, slowly swirling the mixture around to cook the caramel evenly, till it becomes a dark amber color. Occasionally wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water, so that sugar crystals don't form on the sides.

4. Carefully pour the caramel into the baking pan and allow it to harden. Warning: pan will be VERY hot from the sugar!

5. Arrange the pear slices over the slightly cooled caramel in any pattern you desire.
Et voila - my canned pear wedges over the dark caramel base. So far so good. If you make it to this point, you've already passed the hardest part of this recipe - smooth sailing from here on!

Ingredients for the cake:
1/4 cup unsalted butter
4 oz dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place butter and chocolate in a saucepan over low heat and melt, stirring occasionally.

2. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt together in a bowl.

3. Transfer the melted chocolate to a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer and add the sugar. Using a handheld mixer, or your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed for about 3 mins till fluffy.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition. Stir in the vanilla.

5. Stir in the flour mixture in 3 installments, alternating with the milk in 2 installments, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides as you go along.
Go on, lick that spatula. It would be a crime not to.

6. Pour batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 40-45 mins. Take it out of the oven and cool in the pan itself for 15 mins. Then invert the pan onto a plate, and leave it there for 5 mins before you remove the pan from the cake (this will allow all the caramel to dislodge itself properly from the pan). Serve it warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream. This cake kept really well, on my counter at room temperature, covered in plastic wrap, for a number of days. I would simply warm a slice for 5-10 secs in the microwave each time I served it.

Verdict: Bestest chocolate cake I ever made! Better than brownies. Better than crack - I'm sure of it. DH usually stays away from chocolate, but even he gave in to the siren call of this black beauty. I'd never paired chocolate with pears before, but combining them in this way - helped along by the magic of caramel - was out of this world. You may never want to go back to your regular pineapple upside-down cake after a slice of this baby. And DO try to get your hands on Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder, because I really think that is key in how amazing this turned out. I'll be making it again. My mom used to make a simple, straightforward chocolate cake for my kid brother and I when we were young whippersnappers, as a special treat once in a while. In those days, I didn't think any cake could top Mom's chocolate cake. So maybe I'll continue the tradition, by making this chocolate cake (which is so much more than just a chocolate cake - hello, caramel! pears! CARAMEL!) for my own little future munchkin(s).

Moist beyond belief, and it stays that way! The top is sticky from the caramel. And those pears just melt in your mouth.

I'm dedicating this cake to my best friend and her loving hubbs, who will be celebrating their 5-year wedding anniversary tomorrow. Love you both *blowing transatlantic kisses your way*! Happy anniversary, and may you have the best years still ahead of you!

And I haven't submitted anything to Sugar High Fridays in a while, but I think this cake fits in to their current monthly theme, which is Sweet Comforts. The round-up will be hosted by A Merrier World. I can't wait to see what other people put up there as their go-to recipes for when they want a dessert hug!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Homey Food To Soothe The Soul

Why did I not just ask my doctor yesterday if he could induce me already and get this baby out?! I mean, it's not like I'm getting any sleep now. I toss and turn painfully all night long, and wake up in the morning with bags under my eyes - which sounds pretty similar to what I'll go through after the baby. So why wait anymore? I'm due in another week or so as it is. Ok ok, I need to calm down. Every baby book and website tells me that the hardest part of the ninth month is waiting, and that's simply what I'm going through. No need to jump the gun just yet - baby will be here when the time is right. Can't rush nature.

In the meantime, bloated ol' me can take some solace in puttering around the house at my own pace, cooking whatever I want, therefore eating whatever I want. I can prop up my swollen feet on the couch and watch reruns of Say Yes To The Dress. I can get manicures and pedicures - well, just pedicures in all honesty, because manicures never last more than a couple of days for me so I consider them wasted on moi. I can read and watch movies. And I can guilt DH into giving me daily back massages (who knows how long I can stay on that gravy train, so I'm milking it for all it's worth!). And I can blog, as well as read other blogs, to keep my brain cells from completely disintegrating to mush. I've actually enjoyed my pregnancy till now, so I should just try my best to keep enjoying it for as long as it lasts.

Enter this Koftay Ka Saalan, or Meatball In Gravy, which I adapted from Mona's recipe on her Hyderabadi food blog, Zaiqa. I've been making this dish for a while now, and it's a great one to turn to when it's the middle of the week and all you've got left in your pathetic excuse for a freezer is some ground beef. The flavors are stimulating because the gravy has that hot n sour thing going on, and it's satisfying for the picky meat-eater in my house (ahem, happy now DH?) as well as myself - for me, this dish is like a hug from a favorite old aunt, comforting and nostalgic.

Before I get to the recipe though, I wanted to tell you about this very special spice that I use for this dish. Mona used amchur, or mango powder, to give her dish that sour kick. But I opted for this instead - dear readers, meet anardana, or dried pomegranate seeds!
Aren't they something?! They look almost prehistoric! You should find them in any decent Indian/Pakistani grocery store. Grind them up to make a powder that will add that indefinable sourness to any sauce or gravy. But I know that not everyone will be able to get their hands on these lovelies - so no worries, because you can substitute them for freshly squeezed lemon juice and lemon zest.

Hot n Sour Meatballs In Gravy / Koftay Ka Saalan (see Mona's original recipe here)
Serves 4-5

Click here for printable recipe

Ingredients for the meatballs:
1 lb ground beef/lamb/mutton
2 tsp ground pomegranate seeds/anardana (or substitute with 1-2 tsp lemon zest)
2 tsp red chilli flakes
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
2 slices white bread, crusts removed
Method: Grind up all of the above ingredients together in a food processor, till well mixed. Then shape it into balls, about 1 inch in diameter approximately. Set aside.

Ingredients for the gravy:
2 tbsp canola oil
2 onions, finely sliced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground pomegranate seeds/anardana (or substitute with juice of a half or full lemon)
2 cloves
4 green cardamom
1 inch piece cinnamon stick
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
2 tsp small green chillies, finely chopped
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
2 cups yogurt, slightly whipped
2 cups beef stock
8-10 curry leaves/kadi patha
Chopped cilantro for garnish

1. Saute onions in the oil over medium-high heat till they are golden. Add in the sesame seeds, cumin seeds, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon stick, ginger-garlic, and green chillies, and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle in the salt, red chilli powder and pomegranate seeds powder (if using).

2. Slowly add the yogurt and keep stirring it for 1-2 mins. Turn off the heat. Once this mixture is cool, puree it in your blender.

3. In the same pan you used, pour back in the pureed sauce. Add in the beef stock and let the whole thing come to a boil.

4. Then lower the heat to medium-low and gently add the meatballs in, one by one. Sprinkle the fresh curry leaves over the top, then cover with a tight-fitting lid and let the whole thing cook away for about 20 mins. Stir it occasionally, but be gentle so as not to break up the meatballs.

5. If you're not using the pomegranate seeds powder, then substitute it with some freshly squeezed lemon juice at the end of the cooking process - how much depends on how sour you'd like it to be, so taste as you go along! You can thicken the gravy by letting it simmer without the lid for an additional 5-10 mins if you want. Garnish with chopped cilantro. This dish goes wonderfully with any kind of bread - to help sop up that amazing gravy - or with hot basmati rice.

Verdict: DH loves this one. It reminds him of all the flavors of home, and I can say the same for myself. Hyderabadis love their khatta (i.e. sour flavors)! And although I'm no poster child for my heritage (far from it, if my mother had a say), every once in a while I really crave and enjoy those flavor combos. They're pretty fantastic actually. Hmm, I still have some of this dish left over in my fridge - why, I do believe it's lunch time! Excuse me, dear readers, but I've got to respond to my baby's hunger pangs (ah yes, another pregnancy perk - I can shamelessly blame all pigging out on the baby! How convenient!).