We had a lovely Sunday lunch yesterday. We were slated to have snow today down here in the South and Midwest - so something inside my head was telling me to soak up all that lovely sunshine, gently warming the blanket of verdant green grass overlooking my friend's front porch.While wandering about, a couple of deep burrows in the thick torso of a gnarled, aged tree caught my eye.As I looked on intently, a couple of busy-bodied little squirrels, their thick bushy tails glistening in the sunshine, emerged out of the dark abyss of the burrows, meandered about a little on the edges of the branches and then rushed back in.I learnt from my friend, that of late the squirrels have been keeping very busy on days that are sunny, stacking up their resources to keep them warm and fed on the days that are cold and dank.And they might have already got an inkling of the snow scheduled for today which explained all that urgent preoccupation.And we think we are the ones endowed with all that intelligence - huh!
Anyway, all that amusement led me away from what I intended to start with. And that was the table my friend had laid for us. All of it was extravagant Indian fare which started off grandly with a homemade Mutton Biryani and Chicken Korma curry. For friends who have not had an opportunity to taste Biryani yet, it is basically an extravagant rice and mutton dish, dipped in fragrant aromatic spices, not too overwhelming but pleasantly sublime and cooked on steam.Traditionally this dish has its roots in Persia or Iran, as we now know it as, but food historians say that it might have an Arabian link as well. The fun part is that we Indians are fortunate enough to have tasted Biryanis from both Iranian and Arabian cuisines - the Iranian recipe being brought over majorly to the northern, eastern and western parts of the Indian subcontinent in the late 17th and early 18th centuries by the Mughal rulers while the Arabian recipe being carried over to the southern fringes by the Arabian traders and merchants. In due course of time, each community in India learnt to develop their own style of cooking Biryani which resulted in the birth of more than fifty existing styles of Biryani today which are either gloriously anointed with the name of the place where the style originated or a particular method of cooking it. Some are spicy and hot, some are mildly spiced but nuttier - but the base of long grained Basmati rice, tender mutton, freshly ground spices and fresh clarified butter or 'Ghee' remains essentially the same.Which is what gave me the chutzpah to cross over my limits of sane,healthy eating and gorge on all that rich goodness at my friend's yesterday!
Still rife from the Biryani hangover, I sat snuggled up in my living room settee, early today morning. And watched the snowflakes, large and soft settling on the already pristine white rooftops and car tops, on the juniper branches in the compound below and on the walkways. The lazy bum in me craved for some piping hot goodness to go with my morning cup of coffee. If I haven't told you yet, yes we were slathered with a snow haul last night, just as the weather reports had predicted!I sprung up, a sudden energy creeping into me from somewhere and got to work, baking a batch of plump and moist chocolate muffins, the only added ingredient being Ricotta cheese.I had been struggling to infuse a wholesome moistness into the muffins I baked for quite some time, since every time I bake muffins, the husband whines that a bit more moistness would please his palate better.This time, I put my can of Ricotta cheese to use and voila,it worked!I still have to see if the moistness stays for some time, but as of now I am contented digging into the chocolatey goodness on a snowy day.And if you are wondering why I took the husband's whining to heart after all this time, I will smugly tell you that because it is Valentine's day tomorrow:) The happier I can keep him around this time, the lovelier my gift will be.....tee heee!Don't let out my secret guys and have a wonderful Valentine's day - lots of LOVE in the air (and snow)!!
Super-moist Chocolate and Ricotta cheese muffins
You will need:
Ricotta cheese - 3/4th of a tub i.e 7 oz or 350 gm approx.
All purpose flour - 1 and 1/2 cups
Granulated castor sugar - 1 and 1/4th cups
Unsalted butter - 5 tablespoons (melted)
2 large eggs
Unsweetened chocolate - 1/2 a cup
Whole milk - 1 and 1/2 cups
Baking soda - 2 teaspoons
Vanilla extract - 1 and 1/2 teaspoons
Bittersweet chocolate chips - 1/2 a cup
Salt - 1/2 a teaspoon
How I made it:
1. Preheat often to 375 degrees and butter a muffin tin. You can line with cupcake liners but I like muffins straight out of the tin.
2. In a bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, salt and unsweetened chocolate and mix together very evenly.In a separate large bowl, add the Ricotta cheese and eggs and beat till smooth with an electric beater. Next add the granulated castor sugar and beat again till the mixture becomes smooth and the sugar is incorporated well in the cheese mixture.
3. Next add in the Vanilla extract and whole milk and fold in lightly using a spatula. The batter might become a bit runny due to the addition of milk but don't worry - once the flour mixture is added, the batter will get back its consistency.
4. Next, add the flour mixture to the cheese and milk mixture in batches, folding in gently after every addition.take care not to over-mix, since that could make the muffins hard. Lightly folding in is just good enough.Keep adding the flour till all of it is exhausted and your muffin batter is now ready.
5. Pour the batter into the muffin tins till almost 3/4th of it since the muffins will not rise as much due to the heaviness of the cheese. Stick in a couple of chocolate chips on top so that they retain their shape even when baked.Bake the muffins for about 20 minutes till a toothpick tells that it is done. Note that the inside of the muffins may still feel a bit moist when the outside is done and you should stop baking while some of the wet batter still sticks to the toothpick. This will result in a soft gooey interior which will leave the muffins moist but not messy.Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before taking the first bite. Feel the goodness, enjoy the love and 'Happy Valentine's Day'!