Almost-Red-Velvet Cheesecake-Swirled Brownies

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Let’s talk about brownies.  

Before I started baking, I didn’t really like brownies. Sorry, I just didn’t! Most brownies I have eaten outside are terribly dry and have the worst chocolate flavor. That made them almost cakey brownies but really they were just fudgey ones gone dry. You can tell. I HAVE had some good brownies outside too. But they weren’t my favorite. 

People are always talking about brownies when it comes to their favorite desserts. That made me reconsider the whole stick-to-cupcakes-cookies-and-cake thing. But I didn’t go out in search for the perfect brownie, I just decided to bake them myself and see what the whole fuss was all about. 

But the sad part is, my brownie adventures have always been unfulfilled. They would almost never cut clean, or maybe I was too lazy to powder the sugar. What can I say – If I am not passionate about making something, I just don’t put much effort into it. It’s not like they tasted bad. They just didn’t make me go ‘I want to live in a house made of these brownies’ like I go with most well baked goods. 

I just shelved brownies for a while, got busy in other things and forgot about it. Till I woke up a few days back wanting brownies. Why? I don’t know. I am weird that way. 

My rule usually is, if you want it now and can make it at home, don’t make the effort of walking out the door to buy it. Am I not such a homely girl? 

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Then came the craving for cheesecake. What’s a girl to do? Spend double time making brownies AND cheesecake separately? My sweet tooth lands me in the most difficult situations sometimes. 

Make them together. Yes. Soft, creamy and mildly sweet cheesecake dolloped on slightly chocolate-y red velvet brownies. I like this recipe because it solves the eternal cakey versus fudgey brownie dilemma. Perfectly best of both. The small amount of chocolate gives you a hint of that flavor, but doesn’t allow the flavor of the cheesecake to get overshadowed.

I have to give credit to this treat – it’s quite effortless to make. You don’t even have to use a hand mixer. A whisk and spatula and 3 medium-large bowls. I do like it when I don’t have to wash those little nooks of the hand mixer whisks.

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What I do not want to give credit to is those nasty little bottles of food coloring, which hardly do the job of adding color. It CHANGES color in the oven heat. What kind of a food color is that? Sadly, that’s the only thing I get here in Muscat. Back in Mumbai, you get these tiny little plastic bottles of powder color which adds glorious will-not-change-in-the-oven-heat color. That is what I will use when I make these again. Which I will. Make again. I almost ate the whole batch. Only gave my dad a few pieces, made warm in the oven, with ice cream on the side.

If you are making these just for the taste and not very much for the look, I suggest just using the recipe as is, skipping the food color. I presume that it will give you a light milk chocolate type brown, which isn’t the worst thing in the world.

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Almost-Red-Velvet Cheesecake-Swirled Brownies
Can't-Decide-Between-Cakey-and-Fudgey Brownies with a Dollops of Cream Cheese Deliciousness. Recipe from Sweet Pea's Kitchen
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Ingredients
  1. 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  2. 60 gms semi-sweet chocolate (Or dark chocolate), chopped coarsely or chips
  3. 1 cup sugar
  4. 2 large eggs
  5. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  6. 1 1/2 teaspoon red food coloring
  7. 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  8. 1/4 teaspoon salt
  9. 230 grams cream cheese, room temperature
  10. 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  11. 1 large egg
  12. 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Butter the bottom and sides of a 8 inch metal baking pan. Put a long piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, letting the parchment extend up two sides of the pan and overhang slightly on both ends. (This will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after they have baked.) Butter the parchment. You can also use aluminium foil.

  2. In a small, heatproof bowl, melt butter and chocolate together. Stir until combined and very smooth. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

  3. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and red food coloring. Add chocolate mixture and stir until smooth. Add flour and salt and stir until just combined and no streaks of dry ingredients remain.

  4. Pour into prepared pan and spread into an even layer.

  5. To prepare cheesecake mixture, beat cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla extract in a medium bowl until smooth. Distribute the cheesecake mixture in 8 dollops over batter in the pan. Swirl in with a knife or spatula.

  6. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until brownies and cheesecake are set. A knife inserted into the cheesecake mixture should come out clean and the edges will be lightly browned.

  7. Let cool completely in pan on a cooling rack before lifting out the parchment paper to remove the brownies.

  8. Keep in the fridge for about 30 minutes or till very cold before cutting. This is important for the cleanest cut

Cinnamon Chimney http://www.cinnamonchimney.com/
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Brown Butter-ed Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Red Peppers

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I am realising that this whole cooking delicious food and photographing food is not a very easy thing to do. 

First of all, one is actually cooking for hungry people (In my case currently, Mom and Dad). They don’t exactly understand why I have to keep stopping in between to click pictures of raw materials or a process or why it takes the food to come to the table even after it is made. I think they are slowly coming to terms with my crazy.

I know the obvious solution, cook ahead! But here is the second thing, in case of most meals, one can’t wait for dinner time to eat this new concoction one has prepared. Also, it would mean actually planning ahead which is not my greatest skill. I like to just stand in front of the open fridge, see what all I have available and search online for inspiration on how to whip something up.

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This wonderful thing called brown butter is inspiration, I believe. I have read about it in so many recipes and I want to kick myself for not trying it earlier. I always thought, ‘Browned butter? It couldn’t actually be better than original eat-raw, straight-from-the-packet butter? ‘. 

Well, I couldn’t be more disillusioned. 

Brown butter is awesome. It is exactly as the name says – butter cooked till it’s brown. It’s got this nutty aroma that can add a completely different dimension to anything you are making – sweet or savory.  It is also very easy to burn apparently. Here is how you can make it (With super-helpful gifs!).

It’s what made my dinner a few nights ago possibly the best pasta I have ever had. I have come to the conclusion that I like dry, salad-y pastas better than the ones immersed in heavy sauces. It’s lighter and gives more freedom with flavors, ingredients etc. A cold pasta salad is great but if you like it hot, you could just flavor some oil with any spices, make a dressing with and toss it on top of pasta with veggies. I particularly like spicing some olive oil with dried red chilies and using it as a base.

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But I think I am going to forget about olive oil for a while and just use brown butter. It’s worth throwing any diet into the drain for. I think it’s okay to lie to oneself sometimes for something so yummy, no?

This is the recipe which I adapted. I know brussels sprouts aren’t not as widely available in India – Or are not available at all. They can be substituted with anything. Some cabbage maybe, cut in to cubes – Very similar flavors and texture. You would just need the crisp part of the cabbage. The original recipe had some reviews that this recipe might be a bit bland, so I added some basil leaves when I was browning the butter. That resulted in nice crispy leaves. I also used whatever pasta I had available. But dry pastas don’t flavor well with Penne which is for a more saucier pasta. I skipped the Parmesan because I didn’t want to overshadow the flavor of the brown butter. Also, skimp on the extra salt if using salted butter. 

Make this. Thank me later.

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Brown Butter-ed Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Red Pepper
Nutty flavors and crispy vegetables. A dry salad-y pasta. Serves 2, if using as a side or 1, if serving as a main
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Ingredients
  1. 2 fistfuls of any pasta, I used Spirali
  2. 1 tablespoons olive oil
  3. 1 medium onion, sliced
  4. 3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
  5. 2 cups of Brussels Sprouts, cut into quarters
  6. 1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  7. 1/4 cup water
  8. 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  9. 3-4 basil leaves, shredded
  10. Salt and Pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and keep aside.

  2. Heat olive oil in a pan, add onions - cook till they are translucent. Add the garlic, Brussels Sprouts, Red Bell pepper and give it a light stir. Add the water along with salt and pepper. Let the vegetables cook till crisp tender, about 10-15 minutes. Keep in mind that the final pasta is not supposed to be watery - I suggest adding just enough water for the vegetables to cook and the water to evaporate completely. Add the pasta to the vegetables Keep warm.

  3. While the vegetables are cooking, cook the butter in a small saucepan (I used one of those bowls made for tadkas) over medium heat, swirling the pan. Just as the butter starts to change color, add the basil leaves and continue swirling until it is browned. Add the butter to the pasta mixture and toss well. Add more salt and pepper according to taste.

  4. Serve warm.
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine | 1992
Cinnamon Chimney http://www.cinnamonchimney.com/
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Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup

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I have been trying to eat healthy for a few weeks now. One of the things is cutting carbs out of my dinner.

Can someone please explain to me these cravings for over-the-top carb-y and fatty foods our bodies have at night? Like Pasta doused in white sauce, or french fries, or pizza? I don’t understand how I can start wanting something so unhealthy as soon as I come home. I need to get rid of that, seriously. Maybe train my taste buds to NOT like it.

My fat-wanting inner voice just said to me: Yeah, that isn’t going to happen, girl.

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 I might be getting ahead of myself here.

But I am trying. I know that I will have no control over my diet when I leave home to go back to college in July. That’s why, I am doing what I can while at home. 

A few nights ago, after I came home after a happy, but tiring shopping trip, there were the usual cravings some comfort food. Warm and hearty. Fatty and Potato-ey. I used to make this ridiculously indulgent Potato Soup when I was living in Mumbai. Potato, cream and cheese. All my enemies currently. 

Am I turning into one of those people who say something like “I can’t remember the last time I had potatoes!”? Maybe. 

I turned to the underrated cousin of my frenemy Potato, the Sweet Potato. Underrated is the right word, because this root vegetable is versatile, healthy AND yummy! I can just throw it into a salad, make some stew or muffins, maybe a nice frittata or just have it boiled without feeling guilty. Or soup. THIS soup.

It’s what I decided to make and it fulfilled my craving. Every bit of it.

This becomes a meal in itself by being so filling. Some soups turn out to be so boring, just one flavor, nothing else. This soup has a mesh of subtle flavors. Sweet, spicy, tangy. It is also so easy to make. Throw in cubes vegetables with some water or stock, soften and puree. One pot meal! The answers to the working professional’s prayers. The soup is smooth and velvety but if you do like yours to be a little chunky, you can reserve part of your boiled veggies before blending. 

Let’s all just put this in our weekly dinner rotation. 

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Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup
Serves 2
A perfectly sweet and spicy, healthy and hearty soup. A meal on it's own.
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Ingredients
  1. 4 tablespoons vegetable oil/olive oil
  2. 2 medium onions,  cubed
  3. 4 cloves garlic, grated/minced
  4. 2 medium carrots, cubed
  5. 4 small sweet potatoes, cubed (or 2 large)
  6. 3 cups vegetable stock
  7. 2 teaspoon black pepper
  8. 2 teaspoon cayenne pepper/red chilli powder
  9. Salt, as per Taste
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a deep sauce pan over medium heat. When it's hot, add the onions. Cook till onions are slightly translucent. Add the garlic and cook till it's fragrant. Don't let the garlic burn or brown! Add the carrots and sweet potato. Give it a stir so that everything is coated with oil and let cook for about 2-3 minutes. Add the black pepper and red chili powder (You may reduce or increase the spices as per your taste. I don't like my soup too spicy, but this amount of spice perfectly balanced out the sweetness in the sweet potato). Add salt as per taste.

  2. Add the vegetable or chicken stock, stir well and turn up the heat. Bring it to a boil, cover the pan and lower the heat to keep at a simmer. Let it simmer covered for about 15-20 minutes. You may need to check on the soup in between and add more stock or some water if you feel it's getting less liquid-y.
  3. When the sweet potato and carrots are softened, puree the soup with an immersion blender or put it in a blender (An immersion blender is so much easier, less dishes to wash!). Put it back on the heat and simmer for about 2-3 minutes more, adding stock or water, if you feel like, according to the consistency you like. I like my soup a little thick.
  4. Serve topped with any dried herbs or if you are feeling a little indulgent, some cream.

Cinnamon Chimney http://www.cinnamonchimney.com/
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Birthday Cake – Vanilla Cake With Chocolate Buttercream

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My birthdays were always celebrated very grandly. It wouldn’t be my birthday if I didn’t hand make my invitations (Later on PowerPoint and lazily colored on), go to invite all my friends personally and had many gifts (Mostly just Barbie dolls, which I still have.). But they were the event of the year. I had my outfit planned days in advance. On more than one occasion, I wore matching accessories from head to toe.

And of course, one of the most important parts of any birthday, the cake. The joy of that moment – cutting your birthday cake, surrounded by friends and family, singing the Birthday Song (Or if your friends find that too boring – Tum Jiyo Hazaron Saal, Happy Birthday to You!), it was the best, wasn’t it?

Well, no. Not for me. I didn’t like the cake cutting that much. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate it. It’s just not my first favorite thing about birthdays. Probably the second most favorite thing. Or third (Err, the gifts?).

My favorite thing is actually EATING the birthday cake.

Why would I enjoy all my favorite people surrounding me and singing a song for me MORE than all my favorite people eating CAKE with me? That too, cake which is dedicated to me inching closer to my wiser(?) years!

That being said, it is sad that I don’t actually have a lot of memories of how my cakes were. They were mostly store-bought. There was a rare occasion that my mom would actually bake one at home. But that was kept aside for me to have after the parties, all for myself. Oh, I do like my cake.

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Cake is important. It should be remembered. That is why I decided to make my mom’s sharing of birthday cake with her friends special a few days ago. And for the 50th birthday, on top of that! Also, that it’s just an excuse to make cakes!

The day OF the birthday, disaster struck when I tried to bake a grand Red Velvet cake with a  Cream Cheese frosting. It was not my day, I couldn’t get anything right. 2 failed trials of cake layers not baked at the center. Hence, the birth to my new fear of the Red Velvet (And I have made some great Red Velvet cupcakes before!). I let it go for the day. We would just have to buy a cake from outside. There was another party later that week and I could definitely try to make it again. (My mother had THREE birthday parties!)

But then I decided to stick to a fool-proof recipe, that I have made about 2-3 times before. It’s a simple vanilla layer cake with a dense crumb. My mother is just not fussy that way. The last time I made it, I used pure homemade vanilla essence. Unfortunately I didn’t have any on hand, so I just used the store bought one.

Perfect wafer height

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I’d been wanting to try icing Rosettes on a cake, so I definitely had to do that. And then there had to be chocolate.

The cake layer recipe is from Smitten Kitchen, it’s a lovely cake. I needed a more stiffer frosting. This recipe was perfect, but I was sure I would need more because of the rosettes. So I multiplied all the quantities by 1.5. Here is a great tutorial for rosettes. Unfortunately, I only noticed that my icing tip wasn’t appropriate after I put it on the pastry bag. So I just used whatever I thought was closest. It turned okay, didn’t it?

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Vanilla Cake with Chocolate Buttercream
Yields 2
A simple and straightforward birthday cake!
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Ingredients
  1. For the cake
  2. 4 cups cake flour
  3. 2 teaspoons baking powder
  4. 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  5. 1 teaspoon table salt
  6. 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened (If using Amul butter, skip the salt)
  7. 2 cups sugar
  8. 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  9. 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  10. 2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken (I took 2 cups of milk and stirred in 2 tablespoons of vinegar, let it stand for 10 mins)
  11. For the buttercream
  12. 1.5 cups unsalted butter, softened not melted. (Amul butter will work perfectly fine with this, just skip the salt)
  13. 5 cups icing sugar
  14. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  15. 1 cup cocoa powder
  16. 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  17. 5 tablespoons heavy cream
Instructions
  1. Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. Sprinkle the pan with flour and shake it about so that it coats the butter. Turn the pan over the sink to shake out the excess.

  2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined. Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated. I like to alternate the additions of buttermilk and flour mixture.

  3. Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. (I forgot to do this and there were these 5mm voids in my cake!) Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

  4. Make the frosting: Cream butter for a few minutes in a stand or hand mixer. Turn off the mixer. Sift icing sugar and cocoa into the mixing bowl. Turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the dry ingredients do not blow everywhere) until the sugar and cocoa are absorbed by the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and cream and beat for 3 minutes. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add a little more sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add additional milk 1 tablespoon at a time.

  5. Assemble the cake: Place one cake layer on a cake board or platter. Tucking scraps of waxed paper under the edges of the cake will protect the board or plate from any mess created while frosting the cake. Spread about 3/4th cup frosting over the layer, spreading it to the edge. Add the second layer (Bottom of the layer should be on the upside). Frost the top and sides of cake with another 3/4 cup. As you can see, I used these chocolate flute wafers on the side after the first layer of frosting. Fortunately, the ones I bought were the exact height of the cake (Meant to be!). You can cut them, should you choose to use the same decoration, although I am not sure how easy they are to cut. Make your rosettes and top with any sprinkles.

  6. Done!

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