sea salt chocolate muffins

Sea salt chocolate muffin

On some mornings, all I want is a muffin, a deep and dark chocolate muffin with my coffee. Okay, perhaps more than one would be ideal and even perfect but either way I really like a good dose of cocoa in them. It's really the best way for me to double my daily am dose of caffeine with a whole lot of joy! Coffee with chocolate it can't get any better than that.

Brown sugar

I never ate a lot of muffins because most of the time they were either too sweet or too greasy and they also never had any interesting flavors that I would have wanted to try. Personally, I like my breakfast muffins to be multigrain or wholegrain based and I am a big fan of oat and oat bran in the mornings. So with the desire to keep things wholesome, I added a couple of different flours into the batter; oat bran, brown rice and whole-wheat give a delicious soft and grainy texture. 

Sea salt chocolate muffins

This is a very deep dark chocolatey muffin with a little bit of sea salt on the crust. When you take a bite into the muffin, the combination of the sea salt with the dark chocolate is simply amazing. The flavors intensify and every subsequent bite is even more exciting than the first, exactly the way I'd like to start my mornings. 

Muffin cocoa and salt

You only need to sprinkle a few salt crystals on top of each muffin, halfway through baking. If you put them on before they will start to sink which is why I recommend placing them once the muffins are slightly firm on the surface but not completely baked. I used a standard 12 cup muffin pan to bake these guys and you could use a smaller sized 24 cup pan as well, just make sure you divide the batter equally between the cups in the pan. You can eat these muffins warm or even at room temperature. Store them in an airtight container for up to 4 days. 

Whole grain sea salt chocolate muffin

sea salt chocolate muffins

yields: 12 muffins


1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon dark roast instant coffee powder
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled
1 2/3 cups brown sugar
5 large eggs, chilled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used the madagascar bourbon variety)
1/2 cup plain non-fat greek yogurt, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons sea salt crystals

1. Preheat the oven to 350F and place the wire rack in the middle position. Line a standard muffin cake pan with baking cup liners. 
Mix and sift all the dry ingredients from the cocoa to the baking powder.  Transfer any grain bits back to the dry mix. Keep aside.
2. Cube the butter and transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the sugar and fix the paddle attachment to the mixer. Cream the butter and sugar on medium low speed for 5 minutes. Add one egg at a time and beat until completely smooth.  Add the vanilla and mix for another 30 seconds on medium low speed. 
3. Add half of the sifted dry ingredients from step 1 to the creamed eggs. Mix on medium low speed until smooth and completely blended, approximately 3 minutes. Add the yogurt to the batter and beat for 1 minute. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and beat for another 3 minutes until completely mixed.
4. Divide the batter equally among the muffin pan cups. Bake the muffins for 12 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the salt crystals over the muffins. Return the pan to the oven and bake for another 8-10 minutes until the centers are firm to touch or skewer comes out clean from the center of the muffin. Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool further.

beef pilaf

I am setting myself up for more and more projects this month. Last week you heard me mention about the bedroom project. The bedroom renovation process appears to be progressing at a respectable pace for now. The furniture is ordered and all I have to do now is paint the walls, sell the old furniture and deal with the contractor. I am still awaiting that possible snag that might just suddenly pop up. I will deal with that when the time comes and for now I will gladly indulge and enjoy this unusually smooth ride. 

So many exciting things happen in March or rather I begin to look forward to, for one I am happy with all this sunny weather, D.C. is currently sporting. The increasing sun time and the late 60s to mid 70s temperatures is perfect for my daily runs or just sitting outside on the terrace. However, all this sun is making me wish I had more windows in my life. I need more windows at home and at work. Let me explain, my office has no windows so that is a bit of a bother in good weather but kind of nice in winter when the days get shorter. At home, we live in a basement unit, so additional windows would always be welcome but that also means the row houses attached next to us would have to vanish into thin air but that won't happen in this lifetime, so I guess I just need to be outdoors a lot more this year.

This rice and beef pilaf adapted from The Wonderful World of Indian Cookery by Rohini Singh is armed with a cornucopia of aromatic ingredients. Honestly, the beef in my opinion does contribute to texture (lamb might be an equally good substitute) but the spice are surely the stars of this pilaf. It is all about the cardamom and cloves! When you grind the green cardamom and cloves you will smell some wonderful strong oils in the air that are refreshing yet spicy. Last but not least, black cardamom have a similar but stronger scent than their green counterparts but produce an almost peppermint peppery aroma in the rice.

Pilafs are easy, simple and wholesome. Though the original recipe for this pilaf was slightly rich, I cut back on the fat wherever possible. Extra virgin olive oil and plain non-fat yogurt work great and do not compromise on taste in this pilaf while reducing the fat. This pilaf is an excellent addition to a daily meal or a special occasion. You can serve it with a side of plain non-fat yogurt or chilled tomato slices.

beef pilaf

yields: 4-6 servings 


6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seed
4 large red onions, sliced
1lb lean beef cubed (lamb can also be used)
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
5 cups water  
1 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, ground
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 bay leaves
whole red chilies or chopped green chilies
1 1/2 teaspoon salt 
8 green cardamom pods, ground
4-5 cloves
2 pieces of cinnamon
2 black cardamom, ground
1 1/2 " piece of ginger root, cut in fine strips
2 cups long grain basmati rice, cleaned, washed and drained

1. Heat 3 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large saucepan on a medium flame. Drop in the cumin. After a few seconds add the half of the sliced onions and fry till light brown. Add the meat and cook it till the juices dry up. 
2. Beat the yogurt lightly and to it add the next six ingredients. Mix well and add it to the meat along with 1 cup of water. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for about 45 minutes or till the meat is tender. 
3. In a separate saucepan, heat the rest of the oil and add the spices from the black peppercorns to the black cardamom.  Fry for 5 seconds and add the ginger and fry for another minute. 
4. Add the rice into the pan and fry for a few more minutes till the grain get coated with the oil and spices. Pour the 4 cups of water and  add the salt. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the flame to a gentle simmer. Cook the rice with a covered lid till par boiled. 
5. In a large stockpot layer half of the rice at the bottom of the pan. Add the meat with its liquid over the rice in a layer. Layer the remaining rice on top of the meat. Cover the pot with a tight lid and put it back on a low flame and cook for about 30 minutes or till all the liquid is evaporated and the rice is completely cooked. Before serving, stir the rice and meat gently. Serve garnished with chopped cilantro or lightly fried blanched almonds.


persian rice with green lentils, raisins and dates

I don't drive to work but these days the traffic in the city is a "daymare"/nightmare. It takes more than an hour to get to work and back home. The only advantage to this is taking naps or reading a book on the D.C. Circulator bus, provided I get a seat. I wish I could do something more fruitful with these wasted hours traveling, though naps are most welcome.

During these long bus trips, I've been hankering a craving for Persian food. It is a nice change from all the Holiday themed meals around me. Part of my craving, lies in a new cookbook that I am reading while killing time on the bus and the other half of it lies in the basmati rice dishes that are served at the Persian restaurants I've eaten at. Basmati rice is one of the most fragrant and long-grained rice of the rice family. A staple of Indian cooking for centuries, this Indian grain is widely used in several Middle Eastern and sometimes Mediterranean dishes. There aren't too many Persian restaurants in D.C. that I am aware of but I have tried some delicious offerings at Shamshiry in Tyson's Corner in Virginia. Another interesting fact about basmati rice relative to other rice grains is its low glycemic index that ranges from 43 to 60 whereas other varieties of rice are generally between 72 to 98, make this a healthy option for diabetics. I would recommend buying Basmati rice at an Indian grocery store or a brand that has a made in India label on it, simply because the difference in taste and quality is striking.

To soothe my cravings, I figured that a foray into Persian cooking might just be what the doctor ordered. This particular rice dish, Adas polo, I think is deliciously fruity yet wholesome. Sweet and tangy flavors complement the basmati rice making this a wholesome vegetarian meal by itself. This dish reminded me of the Indian pilafs that are so equally hearty and flavorful.Quite a few ingredients could be potentially substituted in this dish, craisins for the raisins or even beluga lentils for the green lentils. This recipe was adapted from New Persian Cooking by Jila Dana -Haeri with Shahrzad Ghorashian. A side note with this dish, a crust might form at the bottom of the dish when the rice is being fluffed at the final stage of cooking. This crispy layer is a highly prized crust or tahdig that many Persians love. This dish can be accompanied by a light salad and or cold Greek yogurt.

persian rice with green lentils, raisins and dates


1 cup green lentils/lentils du puy
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion finely diced
1/2 cup packed raisins or sultanas
2 teaspoons turmeric
1/4 cup dates, pitted and chopped
3 cups basmati rice (soaked in cold water for at least 2 hours)
3 tablespoons salt
1 liter water
1 teaspoon saffron
2 tablespoons butter

In a saucepan, add 2 cups of water and the lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let the lentils cook till al dente. Drain the lentils and keep aside. Heat the oil in a large skillet and saute the onions till golden brown. Reduce the flame, and saute the raisins and the dates. Add the lentils to the skillet along with 1 teaspoon of turmeric. Add salt to taste and keep aside. 
Bring the water to boil, add salt and oil. Drain the rice and add the rice to the boiling water. Leave to simmer, uncovered on medium heat for approximately 10 minutes. Drain any excess water from the rice. In a separate shallow dish (flame proof dish, as this will be put back on the stove), add all the rice and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooked rice. Gently fold the lentil mixture into the rice, taking care that none of the rice grains break during this process. The rice will pick up the turmeric color and turn yellow. Layer the reserved white rice grains on top of the lentil rice mixture in the dish. Cover the dish with a tight lid and let the rice steam on a medium flame for about 50 minutes till the rice fluffs up. The tahdig or crust will form at the bottom of the dish. To release it easily immerse the bottom of your dish in cold water. Remove the top rice and lentil mixture into a serving bowl, fluffing it while you remove the rice. Detach and break the plain rice tahdig from the bottom of the pan and serve it with the rice. Serve the rice warm or hot and fluff the rice before serving.