SECRET RECIPE CLUB: CHAI BROWNIES

March 31st. Last day of the month. Last Monday of the month. It can only mean one thing: it’s a food blog party, The Secret Recipe Club Reveal Day!  I knew that March was going to be a particularly busy month, with a trip abroad followed by Spring Break, which for us has little to do with a break, quite the contrary.  We profit from the fact that the students don’t have classes or TA duties to set the accelerator on experiments. So, I jumped on the assignment right away, and that was a good move because my secret blog, Healthy Delicious has been around for a long, long time!  Talk about a veteran food blogger, that is Lauren defined to a T. She is a recipe developer and food photographer, most of her recipes take less than 40 minutes to prepare, and are in perfect tune with her site’s name: healthy and delicious!  😉

I was having my share of secret fun bookmarking many options, but then I stumbled on her post on Chai Brownies and noticed the date of its publication. March 11th, 2007.  I know well a person who was born on March 11th.  No, not 2007, but who cares?  A few years here, a few there, compared to the time since the Big Bang, it’s a blink of an eye.  I looked no further.

Still, let me share with  you some of the other recipes I had in mind: Prosciutto and Artichoke Quiche (oh, my!), Baked Chicken and Spinach Flautas (check this recipe out, very nice interpretation of a classic), Lamb Meatballs in Cumin Scented Sauce over Spaghetti Squash (I must make this soon), Pasta with Brussels Sprouts, Pecans and Gorgonzola Cream Sauce , Mussels in Saffron Tomato Sauce (simple and irresistible), and her Lemon Chicken Soup with Tortellini.  But there’s a lot more, as you might imagine from a food blog that has been around for seven years!

And, before I move to the recipe, take a look at Dorothy’s site, Shocklingly Delicious, to see which recipe she chose from my blog (one of my favorite cakes ever and the most popular recipe of BK last year). She wrote such a wonderful post about it, I cannot stop smiling…. Thank you, Dorothy!

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CHAI BROWNIES
(slightly modified from Healthy Delicious)
.
for spice mixture:
1/4 cup low-fat milk
a dash of cardamom
3 whole allspice
a dash of cinnamon
3 cloves
.
for brownie batter:
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup butter
1 egg
1 + 1/2 cup  flour
3/4  cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder

Heat the oven to 350 F.

Add the ingredients for the spice mixture to a pot and bring to a quick boil. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Strain into a large microwave safe bowl.

To the bowl of chai, add butter and chocolate. Microwave about 30 seconds until melted. Stir until smooth. Let cool for a minute. Add egg.  Sift in remaining dry ingredients and mix until it forms a stiff batter.

Bake in a Pyrex dish sprayed with oil, about 25 minutes until set. Let cool, and cut into pieces.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Language pet-peeve alert! Language pet-peeve alert!  😉

In the United States,  chai often describes what should be instead called masala:  a mixture of spices such as cardamon, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, that can be used to brew black tea, creating masala chai. By itself, “chai” is a word that means tea, and has its origins in Chinese. Interestingly enough, it is the same word used in Portuguese – chá –  although the pronunciation is slightly different in both languages.

I love the flavors normally associated with masala chai, and thought that the marriage of a good old-fashioned chocolate brownie with such warm spices would be perfect. And perfect it was!

I did not have whole allspice berries in my pantry, but decided it was worth getting a jar, so now I am the proud owner of two allspice products, one whole, one ground.  Gotta put them to good use before they lose their punch.

These brownies brought a lot of excitement to a cloudy and cold Monday morning in our department.  I loved the delicate flavor of cardamon in the background, and the texture of the cake, with a crackled surface was wonderful too.

Lauren, it was great to get to know your blog better, and I urge my readers to stop by her site and browse through, particularly if you like to see recipes that are lightened up without loss of flavor.

For those interested in joining our virtual monthly party, click on the crazy-looking amphibian smiling at the end of this post.

ONE YEAR AGO:  A Small Tribute to a Big Man

TWO YEARS AGO: Still got stout?

THREE YEARS AGO: The Real Vodka Sauce

FOUR YEARS AGO: Spring Rolls on a Spring Day

PRIME RIB ROAST, MEXICAN STYLE

A prime rib is not cheap. Actually, I should be glad that we live in Kansas, where meat is of excellent quality and, compared to other places in the country, quite affordable. Still, it would be terrible to mess it up, something easy to do if you over-cook it.  I normally keep seasoning to a minimum, but for our dinner last Christmas we went with a recipe from Marcela Valladolid, that gave the roast her unique Mexican twist.  Yes, it is March.  Yes, it took me three months to blog about it.  Better late…. than never!  😉

Prime Rib Roast

PRIME RIB ROAST, MEXICAN STYLE
(from Marcela Valladolid)

1 (4 rib) prime rib roast with ribs  (9-10 pounds)
Salt as needed
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup assortment of ground peppercorns
1 tablespoon ground chile de arbol
4 garlic cloves, smashed
2 tablespoon ground rosemary
Beef broth as needed

Heat oven to 400°F. Let roast stand for 1 hour at room temperature.  Season the roast heavily with salt.

In a separate bowl, mix the rest of ingredients (up to rosemary)  to form a paste. Rub all over prime rib roast.

Place prime rib roast on a roasting rack, add 2 cups beef broth to the roasting pan. Roast for about 30 minutes, until it is browned. Remove from oven, and reduce heat to 350°F. With aluminum foil, form a tent over the prime rib roast to cover it. Make sure the aluminum foil does not touch the prime rib, since it can damage it crust that it is forming. Return to oven and roast for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until thermometer registers 110°F. Add broth to the pan while roasting if liquid begins to evaporate.

Remove from oven and let rest, uncovered, for a least 20 minutes before carving and pour pan drippings into a separate bowl, reserve and set aside for gravy. Internal temperature of meat should rise to 130°F for medium rare.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

What to serve with it?  You can go simple with a humble veggie like green beans decorated with toasted almonds, or you can tell  yourself what I did: there’s only one month of December in the year, and December means festive…  Therefore, green beans were out, cheese souffle was in.  However, there is also a single month of April in the year. May? Another only child.  Those are important things to consider when planning a side dish. In case I convinced you to indulge, follow this link for my default cheese souffle recipe.   😉

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This was a wonderful meal, the prime rib was perfectly cooked, with a delicious spicy coating, not so strong as to mask the flavor of the meat.  I strongly advise using a meat thermometer because just like Beef Wellington, a prime rib must be cooked medium rare and a few minutes longer in the oven can pretty much ruin it.  Marcela Valladolid did it again, another winner recipe at our table!

plated

 Dinner is served! 

 

ONE YEAR AGO: Sourdough Bread with Walnuts and Dates

TWO YEARS AGO: Braised Brisket with Bourbon-Apricot Glaze

THREE YEARS AGO: The Real Vodka Sauce

FOUR YEARS AGO: Pork Tenderloin and Blue Cheese

 

LASSERRE, A FRENCH CLASSIC

Our recent scientific trip to Paris was intense to say the least, and started with a curve ball from my beloved, who tried to be casual when he advised me – twenty-four little hours before our departure –  to “place a change of clothes in my carry-on.”  Because, “… who knows if the hotel room will be ready for us early in the morning?”   American visitors typically land in Paris around 7am, and on further (insistent) inquiry he revealed that “our first meeting at Institut Necker will be at noon.”  Five short little hours after stepping out of the plane.

I don’t do scientific discussions very well after an intercontinental flight, no shower, and with a sleeping pill hangover, so to put it mildly, I wasn’t thrilled. Our exchanges on the subject ended with his usual “it will all be fine.” Maybe that’s true, but I’d like to get some credit for it: I wrote the hotel and begged them to get us a room as early as they possibly could. The wonderful folks at “Hôtel Londres Eiffel” had our room ready by the time we made it to Paris, after the usual tribulations of customs, luggage retrieval, and train ride. So,  I only had to deal with the sleeping pill hangover. Isn’t life grand? 😉

As usual in this type of trip, our schedule was hectic, but we promised ourselves three things: wake up early each morning to go running under the Eiffel tower like in the good old days, walk to all our commitments instead of taking the metro, and enjoy one special meal (just the two of us) on the weekend.   Phil made a reservation for lunch at Lasserre, a place we had been before when we lived in the City of Lights, back in 2002.

Restaurant_Lasserre_avenue_Franklin_D._Roosevelt_Paris
Lasserre opened in 1942, got its first Michelin star seven years later and its second in 1951.  The restaurant, under the talent of Executive Chef  Christophe Moret is located at Avenue Franklin Roosevelt in the 8th arrondisement,  a place surrounded by embassies and with that majestic aura that comes so naturally to some neighborhoods of Paris.  Once you set foot inside, the adventure begins… You will be greeted by a stylish maître d’hôtel and led to a cozy lift that will take you to the second floor where the dining room is located. In all its glory and splendor.  Glory and splendor are indeed the two words that will be in your mind throughout the whole meal.

Lasserre1
The restaurant offers many options for a lunch meal. You can order a la carte if you prefer, but a better deal is to pick one of their prix fixe menus. They have several kinds of menus: {Starter + main dish + dessert},  (Starter + two main dishes + dessert},  and also a more extravagant option with several desserts in very small portions at the end.  Their pastry chef,  Claire Heitzler, is well-known for adapting classic recipes and turning them into slightly lighter fair. That’s what we were told, but even with that assurance, we opted for one dessert only, merci beaucoup.   😉  Of course, Lasserre also offers a menu including one type of wine matched to each course, but I don’t care for wine at lunch (I know, I’m a bit odd, right?),  so Phil was happy sipping a single glass of Bordeaux with his meal.

On a quick side note: all my photos were taken after I asked for permission.  To keep things as discreet as possible, I used my cell phone and only snapped one picture per plate, so don’t expect great quality in the images.

Let’s get this show on the road…

Starter Course

FoieGrasSoup

Phil went with (no surprise!) foie gras.  The foie gras was first poached, then grilled, and served in a delicate ginger-broth with daikon, a touch of passion fruit juice and seeds (that gave an unexpected crunch!), mango and shaved, toasted coconut.  The foie was superb and the combination of flavors was delightful.

GreenPeaVeloute
I chose a green pea veloute’ soup, poured on top of lettuce leaves and very small croutons made of… foie gras. I am clueless as to how they were prepared,  but each small crouton retained a delicious,  rather subtle foie flavor, with a lot of crunch.  Wonderful!

Main Course

VealPicatta

For his main dish, Phil had the veal piccata. The preparation surprised me, I thought it would be a type of fricassee with the meat in small slices, but instead there were two large pieces of meat, cooked to perfection, in a wine-reduction sauce over wilted spinach.  Luscious…

Lamb

I opted for the lamb, served with farro in a sauce with dried figs and warm spices such as cinnamon and coriander.  The lamb was carved by the waiter using a spoon and a fork, so that the tenderness of the meat becomes evident, and acts as a great advertisement for other guests who might be trying to decide what to choose from the menu. You can see our waiter carving the lamb on the second photo of this post.

Dessert Course

Phil closed down his meal with their  version of tiramisu, which happens to be one of his favorite desserts… It was spectacular, with an absolutely perfect coffee ice cream crowning it.

tiramisu

I went with the Paris-Brest…which Claire Heitzler assembled with an almond-based whipped cream, and fresh raspberries. A small portion of raspberry sorbet was served alongside. The presentation was spectacular, as you can see.

Paris-BrestSorbet

Once our lunch was over, they offered a batch of very small lemon-scented madeleines, fresh from the oven – comme il faut – and tiny cubes of a chocolate concoction that reminded me of flourless chocolate cake in texture and taste.  Superb!

MadeleinesChocolateCubes

Back in 2002, when we were in Paris for a full year, we went to several special restaurants like La Tour d’Argent, Le Jules Verne (at the Eiffel), Taillevent, Le Violon d’Ingres, Benoit, Clos des Gourmets, and Lasserre (at that time for dinner).  In my opinion,  Taillevent (reviewed here) and Lasserre tie for first place as far as dining experiences go.  Of course, the view from Jules Verne is spectacular, the location of La Tour d’Argent cannot be beat, but Lasserre has a touch of elegance and charm that is quite unique. Also, a special added bonus: a ceiling that can be kept closed (showing a painting of dancers and angels by Touchagues) or open to the sky on beautiful nights and sunny days.

Ceiling

In our dinner in 2002, the ceiling was closed, but they opened it a couple of times during the evening.  In our  visit a couple of weeks ago, the weather was spectacular, so the ceiling stayed open full-time, except while the waiter was preparing Crêpes Suzette for guests, and getting ready for the final flambee. The ceiling slowly closed, the lights were dimmed, and the whole restaurant stopped to pay attention to the show.  If it was me trying to prepare that dish under the scrutiny of so many people, a lot more than the crêpes could be set on fire… but the waiter was impecabble, bien sûr!  😉

I hope you enjoyed our recollection of a very special time in Lasserre…  

I close this post with my favorite photo of the week, taken on our way to dinner with a colleague.

P&S_SunsetParis2Au revoir, Paris… et a bientot!

ONE YEAR AGO: Sourdough Bread with Walnuts and Dates

TWO YEARS AGO: Braised Brisket with Bourbon-Apricot Glaze

THREE YEARS AGO: The Real Vodka Sauce

FOUR YEARS AGO: Pork Tenderloin and Blue Cheese

CRISPY CHICKPEA AND CAPER SPAGHETTI

Absolutely delicious and a cinch to put together, I dare say that even chickpea haters might appreciate these little creatures when presented this way.  This was my first time roasting capers, but it won’t be the last. Great boost of flavor for an ingredient that already has quite a strong personality.

Pasta with Roasted Chickpeas and Capers
CRISPY CHICKPEA AND CAPER SPAGHETTI
(slightly adapted from Real Simple)

3/4 pound spaghetti
1 can chickpeas (15 ounce)  rinsed and patted dry
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup capers, drained
1/4 cup olive oil  (I probably used a little less)
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
salt and black pepper
1/4 cup minced cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat oven to 400° F.  Combine the chickpeas, panko, capers, oil, coriander, and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, tossing once, until crispy, 18 to 22 minutes.

While the chickpeas are roasting, cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pan.

Add the chickpeas, cilantro, and lemon juice to the pasta and toss to combine.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

roasted

Comments:  What a great, simple recipe this was! I’ve roasted chickpeas before, but they always turned a little mushy. The addition of panko-style bread crumbs brought a very pleasant crunch to the mixture.  Roasted capers were another very pleasant surprise. I love their sharp, pungent taste in any type of recipe. Roasting changes that sharpness quite a bit, I would say it takes some of it away, but at the same time intensifies the pure caper flavor.  Am I making sense?  😉  Make this pasta and see what you think.

served111Dinner is served! 
Grilled lemony chicken breasts and snow peas completed our meal…

ONE YEAR AGO: Leaving on a jet plane

TWO YEARS AGO: Crispy Herb-Crusted Halibut

THREE YEARS AGO: Almond Butter Cake

FOUR YEARS AGO: Bonjour!

BON BON CHICKEN: LIGHT AND SPECTACULAR!

Can I give a recipe 10 stars? How about a full constellation and a comet dashing through it? This recipe was sitting on my files for a while, but every weekend something would happen and prevent me from trying it.  That all changed on a cold Sunday morning last month.  You need to find a few special ingredients, but trust me, it will be more than worthy.  A constellation and a comet worthy.

Bon Bon Chicken
BON BON CHICKEN
(slightly modified from Serious Eats)

3 skinless chicken breasts
¼ cup Shaoxing wine
2 green onions, chopped
1 inch fresh ginger, chopped
2 + 1/2 teaspoons whole Sichuan peppercorns
1 pound cucumbers, peeled and sliced thin
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinkiang black vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoons Sriracha sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

Place the chicken in a large pot. Add the wine green onions, 3/4 of the ginger, 1 teaspoon of the Sichuan peppercorns, and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to a simmer, cook for 3 1/2 minutes. Cover the pot, turn off the heat, and let sit for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and let cool for a few minutes, then shred the chicken with your fingers or a couple of forks.

Combine the soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, Sriracha, the rest of the Sichuan peppercorn, rest of the ginger, sugar, and cilantro in a blender. Process until smooth.

Scatter the cucumber slices on a plate. Top with the shredded chicken, and pour on the sauce. Garnish with more cilantro, if you want.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

This recipe delivered all it promised and a little more!  I poached three chicken breasts, hoping to have some leftover for a couple of lunches, because I did not think Phil would care for it.  He usually prefers to have a yogurt smoothie for lunch, with a Wasa cracker and peanut butter, something along those lines.  But then, he tasted a piece of chicken, and his plans for lunch changed on the spot.  No leftovers, we polished this big bowl of deliciously poached chicken with a dressing that was like an explosion of contrasting flavors: the sesame oil was there, so was the ginger. But the black vinegar, the Szechuan peppercorns, those took this dish to unprecedented levels of goodness.  Poached chicken never ever tasted so great!  Please, make this recipe.  Make double amount, because you will be going back for more.   Very refreshing, very light, but at the same time it will leave you satisfied, probably because the taste is so intense.    I cannot wait to make this again, and again, and again…

ONE YEAR AGO: Seafood Extravaganza Pasta

TWO YEARS AGO: A Pearfect Drink

THREE YEARS AGO: Ming Tsai Under Pressure

FOUR YEARS AGO: Paris, Je t’aime

RICOTTA MEATBALLS

Vegetarians will have to forgive me, but I firmly believe a person cannot have too many meatball recipes.  They cook quickly, can be served with many different types of sauces, and leftovers taste as good or better as the first time around.  This version was originally published in The Meatball Shop Cookbook, but it is also available online. I added my own twist to it, using almond flour instead of bread crumbs.  I don’t have gluten allergies, just happen to love playing new twists on a classic.

Ricotta Meatballs copy

CLASSIC RICOTTA MEATBALLS
(adapted from this version)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds 80% lean ground beef
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
1/4 cup almond flour
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
about 2 cups simple tomato sauce (store-bought or home-made)

Heat the oven to 425°F.

Combine by gently beating together the ricotta, eggs, almond flour, parsley, oregano, salt, red pepper flakes, and fennel in a large mixing bowl.  When the mixture seems homogeneous, add the ground beef and mix by hand until  incorporated.

Roll the mixture into round, golf ball-size meatballs and place on a rack over a baking dish, allowing some space in between them.  Roast for 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and cooked through.

While the meatballs are roasting, heat the tomato sauce in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring often. Add the meatballs to the saucepan, and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click

CompositeMeatballs

Comments: I do not remember the last time I fried a meatball.  Baking works so much better! I am not even talking about excess fat consumption, but the whole preparation is much more user-friendly.  Recently I found this cute baking dish with an insert that is perfect for cooking meatballs, as they sit elevated and the hot air circulates all around them.  No need to mess with them once you start baking.  After they are brown and almost cooked through, I add them to my sauce of choice, simmering them gently until serving time.

The almond flour and the ricotta gave these meatballs a wonderful texture, creamy but not at all heavy.  You can make them smaller if you prefer, but I like them to be more substantial.  The tomato sauce I used was very simply prepared: a can of tomatoes simmered with sautéed shallots, celery, and carrots.  Salt and pepper. A touch of orange zest at the end.

Almond flour is not cheap, but where we live for some odd reason every once in a while it goes on sale.  When that happens,  I grab a couple of bags and stick them in the freezer.  It is a wonderful ingredient for both sweet and savory dishes.  One of my favorite cakes ever is this one, in which the almond flour shines in all its nutty glory.  😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Farro Salad with Roasted Leeks

TWO YEARS AGO: It all started with a roof

THREE YEARS AGO: Carrot and Sweet Potato Puree

FOUR YEARS AGO: Impromptu Pasta Dinner

NIGHT AND DAY

Last night….

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This morning….

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The blog will go on with pre-scheduled posts, but I wanted to say hello.  My ability to reply to comments or visit other blogs will be limited until we fly back home next week.  We are here on scientific business, but I hope to be able to blog on a special meal we have planned this weekend.  Stay tuned, mes amis!