Monthly Archives: March 2016

My friends’ Big Fat (Posh) Indian Wedding

Like a fantasy ending of a twisting, turning Bollywood movie, the spectacular wedding of an amazing couple and my dear friends, D & K., was truly worthy of a CD homage. Cheers to the start of the next phase of  your Grihasthashram!

It’s been a long time coming, but I finally experienced one of India’s best cultural exports: The Indian wedding. If you’ve never experienced this fantastic cultural event, live vicariously here!

Anyone involved in an Indian wedding will tell you it is an institution in and of itself. The very fact that it has been exported to essentially everywhere an Indian diaspora exists shows just how strong the Hindu cultural legacy has become, even as it is not as widespread or mainstream as Christianity or Islam.

My dear friend, D, finally married the love of her life, K, after a long and storied journey that spanned two continents and navigated differences between American and Indian culture. I won’t embarrass D, who is American-born but of South Indian descent (the state of Karnataka, to be specific), with the details, but the story of her courtship by now-husband K, born and raised in Sindhi northern India, is indeed worthy of a Bollywood movie depiction.

Their wedding was nothing less.

In Hindu tradition, every wedding decision requires the utmost care and deconfliction. The wedding date is chosen only after consulting a professional, who examines the betrothed’s birthdates and other factors to determine the most auspicious time to be wed. A (short) list of only the most compatible dates are provided, and of course, both families must be consulted. Once a date is chosen, planning can take place only during certain time periods. I bring up these points as context – my friends’ date was only settled 3-4 months before the wedding. That factor would pose a challenge to any engaged couple’s plans, but to plan an elaborate, two-day Indian wedding far exceeds the requirements of an average “Western” wedding.

  

Our wedding events began with the Mehndi & Sangeet, the latter of which means “song” in Sanskrit (Hindi). It was a night filled with dance and song, a celebration of the couple. And by that, I mean a series of dances and songs performed by the families and friends of the bride and groom. And by friends, I am including me. My very first (and possibly only if a video ever gets out!) Sangeet performances were, thankfully, as part of a group. The bride’s brother jokingly compared the series of performances to a track and field meet. It was an apt comparison! It was mildly mortifying and yet so much fun waiting our turn. There’s something about Indian pop that really energizes me – that and the great honor to be part of the celebration of an amazing couple.

 

My gorgeous henna art for Sangeet

 
 

Freestyle dancing after the performances

 
For the CD’s culinary tie-in, I have to talk about the Sangeet food. Southern Indian street food took center stage. Pani puri, bhel puri, and other light snacks were intensely flavored and served with contrasting spicy pickles and cooling chutneys. The caterer, Bollywood Bistro, rendered each of them deftly, making it easier to pig out, realizing only later just how many fried, carb-laden calories I’d consumed – my use of “light” as a descriptor was purely ironic. Which then made it all the more easy to just say heck with it all, why don’t I have dessert? I enjoyed an unusually deconstructed, frozen version of my favorite vermicelli pudding.

And then came an Indian after-meal digestive aid and mouth freshener, elaichi. Convinced to try it to help offset the heavy meal, I was unprepared for the resulting sensory assault. It tasted like someone dipped a bitter, thicker grape leaf with rose syrup and filled it with rose and clove potpourri. Chewing it, I smiled as I gagged inside, looking for a moment to dart to the restroom to get rid of it. I apologize to my Indian friends, but my tastebuds were nowhere near prepared for that sensation, and I highly doubt they ever will be. Washing one’s mouth with a bar of soap would be far more pleasant. My Indian friends:  Please accept that I will politely decline it in the future!

We awoke bright (ok not so bright) and early for the earliest wedding ceremony I’ve ever experienced – scheduled for 8:30 am (which is the far more manageable 5/6 pm in India). Indian wedding ceremonies are notoriously long. This three-hour one was no exception, but I observed (confirmed by Indian friends) that this one was not nearly as stuffy and formal as many ceremonies run. The priest and wedding party had a sense of humor!

  
The ceremony began with a colorful procession capped off with the groom riding in on horseback. The venue was stunningly decorated in pastels enveloping the aisle and encircling a canopied mandap (westerners may think of it as a cross between a gazebo and stage). A series of ceremonies, overseen by a Vedic Hindi priest, essentially re-enact traditional rituals that signify the joining of two souls for the journey to family life, said to be the most difficult compromise and stage of life (you can say that again!).

As I’m used to the standard American 20-30 minute ceremony, the Indian wedding program was lengthy, but it wasn’t quite so formal. It was amusing to see half of the guests at any given time on their mobile phones – and not just taking wedding photos, I might add. Bathroom and coffee/beverage breaks are acceptable and necessary.

The post-ceremony lunch was a classy South Indian affair. South Indian cuisine = yellow dal (lentils), heavy spice, and, especially, fried carbs! But a lightly fried fritter served as an appetizer with coconut chutney was absolutely addictive. A mango lassi provided sweet relief for the heat in the food. Once again, we did not leave an event hungry.

The cocktail hour and reception resumed several hours later, which allowed the afternoon food coma to subside. Thankfully, because the reception dinner eclipsed the previous meals and effectively set an impossibly high bar for any future wedding – Indian or wedding.

  
The bride and groom spoiled their guests completely – from the delicate chicken tikka, vegetarian kofta, and paneer pakora (fried cheese!) served as appetizers to the full North Indian buffet, complete with chicken and fish curries, vegetarian korma and dal makhani, and vegetable biryani.

   
 I was painfully full then, and a moment of panic set in when I saw the dessert table, beautifully packed with a mix of both Indian and western sweets, including a wonderful, thick Srikhabd, a mousse-like mango pudding, and Gheear, a Sindhi pastry (sort of like a hybrid of a Rice Krispie treat and a doughnut, but slightly less sweet). I was told the caterer flew in this pastry the night before – all the way from India, as it is rarely made in the US.

   
 
  
Lest that be the happy ending to my culinary journey through an Indian wedding, the sweet train did not end before a slice of beautiful, western wedding cake. Light as air with a hint of white chocolate and strawberry, the CD absolutely approved! The food didn’t end there – as the couple made sure to send guest home from each event with a goodie – from these beautifully decorated peacock sugar cookies to cupcakes and more traditional Indian pastries.

  
With all this food, I can see why dancing is such a crucial part of any Indian wedding – how else can one burn off those calories?

The newlyweds spared no detail or thoughtful touch to this exquisite event, including wonderful cookies, Indian sweets, and a cupcake sent home with us. It  was an unforgettable weekend of happy celebrations, cultural experiences – and yes, more than enough food. Time for a workout!

  

Sommelier 101: Real wine lessons for real wine drinkers

Let’s face it. Wine can be intimidating. While decent wine has become more accessible of late – particularly for those of us in the New World (my European friends, consider yourselves fortunate), the world of wine is vast. That fact became even more obvious as I began studying for my Introductory Sommelier Course and Exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers (check out the posts chronicling my experiences here and here).

I’ve compiled a few basic takeaways from my own experiences and wine education to help you get the most enjoyment out of your wines and to avoid a few common mistakes. Even if you might be more experienced with wine, you may find some pointers you can use.

   
   
Picking wines:

  • Perhaps the most important question: Are you drinking a glass alone, or with food? Choose fruitier, riper “New World” wines [i.e. NOT Europe] if drinking for happy hour or apéritif; Old World wines were meant for food.
  • You get what you pay for; However, pay for wine only as much as you value the wine. In general, I’ve found reliably good white wines between $5-15, but cheaper reds are likely to leave me with a headache and bad experience that isn’t worth it. Unless you’re buying from your favorite winery, look for reds in the $12-30 range. A $30 bottle of wine (of a varietal or style I like) is often 3 times as good to me than a $10 bottle of the same varietal; however, I wouldn’t spend more than $30 on a wine about which I knew nothing.
  • When faced with a lot of choice, choose wines from a region known for that particular style, but don’t pick the cheapest ones.

  
Examples:
WHITES
-Riesling: Germany, Alsace (France), Willamette Valley, Oregon (USA). Pay attention to level of dryness/sweetness
-Sauvignon blanc: Marlborough (New Zealand); Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire Valley (France)
-Chardonnay: Chablis (Burgundy, France if you like un-oaked); Australia or Napa, California (Oaked)
-Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio: Alsace (France); Trentino-Alto Adige (Italy)
-Chenin Blanc: Vouvray (Loire Valley, France)

ROSÉ
Provénce (France)

  

  
REDS
-Pinot Noir: Burgundy (France) not for the faint of heart or beginners; Burgundy Pinot can be very animalistic and funky; New Zealand; Willamette Valley, Oregon and Sonoma County, California (USA)
– Garnacha/Garnache or GSM [Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre blends] Rhône Valley (France); Australia; Priorat, Spain
-Tempranillo: Rioja (Spain)
-Syrah/Shiraz: South Australia
-Cabernet Franc: Loire Valley, France
-Merlot (or blends): Bordeaux -right bank (France)
-Cabernet Sauvignon (or blends): Bordeaux – left bank (France); Napa, California (USA)
-Malbèc: Mendoza (Argentina)

Pairing wines: 

 

An oily, spicy dish like this lemongrass chicken pairs well with a dry white – especially a dry or off-dry riesling or sauvignon blanc. A big red would overwhelm its delicate flavors, while the cool, dry white helps moderate the heat.

 

  • Don’t worry about rules. Just match intensity with intensity.

What does that mean? A light, subtle wine like Riesling or Pinot noir needs more subtle flavors (or, for Riesling, a bit of spice). An aromatic or full-bodied wine needs something equally intense.
Serving wine:

  • When in doubt, DON’T aerate or decant. Most decent wines don’t need to be decanted. White wines never.
  • Aerate (i.e. Use a Vinturi) only younger, cheaper red wines.
  • Decant older red wines – not for them to aerate or “breathe”, but to separate the sediment from the liquid.
  • Stemless glassware is pretty but not a good idea for drinking wine; it alters the temperature too much, which, in turn alters the aromas and other characteristics of the wine.
  • A Burgundy style glass (wide bottom, angled outward and then narrowed at the top) is one of the best for wine tasting. Its shape directs the aromas in the wine toward your nose.

I hope these tips are a help for those of you looking to unlock your inner sommelier!

‘Somm,’ Demystified: The Court of Master Sommeliers’ Introductory Sommelier Course

Step inside the first milestone on the elite and demanding road to Master Sommelier with The CD.

My heart pounded as I took the microphone. I was about to do something absolutely terrifying: I had to identify a wine from a blind tasting in front of four Master Sommeliers and over 90 fellow students. If there was ever a moment when I’ve felt what Sheryl Sandberg rallied against in her Lean In – the “impostor syndrome” that moment was now.

Picture this: You, along with four others students stand up in front of a room full of students in the wine or restaurant industries. One by one, each student must identify a particular set of deduced characteristics of one wine (sight, nose, palate, structure, preliminary identification, and conclusion). You know everyone else feels for you and, at the same time, is judging you. My turn came for the 4th wine in our first student-led flight. I did not have the benefit of watching the majority of other students attempt to do so. Luckily for me, I found that the jammy nose was matched by a fruit-forward, yet restrained blast on the tongue – familiarity. Whew! A California wine! Low acid, moderate tannins, high alcohol, almost purple in hue; it must be Zinfandel, I thought. Slightly more structured, with a hint of bittersweet tobacco on the finish, so it’s probably Sonoma County and not Napa. I rambled off my final conclusion – Zinfandel, USA, California, Sonoma County, 2012 – and was correct! Ok, except for the vintage (2014 – rookie mistake). I felt a wave of relief – and boost of confidence -after my turn concluded. Perhaps I wasn’t such an impostor after all!

That moment – and not my final examination – defined the two-day course for me. While I’ve always enjoyed the sense of discovery of place (terroir) and craft in the nuances of wine tasting, I realized that I absolutely love the challenge of a deductive tasting. It might be the most fun sort of investigative and analytical work I’ve ever done.

Deductive tasting – like many things in life – is part art, part science. And it’s overwhelmingly learned through experience – not so much palate as one might think. It requires one to pull through that vast memory bank of both factual knowledge and experience. So the good news to anyone out there who loves wine but fear they’re not “born that way” (with the ability to taste, say, tobacco, white flowers, mango, or leather in a wine): You can learn!

Deductive tasting was but only one element of the course. The two-day course functions as essentially a two-day cram session to review global wine knowledge before taking the final, multiple-choice exam that serves as the first of four levels of sommelier certification encapsulated by the coveted Master Sommelier certification, immortalized in the insanely popular documentary, “Somm.”

Lectures are designed to help students review the highlights of the world’s major wine producing regions – their grapes, traditions, and laws, as well as basic knowledge of beer and other alcoholic spirits. Students are expected to come to the course having already learned and studied this material in more depth. The lectures thus are tantamount to a two-day world tour, bouncing from country to country (or appellation to appellation) in mere minutes. Each of the four Master Sommelier instructors alternates as lecture. Each of the seven (four each day, including the lead instructor) Master Sommeliers offered a distinct personality and style. “Somm” viewers recognized Reggie Narito, a Master Sommelier who served as a talking head in the documentary. (In case you’re wondering, the documentary did not do his larger than life personality justice. A particularly funny joke about Green Chartreuse during his lecture on spirits resonated with me, reminding me of an education I had with the stuff in Latvia).

 

Sensory overload

 
This mental overload was, thankfully, interrupted periodically by each of five deductive tasting flights, four of which are student-led as discussed earlier in this post. The five flights culminated Sunday afternoon with a mock deductive tasting examination, consisting of two wines and a written test. This activity simulates the deductive tasting portion of the three-part, Certified Sommelier Examination (Level 2).

A service demonstration helps students visualize the Court of Master Sommeliers’ strict standards for fine wine service. If you’ve ever been served wine in a truly great restaurant by a true sommelier, you have witnessed the elaborate and formal dance that includes bottle and cork presentation, corkage, (optional) decanting, tasting, and serving order. For each step visible to the customer, the sommelier takes perhaps four more actions that are noticed by only the most vigilant of wine connoisseurs.

It is truly an art, and one at which I woefully am deficient. I have a checkered history of destroying corks in the process of wine opening and could barely use a pocket corkscrew if my life depended upon it. I take the easy way out with my trusted Rabbit, a sommelier’s cardinal sin (get your minds out of the gutter, people!). Clearly, if a sommelier-in-training had a report card, the service section would be marked “Needs Improvement.”

 

The classroom being readied for a mock defuctive tasting exam

 
The two-day global wine marathon concluded with the final examination. The test anxiety was almost palpable in the air by test time. It was at this point when I sympathized with my classmates who specialize in wines from a particular region – whether retail, restaurant, distribution, or winery. I also empathized with my classmates who had gone straight to work for a Saturday night shift at their bar or restaurant after Day One. A generalist and rookie like me was in the strangely more enviable position.

The test itself – I will divulge nothing specific – covered an impressive range of both specific and general wine and sommelier service knowledge. The questions were a mix of what some of us later termed “softball” questions and some really tough, specific (what I call “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” questions). I handed in my exam with the confidence that I’d at least passed the thing.

After time was up, all students were called back to the room. We were informed that not everyone passed but were eligible to re-take the course (To be eligible to take the Level 2 exam, the Certified Sommelier Exam, one must pass this exam). One by one, the lead instructor called out the names of only those that passed, the other Master Sommelier lecturers handing out certificates and pins. Rumor has it that the names are called in reverse order of score, with the final names as the highest scorers in the class. If that’s the case, mine was in the respectable middle of the pack.

I suffer from a lifelong disease. Some of you may be familiar; it’s called overachieving. Do any of you ever accomplish something, only immediately to start looking at what’s next? Maybe the fact that passing this exam didn’t get me a title or certification got me. Don’t get me wrong; I have learned so much more about wines around the world. I am happy to be able to say that. But now I’ve got to chase that title: Court of Master Sommeliers’ Certified Sommelier. It may seem silly for someone not actually employed by the “industry,” but that’s my logical next step. It just means I have a reason to learn more about wine – and sample more!

And so I left the two-day course with a certificate in hand and recognition that the more I learn and know about wine, the more I realize I don’t know! In my next post, I’ll share a few lessons learned from my studies about wine – and rookie mistakes to avoid!

Aspiring “Somm:” Studying for the Introductory Sommelier Course

A few months ago, I did something that was either a little brave or a little daft: I registered for an introductory sommelier course and exam. 

Three months later, I walked into a hotel ballroom, joining ninety-some well-dressed beverage professionals and took my seat. I was instantly petrified. When the lead instructor, a Master Sommelier himself, asked the very few of us “not in the industry” to identify ourselves by a show of hands, I had one thought. [Expletive]. What did I get myself into? Am I ready for this?

Wine has been part of my life for well over a decade. But I didn’t discover my passion for it for several more years. Soon after I moved to San Francisco, a friend challenged me. When I mentioned I would love to get my sommelier certification, she asked me what was stopping me. I had no reason. So that night, I went home and tried to register for an introductory course. Not just any course, but THE Court of Master Sommeliers’ legitimate first step. A month later, I had confirmed my registration.

And then, panic set in. I had three months to learn three years worth of wine and spirits knowledge. I mean, I like a good challenge. Game on!
After browsing the course overview and part of the syllabus, I came up with a study strategy: read and take notes on wine texts; drink as many different wines representative of their respective regions as possible to lock in the former material.

 

Few things make my day so much as discovering new French wines with cheese and charcuterie

In a weird way, it worked. It’s the only subject material I’ve studied in my life that transcends traditional methods of learning – visual, auditory, and tactile/kinesthetic. Yup, I pulled that one out of some class from my middle school days. Anyhow, I suppose taste and olfactory learning count as tactile, but in this case, each sense records completely unique information. If you’ve ever been to culinary or wine classes, you know exactly what I mean. And since wine is seen as a pure extension of the terroir (roughly “place”) in which the grapes grow, tasting a decent wine can really help you learn a bit more about the land, the grape varietal(s), the winemaking techniques used, and aging altogether. In other words, everything I learned about wine, I learned (ok, remembered) through drinking it. Counterintuitive, right?

IMG_0803

Tasting German Sekt (sparkling wine) at a wine festival in Germany gave me appreciation for the intricacy of German wine, but i couldnt tell you much ablut the terroir or wine districts until I began studying!

But as I “studied,” I realized that my wine experiences – in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, California, Oregon, and Virginia, for example – gave me unique memories, but I wished I’d paid more attention to detail! My trip to Champagne-Ardennes in France was great for learning the great variation in styles of French champagnes – from extra dry (extra brut) to off-dry (sec and Demi sec) and based on different cuvées, or blends, of grapes and vintages. But for the life of me, I could not remember anything specific about the second fermentation and aging processes. That’s where the readings became critical.

In Karen MacNeill’s The Wine Bible, I found my greatest resource for specific wine knowledge. If you ever have the opportunity to read or purchase it, I highly recommend it. Most people won’t choose to read it cover to cover (or from 1% to 100% in e-book form), but it is engaging enough to read as if you’re binge watching Netflix. I only made it about halfway through before my introductory sommelier exam, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have passed the exam if I hadn’t made it that far. It is engaging enough that I kept wanting to read ahead – but alas, notetaking slowed me down.

 

Studying California sparkling wines during a visit to Domaine Carneros in southern Napa

For the tactile or sensory portion of studying, I dragged numerous friends to wine bars over a three-month period. Ok, I might have done that without the excuse of an exam, but I was on this particular mission. San Francisco has an abundance of wine opportunities, but with so many wonderful, locally produced options from the state, finding a wide variety of international wines is a bit more of a challenge. I asked bartenders to try a few international varieties rather than committing to a full glass of a wine. Most were more than happy to oblige; however, I’m sure the look on my face after trying what I thought to be a particularly bland Roussane from France or a pucker-inducing Portugese Vinho Verde did not make me look like a wine enthusiast. For me, it was a reminder that so many (Old World) wines need food for their flavors and aromas to really sing.


One Friday evening, I stayed in for a spontaneous post-yoga, home study session. Passing by a cute Italian wine shop I’d seen but had been too intimidated to stop in, I decided to abandon fear and try something new. Quick aside: I am not a huge fan of Italian wines. Blasphemy, I know. For me, Italian reds are like the tequila of wine: Unless the quality is really high (and even if you do), it’s going to hurt going down as you drunk it and again – more so – the next day. With the exception of a memorable visit to a wonderful Italian wine bar in Vilnius, Lithuania (yes, you read correctly) that acquainted me with Sicilian wines, I hadn’t found a reliable Italian grape or style.

Sharing that information with the helpful woman working at the shop that night, she recommended for me a Nero D’Avola from the southern Italian region of Apulia (Puglia), located along the Adriatic Sea coastline. I stopped by a cheese shop, and, once home, I set up my platter and glass of fun (I mean, studying implements). And then, for more effect, I first viewed the documentary Somm.

I learned a lot that night – notably that Nero D’Avola (which also grows well in Sicily) is a pretty reliable grape. Strangely, I couldn’t get out of my head a particularly strange note of chicken bone. Yes, that sounds terrible, but it wasn’t at all – it just needed a ripe, aged soft cheese or meat with it. I later realized this meaty odor and characteristic is caused by a particular strain of yeast, brettanomyces. In small amounts, it can contribute positively to a wine’s complexity, while in large quantities, it is considered a fault. After this wine had been open for a few days, the chicken bone aroma subsided, and it was a nicely fruity wine.

 

The “Wine Geek” flight at Atlanta’s Barcelona wine bar and kitchen

For another study date to crystallize my readings on Spanish wines, I dragged my sister to my favorite Spanish wine bar/restaurant, Barcelona. Their Wine Geek flight and a glass of Olaroso Dulce sherry (Jeréz) cemented my study of several Spanish wine regions. I love Rioja so much that it’s hard to venture beyond the region. But Xarello, a grape usually blended into sparkling Cava, actually makes a decent, slightly aromatic still (white) wine. The sherry paired well with a lightly sweet, creamy, layered crepe dessert, but on its own, the sweet Olaroso variety was a bit of a misnomer. Ummm, strong, yes. Dulce (sweet) – not exactly.

 

Oh Barolo, you are one spectacular wine. Worth the hype!

As the course approached, my cramming picked up exponentially. I found myself reading the Wine Bible on breaks during work. I indulged in quite an expensive wine flight from Italy’s famous Piemonte region, and in perhaps too much of its lauded Barolo. My brain melted into a soup of French regions, European appellations and wine law, Italy’s unique grapes, Spain’s austere but up and coming wine regions, and the traditional system of German wine categorization (auslese vs. Beerenauslese vs. trockenbeerenauslese, anyone?), and of course, identifying each region’s signature varietals.

And then, it was Zero Hour…

(To Be Continued…)

Impossibly rich, gluten-free lava brownies

Gluten-free or not, these brownies may be the richest you’ve ever tasted!

You might have seen the “gluten-free” label in the post’s title and assumed that these brownies would somehow be deficient when compared to “normal” brownies made with wheat flour. These brownies are not your average brownie. Molten chocolate cake meets brownie. These brownies are indulgent and addictive, yet rich enough you will set limits.

  
They are (were) perfect for #chocolatemonth, and in my case, they made a baby shower for a gluten-free expectant mother much tastier!

Almond meal replaces wheat flour in this version, its aromatic nuttiness enhanced with a hint of almond extract or amaretto. Since almond meal is more coarse than wheat flour, it doesn’t bind quite as much to the rest of the ingredients. While that sounds like a terrible failure, rest assured it is not. A firm crust will result, which provides a pleasing contrast for the unexpectedly decadent, soft center. Cut squares when the baked tray has been cooled to room temperature, but chill the cut squares before removing them from the pan.

Serve these with lightly sweetened whipped cream and tart pomegranate seeds for contrast. Alternatively, my cocoa amaretto ice cream makes a killer ice cream sundae atop warmed a brownie. It’s a finish your dinner guests won’t forget. You – and they – may never go back to traditional, wheat flour brownies again!

Decadent, gluten-free lava brownies

  • 8 oz. (1 cup) salted butter, room temperature
  • 4 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, finely chopped
  • 4 whole eggs, room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. Almond extract (or 1 Tbsp. amaretto liqueur)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 c. Cocoa powder
  • 3/4 c. Almond flour/almond meal or other gluten-free flour of choice
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9″ X 9″ aluminum pan with butter. Set aside.

In a microwave safe bowl or Pyrex liquid measuring cup (2 cup size works well), microwave the chocolate with about half the butter for two intervals of 30 seconds (or one minute on 50% power), stirring to incorporate. Add the remaining butter and microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring with a spatula between intervals, until the mixture is smooth. Cool to room temperature.

  
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, beat eggs using an electric mixer on a high setting, for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, or until pale yellow and frothy. Add in sugar and continue to beat until the mixture thickens and begins to hold its shape slightly (about another minute). 

 

The finished egg and sugar mixture

 
Beat in cooled chocolate/butter mixture, vanilla, salt, and almond extract. Sift cocoa powder into the mixture and beat. 

 

Almond meal, ready to be folded into the mixture

 
Remove mixer. Fold in the almond flour with a spatula until just incorporated – do not overmix. Fold in chocolate chunks if desired. Pour into greased pan.

 

Batter ready for baking

 
  
Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 45 minutes. A crust should form; it should be solid and firm to the touch. You may not see surface cracks as you would when using wheat flour. You may wish to perform the toothpick test to prevent over-baking, but it likely will not come out cleanly. Cool to room temperature and cut into squares, but do not remove from pan. Refrigerate until just before serving.

Serve warmed with vanilla (or my cocoa almond) ice cream, or chilled with whipped cream, garnished with pomegranate seeds. Cover and refrigerate uneaten brownies. They won’t last long!