Chili-Infused Brownies with Mango-Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

Welcome to the latest round of Cook the Books.  CTB is a virtual book club open to anyone that has a passion for books and food.   Every two months, we all collectively read, become inspired and get into the kitchen.  For more details on joining our merry band of epicurean readers, click here.

Claudia from Honey from Rock is hosting this month’s literary offering, Kitchen Chinese by Ann Mah.

About the book:

Isabelle Lee thinks she knows everything about Chinese cuisine. After all, during her Chinese-American childhood, she ate it every day. Isabelle may speak only “kitchen Chinese,” the familial chatter learned at her mother’s knee; but she understands the language of food. Now, in the wake of a career-ending catastrophe, she’s ready for a change; so she takes off for Beijing to stay with her older sister, Claire, whom she’s never really known, and finds a job writing restaurant reviews for an expat magazine. In the midst of her extreme culture shock, and the more she comes to learn about her sister’s own secrets, Isabelle can’t help but wonder whether coming to China was a mistake . . . or an extraordinary chance to find out who she really is.

About the author:

Ann Mah is a journalist and bestselling author of The Lost Vintage and three other books. A frequent contributor to the New York Times’ Travel section, she lives in Washington, DC .

What I thought…

Chick-lit, summer beach read….that is what I was expecting out of Kitchen Chinese.  While it might fit into one of these categories, I totally got into it. Typically if I’m reading a book with any romantic entanglements, I tend to skip whole sections because of the formulaic approach to romance novels—the two meet, one (or both) of them does something stupid, the other one can’t forgive, they waste a lot of time being angry and stubborn and then they get together in the end.

Although there are a few glimpses of this type of plot, Mah steers clear. She allows her protagonist to make all sorts of mistakes, but most are not relationship errors. Mah takes her on a professional and cultural journey where she learns to embrace family (and maybe a romance) as well.

I really enjoyed this book. In my edition, Mah provides recipes in the reader’s section.

No spoilers, but Isabelle, the main character, is a bit naive and stupid at times when it comes to her relationships, but we’ve all been there, right. I guess I enjoyed Mah’s style and writing so much that I can forgive a bit of the “I hope he likes me/He could never be interested in me” plot. Plus, Isabelle is not focused on finding a mate or a boyfriend. She is focused on her career (even though she needs a good kick in the butt at times to pursue her dreams).

The food:

This is by no means a definitive list of the food mentioned in the novel.  I usually have a pad and paper or keep a Google Doc of all the food as I read.  I just wanted to absorb this tale so my novel is completely dogeared, marking pages that had food references.

  • “Chinese cuisine is like poetry—everything has a beautiful name…..Ants on a tree.  That’s just ground pork and cellophane noodles. Mapo doufu—you probably know—it means pockmarked tofu, but it’s actually just tofu in a spicy sauce.  And di xian is my favorite.  Earth’s three fairies—eggplant, potato, and bell pepper combined in a brown sauce form a magical flavor” (43).
  • “a steady stream of dried black mushrooms and crunchy wood ear fungi, thousand-year-old-eggs that wobbled like jelly and endless, countless bowls of white rice” (57)
  • Shopping for Gorgonzola and Brie, Nutella, green tea, skim milk, Special K, “caveman sized” Parmagiano-Reggiano, pasta, ricotta, spinach, eggs, butter, EVOO (105)
  • Geraldine’s buffet with zhajiang-mian (noodles with a salty preserved bean sauce with pork and veggies), laohu cai or “tiger salad” (cucumber, bell pepper, cilantro and boiled dumplings), and the fusion dish of Nide Jiazi and ricotta-spinach filled raviolis.  (118)
  • mao er dou “cat’s ear noodles shaped like pointed orrechiette—were mixed with scrambled egg and tomato, seasoned with sugar….and doused with the region’s famous black vinegar” (141)
  • apple with cheddar crust, bourbon pecan and pumpkin pies (239)
  • quo qiao mixian “Crossing the bridge noodles” (283)
  • dapanji—Big plate chicken (314)
  • chili-infused brownies with mango ice cream (337)

One of the first foods mentioned is the “Ants in a Tree” dish and I almost made that (and I am sure I will make it at some point this summer).   Instead, I decided to go with the last food items mentioned:  chili-infused brownies with mango ice cream.  Isabelle served this dessert at Claire’s surprise paty.  I thought a hint of spice and chocolate would pair well with a creamy mango concoction.  Here’s what I came up with.

I used a previously posted recipe for Strawberry-Mango Frozen Yogurt.    I took my go-to brownie recipe (copied long ago from the side of a Hershey’s cocoa can).  I just added a bit of cayenne and red pepper flakes to the old recipe.


Chili Infused Brownies


Just the slightest hint of spice complements this most and chocolaty brownie.


  • 2 sticks butter, melted
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 2 t. pure vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 c. flour
  • 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. red pepper flake
  • 1/4 t. cayenne


  1. Place melted butter in a medium to large mixing bowl. Stir in sugar and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Add cocoa; beat well until blended.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, red pepper flakes, and cayenne. Stir dry ingredients into the chocolate batter until incorporated. Pour into a 13 x 9″ pan.
  3. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 30-35 minutes.

Yield: 10-12

I was not wrong.   The creamy tropical fro-yo paired great with the slightly spicy brownies.



Mah does include recipes for Spicy “Mapo Tofu,” Spaghetti Carbonara (made with wine which I thought was interesting), and Salt and Pepper Shrimp Salad.


Join CTB for the August/September round (which I am hosting) and  Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown (December 2019).

From the publisher:

In this captivating dual narrative novel, a modern-day woman finds inspiration in hidden notes left by her home’s previous owner, a quintessential 1950s housewife. As she discovers remarkable parallels between this woman’s life and her own, it causes her to question the foundation of her own relationship with her husband–and what it means to be a wife fighting for her place in a patriarchal society.


Look for an announcement post soon at Cook the Books.


I’m linking up with July’s Foodies Read and…

Weekend Cooking.

13 comments to Chili-Infused Brownies with Mango-Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

  • Ants in a tree tastes really good. Perfect for any time of the year. The brownie with kick sounds awesome! Is unsweetened cocoa natural or Dutch processed?

    • I am really going to try Ants in a Tree and as I’m getting eggplants and peppers from the garden, I am going to try Di San Xian, too!

  • mae

    Hot spice with chocolate! Well, that’s what the emperor of Mexico enjoyed before the Spaniards conquered him! For the Aztecs, as you probably know, chocolate was a savory beverage seasoned with chili pepper — both new-world plants, no sweetener though. I think I would love your brownies.

    be well… mae at

  • Greta review. I also like how you summed up the romantic entanglements in books, the formula. So true. Now I want brownies.

  • What a great addition to our CTB digital meal, the perfect dessert! I’ve also added the Ants in a Tree recipe to my to be made soon list.

  • I’m not sure if I would like the spice in these. 🙂 NOT!!!! I love a spicy chocolate truffle or pudding so these brownies are right up my alley. So good!

  • I read Recipe for a Perfect Wife before it was ever chosen for CTB. My post has been written for ages. Loved it and can’t wait to share. I also loved Kitchen Chinese and, like you, was surprised.

  • Chocolate and chili is an interesting combination that works quite well. I like the idea of pairing that with fruit, so great choice of recipe 🙂