Celebration cupcakes

Thursday, August 22, 2013

You probably have noticed our absence on the blog lately.  The past few months have been a whirlwind for us, moving to a new place, traveling and spending time with our loved ones who have fallen ill, while preparing for a new addition to our family.  Yes, we are EXPECTING a little one.  It came as a wonderful surprise for both of us.  

We had been trying for a while with no success.  Fear.  Disappointment. Frustration. Sadness.  Those feelings overwhelmed me as many months passed and my body would not cooperate.  We were ready to see a specialist when it happened.  

I selfishly kept the news to myself for a few days, grinning from ear to ear as I went about my daily routine and thought about the new life growing in my belly.  Millions of thoughts raced through my head.  Every fiber of my being resonated with joy.  

After a few days, I could no longer contain my excitement and broke the news to Vu.  He was ecstatic.  The perfect present for his birthday.  Celebration was in order.  For this occasion, I made vanilla cupcakes with a mixed berry compote and marshmallow frosting. 

It took me three attempts to get the batter right but I finally found the perfect recipe.  You can make a cake in place of cupcakes if you want to something special for your own celebration.  

These cupcakes were perfect for our celebration of this new life growing inside my belly. 

Vanilla cupcakes with berry compote and marshmallow frosting

Vanilla cupcake (adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook)

1 1/2 cup cake flour (not self-raising)
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 1/2 stick of butter, at room temp
3/4 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of milk
3 large egg whites
2 tbsps sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners and set aside. 
2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt then set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 3/4 cup of sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Mix in the vanilla.
4. With the mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with flour.  Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
5. In the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on low speed until foamy.
6. With the mixer running, slowly add in 2 tablespoons of sugar, beat on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 3-4 minutes.
7. Gently fold in half of the egg-white mixture into the flour mixture until combined.  Gently fold in the remaining egg-white mixture.
8. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling about 2/3 full. 
9. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15 minutes.
10. Transfer pans to a wire rack and let the cupcakes cool completely.
11. Once cooled, use a small spoon and scoop out a small hole in the center of each cupcake, creating a cavity.

Berry compote (original recipe)

1 cup blackberries
1 cup raspberries
1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup of sugar

1. In medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the berries and sugar to a boil, stirring constantly until thick. 
2. Remove from the heat and chill until cold.
3. If you don't have berries readily available, you can use seedless or strained berry preserves.

Marshmallow Frosting (adapted from Meringue)

2 large egg whites, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
4 tbsps water
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a stainless steel mixer bowl, whisk together egg whites, sugar, water, cream of tartar, and salt. 
2. Gently lower the bowl over a simmering pot of water and immediately begin beating with an electric hand beater.  Do not leave the egg white mixture unattended or stop beating any time during this process.
3. After about 3 minutes, remove the bowl from the heat.
4. Attach the bowl to the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg-white mixture on high speed for 5 minutes.  It should look like marshmallow fluffiness. 
6. Remove the bowl and fold in the vanilla extract. Set the frosting aside and allow the mixture to cool. 


1. Place the cupcakes on a flat surface.
2. Fill each cavity of the cupcake with 1 teaspoon of berry compote.
3. Add the marshmallow frosting to a pastry bag and generously frost each cupcake.
4. Using a hand blow torch, lightly torch the marshmallow frosting to your liking. 

Poached egg with grilled asparagus and Serrano ham

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I love eggs, perhaps a bit too much.  There was a time when I had eggs for breakfast just about every day--boiled, scrambled, or sunny side up with baguette and a touch of Maggie soy sauce.  I grew up with the last dish.  In Vietnam, you can get freshly baked baguette, or banh mi, from a local bakery every morning.  Imagine the crispy baguette exterior and its warm dough smothered in luscious egg yolk.  Pure bliss.  It is definitely one of my breakfast staples.  Since I started cooking, I played with other ingredients to build on my basic egg dish.   

Recently, I found a combination that I really enjoy-Serrano ham, Parmesan cheese, pesto, and asparagus in addition to egg and baguette.  The flavor profile is a mix of French and Italian.   

This breakfast is packed with a lot of flavors and many sources of nutrients.  Enjoy!

Poached egg with grilled asparagus and Serrano ham (4 servings)

2 tbsps white wine vinegar
4 eggs
One bowl of ice water
16 asparagus spears, washed
2 tbsp olive oil
8 pieces of Serrano ham or proscuitto
8 slices of toasted baguette
4 tbsp pesto
¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. To poach the eggs, fill a medium saucepan with 8 inches of water. Add the white vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Gently crack one egg into a large spoon.  Using a wooden spoon, stir the water at the edge of the pan in a circular motion to create a whirlpool then lower the egg into the water. Cook the eggs for 3 to 4 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the egg from the saucepan and place in the bowl of ice water.  Repeat with the remaining eggs. 

2. Heat a grill pan to medium-high heat.  Holding the tip and stem of each asparagus spear, break off the less tender bottom end. Toss the asparagus with olive oil and salt to taste.  Grill the asparagus until slightly charred, about 3-5 minutes depending on the size of the asparagus spears.

Gently return the eggs to the saucepan until heated through, about 1 minute. Remove the eggs from the pan with a slotted spoon and gently blot on a paper towel to remove excess water.  

4. Place the toasted baguette and Serrano ham on a plate.  Add the grilled asparagus.  Place one egg on top of the asparagus.  Drizzle each plate with pesto and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper to taste.

Picture of the day: spring

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Mojito

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

When Vu and I visited Puerto Rico last month, we took a rum tour at the Bacardi Distillery.  It was surprisingly not cheesy but quite enjoyable.  The tour started with a short video of the famous rum’s origin dating back to 1862 and how the company has evolved over the years. Then the guide took us to a replica of Bacardi’s first distillery in Cuba and indulged our olfactory bulbs with the various rums that the company produces.  I was amazed at the different notes that the rums carry depending on how long they had been aged and what they were infused (ie berries, apple, etc) with.  Imagine wine tasting, but with rum.  And of course, we weren’t allowed to take pictures so I don’t have anything to share with you.  

We were ushered to another room, a recreation of the original VIP bar in Cuba where the Bacardi family and their close friends frequented.  At the VIP room, a bartender demonstrated how the cuba libre (rum and coke), daiquiri, and mojito are mixed.  The tour concluded with everyone's favorite part, or at least my and Vu's, free cocktails at the Bacardi bar.  It was an entertaining experience and left us with a newfound appreciation for Bacardi rum, or just rum in general.   

Today, I’m recreating that awesome mojito, which has become one of my favorite cocktails.  A mojito is a Cuban highball, simply made with only 5 ingredients but so refreshing.  Don't be surprised if you indulge in a few.  Here goes!       

Mojito (one serving) 

6 mint leaves
1 oz of lime juice (about 2 medium size limes)
1 oz of white rum or light rum
5 oz of club soda
2 tbsps sugar
Crushed ice
Extra lime wedges and mint sprigs for garnish

1. Muddle mint leaves with sugar and lime juice in a tall glass.
2. Stir in club soda and rum. 
3. Add crushed ice, and garnish with a lime wedge and mint sprig.  Serve immediately.  Enjoy!

My London Fog

Thursday, February 7, 2013

After coming back from Puerto Rico, I had to work the graveyard shift for six nights and it was hard to stay up! I hit a wall at about 3 in the morning.  My eyelids refused to open and a fog enveloped my head.  I admire people who could adapt to the nocturnal work life and withstand the body's circadian rhymths. 

Since I’m not a coffee drinker and quite sensitive to large amount of caffeine, I brought along my favorite drink, the London Fog, to help fight off sleep deprivation. 

I was first introduced to the London Fog, or Earl Grey tea latte, during an outing at Le Marche St.George in Vancouver.  It seems that the London Fog originated in Vancouver, but its creator remains unknown.  Nevertheless, it has become one of my favorite hot beverages. 

The London Fog tea latte consists of Earl Grey tea, steamed milk, and vanilla syrup.  Earl Grey is a popular black tea flavored with oil of Bergamot, a fragrant citrus grown in southern Italy. I like my tea a bit more sweet so I deviated from the usual recipe and added an extra teaspoon of honey. 

I can’t credit the London Fog entirely for helping me survive that stretch of night shifts, but it certainly helped ease some of that painful sleep deprivation.  Even when I’m back to my regular work schedule, I still have craving for a cup of London Fog.

London Fog Tea Latte

2 tsps Earl Grey loose leaf tea or 1 teabag
6 oz hot water
2 oz of steamed whole milk
2 tbsps vanilla syrup
1 tsp honey

1. Pour hot water in a kettle and heat until boiling.
2. Place two teaspoons of Earl Grey tea in a cup and pour in 6 oz of hot water.  Let it steep for 3 minutes then strain the tea into another cup.
3. Steam milk or heat milk in a microwave and whisk until frothy.
4. Stir in 2 oz of frothy milk, 2 tablespoons of vanilla syrup, and 1 teaspoon of honey into the tea cup.  Enjoy!

Puerto Rico

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Vu and I have just come back from Puerto Rico and we have a lot to share with you!  It was our first time visiting a Caribbean island and what an amazing experience we had.  We were smitten with the lush green vegetation sweeping across the island and its beautiful coastline hemmed by turquoise water.  Without much further ado!

Old San Juan, the historic district, guarded by massive walls and forts El Morro and San Cristobal   

16th to 17th restored Spanish colonial buildings

Beautiful wooden doors found throughout Old San Juan

Blue cobblestone street

We lucked out and got to experience the San Sebastian Festival, a four day Mardi Gras-like celebration in honor of the island’s rich culture.  

We were packed in like sardines, among the thousands of attendants. 

Vieques Island, a short ferry from Fajardo

Old pier at Vieques Island

Random tree trunk, perfect for photo op

Found many floating coconuts during our walk

Fresh coconut straight from the tree

Sun Bay

Baby sea urchin

White sea urchin

Star fish

Another star fish

More star fish

Sunset at Vieques ferry terminal

El Yungue Rainforest was magnificent, filled with lush green vegetation

La Coca Fall

Every inch of the forest was covered with fern and moss

Yokahu Tower

The view from Yokahu Tower

See that peak?  We hiked up there!

We hiked to the top of El Yungue tower where you can see Luquillo Beach and Fajardo in the distance.  It took 3 hours but so rewarding.

We relaxed at Luquillo Beach after our hike.  Incredibly beautiful and unspoiled by tourists. This is at the top of my beach list!

The famous Caribbean blue green water.  

Rio Camuy Cave

Rock formation inside Rio Camuy Cave

Random fruits and vegetables found at roadside stands

We had a great time in Puerto Rico and couldn't be happier with all the adventures that we squeezed into our schedule.  Puerto Rico, you leave us yearning for that warm, turquoise Caribbean water!    

Proposed itinerary:

Day 1: exploring metro San Juan and Old San Juan
Day 2: hike at El Yungue Rainforest then relax at Luquillo Beach
Day 3: drive east to Fajardo and take the ferry to Vieques Island
Day 4: drive west to Rio Camuy Cave then end the day at Bicardi Distillery for a rum tour

Places we didn't get to explore: Culebra Island and Ponce 

Things we couldn't schedule: bioluminescent bay tour and coffee tour

Where we stayed: San Juan Beach Hotel in Condado Beach

Website we used to get info for the trip: seepuertorico

Tips for travel to PR: bring summer clothing, a swimsuit, sunscreen, bug spray, hiking shoes, and nausea/vomiting medication (if you're prone to motion sickness for those ferry rides)