Book review: The Knot Outdoor Weddings

Monday, December 28, 2015


I was excited to read The Knot Outdoor Weddings to get inspiration for styling tables and food for our dinner parties and not so much for wedding planning because my hubby and I have been married for a while.  From first glance, this book is gorgeous with many real life weddings featured.  If you follow the magazine, this book is an extension of the magazine.  There are a lot of helpful tips peppered throughout the book for wedding planning but I wish a bit more details were included in the 4 pages devoted to each wedding.  As beautiful as this book is, it lacks detail.  There's a nice credit page at the end if you want to look at vendors, venues, or photographers.  Comparing the book to the website, I find the website to be more helpful.  Skip The Knot Outdoor Weddings and use their website or pinterest if you want better ideas for planning your wedding.  

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher

Salted chocolate chip cookies

Sunday, December 27, 2015

When we posted a picture of our salted chocolate chip cookies as part of our edible gifts for friends and family on Instagram, people went wild. Never had it occurred to us that our followers would go banana for something as simple as chocolate chip cookies topped with a few grains of sea salt! 

So we're making good on our promise to share our simple but delicious salted chocolate chip cookie recipe.  It's amazing what heat can do to the chemistry of sugar, flour, baking powder, and butter! 

They’re perfect on their own with a glass of milk, as a pizookie, or an ice cream sandwich. We hope you like it!

Salted chocolate chip cookies (about 18 cookies)

1 stick of butter, cubed
1 ½ cup of all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup of dark brown sugar
¼ cup of turbinado sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 oz of semisweet chocolate chips (use the best quality chocolate you have)
½ tsp sea salt for sprinkling

1. In a small sauce pan, on low heat, add the cubed butter and let the butter melt into a liquid, about 5 minutes.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the sugars and melted butter and beat on low speed until homogeneous, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on slow speed until well blended.
5. Sift in the flour mixture into two batches and beat until combined.
6. Scrape down the side of the bowl as needed.
7. Fold in the chocolate chips.
8. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes. If you have time, refrigerate dough overnight which allows a deeply caramelized flavor to come through.
9. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
10.Remove the dough from the fridge and use an ice scoop to scoop out about 2 tablespoons of dough for each cookie.
11. Roll the dough into balls and place them on the parchment paper, about 2 inches apart.
12. Use the bottom of a measuring cup and gently press on the dough to flatten them slightly.
13. Sprinkle a few grains of sea salt on top.
14. Place the baking sheets on the lowest racks of the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
15. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let the cookies sit on the pan for another 5 minutes. Transfer them to a wire rack to cook.
16. Enjoy immediately or store them in an airtight container for up to a week.

Truffled polenta with mushroom ragu

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mushroom was not a part of my culinary repertoire until we lived in Washington and our friends introduced us to most amazing varieties. Every fall they would trek to Olympic National Forest and hunt for golden chanterelles and lobster mushrooms deep in the forest, turning over salal and fern to look for these treasures on the forest floor. When the mushroom crop was good, we were gifted with pounds of chanterelles. I’m smitten with the chanterelle because of its lovely peach-like fragrant, golden color, and meaty texture. I love turning chanterelles and other mushrooms into a ragu to pair with a bowl of polenta. This dish is one of our favorite fall comfort foods especially for those nights when we want a hearty vegetarian meal.

Truffled polenta with mushroom ragu
½ lb of chanterelle mushrooms (cleaned and cut in big chunks)
½ lb of portobello mushrooms (cleaned and quartered)
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
2 sprigs of thyme
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 small shallots, chopped
½ cup of white wine
½ cup of creme fraiche
salt and pepper
½ cup of polenta
1 1/2 cups of water
1 cup of milk
¼ cup of Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon of truffle oil

1. To make the mushroom ragu, heat oil oil and butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat for 30 seconds.
2. Add the shallots, garlic, and thyme and let everything cook until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the mushrooms and coat them in the butter and shallot mixture. Let them cook for about 10 minutes until their juices start release and evaporate.
4. When the mixture starts to dry up a bit, add in the white wine and creme fraiche and cook for another 15 minutes.
5. Season the mushroom ragu with salt and pepper to taste.
6. For the polenta, pour water in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and slowly pour the polenta in the pan while gently whisking the mixture together. Stir the polenta occasionally with a wooden spoon while it’s gently simmering to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
7. Add in the milk and continue cooking the polenta for another 30 minutes or until softened. If the mixture starts to dry out, add two tablespoons of water at a time to soften the mixture.
8. When the polenta is softened, stir in the shaved Parmesan cheese and truffle oil. Season with salt to taste.
9. Divide the polenta between four bowls and top with mushroom ragu. Garnish with chopped parsley and additional Parmesan cheese if you like.


Cookbook Review: Donabe Japanese Clay Pot Cooking

Thursday, November 26, 2015!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;%22%20/%3E

I was really excited to read Donabe by Naoko Takei Moore and Kyle Connaughton as it’s foreign topic for me. For those who are not familiar, donabe is a cooking method using Japanese clay pots. After a thorough introduction of donabe history, production, seasoning and care of donabe, the authors shared seven chapters full of delicious recipes: Classic Style Donabe, Double Lid Donabe Rice Cooker, Donabe for Soup and Stew, Donabe Steamer, Tagine Style Donabe, Donabe Smoker, and Dashi, Sauces, and Condiments.

I avoid buying a lot of kitchen gadgets but I couldn’t resist trying some of the recipes from this book and had to rush to our nearest Japanese supermarket to buy a donabe. Before committing to one, keep in mind that a donabe is best used with a gas or a portable butane stove but not with an induction or ceramic cooktop. Even though the recipes are meant to be used with a donabe, I couldn’t see why you can’t try them using a Emile Henry clay French oven. So far, we’ve only tried the smoked duck breast, smoked miso tofu, crab rice with charred green onion, and tofu hotpot but they all turned out delicious. One thing that caught me by surprise is the versatility of a donabe--you can use it as a steamer, rice cooker, smoker, hot pot, and so much more. I’m excited to try more recipes and really love that everything is thrown into one pot.

Overall, Donabe is well written with amazing recipes. Granted some of the recipes are fusion but still delicious. The photography by Eric Wolfinger is gorgeous and make you want to run to your nearest Japanese market to buy all the ingredients and bring these dishes to life. Donabe is the perfect cookbook for those who like Japanese comfort food and one pot meals.

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher

Cookbook Review: Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes

Friday, November 13, 2015!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;%22%20/%3E

Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes is such an interesting book to read.  I’m not sure if the team at Lucky Peach was poking fun at Asian cuisine or trying to introduce delicious but simple Asian food to the public with the premise of no frying, no sub-recipes, and 100% inauthentic.  The book started off with a quick intro into necessary equipment and pantry items accompanied by very useful pictures of what the items look like.  Broken into many chapters that include cold dishes, breakfast, pancakes, soups and stews, noodles, rices, warm vegetables, chicken, meats, seafood, super sauces, and dessert, there’s something for everyone.  Many classic dishes like green papaya salad, dumplings, miso soup, okonomiyaki, Massaman curry, pad see ew, chicken adobo, Hainan chicken rice, and kung pao shrimp are included but don’t expect every single Asian dish featured.  If you’re looking for a comprehensive book on Asian cuisine, you’re looking in the wrong place.  Scanning through the recipes, I’m familiar with ninety percent of the dishes and probably won’t be cooking from it.  Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes would be perfect for someone who’s interested in Asian food but doesn’t know where to start.  It’s like a mini introduction to Asian food just to whet your appetite.  I have mixed feeling about this cookbook and don't know if I hate it or like and highly recommend stopping at your local bookstore and flipping through it before buying.

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher

Vietnamese coffee ice cream

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Considering how we can’t start our morning without a glass of cafe sua da, it was a no brainer to turn one our our favorite drinks into a frozen treat. We’ve been making Vietnamese coffee ice cream since we got a Cuisinart ice cream machine years ago but haven’t thought about putting it on the blog until recently. After testing it out at several parties and ice cream socials, it won first place for the most popular ice cream among ten other frozen treats. A very coveted spot! The Earl gray and honey blossom ice cream and passion fruit frozen yogurt were trailing right behind. 

My friends and coworkers were pleasantly surprised at how similar in taste it was to the actual Vietnamese coffee drink minus the caffeine high. Many people asked for the recipe so it would be a crime not to share! You can now enjoy this delectable treat at home or find someone that is willing to make it for you!

Vietnamese coffee ice cream
1 cup of organic heavy cream
1 cup of organic 2% milk
½ cup of condensed milk
3 tablespoons of Vietnamese coffee (my favorite is Cafe Du Monde with chicory)
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 large organic egg yolks

1. In a heavy saucepan, combine cream, milk, and condensed milk.
2. Put the pan over medium heat and let the mixture boil gently to bubbling just around the edges (gentle simmer). Remove from heat.
3. Add the coffee and let it steep for 8 minutes until the cream has taken on the coffee flavor, stirring occasionally and tasting to make sure it’s not too bitter.
4. While waiting for the coffee to steep, in a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up and whisk in sugar. Set aside.
5. Put the saucepan back on the stove over low heat and let it warm up for 2 minutes.
6. Carefully measure out ½ cup of hot cream mixture.
7. While whisking the eggs constantly, whisk the hot cream mixture into the eggs until smooth. Continue tempering the eggs by adding another ½ cup of hot cream to the bowl with the yolks.
8. Pour the cream-egg mixture back to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it is thickened and coats the back of a spatula, about 5 minutes.
9. Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container.
10. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziplock freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in an ice bath until cold, about 30 minutes. Refrigerate the ice cream base for at least 2 hours or overnight. I like to refrigerate the base overnight for the most flavor.
11. Pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister of your ice cream machine and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
12. Spin until thick and creamy about 25-30 minutes.
13. Pack the ice cream into a storage container, press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface and seal with an airtight lid. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.


Cookbook Review: Slow Fires Mastering New Ways to Braise, Roast, and Grill

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Slow Fires by chef Justin Smillie is definitely one of my favorite cookbooks published this year.  With cookbooks by chef, it can be a hit or miss but this one is a home run.  I have gone through this book cover to cover twice already and still enjoy reading it and learning from it.  Chef Smillie teaches you the fundamental techniques of braising, roasting, and grilling, but shows you how to break the rules to bring more flavors to your dishes.  The book is divided into four chapters, braising, roasting, grilling, and foundations and finishes with many delicious recipes and accompanied step by step pictures.  Some recipes are more complicated than other and can take two days to prepare but under his guidance, even the home cook can bring restaurant worthy dishes to the dinner table.  

With regard to the recipes, I tried the red wine-braised oxtails with marinated savoy cabbage and and peppercorn crusted short ribs.  Both dishes were so delicious and a big hit with the family.  With the short ribs, I learned a new technique of steaming the ribs first then searing them to a crisp and will apply this to other dishes.  I can’t wait to try the crisp pork belly braised in milk, stovetop cassoulet, black garlic rubbed hanger steak, real porchetta, zuppa di pesce and many more dishes.  The gorgeous photography by Ed Anderson makes the food beyond drool worthy.  Slow Fires is a masterpiece on braising, roasting, and grilling that will be treasured by chefs and home cooks alike for years to come.  

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher

Giveaway: The Homemade Kitchen

The really nice folks over at Clarkson Potter gave us an extra copy of the Homemade Kitchen Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure to give to one of our lucky readers.  To enter, please leave a comment below and let us know your favorite fall dish.  The winner will be selected at random.  Comments will close on Monday, November 30th at 9 P.M. Pacific. US residents only please :)

Cookbook Review: This Is Camino

Thursday, October 22, 2015!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;%22%20/%3E

I have to premise this review by telling you that I haven’t even heard of Camino prior to reading this book even though I’ve lived in the Bay Area for a number of years and visit frequently.  Camino is the locally beloved but nationally acclaimed restaurant in Oakland known and respected by foodies and chefs alike.  

At first glance, This Is Camino is a beautiful restaurant cookbook with many interesting recipes.  As I read further, I became disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to use much of this cookbook because most of the recipes require a kitchen with a giant wood fired hearth.  I certain don’t have that nor can I think of anyone I know with an open fire pit in their kitchen to try these recipes.  The chefs do offer campfire alternatives but what’s the point?  I definitely don’t want the neighbors calling the firemen if they see smoke billowing from my backyard.  While I won’t be able to cook from Camino, I was able to tease out a few recipes that I can try with my oven or grill like the apple calvados tart, buckwheat rhubarb tarts, cherry tarts, grilled fig leaf ice cream, yogurt sesame pudding, mashed beets with mustard seeds, baked oysters with breadcrumbs, and roasted petra sole with preserved lemons.  

I did enjoy reading about the restaurant’s operation with a breakdown of hourly schedule from the setup of the cooking stations to the cleaning of the restaurant at the end of the night .  While I appreciate the authors’ passion for open fire cooking and focus on the use of wholesome and fresh ingredients, This Is Camino is not written for a home cook like myself.   

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher

Homemade banana granola

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A while back we promised that we would share our banana granola recipe so here it is. We find ourselves making banana nut bread and banana granola when we have an abundance of overripe bananas. I like to make the most of our oven so I bake the banana bread first, then turn down the temperature for the granola once the bread is done. 

When baked right, you get clusters of soft and moist granola with rich banana flavor. This is hands down Vu’s and Aiden’s favorite granola. I pack this banana granola as a snack for Aiden when he goes to school.  It's also our go to breakfast or snack when we don't have time to cook, and we go through a batch just about every week. Hope you like it!

Banana Granola
4 medium sized overripe bananas, mashed    
½ cup of honey
2 tablespoons of coconut oil, melted
3 cups of rolled oats
1 cup of unsweetened coconut threads

1 cup of sliced almonds
1 ½ cups of dried cranberries

1. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
2. In a food processor, combine the bananas, honey, and coconut oil and blend until smooth.
3. Place the oats, coconut threads, almonds, and cranberries in a large mixing bowl.
4. Pour the banana mixture over the dry ingredients and mix to coat. Make sure all the oats are moistened.
5. Spread the granola evenly on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
6. Bake in the oven for 60 minutes or until golden and dry, making sure to turn the granola with your spatula every 15 minutes to ensure even color and to prevent it from sticking to the pan.
7. Set the granola aside to cool to room temperature and crisp up.
8. Transfer to an airtight container and store up to a month.


Cookbook Review: Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees

Tuesday, October 13, 2015!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;%22%20/%3E

Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees is one of two Chinese cookbooks in my collection.  The other cookbook is Chinese Unchopped.  To be honest, we don’t cook that many Chinese dishes at home.  The Chinese restaurants that we frequent serve really good Chinese food so we never felt the need to recreate them with a few exceptions like Shanghai beef noodles, roasted pork, and roasted duck.  

I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of detail provided in this cookbook.  Broken into 17 chapters, you’ll learn the history behind regional Chinese cuisine (Guangdong, Fujian, Sichuan, Hunan, Beijing, Shanghai, and many other regions), how to stock your kitchen with ingredients and essential equipments to facilitate the cooking process, and learn many cooking techniques to create authentic Chinese dishes at home.  This cookbook outlines the fundamental techniques in Chinese cooking, including stir-frying, deep-frying, steaming, poaching, braising, and roasting.  With more than 200 photographs, including helpful step-by-step images and clear instructions from culinary expert Kian Lam Kho, you’ll be well on your way to making delicious Chinese food.     

I already have my eyes on the Peking duck recipe!  You’ll definitely see a blog post about this one.  Other recipes that I can’t wait to try include bbq pork (to compare it to my mom’s recipe), oil poached flounder, red-cooked lion’s head, pan-fried soft shell crabs, and marbled tea eggs.  Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees will definitely have its permanent place in my kitchen, stained and loved.  I highly recommend this book to home cooks who love Chinese food and want to recreate authentic Chinese dishes in the comfort of their kitchen.   You can't really ask for a better book on Chinese cooking techniques!

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher