Spiced hot chocolate

Thursday, December 15, 2016

On a recent trip to Seattle, I was introduced to Intrigue Chocolate Company where I had the best hot chocolate ever. I initially picked the Jamaican hot chocolate because of the interesting name but was completely blown away by the flavor when I had my first sip. No ingredients were listed on the menu but I could taste the richness of dark chocolate spiced with cardamom and cinnamon, a slight note of vanilla, and a touch of rum. Since coming back from Seattle, I have been obsessed with recreating that Jamaican hot chocolate. While this cup of hot chocolate won’t be the exact replica of Intrigue Chocolate’s, it’s pretty darn good and perfect for sipping on these chilly fall days.  If you're serving it to the kids, don't forget to skip the rum.

Spiced hot chocolate

1 ¾ cup of milk
1 cup of heavy cream
¾ cup of semi sweet chocolate, chopped
7 cardamom pods, crushed with a pestle and mortar
1 cinnamon stick
1 tbsp rum
1 vanilla bean, splitted
½ tbsp sugar (to taste)
Marshmallow and cocoa for serving

1. In a small saucepan, heat milk and heavy cream over medium-low heat.

2. Add the crushed cardamom, cinnamon stick, and vanilla bean. Let it simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.

3. Add in the chopped chocolate and whisk until dissolved.  Whisk in the sugar.

4.Remove from heat and strain the hot chocolate.5.When ready to serve, stir in the rum, garnish with marshmallow and cocoa powder.

Hidden Rose Apple Tart

Sunday, December 4, 2016

I could hardly believe that December is here and in a blink of an eye the new year will be upon us. I’m not ready for fall to be over let alone for 2017 to arrive. So many fall dishes still on my list to cook and bake. Another squash and apple soup. A pear and chocolate tart. Chicken stewed in apple cider. A savory fig and goat cheese tart. Butternut squash and ricotta ravioli. And many more apple cakes and tarts. I'm like that little girl that kept on asking for one more song at the end of the party. One dessert that I was really happy to cross off my list was this hidden rose apple tart. These hidden rose apples came all the way from Oregon and are famous for their deep red fresh and crisp with balanced flavor of tart and sweet. I was lucky enough to get my hands on them soon after they arrived at Specialty Produce.

When it comes to desserts, I kept things simple to enhance the flavor of these delicious apples. Paired with puff pastry for a shell and flavored with a touch of cinnamon were all they required.

Not too long after the tart came out of the oven, my little guy caught sight of it and demanded to try it. So there we sat in the kitchen, just the two of us, and polished off this tart. He picked off the best part, the apples and crunchy crust, but I didn’t mind one bit. He liked it so much that I made it again the next day. And hopefully again next year when these apples are in season.

Hidden Rose Apple Tart

½ pound of puff pastry
2 hidden rose apples, sliced thinly
Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon
2 tbsps granulated sugar
2 tbsps almond meal
1 small egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp turbinado sugar
¼ tsp Saigon cinnamon
powdered sugar for dusting
vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche for serving

1. Place the lemon juice in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

2. Peel, core, and slice apples into ⅛ inch with a mandoline. Gently toss with the lemon juice to prevent the apples from discoloring.

3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

5. On a floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to about 5mm thick and trim it into a 10 inch circle.

6. Sprinkle the sugar and almond meal over the top, leaving a 1 inch border.

7. Arrange the apple slices on top of the dough with slight overlap, leaving a 1 inch border around the edges.

8. Fold the edges of the puff pastry over the apple slices and press gently to seal. Pop the baking sheet in the freezer and freeze for 15 minutes or until the dough is firm.

9. Mix the the turbinado and cinnamon until combined.

10. Brush the dough with egg wash and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture over the apple slices and edges.

11. Bake the tart for 30-40 minute on the middle rack, turning halfway through to ensure even baking.

12. Remove the tart from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before serving.

13. When ready to serve, dust with powdered sugar.  Slice the apple tart and serve warm with vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche.

14.The tart will keep for another day in an airtight container.

Cookbook Review: French Country Cooking

Saturday, December 3, 2016

I was really looking forward to the release of Mimi Thorisson’s French Country Cooking given how wonderful her first book is.  French Country Cooking is as gorgeous as her first book and similar in term of style but it delves deeper into how her family bought their chateau in Medoc and turned into a restaurant/workshop space.  

From the sweet recipes I really enjoyed Plantia’s tarte tatin, fig and pistachio cake, beignets with apricot filling, and strawberry tart.  The beignets were so good warm and tasted similar to the beignet mix we got from Cafe du Monde but we skipped the apricot filling since it wasn’t apricot season.  For the savory recipes, chanterelle and garlic tartlets, roast duck with cherries, and lobster bisque. There were other recipes that looked really interesting but ingredients were hard to find like the guinea hen ravioli, quail stuffed with foie gras, and turbot with vin jaune sauce.  

Even though I really enjoyed the recipes from French Country Cooking, they do require a lot of planning and prep work.  These recipes aren’t meant for a beginner cook.  Overall French Country Cooking is a beautiful book full of delicious recipes and perfect for anyone who wants to delve deeper into French country cooking or entertain family and friends.          

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher 

Roasted kabocha soup

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A few weeks ago I caught a bad cold, or so I thought. It started with a sore throat and progressed to complete exhaustion, nausea, and vomiting. I knew something was wrong when I could barely move or eat. My husband drove me to urgent care and I was diagnosed with Strep throat. I had to take time off from work, was put on antibiotic, and quarantined myself. The first three days were the worst. I felt like there were pins poking at my throat everytime I tried to talk or eat. My mom’s kabocha soup came to the rescue. 

Made with roasted kabocha squash, scented with lemongrass and ginger, and enriched by coconut milk, my mom’s soup was the perfect antidote to my sore throat. Her kabocha squash soup is one of my favorites not only for those times I’m feeling under the weather but for those chilly, autumn and winter days.  

Roasted kabocha squash soup

1 2-lb kabocha squash, quartered

2 tbsps olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 knob of ginger, peeled and crushed
1 stalk of lemongrass, cut into 2 inches, crushed
1 can of 14 oz coconut creme
1 cup of water
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
Micogreen for serving
Freshly ground pepper for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. To prepare the squash, scoop out the seeds and remove as much of the soft, sticky pulp as possible. Brush the squash pieces with olive oil, place cut side down on a roasting tray, and roast in the oven for 60 minutes, turning halfway through.

3. Remove the squash from the oven, remove the skin with a knife, and chop the squash into chunks.  Reserve 1/2 a cup of squash chunks for serving.

4. Heat the remaining olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat. Add shallot and garlic and saute until fragrant. Add the ginger and lemongrass.

5. Add in the coconut milk and water and bring to a boil.

6. Add in the squash and let it simmer for 15 minutes.

7. Remove the ginger and lemongrass pieces and set aside.

8. Use a handheld blender and puree to a smooth consistency. Add back the ginger and lemongrass.

9. Season with fish sauce and sugar and let it simmer on low heat for another 15 minutes.

10. Ladle soup into serving bowls, top with squash chunks, microgreens and freshly ground pepper, and serve immediately.

Salted Caramel Quince Tarte Tatin

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A few weeks ago, I took a short trip to Seattle and fell in love with the Emerald City all over again. I had forgotten how gorgeous fall in Seattle is with all the red, orange, and ochre foliage lining streets and city parks. The rain, fog, and its melancholy made me miss the bay area, where I grew up. I spent a lot of time meandering different parts of Seattle, from Pioneer Square, Belltown, Capitol Hill to Ballard, popping in random shops and restaurants.  My favorite meal was at Lark where I indulged in oysters and ended the night with a delicious quince tarte tatin, smothered in salted caramel sauce and topped with old fashion vanilla ice cream.  It was probably the best thing I ate on that trip!

 The next day, I drove around Seattle for looking for quinces and totally lucked out on my way to the airport. I stopped by a gas station and spied a small market across the street. With three hours to spare, I made my way to the market.  It had a nice selection of fruits and to my delight a huge bin of pineapple quinces. I probably bought about five pounds and carefully stuffed them in my carry on. Instead of taking a nap on the plane, my thoughts were occupied with how to recreate the salted caramel tarte tatin from Lark.

When I came home, I left the quinces in my kitchen and let their heavenly fragrance fill my favorite space. After a few days, I dug out an old recipe for apple tarte tatin and substituted the quince for the apple. I altered the cooking time for my tarte tatin since quinces are virtually inedible raw and required a little more cooking than apples. It’s a bit of work to make this classic French upside-down dessert but worth every bite. The quince tarte tatin that I had at Lark was paired with vanilla ice cream and I wouldn’t eat it any other way. Enjoy!

Salted Caramel Tarte Tatin 

4 small quinces, peeled, cored, and halved
¼ tsp salt
½ cup of sugar
2 tbsps of water
½ stick of unsalted butter, cubed
1 lb all butter puff pastry
All purpose flour for dusting
Vanilla ice cream for serving
One 8” flameproof tart pan or heavy-based, oven proof pan

1. In a flameproof tart pan, on low heat, add water, salt and sugar, and cook gently until sugar has dissolved.

2. Increase heat to medium and bring to boil. Cook without stirring for 7 minutes or until light golden.

3. Add the butter and stir until melted and well combined.

4. Put the quinces, cut side up, into the pan. Return to low heat and cook for 10 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

6. Using a rolling pin, roll the pastry on a floured surface. Cut a round circle slightly bigger than the pan.

7. Place the pastry circle over the quinces and fold the edges under to tuck in the apples. Use a small knife, make 3 small slits in the center of the pastry.

8. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden.

9. Let the tarte tatin stand for 10 minutes. Use a knife to loosen the edges and carefully turn out the tarte tatin onto a serving plate. 

10. Serve immediately with vanilla ice cream. The tart is best eaten on the day of baking but will keep for 1 day.

Spaghetti and meatballs

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

I grew up with Vietnamese food and it wasn’t until I met my husband over 15 years ago that I was introduced to Italian food. For the first year that we dated, we ate mainly Italian food because it was a novelty to me--spaghetti, lasagna, gnocchi, and all kind of pasta. I owe my love of Italian food to my husband so I make one of his favorite dishes often, spaghetti and meatballs. 

I like adding fresh tomatoes to the tomato passata for that extra tomato umph. I love using tomato passata because it’s made with high quality ripe tomatoes resulting in a well flavoured tomato base that is more delicious compared to the standard canned tomatoes.   Every family has their own meatball recipe but we found the combination of pork and veal make really moist meatballs.  Spaghetti and meatballs is such a tasty and classic dish that can feed the whole family and make for great leftovers.

Spaghetti and Meatballs
14 oz of dried spaghetti
½ tbsp of salt
2 tbsps of olive oil
Freshly ground pepper, to serve
Finely grated Parmesan cheese, to serve
Extra basil leaves to serve

For the sauce:
2 tbsps of olive oil
1 tbsp of garlic, chopped
1 cup of fresh San Marzanos tomatoes, chopped (can substitute with Roma tomatoes)
1 24-oz bottle of passata
½ cup of red wine
1 cup of spaghetti water
½ cup of basil leaves, chopped

2 tbsps sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the meatballs:
½ lb ground pork

½ lb ground veal
½ cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
¾ cup panko
2 eggs
1 tbsp garlic, chopped
¼ cup white onion, chopped
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground pepper
2 tbsps olive oil

1. For the meatballs, in a large mixing bowl combine pork, veal, cheese, panko, eggs, garlic, white onion, salt, and pepper and mix well to combine.

2. Using wet hands, roll 2 tbsps of the mixture into balls and place them on a plate. Cover and refrigerate the meatballs for 30 minutes to allow the flavor the develop.

3. Heat 2 tbsps of olive oil in a deep frying pan over medium heat. Cook the meatballs in batches, turning frequently for 5 minutes or until browned.

4.  Remove the meatballs from the pan and set aside.

5. In the same pan, add 2 tbsps of olive oil and the garlic and let it cook and become fragrant, about 5 minutes.

6. Add the fresh tomatoes, tomato passata, and red wine to the pan. Bring to a boil. Add the meatballs and simmer for 30 minutes or until the sauce is reduced and the meatballs are cooked through.

7. While the meatballs are cooking, place the spaghetti in a large saucepan of salted boiling water and cook for 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain well but do not rinse. Toss the spaghetti with olive oil.

8. If the tomato sauce becomes too thick, add the spaghetti water to thin it. Add basil and season with sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. 

9.Divide the spaghetti between serving bowls, top with meatballs, extra sauce, basil leaves, and Parmesan cheese.

Honey roasted figs with goat cheese and Serrano ham on sourdough toast

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Fig is hands down one of my favorite fruits, and I eat my weight in figs when they are in season. Lucky for us, figs appear as early as late spring and last all the way until fall. My favorite farmer told me that there are a few weeks left of figs so I’ve been hoarding them for jams, tarts, ice cream, salad, and other dishes. 

Today, I’m sharing an easy dish that we often snack on at home or serve as an appetizer at our dinner party--honey roasted figs with goat cheese and Serrano ham on sourdough. These toasts have a lot of flavor--sweet, salty, and tang from all the ingredients. Make sure you get the soft and sweet figs for this dish. Enjoy!

Honey roasted figs with goat cheese and Serrano ham on sourdough toast

8 figs (brown turkey, black mission, or your favorite figs), quartered if big, halved if smaller
2 tbsps honey
1 tbsp water
1 tsp sherry
¼ cup goat cheese
2 tbsps toasted hazelnuts, crushed
4 slices of sourdough bread, toasted
4 thin slices of Serrano ham

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

2. In a small sauce bowl, whisk the honey, water, and sherry.

3. Drizzle the cut-side of figs with honey mixture. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast for 8-10 minutes until the figs are just caramelized.

4. Spread one tablespoon of goat cheese over the bread slices. Top with Serrano ham, caramelized figs, and crushed hazelnuts.

5. Serve immediately

Cookbook giveaway: Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The really nice folks over at Abrams Books gave us a copy of Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking by Jessica Koslow to give to one of our lucky readers.  To enter, please leave a comment below and let us know your favorite fall ingredients to cook with.  The winner will be selected at random.  Comments will close on Monday, October 31st at 9 P.M. Pacific. US residents only please :)

*This post is sponsored by ABRAMS Books as part of the ABRAMS Dinner Party

Cookbook Review: Martha Stewart's Vegetables

Monday, October 3, 2016

When I initially saw the cover for Martha Stewart’s Vegetables, I thought it would be a vegetarian cookbook.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s a vegetable centric book but still appeals to the carnivore.  The book is nicely divided into eleven chapters (Bulbs, Roots, Tubers, Greens, Stalks & Stems, Pods, Shoots, Leaves, Flowers & Buds, Fruits, and Kernels) with many interesting recipes.  It was nice to see some of the rarer vegetables getting a spot light in this book like ramps, jicama, Jerusalem artichokes, fiddlehead ferns, and salsify.  The jicama citrus salad had a bright note and was delicious.  The rhubarb chutney with pot roast was amazing.  I will definitely be making rhubarb chutney to pair with other meats.  Both the blistered Padron peppers and fig and arugula crostini made the perfect appetizers for our dinner party.  My absolute favorite recipe from the book would be the cornmeal shortcakes with corn ice cream and blueberry compote.  Most of the recipes were easy and approachable with a few advanced one peppered throughout.  The book also included a lot of tips for buying, storing, prepping, cooking, and pairing with other vegetables.  I’m looking forwarding to trying the ramp and garlic scape recipes when they’re in season again.  Martha Stewart’s Vegetables is a great book for those who love vegetables and enjoy cooking with the seasons.   

Pink Pearl Apple Galette

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Fall officially arrived a week ago but San Diego must have missed the memo because it’s still 90-100 degrees F with unbearable humidity. For those people who don’t believe in global warming, I hope you’re taking note! Having lived in northern California and Washington, I miss the fall foliage bursting with golds, reds, and browns and the accompanied sweater weather. For us San Dieagans, it still feels like summer.

Culinary wise, my favorite part of fall is the arrival of apples. They go into galettes, pies, tarts, bread, salad, and a lot of soup. Last year I discovered a beautiful apple with pink flesh called pink pearl apple through Instagram and vowed I would hunt some down for my fall baking endeavors. They have a quick season from late August to mid September so you have to be vigilant. 

As luck would have it, Specialty Produce had them in stock. I jumped for joy and drove like mad woman to Specialty Produce to snatch some before the local restaurants get to them. I stocked up on a few pounds and immediately threw together a simple apple galette as soon as I got home. 

The dough was a little thin so the pleating didn’t work out as nicely as I had hoped for. But a galette is meant to be rustic and forgiving anyway so it wasn’t a huge problem. The apple slices retained their beautiful color after baking and had a wonderful tart-sweetness. My hubby and I devoured the entire thing topped with vanilla ice cream. It was my first time baking with Pink Pearl apples and definitely won’t be my last! I’m even more smitten with them now having seen how beautiful they are and wonderful they taste. If you can’t find Pink Pearl apples, you can substitute another baking apple like Jonagolds, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, Cortlands, or Melrose. Stay tuned for another Pink Pearl apple dessert! 

Pink Pearl Apple Galette

1 lb of pink pearl apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tbsp Calvados
¼ cup of brown sugar
1 tbsp of cornstarch
2 tbsps of hazelnut meal
2 tbsp of sanding sugar or turbinado sugar

For the pastry dough
¾ cup of spelt flour (if you don’t have spelt flour, you can replace with another wheat flour or all purpose flour)
½ cup of hazelnut meal
6 tbsps of butter, chopped into cubes
2 tbsp of icing sugar
pinch of salt
3-4 tbsps of ice-cold water

For the glaze
1 egg, lightly beaten for egg wash

1. Sift the flours together. To make the pastry crust, place the flours, sugar, salt, and butter in a food processor and process until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

2. While the mixture is being processed, gradually add cold water until the dough comes together.

3. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead gently.

4. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 60 minutes before rolling.

5. In a bowl, add apple slices, calvados, sugar, and cornstarch. Toss with your hands to combine. Set aside.

6. Remove the dough from the fridge. Roll it out on a lightly floured surface to a circle of about 12 inches wide and ¼ inch thick. Move the dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

7. Sprinkle 2 tbsps of hazelnut meal in the center of the dough, leaving a 1 inch border.

8. Arrange the apple slices in the center of the dough leaving a one and a half inch border uncovered. Fold the dough edges over the apple, pleating it loosely and leaving the galette open in the center. Patch the dough together if it breaks. Pour the juice from the apple mixture into the galette.

9. For the glaze, beat the egg lightly with a fork. Brush the dough with the egg and sprinkle the sanding sugar over the whole galette. Refrigerate the galette for 30 minutes.

10. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

11. Remove the galette from the fridge and bake for 40-50 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and crusted with sugar, and apple slices softened. Remove the galette from the oven and let it cool on the baking sheet.

12. When ready to serve, cut the galette into eight pieces, transfer them to a serving plate, and top with vanilla ice cream.

Cookbook Review: Big Bad Breakfast

Monday, September 26, 2016


Big Bad Breakfast by John Currence is everything I want in a breakfast cookbook and more. I was really excited to try the recipes from this cookbook given how much our family loves breakfast and needed more variety than the usual pancake, waffle, French toast, and eggs. The book is broken down into nine chapters: the welcome basket, egg, omelettes and frittatas, pancakes waffles and crepes, breakfast for dinner, cereals and grains, breakfast sandwiches, sides condiments meats and extra, and drinks/cocktails. My absolute favorite recipe from this book so far would be the shrimp and grits. The shrimp and grits were easy to make and so flavorful. I’ve tried other shrimp and grits recipes and this one has turned out the best. Other delicious recipes are the rum raisin and orange scones, German pancakes, and peach lassi. I’ve already bookmarked the crispy rice Elvis treats, honey buns, monkey bread, fig preserve, and spicy bacon onion jam to try next. Besides the delicious recipes, Ed Anderson’s beautiful photography makes every picture drool worthy. If breakfast is the most important meal of your day, Big Bad Breakfast is the perfect book for you.

Dutch baby pancake with peaches and blueberries

Monday, September 19, 2016

Summer, I’m not ready to let you go yet! I’m still stubbornly hanging onto summer but the reality is sinking in. Dwindling signs of zucchini and their blossoms, tomatoes, berries, and stone fruits and the appearance of pears, apples, grapes, and pumpkin and squash at the farmers market signalling that fall is only a few days away. I’m savoring summer in the simplest way possible, via a Dutch baby pancake loaded with summer fruits. Dutch babies, or German puffed pancakes, are such an easy and delicious way to start the morning. Blend everything up, throw it in the oven, and 15 minutes later you have a delightful breakfast that will wow everyone at the table. I paired mine with perfectly ripe, in season peaches and blueberries but you can to use any fruits you like. Enjoy the last few days of summer!

Dutch baby pancake with peaches and blueberries

2 tbsps unsalted butter
½ cup all purpose flour
4 small organic eggs
¾ cup organic heavy cream
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 ripe peaches, sliced
½ cup blueberries
Powdered sugar for dusting
Honey or maple syrup to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

2. In a 12 inch cast-iron skillet, heat the butter over high heat until foamy.

3. In a blender, combine flour, eggs, heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract and puree until smooth.

4. Pour the batter directly into the pool of butter in the skillet and transfer to the oven.

5. Bake until the pancake is puffed and become golden brown on top, about 15-18 minutes.6.Remove from the oven, top with sliced peaches and blueberries, dust with powdered sugar, and serve with honey or maple syrup.

Cookbook Review: A Modern Way to Cook

Saturday, September 17, 2016


I was excited to cook from a Modern Way to Cook given how much I love Anna Jones’ first cookbook A Modern Way to Eat. The book is divided into different chapters with length of time required to prepare and cook a meal, 20 to 25 to 30 and 40 minutes. After perusing the books, I decided to try some of the recipes and most of them turned out delicious. Some of my favorite recipes are the early summer green goddess salad, lemongrass peanut and herb noodle salad, Buddha bowl, beet and radicchio gratin, honey and white miso eggplant, rhubarb and strawberry crisp bars, rhubarb and apple crumble, and chocolate and Earl Grey pudding pots . The salad is loaded with all my favorite greens--sugar snap peas, asparagus, spinach, and avocado. I enjoyed the tofu from the noodle salad and Buddha bowls which have a bit of influence from Vietnamese and Thai cuisines and definitely different than how I normally prepare my tofu for a vegetarian dish. I’ve never used silken tofu in a dessert before and was surprised at how well hidden it was in the chocolate and Earl Grey pudding pots. Overall, the desserts didn’t take long to prepare and were delicious as leftovers. I didn’t care too much for the pho, sweet potato and ricotta gnocchi, or honey and basil cheesecake. I learned a few tricks from a Modern Way to Cook and felt inspired by some of the recipes. But between the two books, A Modern Way to Eat is my favorite of the two and has more of my favorite recipes.

Peach and blueberry cobbler with cornmeal drop biscuit topping

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

And in a blink of an eye, summer is almost over. I had many delicious summer recipes planned for the blog but they didn’t happen. To be honest, I got overwhelmed by looming deadlines from work and photo shoots for clients so the blog got neglected. I even had a photo shoot the day before we left for vacation and the day after we came back from vacation. I felt guilty but my husband gently reminded me that I can’t do everything--be a wife, a mother, a pharmacist, a freelance photographer, food editor, and a food blogger. He was right! I was taking on too much and becoming a grumpy, unhappy person. 

In the end, I realized I need to slow down and focus on what matters most, spending time with my loved ones. I turned down a few clients but felt happy that my calendar had more blank space for my family and myself including my creative outlet, this blog! So get ready for more regular posts starting with this peach and blueberry cobbler. If you’ve been following the blog for some time, you know I love easy desserts and a cobbler falls into that category. Peach is one of my favorite stone fruits that often ends up in either a cobbler or galette. I love a good peach pie but usually reserve that for a special occasion. 

Perfectly ripe, in season peaches pair well with blueberries and bubble into a fragrant dessert topped with scrumptious cornmeal drop biscuits. Don’t forget to add a few scoops of vanilla ice cream when the cobbler is still warm from the oven. If you don’t have peaches and blueberries, you can also substitute with other stone fruits and berries. We’re savoring the last few days of summer with this wonderful cobbler. Enjoy!

Peach and blueberry cobbler with cornmeal drop biscuit topping
1 pound of peaches, slices
1 cup of blueberries
¼ cup of sugar
1 tbsp of cornstarch

½ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup cornmeal
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsps baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
Pinch of salt
1 stick of cold unsalted butter, cubed into small pieces
½ cup buttermilk
1 tbsp sanding sugar for sprinkling
Vanilla ice cream for serving

1. In a mixing bowl, combine the peach slices, blueberries, sugar, and cornstarch and set aside to macerate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

3. To prepare the biscuit dough, in a food processor, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, and salt and pulse to combine.

4. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with a few pea-size pieces.

5. Add the buttermilk and pulse until just combined.

6. Remove the dough from the food processor.

7. Place the fruit mixture in a baking dish. Dollop spoonfuls of biscuit topping over the fruit mixture. Sprinkle the top with sanding sugar.

8. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes using the middle rack until the fruit is bubbling, the topping is golden, and a toothpick inserted into the center of the biscuit comes out with moist crumb.

9. Remove from the oven. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.10.Store any leftovers well wrapped in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Book Review: Mushrooms of the redwood coast

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast is the most impressive and comprehensive book on mushrooms that I have ever read.  There about 500 pages of information 750 species of mushrooms growing in coastal northern California with accompanied pictures.  The authors gave a lot of tips on how to find them in their natural habitat, identifying them, collecting them, and what tools are essential for mushroom foraging.  Twenty five major groups of mushrooms take center stage in this book such as chanterelles, amanita, dark-spored mushrooms, waxy caps, tooth fungi, truffles, and morels.  Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast is perfect for those mushroom nerds and those interested in mushroom foraging.

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher 

Cookbook Review: Plated

Saturday, July 30, 2016

When I received Plated in the mail, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Plated is a cookbook from the online food delivery company Plated, similar to Blue Apron or Sun Basket.  One of my favorite sections is the flavoring chapter which teaches you how to make your own spices, marinades, dressings, sauces, condiments, and infusions.  This section is perfect for the home cook who loves those dyi projects instead of buying prepackaged spices and marinades.  

With regard to recipes, I’m not sure if the ones in the book are similar to the ones posted online but they seem very straightforward and versatile ranging from classic American dishes to Italian, Asian, Greek, and Middle Eastern.  Some of my favorite recipes are seared duck breast, beer braised pulled chicken, and steak gyros with yogurt sauce.  Since cherries are in season I tried the cherry clafoutis and everyone in my family loved it.  I’m already bookmarking many more recipes that I want to try.  With no expectation whatsoever, I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious the recipes from this book are.  I highly recommend Plated to anyone new to cooking but want to try a variety of recipes.          

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher

Earl Grey Pavlova with Figs

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

My obsession with Earl Grey started a few years ago when I first discovered the London Fog at Le Marche St Georges. Coming back from Vancouver, I started making the London Fog at home and eventually moved onto experimenting with Earl Grey tea in desserts. Incorporating Earl Grey in ice cream was easy since all I had to do was steep the tea in the milk. However, the baked goods were a bit more challenging especially cookies, meringues, and pavlovas. I can’t say that I’ve mastered meringue or pavlova yet but I’ve learned a few tricks along the way that hopefully will help you with your meringue journey.

Like macarons, meringue and pavlova are quite fickle. With very few ingredients, egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, cornstarch, and a tiny amount of vinegar, they’re supposedly simple to make but even the most experienced home bakers find them intimidating. Over the years, this Earl Grey pavlova has grown to be one of my favorite summer desserts when figs are in season. I hope you like this pavlova as much as we do!

Earl Grey Pavlova with Figs
4 egg whites, at room temperature
½ cup of sugar
1 tbsp loose Earl Grey tea leaves
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tbsp of cornstarch
1 tsp distilled white vinegar
Powdered sugar for dusting

Earl Grey syrup
2 tbsps of Earl Grey sugar from above
¼ cup of water

1 cup of heavy whipping cream
½ cup of mascarpone
2 tbsps of powdered sugar
8-10 figs, torn in half
2 tbsps of roasted, unsalted pistachios, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Draw a 8 by 10 inch rectangle on the parchment paper and dust with powdered sugar to prevent the pavlova from sticking.
3. Add the sugar and Earl Grey tea leaves to a spice grinder and grind until the sugar and tea leaves become powdery. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the Earl Grey sugar for the syrup.
4. Whisk the cornstarch into the Earl Grey sugar mixture until well combined. Adding cornstarch helps prevent the pavlova from shrinking during baking and creates a crispy outer layer.
5. Before placing the egg whites into a mixing bowl of an electric mixer, wipe the bowl clean and make sure that there’s no residual moisture. Any moisture will make it impossible to achieve thick, stiff peaks.
6. Beat the egg whites and whisk on medium speed until it becomes foamy, about 3 minutes.
7. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form. Add the Earl Grey sugar mixture 1 tablespoon at a time, until all the sugar has been added. Continue to whip until the the egg whites are stiff and glossy and firm peaks form, about 12-15 minutes.
8. Add the vinegar and cream of tartar and fold in gently with a metal spoon to combine. The vinegar creates a chewy pavlova and the cream of tartar helps stabilize the egg whites.
9. Spread the egg white mixture inside the drawn rectangle, making a slight indent in the center. Alternatively you can make 6-8 individual mini pavlova.
10. Reduce the oven to 275 degrees F and bake for 50-60 minutes or until firm to touch.
11. Leave the pavlova in the switched off oven to cool for an hour with the door slightly ajar.
12. To make the Earl Grey syrup, combine 2 tablespoons of Earl Grey sugar with water in a small sauce pan over low heat until the volume is reduced in half.
13. Whip the mascarpone, heavy cream, and powdered sugar together until thick and smooth and soft peaks form.
14. When ready to serve, remove the pavlova from the oven and place on a serving platter.

15. Spread the mascarpone over the center of the pavlova, top with figs and pistachios, and drizzle with syrup.

Tomato fig peach prosciutto and burrata salad

Saturday, July 9, 2016

People always ask what my favorite season is and I find it quite hard to pick one. Each season brings its beautiful fruits and vegetables but summer would be my favorite. Summer arrives with its glorious stone fruits, cherries, berries, melons, figs, tomatoes, avocado, zucchini, squash, and their beautiful blossoms. I find myself eating even more salads, churning a lot of ice cream, and turning on my oven as often as winter to turn those beautiful fruits and vegetables into delicious tarts, pies, and cakes. Summer is also the perfect time for indulging in lazy afternoons and gathering with friends over delicious meals that go into the wee hours of the morning. Speaking of gatherings, today we’re sharing our favorite summer salad that is often served at dinner parties. The heroes behind this salad are sweet summer fruits--heirloom tomatoes, figs, and peaches--which provide a nice contrast to the creaminess of burrata and saltiness of prosciutto. 

It’s an effortless salad that can be thrown together in a few minutes but requires hunting for the best ingredients at your local farmers markets the day before. Your guests will love this salad and don’t be surprised if it becomes your favorite summer salad.

Tomato, fig, peach, prosciutto, and burrata salad
8 ripe figs (Black Mission figs, Brown Turkey figs, or your favorite), torn in half
2 heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved if big
2 peaches, ripe but firm, thinly sliced
1-2 whole burrata
8 slices of prosciutto
¼ cup of basil leaves

For the salad dressing

1 tbsp of raw honey
2 tbsps of good quality olive oil
1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. In a small sauce bowl, whisk the ingredients for the salad dressing together and set aside. Keep in mind that the cheese and prosciutto are slightly salty.

2. Arrange the salad ingredients on a serving platter. Garnish with basil leaves.

3. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve immediately.

Wild ramps pesto pizza with asparagus and peas

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Pizza was not something that I grew up with. It was my husband who introduced me to pizza when we met in college. While I grew up with Vietnamese food, Vu grew up with American food. I credit him for my love of pizza as well as Italian food. A few years ago, we began making pizza at home and started experimenting with seasonal ingredients to expand our arsenal of pizza recipes. It’s been a very rewarding journey in pizza making. 

Today, we’re sharing one of our favorite vegetarian pizzas--wild ramps pesto pizza with asparagus, peas, and ricotta. Everything is homemade from the pizza dough, to ricotta cheese, and wild ramps and hazelnut pesto. All the flavors marry together and sing of spring.

Wild ramps pesto pizza

8 oz pizza dough
Semonia or all purpose flour for dusting
½ cup shredded mozzarella
¼ cup homemade ricotta cheese (recipe here)
2 tbsps wild ramp and hazelnut pesto (recipe here)
¼ cup fresh/frozen peas
5-6 spears of young asparagus
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 chive blossoms

1. Place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. It will take about 15 minutes for the pizza stone to heat up.

2. Lightly dust a clean work surface with semolina or flour. Roll out the pizza dough into a rough 12x6 inch oval about ¼ inch thick.

3. Transfer the pizza base to a piece of parchment paper.

4. Prick the base with a fork, place the pizza on the lowest rack, and bake for 7 minutes. Leaving the pizza on the lowest rack helps crisp the base.

5. Remove pizza base from the oven. Spread the wild ramp pesto evenly over the base leaving a ¼ inch border.

6. Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella over the pesto. Top with asparagus and peas. Dot the top with ricotta cheese. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

7. Transfer the pizza onto the heated stone and bake for 10 minutes or until golden and crisp.

8. When done, transfer the pizza onto a serving plate and top with cut chive blossoms.

Fava bean tahini and pepita dip

Monday, June 6, 2016

Fava bean, or broad bean, is one of my favorite spring ingredients and only available for a short period from mid March through May. They’re an ancient member of the pea family with a delicious nutty and buttery taste. It takes a bit of work to get to the edible part--shelled, blanched, then removed from their tough outer skin--but completely worth it. 

Although most people like to make a fava bean soup, add them to salad and risotto, and even a tart but I love making a fava bean dip for flatbread and vegetables or as a spread on toast with soft boiled eggs. 

This fava bean is quite versatile so use your culinary imagination and enjoy!

Fava bean, tahini, pepita dip

¾ cup fresh fava beans
½ cup roasted pepitas plus extra for garnish
1 tbsp tahini
2 tbsps lemon juice
6 tbsps olive oil and extra for drizzling
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tbsp roasted sesame seeds for garnish

1. Remove the fava beans from the shell.

2. Bring a small saucepan to a boil over medium heat. Add the fava beans to the boiling water and cook for 5-7 minutes depending on the size of the fava beans.

3. Drain the fava beans and add the fava beans to a bowl of cold water.

4. Drain again and pop each bean out of its skin and set aside.

5. In a food processor, add the fava beans, pepitas, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic and process for 2 minutes until the mixture resembles a course paste.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

6. Remove the fava bean mixture and place it in a serving bowl. 7.Drizzle with extra olive oil, sprinkle with sesame seeds and extra pepitas, and serve with vegetables as a dip or as a spread on toast with soft boiled eggs.

Wild Ramps and Hazelnut Pesto

Monday, May 16, 2016

Let’s talk about ramps! Ramps are, ramsom, wild leeks or wild garlic, not to be mistaken with scallions, shallots, or onions. When spring arrived, their images flooded across social media--Instagram, Pinterest, and you name it. Why are ramps so popular? They grow wild in only certain regions along the Appalachian ridge from Georgia to Quebec, and are foraged like truffles. Chefs and home cooks alike go wild for their pungent garlicky-onion flavor. I personally have never seen them at our local farmers markets or even Specialty Produce.

When I saw a picture of a field of wild ramps on Lawrence’s IG feed, a friend I had met on Instagram, I left a teary emoji knowing the chance of me finding ramps is like winning the lotto (I’m exaggerating of course but it would require a trip to the east coast in the spring and a full force hunt for them). Imagine my surprise when Lawrence sent me a text that the ramps were on their way to my kitchen! Aaaaaaahhhhhh! I jumped for joy! 

When I finally got that precious gift in the mail, I jumped for joy again and dropped everything I was doing to take a few photos for evidence that they were real and not a figment of my imagination. The possibilities swirled in my head--saute, pickle, grill. In mid April, I had gone to Chicago and got to taste both grilled ramps and pickled ramps and decided to do something different. In the end, I went with a ramp and hazelnut pesto since their long trip from the east coast to San Diego took some life out of the leaves even with Lawrence packing an ice pack to keep them fresh. I gave them a nice cool bath as Lawrence had suggested to plump them up then salvaged as much of the leaves as I could.  

For the pesto, I purposely did not add any garlic to preserve the unique flavor of ramps. I kept my pesto simple with hazelnuts, a little Parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. This ramp pesto is quite versatile and can be used in pizza, paired with gnocchi or pasta, and even chicken or fish. It’s the perfect blank canvas for your culinary imagination. Good luck finding some and have fun cooking!

Wild ramps and hazelnut pesto

⅔ cup hazelnuts
1 ½ cups ramps (leaves), washed and roughly chopped
¾ cup olive oil
2 tbsps freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Dry-fry the hazelnuts in cast iron skillet over medium heat until golden brown, stirring frequently to avoid burning them. Once they’re done and cool enough, peel the skin off.

2. In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts to a fine texture and set aside.

3. Add the chopped ramps, olive oil, and lemon juice to the food processor and puree until smooth.

4. Stir in the grated Parmesan cheese and hazelnuts and pulse for about 1 minute until everything is well combined.

5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

6.Transfer the pesto to a glass container and store in the coldest part of your fridge for up to a week. Or you can freeze the pesto and thaw it when needed.