Chocolate cake with espresso buttercream

Monday, December 4, 2017

In August we became a family of four but it didn’t start out that way. For the longest time, I was very happy with just ONE child. Working in the ICU, I had witnessed first hand mothers dying from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. FEAR has a way of paralyzing you. It’s a powerful force that cemented my decision. Why risk it when we were already blessed with a healthy child! I felt like we had won the lottery with our first born. He is a sweet and easy going boy that brings us so much joy.

I was happy with our family set-up. Traveling was a breeze. We could fit neatly in one row on an airplane. It was easy to wrangle one rambunctious toddler with two parents. The past few years were challenging but we had finally found our rhythm so why upset the balance.

Everything was chugging along just the way I imagined until last June when we went out to celebrate Father’s Day. There was an elderly couple and their son sitting next to our table. The couple must have been in their 70s and their son in his 30s. They started dinner at about the same time as we did. For the duration of dinner their son was on his cell phone while his parents quietly conversed with each other. My husband noticed me tearing up and badgered me until I caved in and told him how upset I was seeing his parents neglected. His cell phone was the object of his affection instead of his father.  A part of me panicked thinking what if that was us and our son in the future!

Since that night, my thoughts drifted frequently back to that scene. Then I remembered how alone I felt when my mother was battling uterine cancer and breast cancer. I had no one to confide in or share my burden with. I pretended to be strong for my mom but inside I was terrified of losing one of the greatest loves of my life. A friend could lend me her ears but it’s not the same as having a sibling to lean on.  While there's no guarantee that siblings would get along or become close, we are optimistic that we can raise our kids to love one another and take care of each other.

Thanksgiving came around and I thought about the holidays being more fun if there were two kids running around. Double the noise.  Double the mess.  But double the joy.  For the first time in a long time, a little voice started whispering the idea of a second child. I began opening up to Vu. We went back and forth about the pros and cons of having another addition to our family. Let’s just say the list of cons was a lot longer than pros. Both of us are older and working on our careers. We have no help and the cost of childcare in this country is abhorrent. Whatever amount of free time and sleep that we enjoy now would become non-existent. And of course the cost of raising another child, an additional $250,000, not including college! 

I had never imagined that the decision to have a second child would be one of the hardest decisions of my life. Against all odds, we decided to go ahead because life decision can’t really be based on a table of pros and cons. Ultimately our heart tugging won and we didn’t want to be in our 50s thinking about what could have been. I had a small window of time to get pregnant and we both agreed to be at peace with whatever the outcome was.

As luck would have it or fate as some believe, we got pregnant in that small window of time and welcomed our second boy, Dillon, in August. From the moment we heard Dillon's heart beating on the ultrasound to his first cry when he made his debut in the OR, we fell in love again. Things have been really hard but we’re taking it one day at a time. For those parents out there who are struggling, we feel your pain.  
In retrospect, we would have been happy with one child, two, or none at all but now that we’re a family of four, we can’t imagine our life any other way. 

To celebrate us all making it to three months, I made a chocolate cake. I reserve cakes for special occasions and this is definitely one of them.

When I was pregnant, I had the worst heartburn and couldn’t have chocolate or coffee. Now that my body has somewhat recovered, I’m enjoying chocolate in all forms. This simple cake totally hits the spot but leaves you wanting more because of the espresso frosting. I don’t know about you but chocolate and coffee are a match made in foodie heaven. Our friends and coworkers really enjoyed this cake when we made it for birthdays and potlucks.  We couldn’t be more excited to share this special occasion and recipe with you.

Chocolate Celebration Cake

⅔ cup of semi sweet chocolate chips
1 stick of butter
½ cup of sugar
2 medium organic eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup organic milk
¾ cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt

Espresso buttercream

¾ cup of semi sweet chocolate chips
1 stick of butter
¾ cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp espresso
Chocolate shavings (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and line two 6 inch cake pans with baking paper.

2. Place the butter, sugar, and chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a small pan of simmering water and make sure not to let the bowl touch the water. Stir the mixture until everything is  melted and smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. In a mixing bowl, sift flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

4. Transfer the chocolate mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.

5. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

6. Add the vanilla and whisk to combine.

7. Fold in the flour mixture and whisk in the milk.

8. Divide the batter between two 6 inch cake pans, place them on the middle rack, and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

9. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

10. While the cake is cooling, make the buttercream. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over gently simmering water and don’t let the bowl touch the water. Stir the chocolate until melted and smooth. Stir in the espresso powder and vanilla extract. Remove from heat and set aside.

11. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and icing sugar for 8-10 minutes until very thick and pale. Fold in the espresso chocolate mixture and whisk until well combined.

12. When ready to frost the cakes, use a serrated knife to level the cakes.  Place one layer on a cake pedestal. With an offset spatula, spread about ¼ cup of buttercream over the top.

13. Place the second layer on top of the buttercream, then spread the remaining frosting evenly on top and sides of the cake.

14. To make the chocolate shaving, use a vegetable peeler, scrape the blade lengthwise across the a block of room temperature chocolate. Top the cake and bottom of the cake with chocolate shavings.

1. For baking use good quality chocolate.
2. Make sure the cakes are cooled completely before you frost them or the frosting will melt.
3. The cake will keep in the refrigerator covered in plastic wrap for up to two days.

Cranberry and orange scones

Monday, November 27, 2017

Almost every Thanksgiving, I find myself with a lot of leftover cranberries. This stemmed from not making enough cranberry sauce one year and having to resort to canned cranberries which turned out terrible. Since then I always buy two bags of cranberries in case I have to make another batch of cranberry sauce on the fly. With my leftover cranberries, I would make cranberry and orange scones the following morning for out of town guests. 

These are not your typical dry, dense scones but more airy and moist. A drizzle of orange glaze adds a beautiful flavor to them.  Fresh cranberries make these scones a bit tart but a knob of butter and spoon of jam should mellow out the tartness.  They're perfect with a cup of coffee or tea.

Cranberry and orange scones
2 ½ cups of flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp salt

8 tbsps cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup fresh cranberries
Zest of 1 medium to large orange (reserve 1 tsp for the glaze)
1 cup of organic heavy cream and extra for brushing
2 cold, small organic eggs
1 tbsp sanding sugar

Orange glaze

1 tsp of orange zest
2 tbsps freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup of icing sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a mixing bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. To make the dough, in a food processor, add the flour mixture and butter pieces and pulse about 10 times to combine.  Don't over process them.

4. Transfer the flour mixture back to the mixing bowl, add the cranberries and gently toss to coat.

5. In another mixing bowl, add heavy cream, egg, and orange zest and whisk to combine.

6. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.  Pour the cream mixture into the well and use a wooden spoon to work the cream into the flour mixture, rotating the bowl and use a folding motion as you go, not a stirring motion.

7. When the dough begins to come together, use a spatula or your hands to gently work the dough into a ball. Add in one teaspoon of cream at a time if there’s a lot of loose flour in the bottom of the bowl until you fully incorporate them.

8. Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and gently pat it into a 7 to 8 inch circle. Use a chef knife to cut the circle into 8 wedges.

9. Place the scones on the lined baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Brush the top with cream and sprinkle with sanding sugar.

10. Place the sheet on the middle rack and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another 10-12 minutes until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean.

10. Let the scones rest on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

11. To make the orange glaze, in a small bowl, whisk together orange juice, zest, and icing sugar until smooth.

12.When ready to serve, drizzle the glaze on the scones.

Notes: these scones are better eaten the day of or stored in an airtight container until the next day. Rewarm them in the oven if you plan on eating them the next day. You can also freeze the unbaked scones in the freezer for up to a month.

Fig and goat cheese tart with thyme and hazelnut

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Hey there! It’s been awhile since we posted a recipe. Life got a bit busy. Actually a LOT busy since we became a family of four in August. More on that later!

For now I want to share a fig recipe because it’s National Fig Week! If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you know how crazy I am about figs. I love figs in desserts and in a snack but once in a blue moon I love a savory fig dish. The sweetness of fig paired with the tang of goat cheese makes this tart a perfect light lunch. It is super easy to throw together because the recipe uses store bought puff pastry. These days we rely on quick meals to get us through the day with both of our boys keeping us super busy. You can enjoy the tart by itself or with a light salad of some peppery greens like watercress or arugula. Enjoy!

Fig and goat cheese tart with thyme and hazelnuts

About 10 oz of puff pastry
6 ripe figs
2 tbsps goat cheese
½ tsp thyme leaves
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsps toasted hazelnuts
Egg yolk for brushing
1 tsp sanding sugar
All purpose flour for dusting
Extra honey and thyme leaves for serving

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Lightly dust a pastry board or work surface with flour and roll the pastry out into a 9x7 inch oval.

3. Carefully lift the pastry onto the baking sheet, taking care not to stretch the dough.

4. Leave a one inch border, prick the pastry with a fork, and pop it in the freezer for 15 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

6. In a bowl, mix the goat cheese, honey, and thyme leaves together until well combined.

7. Slice the figs into circles.

8. Remove the puff pastry from the freezer.

9. Spread the goat cheese mixture over the pastry, leaving a one inch border around the edges.

10. Arrange the fig slices on top of the goat cheese.

11. Fold the edges of the puff pastry over the fig slices and press gently to seal.

12. Brush the edges with egg wash and sprinkle the sanding sugar over the edges.

13. Bake the tart in the middle rack for 20-25 minutes until the tart becomes light golden and juices start to run from the figs.

14. Remove from the oven and let it cool slightly before serving.

15. When ready to serve, sprinkle the toasted hazelnuts on top and garnish with additional thyme leaves and honey.

Cookbook Review: The Cottage Kitchen

Sunday, October 22, 2017

I was really looking forward to cooking from The Cottage Kitchen by Marte Forsberg because of her beautiful work as a photographer.  Given her Norwegian root, I was interested in her Norwegian recipes.  Her grandma’s caramel pudding was delicious and was similar to other flan or creme caramel that I had before.  I thought serving it with whipped cream was interesting but it definitely tasted better without it.  The Norwegian waffles turned out delicious but they were more on the dense side instead of light and airy.  The meatballs with parsnip and cardamom puree was the one recipe that really caught me by surprised.  The recipe used rolled oats and I don’t usually make meatballs with oats but I guess the concept is similar to using bread crumbs.  The parsnip and cardamom puree was so flavorful and I would want to have this with meatballs instead of the regular mashed potato.  Her mother’s recipe for pancakes which reminded me of crepes.  I ate them with blueberries and they tasted kind of bland so the next time I had them with a strawberry jam which turned out more flavorful.  Overall this is a beautiful book but it lacked the deeply rooted Norwegian recipes that I was hoping to try.  The Nordic Cookbook or Fire and Ice would be a better choice if one was interested in Nordic cuisine.   

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher     

Cookbook Review: Cherry Bombe Cookbook

Sunday, October 8, 2017

I was excited to review the Cherry Bombe Cookbook given the preface that all the recipes are contributed by some of the most interesting chefs, bakers, food stylists, pastry chefs, and creatives on the food scene today.  Having not read the magazine, I had no preconceived notions of the cookbook.  The book includes 100 recipes from 100 contributors and I only recognized a handful of the names like Jeni Britton Bauer, Melissa Clark, Jessica Koslow, Padma Lakshmi, Elisabeth Prueitt, Chrissy Teigen, Molly Yeh, and Aran Goyoaga.  

The cookbook is very straightforward in term of recipes but I wish there was a bit more information as to why these women are at the top of their games.  I wanted to know more about their stories and why these recipes are so meaningful to them rather than just a snippet about the recipe.  With regard to the recipes, the beet ricotta dumplings really stood out so I tried it first.  They were light and pillowy as promised and so tasty.  Another recipe that I really liked was the easy crab roll with avocado.  I didn’t have any hot dog buns but brioche bread which turned out really good.  The last recipe that I attempted was the red cabbage salad with sesame anchovy dressing which was my least favorite recipe.  I liked the salad dressing minus the anchovy.  Overall I really enjoyed the Cherry Bombe Cookbook and learning about these inspiring women and can’t wait to try more recipes from it.       

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher        

Cookbook Review: The Essential Insta Pot Cookbook

Monday, October 2, 2017

I received The Essential Instant Pot Cookbook from the publisher to review but I have to preface this review that I do not own an Instant Pot and can only comment on the recipes but not the result of the recipes.  With seven chapters of recipes, there’s plenty to try from the breakfast, beans and grains, soups and chillis, beef and pork, poultry, vegetables and side dishes, and desserts.  

From the breakfast section, the lemon-poppy seed breakfast cake jumped out at me because I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to make cake this way.  Recipes that I thought were fillers include hard boiled eggs, omelette, oatmeal, and porridge.  The beans and grains section didn’t have that many interesting recipes except to cook risotto using an Insta Pot would be a huge time saver instead of standing by the stove stirring and babysitting the risotto.  The soup section was also pretty meh. The meat chapters definitely had more appetizing recipes like the arroz con pollo, dijon chicken and wild rice pilaf, pomegranate walnut chicken, and Korean braised short ribs.  My favorite chapter from the book would be dessert.  I’m fascinated that one can make cake in this particular fashion.  The carrot cake and Meyer lemon ricotta cheesecake recipes would be fun to try.  Overall this book has many gorgeous photographs with well written instruction but not that many recipes that really stood out.  
*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher           

Crepes with strawberries and mascarpone

Monday, August 14, 2017

I was always fascinated with crepes but never attempted to make it at home until our honeymoon in Paris. Everywhere we walked there was a crepe stand around the corner. We saved a lot of money and time grabbing crepes for breakfast and lunch on the way to the museums or sightseeing and splurged on dinner. My husband gravitated toward the savory ones while my sweet tooth always won.

Since our honeymoon eons ago, we love alternating crepes for breakfast with our other French favorite, French toast. Continuing our obsession with strawberries and basil from a tart that we shared a while back, we decided to bring these flavors together for the filling of our crepes. This breakfast is perfect for summer when strawberries are at their peak season but you can replace the strawberries with stone fruits like cherries, peaches, and plums. Even though this recipe seems a bit involved, it’s quite simple and anyone can make it!

Crepes with strawberries and mascarpone

½ cup all purpose flour
¾ cup organic milk
½ cup organic heavy cream
½ tbsp sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 organic egg
Melted unsalted butter

Mascarpone creme

¼ cup mascarpone
¼ cup organic heavy cream
1 tbsp honey and extra for serving
½ tsp vanilla bean past
1 pint of fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 tbsps baby basil leaves

1. In a mixing bowl, whisk flour, milk, cream, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and egg until smooth. Leave the batter in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest (you can also keep it refrigerated overnight if you wish to prepare it for the next day).

2. Brush a nonstick 8 inch crepe pan or skillet with melted butter and heat over medium-high heat.

3. When hot, ladle about ¼ cup of batter and swirl the pan/skillet so that the batter coats the base evenly.

4. Cook for 1-2 minutes until golden, then flip and cook for another minute on the other side until pale golden.

5. Remove the crepe from the pan, place on baking sheet, cover, and keep warm with a clean tea towel. Repeat the process with the remaining batter.

6. Whisk the mascarpone, heavy cream, vanilla, and honey until well combined.

7. Divide the crepes among serving plates, spread with mascarpone cream, extra honey, and basil leaves.

8. You can store leftover crepes in the freezer and rewarm when ready to serve.

Orange blossom yogurt with figs and pistachios

Monday, August 7, 2017

There’s nothing quite like the taste of fresh figs and I have been patiently waiting for their arrival since June. We have our own little fig tree growing in the garden but 16 figs would barely last me a couple days. I saw an early wave of figs back in June, but August is really the beginning of fig season--Black Mission figs, brown turkey figs, Kadota figs, St John Adriatic figs, and so many more. I love them with yogurt or fresh ricotta as a snack. I recently discovered orange blossom water and was excited by how their beautiful scent can elevate a simple ingredient like Greek yogurt. My husband and I love this delightful combination of Greek yogurt with orange blossom water, the luscious and sweet taste of figs, sweetened by a touch of honey, and topped with pistachios.


Orange blossom yogurt with figs and pistachios

1 cup of plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp of orange blossom water
A pint of fresh figs, halved or quartered if large
2 tbsps of chopped, shelled unsalted pistachios
2 tbsps of honey

1. In a bowl, mix the yogurt, orange blossom water, and honey until well combined.

2. Spoon the yogurt into two serving bowls.

3. Top the yogurt with fresh figs, pistachios, and additional honey if desired.

Elderflower Panna Cotta with Strawberries and Pistachio

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon pints and pints of elderflowers at Specialty Produce and could hardly contain my excitement as I picked out the sweetly scented, creamy white blossoms. It was my first time seeing elderflowers! Given how expensive they were, I only bought enough to use as a garnish for a simple treat I had in mind--panna cotta. 

I used one of my favorite liqueurs, St Germaine, to add a subtle elderflower flavor to the panna cotta, then topped it off with fresh elderflowers, strawberries, and pistachio. It was so good we polished a whole batch in two days. Then I made it again per my hubby’s request. This panna cotta is the perfect embodiment of spring with the delicate elderflowers and sun kissed strawberries. 

Elderflower panna cotta

1 ½ cups organic heavy cream
½ cup organic 2% milk
¼ cup sugar
2 gelatin sheets (I used PerfectaGel Platnium Gelatin)
½ vanilla bean pod
2 tbsps elderflower cordial (St Germaine)
1 tbsp roasted unsalted pistachio, chopped
½ cup fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced in half if big
1 tsp powdered sugar
Fresh elderflower for garnish

1. Combine heavy cream, milk, and sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer for a few minutes. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved.

2. Scrape the vanilla pod’s seeds into the milk, whisk to combine, and add the pod. Steep the pod until it has softened. Remove the pot from heat and discard the vanilla pod.

3. Soak the gelatine sheets in a small bowl of cold water for 5-7 minutes until softened.

4. Remove the sheets and squeeze them to remove excess water. Add them to the vanilla-infused cream mixture while it’s still hot. Whisk to completely dissolve the gelatin sheet.

5. Stir in the elderflower cordial.

6. Allow the cream mixture to cool completely and pour into individual ramekin and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight until fully set.

7. When ready to serve, combine the sliced strawberries with powdered sugar in a bowl and let it macerate for 10 minutes.

8. Turn the panna cottas out onto serving plates, top with the strawberries, chopped pistachios, and garnish with a few elderflowers.

Ramp and pistachio pesto

Monday, May 29, 2017

Over the past few years, our perspective on traveling has changed quite a bit. Nowadays, when we travel, we like to experience the local culture rather than hitting all the tourist attractions. We want to eat like the locals, shop at their farmers market, and hang out where they would take family and friends visiting from out of town. For those very reasons, our recent New York trip is one of my favorites to date. We only scheduled one tourist attraction per morning then tried to hit the local hang-outs for the remaining of the day.

With my love for local produce, I knew that a farmers market visit was a must. A few months before our trip, I scoured the internet for farmers markets nearby our hotel and found quite a few. With the Union Square Greenmarket walking distance from our place, I started stalking their Instagram account to see what’s available. As luck would have it, I saw one of my favorite alliums, ramps, appearing on their feed and resolved to bring some back to California. In case you don’t know what ramps are, here’s a little tidbit as to why they’re so popular.

After the 2800 mile journey from NYC to San Diego, I was elated that the ramps made it to my kitchen without any problems. If someone had told me a year ago that we would be visiting New York in the spring and bringing home some ramps, I would have a flabbergasted look on my face. So here we are with this culinary treasure and plenty of recipes to showcase them! Last year, when I made a ramp and hazelnut pesto, I was able to enjoy it with pizza, pasta, toast, roasted chicken, and even fish. The hazelnut was a bit more time consuming to de-skin so I decided to make a ramp and pistachio pesto this time. We went through the first batch of pesto in a few days, using it as a spread for toast to enjoy with breakfast and lunch and will make a few more batches before the season comes to an end.

Ramp and pistachio pesto

½ cup shelled unsalted pistachios, finely ground
2 oz ramp leaves, roughly chopped
½ cup olive oil and extra for top layer
2 tbsps lemon juice
¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste

1. Use a pestle and mortar to pound the chopped ramps into a paste.

2.Add the ground pistachios, olive oil, lemon juice and pound to mix together.

3. Mix in the Parmesan cheese.

4. Season with salt to taste.

5. Transfer the pesto to the clean lidded glass jar. Add a thin layer of olive oil to help preserve it.  Store in the coldest part of your fridge for up to a week or freeze it for up to three months.  Thaw when needed.

Book Review: Food52 Ice Cream and Friends

Monday, May 15, 2017

I impatiently waited for the Food52 Ice Cream and Friends book to arrive and couldn’t be more excited to try some of the recipes.  Unlike other ice cream books, this one took a unique approach to ice cream making, skipped the usual basic recipes and focused on really exciting flavors like fresh ricotta, lemongrass chile ginger, horchata, butternut squash and tahini, and so many more.  Besides ice cream, there were other recipes for gelato, sorbet, cakes, and drinks.

One of the first recipes that I tried was the cherry snow cone since we had a lot of cherries from our farmers market trip.  By the way, this recipe called for Pernod but I substituted it with kirsch since we had that available.  I also made a non-alcoholic version for our little guy and he enjoyed it.  It tasted so refreshing.  The ricotta ice cream was good but definitely needed a fruit compote topping to make it shine.  Next time I will add a fruity swirl instead of making a plain ricotta ice cream.  I have always wanted to make mochi from scratch so that was next on the list.  It was surprisingly easy to make and tasted similar to the mochi that I usually get from local frozen yogurt joints.  

So far I have really enjoyed the recipes from the Food52 ice cream book and can’t wait to try the halvah paletas, mango lassicles, s’mores ice cream, and chocolate tacos.  The recipes do not have a long list of ingredients and instructions are easy to follow.  I highly recommend the Food52 Ice Cream and Friends book to ice cream novices and connoisseurs alike especially if you’re looking for interesting flavors to try.       

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher           

Strawberry and basil mascarpone tart

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Somehow this past winter felt like the longest winter ever. As much as I love the cooler weather, I was ready for the temperature to warm up and work on my garden. I had planned on adding a few more garden boxes for a lot of veggies and fruits, in particular alpine strawberries. It will be my third attempt growing them from seed. It takes anywhere from a few weeks to almost two months for the seeds to germinate and a whole year before the first harvest happens. Wish me luck! In the meantime, I’m content with buying strawberries from the farmers market, enjoying them fresh, showcasing them in tarts and galettes, and the most refreshing treat of all, ice cream! 

Before we get to the ice cream (recipe coming soon I promise!), let’s talk about tarts! It’s been years since I posted a recipe for strawberry tart, so we’re overdue! With strawberries, their flavor is so delicate, I try not to do too much otherwise they lose their sweetness.  I also added some basil leaves to the cream to provide some contrast to the mild flavor of the tart.  Strawberries and basil make such a tasty combination anyway!  This tart can be made the day before your gathering so it will be a bit less stressful while you're running around trying to prepare dinner.  We've been enjoying this tart since strawberry season started and will be making it often until the end of summer!  We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!      

Strawberry and basil mascarpone tart

1 quantity of pastry dough
12 oz of strawberries, hulled and halved (leave about 4-5 strawberries unhulled for garnish)
2 tbsps icing sugar
¾ cup of organic heavy whipping cream
4 oz of mascarpone cheese
¼ cup of icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp of Genovese basil leaves, finely chopped
Icing sugar and a few baby basil leaves for garnish

For the pastry dough
½ 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 almond meal
6 tbsps of butter, chopped into cubes
2 tbsp of icing sugar
pinch of salt
3-4 tbsps of ice-cold water

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. Remove the dough from the fridge. Roll it out on a lightly floured surface to a circle of about 10 inches wide and ¼ inch thick and line an 8-inch tart pan. Trim off the excess dough. You can save the extra dough for up to one month in the freezer.

6. Prick the tart base with a fork, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for another 30 minutes.

7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

8. Remove the tart base from the fridge, line with parchment paper and fill with baking weights (you can use rice or beans if you do not have any baking weights).

9. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the weights and bake for another 10 minutes until the pastry is golden. Let it cool to room temperature.

10. While the tart base is baking, prepare the filling. In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk together the heavy cream, mascarpone, icing sugar, and vanilla until thick. 

11. Gently fold the chopped basil into the cream mixture. Put the cream mixture in the fridge while the tart base is cooling.

12. Place strawberries in a bowl and toss with the icing sugar. Refrigerate the strawberries if the tart base is still cooling.

13. When the tart shell is ready, fill the tart shell with the basil cream and arrange the strawberries on top.

14. Before serving the tart, garnish with baby basil leaves and a dusting of icing sugar.

Cookbook Review: Dinner Changing the Game

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I was excited to read and cook Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark having read all the praises from Yotam Ottolenghi, Diana Henry, and Amanda Hesser.  The book is broken into ten chapters with a focus on chicken, meat (pork, beef, veal, lamb, duck, and turkey), the grind (meatballs, sausage), fish and seafood, eggs, pasta and noodles, tofu, beans/legumes/veg dinners, rice/farro/quinoa/other grains, salad, and dips/spreads.  Many recipes had global influence ranging from Southeast Asian to Middle Eastern.  I tried the sticky tamarind chicken with crisp lettuce which had a nice balance of savory and heat.  On the other hand, the Vietnamese caramel salmon tasted a bit off to me.  The seasoning in this dish did not taste like the authentic savory caramelized taste of ca kho to that I grew up with.  I also really enjoyed the asparagus polenta with burrata, so cheesy and delicious.

I really appreciated that the recipes in Dinner Changing the Game took only a page and the instructions easy to follow.  For a book receiving so many accolades, I was rather disappointed that I didn’t learn anything new that would change the way I make dinner compared to many cookbooks (ie. Food52 a New Way to Dinner) that I own.  It definitely didn't up the ante on the dinner game for me.  Although Melissa Clark’s Dinner is gorgeous and filled with many versatile recipes, I didn't feel inspired by the recipes focused in this cookbook.  Overall Melissa Clark’s Dinner would be a good cookbook for someone who is looking for easy and delicious recipes and needs to not fuss over the cooking too much.

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher        

Blood orange and chocolate chip sorbet

Saturday, February 25, 2017

As the end of winter is approaching, I couldn’t be more excited to share a regular winter dessert that we make when blood oranges are in abundance. When we took a trip to Rome for our honeymoon many years ago, I was surprised to find that my favorite part of visiting Rome was not the sightseeing or the pasta, but tasting all the different gelati and sorbets. At just about every corner, you’ll find a gelateria claiming to have the best flavors in the eternal city. Instead of ordering a decadent dessert at the end of our meal, we would head to a gelateria and grab a scoop (usually two or more) to cool down in the scorching summer heat. With the cones in our hands, we made our way to the steps at Trevi fountain to enjoy our gelato and sorbets and people watch. 

One of my favorite sorbets was blood orange and chocolate chip because it was unlike anything that I had in the US. The flavor of orange was intense with a raspberry undertone and nicely balanced with the dark chocolate chips peppered throughout. Since our trip to Rome, I tried to recreate that sorbet every winter when blood orange is in season. This is the closest I got to recreating the blood orange and chocolate chip sorbet from memory. Enjoy!

Blood orange and chocolate chip sorbet

½ cup of simple syrup
2 cups of freshly squeezed blood orange juice, strained
pinch of salt
¼ cup of your favorite dark chocolate chip, chopped
2:1 simple syrup
1 cup of sugar
½ cup of water

1. To make the 2:1 simple syrup, whisk water and sugar in a small saucepan and cook on medium heat and stir until the mixture comes to a boil and the sugar has dissolved completely.

2. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let it cool completely.

3. To make the blood orange sorbet, add the simple syrup, orange juice, and salt in a saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium heat.

4. Remove the mixture from heat and let it cool completely.

5. Refrigerate the mixture for 4 hours or overnight to let the flavor develop.

6. When ready to churn, pour the blood orange mixture into the your ice cream machine, stir in the chocolate chip, and churn according to the manufacturer’s instruction. (My machine takes about 25-30 minutes to get a lovely soft serve consistency.)

7. When the sorbet is ready, scoop out the sorbet into a freezer proof container. The sorbet can be served after 4 hours or stored up to two weeks.

Pho Ga Vietnamese chicken noodle soup

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Can you believe it’s 2017?!!! It caught me by surprise how the new year came upon us in a blink of an eye. I did away with New Year’s resolutions years ago because I never seemed to stay on top of them. One intent I did want for the blog in 2017 is to share with you more of the food from my culture. Yes, that means more Vietnamese recipes! For the first post of the year, I’m sharing one of my all time favorite recipes, my mom's pho ga, as part of the #noodleholicsparty that Soe of Lime and Cilantro is hosting. 

Pho has always been my comfort food for as long as I could remember. It’s a quintessential food of Vietnam, as ramen is to Japan. Growing up, I ate pho bo (beef noodle) because beef was a commodity. I didn’t really appreciate pho ga until my husband introduced me to Pho Ga An Nam in San Jose when we first dated. It was the best pho ga in town, almost two decades ago. From then on, I begged my mom to cook more pho ga instead of pho bo. She always uses free range chicken because the meat remains firmer after cooking. The spices used in pho ga are similar to pho bo and lend a fragrant and intoxicating broth. During cold weather and rainy seasons we find ourselves gravitating toward pho ga. Each family has their own variation but most of the ingredients are very similar. We hope this will become your go to pho ga recipe!

Pho Ga (4-6 servings)

1 3-lb free range chicken
2 lbs of chicken carcass
12 cups of water
1 medium yellow onion
2 thumb sized pieces of ginger
1 cinnamon stick
10 cloves
5 star anise
½ tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsps fish sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 16-oz package of rice noodles (pho noodles)

For the garnish

1 bunch of Thai basil
½ cup of chopped cilantro
½ cup of chopped green onion
1 green jalapenos pepper, sliced thinly
2 cups of mung bean sprouts
1 lime cut into wedges
Freshly ground pepper for serving
Hoisin sauce for serving
Sriracha sauce for serving

1. Char the onion and ginger pieces on both sides over a gas stove. If you don’t have a gas stove, broil them for a few minutes in the oven. Set aside.

2. Roast the spices in the oven at 375 degrees F for 10 minutes until fragrant. Place the coriander seeds, fennel seeds, star anise, and cloves in a piece of muslin/cheesecloth and tie with butcher’s twine to secure. Set aside.

3. Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the chicken carcass, chicken, onion, ginger, and spices and let everything simmer over medium-low heat. Occasionally remove any scum from the surface.

4. Prepare a large ice-water bath 30 minutes into cooking. When the chicken is done, remove it from the pot and immediately submerge it in the water bath to stop the cooking process and give the meat a firmer texture. Let the chicken stand for 15 minutes until it’s cool enough to handle.

5. Remove the chicken meat from the bones. Set aside. Throw the bones back into the stockpot.

6. Continue simmering the broth for another 90 minutes. Season with salt, fish sauce, and sugar to taste. Add a little more water if too much water has evaporated during the cooking process.

7. While the broth is simmering, bring a small sauce pan to a boil.

8. Add the noodles and cook for about 2-3 minutes or just until al dente.  The noodles will finish cooking in the broth.

9. Prepare the plate of garnishes with Thai basil leaves, mung bean sprouts, lime wedges, and jalapeno peppers.

10. In a small sauce bowl, add the Hoisin sauce and the Sriracha sauce for serving.

11. Chop the green onion and cilantro.

12. To assemble divide the noodles between soup bowls. Top with chicken meat, scallions, and cilantro. Ladle the hot stock over the top, sprinkle with freshly ground pepper, and serve immediately with the garnishes. 

Cook's note: for a less fatty broth, make the broth a day ahead and leave the broth in the fridge overnight.  Remove the layer of fat at the surface before rewarming the broth.   For a cleaner broth, strain it before serving.

For more delicious noodle recipes, check out all the other #noodleholicsparty dishes from bloggers from all part of the world!

Rakhee Yadav |Vegetarian manchurian with stir fry noodles by Boxofspice

Erin Clarkson |Beef ragu with pappardelle by Cloudy Kitchen

Ingrid Goesnar |Indonesian boiled noodles (mie rebus) by Piquecooking

Christine Leong |Malaysian Laksa with Pumpkin by Vermillionroots

Ashley Cuoco |Chestnut Tortellini & Fettuccine in Sage Cream Sauce by Cuococontento

Ryan and Adam |Vegetarian Tteokbokki by husbandsthatcook

Regan Baroni |Shrimp Scampi with Tagliatelle by Regan Baroni

Nevada Berg |Juniper Berry & Barley Noodles with Creamy Chantarelles by North Wild Kitchen

Joanne |Vegan Jjajangmyeon by the Korean Vegan

Lindsay Radcliffe |Duck Noodle Soup by Lindsaysfeast

Lyndsey Eden |Avocado pesto cream sauce with homemade fettuccine noodles by Lyndsey Eden

Aimee Twigger |Homemade soba noodles in a lapsang souchong broth with crispy tofu by Twiggstudios

Haiya Tarik |Malaysian Laksa by Passmethedimsum

Maggie Zhu |Shanghai Scallion Oil Noodle (Cong You Ban Mian) by Omnivorescookbook

Lauren McDuffie |Oak-Smoked Pasta Cacio e Pepe by Harvest and Honey

Soe Thein |Noodle in Burmese coconut and chicpea broth (Oh- no-khao-swe) by Lime and Cilantro

Marvellina Goh |Aceh noodles (Mie Aceh) by Whattocooktoday

Mahroo |Persian Noodle (Reshteh) by Noghlemey