The Nguyens Send Their Regards

Game of Thrones Party
We really should be used to it by now.

It’s been nearly 8 years since George R.R. Martin released A Song of Ice and Fire and we’ve been anxiously waiting for his next book installment ever since.

(COME ON GEORGE!!! You’re killing us, Smalls!)

Game of Thrones Party
So when HBO released the final episode of season 7 of the Game of Thrones TV series back in August 2017, we should’ve known that the wait for season 8 would also be excruciatingly long.

Apparently, we know nothing…..

But HOLY CRAP! 595 days is just torture — particularly in this day and age of instant video streaming. You cruel, cruel men – George, D.B. and David.

Game of Thrones Party
My sibbies and I were so damn excited once the long awaited premiere date was FINALLY announced. As Northerners (we are Minnesotans and all) – how could we not be?

It didn’t take long for me to convince them to get together to watch the premiere and of course make a few GoT themed dishes for us to nosh on. And although it kind of sounds like one of our monthly Fam Dins, it wouldn’t be an official one since a few of us would be missing.

Don’t worry, we made them amply jealous.

Game of Thrones Party

As the date drew nearer and nearer, we (and millions across the world) found ourselves in a GoT frenzy! The excitement was crazy and I got a bit carried away.

In addition to planning which dishes we’d make, I found myself (thanks to the powers of the interwebs) in full DIY mode making decorations for a tablescape for that night.

You may be thinking – tablescape?

And we say, OF COURSE! Feasts in the Seven Kingdoms always appeared elaborate. Though we weren’t really having a “party”… well not exactly.

Game of Thrones Party
My sibbies and I are devoted GoT enthusiasts and although an elaborate themed event with lots of guests and costumes would be fun, it would get in the way of us being able to concentrate on the show. And let’s be honest–we would’ve gotten extremely annoyed at people talking and asking questions during the show. I might have had to pull out Joffrey’s crossbow or one of Jaqen H’ghar blow-darts.


Game of Thrones Party
I came up to seester’s house early that weekend so that we could hang out and prepare for our GoT celebration. Sure, there were times that we couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves while we prepped. For a “non party”, we sure were putting some effort into things. But what can we say? When we start something, we go for it!

And yes – along with an Iron Throne, House bunting, flying dragon cutouts with flames – there was a Kill Board.

This is the final season of GAME OF THRONES! It would be in poor taste not to!

Game of Thrones Party
I believe the munchkins call it “being extra”. And I don’t disagree.

Though I definitely don’t hear any of them complaining when we combine our powers to throw their parties. In fact, I spy some “extra” tendencies growing in each of them too! It’s a Nguyen gene –they can’t avoid it!

I’d also like to say that it could’ve been A LOT more EXTRA. This was on the tamer side considering some of our other endeavors.

Game of Thrones Party
One of my besties, T, did snag a coveted invite – but after 22+ years, she’s my family. And most importantly, T is a GoT fanatic who doesn’t talk during the show.

Priorities people!

(Oh Bella…the perpetual photobomber.)

Game of Thrones Party
Let’s get on to the feast, shall we?

GoT has never shied away from libations with references to ale, rum and even Tormund’s sour goats milk. And characters always appear to be sipping on wines. Dornish Reds? Arbor Golds? How about some of that Lannister soldier’s homemade Blackberry Wine?

So when I saw the Game of Thrones wines from vintner, Bob Cabral, I had to get my hands on some! These were 2016 Chardonnay and 2017 Pinot Noir. 

Game of Thrones Party

We also discovered that each cork is emblazoned with different house sigils! We only opened two that night (hey-there are 5 more episodes!) and got House Stark and House Martell.

And the libations didn’t stop there because like Tyrion says….

We drink …and we know things.

Game of Thrones Party
Oh that Cersei.

I just love to hate her–don’t you? Conniving, ruthless, smart, ambitious…and that woman sure does love her vino.

In her honor, we made Cersei’s Sangria. It’s seemingly light and fruity but packs a punch thanks to a douse of Armenian Brandy I added.

Game of Thrones Party
And then I found these….limited edition whiskey – White Walker by Johnnie Walker.

“In celebration of the final season of the critically-acclaimed HBO series, Game of Thrones, Johnnie Walker is proud to introduce White Walker by Johnnie Walker. This new blend perfectly reminds Johnnie Walker and Game of Thrones fans alike that “Winter is Here.” The limited edition bottle utilizes thermochromic ink to give fans a frosty surprise message when frozen. With flavor notes like caramelized sugar, vanilla, and fresh red berries, White Walker by Johnnie Walker makes for a delicious serve. The new blend is best served ice cold, inspired by the White Walkers beyond The Wall.”


  1. This girl likes her whiskey.
  2. This girl loves GoT.
  3. This girl is a major sucker for marketing and branding items.

Bonus? I got them on an insane clearance sale (WHAT?!?! I know!) and gave some to the sibbies as non-party/party favors.

Game of Thrones Party
We enjoyed the White Walkers over ice (because Winter is here and all) and I also made up a batch of White Walker Whiskey Sours. I love a good Whiskey Sour and the egg white made for a nice frothy “wintry” look.

Game of Thrones Party
We used avocados to serve as Dragon Eggs for the evening.

We also paid homage to Guest Rights which is the sacred law of hospitality in Westeros. Per the Wiki of Ice and Fire:

“When a guest, be he commonborn or noble, eats the food and drinks the drink off a host’s table beneath the host’s roof, guest right is invoked. Bread and salt are traditional provisions. When invoked, neither the guest nor the host can harm the other for the length of the guest’s stay. For either to do so would be to break a sacred covenant that is believed to invoke the wrath of the gods. both old and new. Even robber lords and wreckers are bound by the ancient laws of hospitality.”

And as we all remember (and you bet as heck the North Remembers….), Walder Frey broke what was considered one of the most sacred laws of gods and men during the Red Wedding when he allowed the slaughter of the Starks and their bannermen after having ceremonially sharing bread and salt with them.

For that night, our “bread” was Kings Hawaiian Rolls and our “salt” was Maldon Sea Salt Flakes.

Game of Thrones Party
Since Braavos plays a significant role in GoT (it’s where Arya trained to become a Faceless Man and is home of the Iron Bank), we had Braavosi Coins in the form of Oreo cookies. Nabisco was brilliant partnering with GoT to come out with a limited edition series that featured special packaging and four different imprinted designs honoring House Stark, House Lannister, House Targaryen and the Knight King. They even made its own GoT title sequence using Oreo cookies!

Of course that marketing scheme totally worked on me and when the release date for the cookies came, we were on a mad hunt! Nearly a dozen stores later, I got my hands on a full case of them! (Yup, I shared those, too.)

Game of Thrones Party

We made Deviled Dragon Eggs — though the Mother of Dragons may not have been pleased with that decision.

Game of Thrones Party
I attempted to color them green, yellow and black in honor of Rhaegal, Viserion and Drogon but had mediocre results.

They were still rather pretty though.

Game of Thrones Party
Although he was so freaking smarmy, his endless machinations were at the core of the entire GoT chaos. And since chaos is a ladder, these twisted parmesan cheese straws were a nod to that twisted Little Finger.

Game of Thrones Party
I admit this is rather childish humor but after all that Theon did to betray the Starks, I kind of had to go there. So I made meatballs in marinara sauce and called them Theon’s Balls.

Nina wanted me to call them Unsullied Balls but those poor men had gone through enough.

Game of Thrones Party
Remember that spineless Walder Frey? By the Old Gods that man was terrible! And it was such sweet, sweet poetic justice when Arya carved up his sons, baked them into a pie and served it to him.

Where are my damn moron sons? Black Walder and Lothar promised to be here by midday.“- Walder Frey

They’re here, my lord.” – Arya Stark

Game of Thrones Party
Seestrah T was inspired to bake Frey Pie based on Arya’s Revenge. She made two filling versions— there were two Frey sons after all.

One was beef bourguignon based and the other was ground turkey-Italian sausage based.

Game of Thrones Party
Since she was feeling cheeky, she used fingerling potatoes to serve as their fingers and pearl onions to be their eyes.

Game of Thrones Party
Who knew Black Walder and Lothar could be so tasty?

Game of Thrones Party
At one point I felt a bit guilty and thought we needed some greens. And since House Tyrell hails from a land of abundance and is known for their bountiful crops, a Highgarden Salad seemed appropriate.

Game of Thrones Party
The Wildlings (or Free Folk) have no love for the men of the Night’s Watch and call them “crows”. And what better way to depict that then by serving Roasted Crow.

Game of Thrones Party
Seester N marinated a bunch of quail in five spice, soy and blood magic before deep frying them. And to drive the theme home, she impaled them on skewers.

Yeah, eldest sis may look nice but there’s savage streak to her too.

Game of Thrones Party
Nini’s Roasted Crow still had a tiny heart intact!

Game of Thrones Party
The Thenns are one of the tribes of the Free Folk known for cannibalism as they feast on the flesh of their enemies.

Game of Thrones Party
Which motivated me to make a few slabs of Thenn Ribs.

Okay, they were pork baby back ribs … because Costco was all out of Thenn.

Game of Thrones Party
And finally there was what I considered the Valyrian steel of cakes – this jaw dropping showstopper.

Munchkin Nini also got caught up in the GoT craze and when she heard that there were specialty Oreos, she decided to make a chocolate-Oreo cake in honor of Drogon.

We named it Dracarys.

Game of Thrones Party
Not only was it delicious (Chocolate with Cookies & Cream!) but her decorations was just stunning. She created a beautiful gradient hue with the buttercream and piped out Drogon’s tail. She then meticulously placed the sprinkles one-by-one on the “scales” for depth.

Game of Thrones Party
Told ya that “extra” gene was hereditary.

Game of Thrones Party
And the surprise of the night? We discovered who ends up ruling the Iron Throne!

Queen Leia Le of House Pug,

Queen Bella Nguyen of House Puggle, and

Queen Millie Bulaon of House Morkie.

First of their Names, The Untrained, Queens of the Snuggles, Queens of Treats, Khaleesis of the Great Duvet Comforters, Protectors of the Realm, Ladies Regnant of the Seven Pupdoms, Breakers of Winds, and Mothers of Chew Toys.

Game of Thrones Party

Our Queens would like to remind you that:

“When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives…”

ps. They would like steaks for dinner.

Game of Thrones Party
Needless to say, we had an awesome time.

And we watched the premiere episode 3 times that night. The first time, no one was allowed to talk or ask questions. The second time, we paused and debriefed whenever anyone had questions, comments or new information. And the third time, we kind of fell asleep.

Hey-it was late and we were so full!

I know what you’re thinking….if we did this for the premiere what are we going to do for the series finale?!?

GAH! We don’t wan’t to think about it coming to a close so soon!

In the meanwhile…check out this quick recap video where you might see something “magical” at the very end.

Until next time….

Valar Morghulis

Game of Thrones Party

Sunday Family Dinner

Family Dinner Celebrates Mardi Gras

March 2019 Fam Din
March is always a tough month for us to figure out a theme for Family Dinner.

Do we go with the St. Patrick’s Day route like that one year?

Maybe an early Easter theme like last year?

Or that one year where we were so stumped, we just decided to make green food. (Maybe not our most inspired dinner but it was still tasty.)

March 2019 Fam Din
So when we were kicking ideas around for this March, we were hemming and hawing FOH-EVAH!

And then it hit us…. MARDI GRAS is in March this year!

Sure, we’ve done a crazy N’awlins Seafood Boil and Southern Comfort food but we haven’t tried channeling Fat Tuesday before.

March 2019 Fam Din
Now it’s said that the first Mardi Gras celebration in the states occurred in Mobile, Alabama – and my ‘Bama coworker won’t let anyone say otherwise (those Roll Tide folks are serious!). But since celebrations can be found all around the old French territories in the Southern Gulf, we decided to take inspiration from Creole, Cajun and Southern cuisine for our menu that night.

March 2019 Fam Din
Seestrah T was up to bat first.

Shrimp and Grits seemed like a great option but she had already made a knock out version to pair with the brisket V smoked awhile back.

March 2019 Fam Din
Thankfully by the powers of Google searches, she stumbled upon a recipe for Crab Beignets.


Beignets? HECK YES!

Can’t have a nod to this region without including lots of seafood and beginets!

March 2019 Fam Din

These savory beignets were filled with goodies like LOTS of lump crab meat, onions, peppers, hot sauce, eggs, milk and baking soda for that lift. They were then rolled in cake flour and deep fried until golden brown.

We dunked them in a rémoulade and DING-DING-DING-DING-DING!

Nuggets of joy I tell you.

March 2019 Fam Din
We all agreed that they were more like fritters than what you initially think of when you say “beignet”.

But none of us cared because we were too busy stuffing them into our mouths.

March 2019 Fam Din
Since moving back to California, Luna has taken a great interest in helping out in the kitchen – particularly during Fam Din. She’s become more and more comfortable with her knife skills (under supervision of course) and is cooking complete dishes with her folks’ guidance.

All skills that we put to work as she helped her parents prep their dish for that night – Crawfish Étouffée.

March 2019 Fam Din
Étouffée is French for “smothered or suffocated” and is a thick sauce (practically a stew) made most often with shellfish. It’s traditionally served over rice and it all begins with a “roux“.

A roux is a mixture of a type of fat and flour that has been cooked down to thicken a sauce. I’ve read in a few places that if your roux is made with butter and flour, it’s Creole. If it’s made with oil and flour, it’s Cajun. But please don’t quote me on that– it has the makings of an ongoing debate I sure as heck have no authority to settle.

March 2019 Fam Din
V and L searched and searched for fresh crawfish to use in their étouffée but were out of luck. Crawfish season (crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs – whatever nomenclature you prefer) in California usually doesn’t start until July but sometimes you can find them in Asian grocery stores a bit earlier.

At the end of the day we opted to use the seawater cousin of crawfish – langostinos. These wild caught langostino tails can be found in 2 pound packs in the freezer section at Costco and they’re an awesome substitute. So yes, technically, we had Langostino Étouffée and not Crawfish Étouffée. The langostinos are quite sweet, tender – and these are SHELLED by hand so you don’t have to do the work!

March 2019 Fam Din

After they spent some TLC getting a rich and dark roux (for that deep nutty flavor), they added aromatics and A TON OF EXTRA BUTTER! Kerrygold Irish Salted Butter – it’s their fav.

And then all the glorious langostinos joined the party!

March 2019 Fam Din
Delish right?

March 2019 Fam Din
They served their étouffée over a big scoop of white rice. Can you guess which kind?

Uncle Ben’s!! SERIOUSLY!

They were told that it’s what’s commonly used – so we did it! To be honest, we weren’t even sure how to cook Uncle Ben’s white rice. But when all was said and done, it was perfect.

March 2019 Fam Din
In fact, it’s one of those things that tasted even better the next day!

By then the flavors had extra time to meld and party together which made me VERY happy to have leftovers.

March 2019 Fam Din
V & L were overwhelmed with joy at how well their dish turned out.

March 2019 Fam Din

And like all of the munchkins at some point have done, Nini is wondering —“Is this my family???”

March 2019 Fam Din
Seester N directed the last two savory items of the night…with the assistance of the kiddos, of course.

Luna helped her big cousie Nina get the corn meal dredge prepared for the catfish that had been soaked in buttermilk, hot sauce and spices.

March 2019 Fam Din
After the fillets were coated in the cornmeal, they hung out for a little bit on a rack so that the coating would set.

March 2019 Fam Din
They were then deep fried for a few minutes until golden brown. Southern Fried Catfish –mmmmm!

(Psssst…..I spy a box of Uncle Ben’s in the corner.)

March 2019 Fam Din
N also felt that if we were going to be in this region, we should have some okra. Hey- we did need some veggies.

So she dredged them and threw them in the hot oil, too. Because nothing says healthy veggies more than Cornmeal Fried Okra.

Work with us people…..

March 2019 Fam Din
Doesn’t this plate just look heavenly???

March 2019 Fam Din
We added generous douses of fresh lemon juice over it all to brighten the flavors and it was scrumptious!

The leftover fried catfish were remade the next day into little sliders on rolls with a schmear of the rémoulade from the Crab Beignets. I’m telling you, leftovers are a clutch component of Fam Din and we are always SUPER bummed during the months when our “doggie bags” are lighter than others.

March 2019 Fam Din

Doesn’t this make you want to chug some Hurricanes and run around in elaborate costumes on floats?!?

Side note: I did consider whipping up a batch of Hurricanes for the occasion but really…. Although it would have been on trend for the theme, who in their right minds actually like the tastes of hurricanes?!? Tooth-achingly sweet and so boozy it could combust into flames.


So we stuck to lots of vino instead.

March 2019 Fam Din
Our Humanlings!

And a few photobombers in the background.

OMIGOSH – how the heck did that Uncle Ben’s box manage to squeeze itself into another picture????

March 2019 Fam Din
Okay, let’s talk about dessert now, shall we?

I really struggled on this one, peeps. The sweet bite often seen during Mardi Gras is King Cake. In the states, King Cake is a sweet bread dough that is braided and formed into a ring. After it’s baked, it’s drizzled with an icing and decorated in the colors of the celebration – purple, green, yellow. According to an article from Eater,

“King cake is eaten on January 6 in honor of Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, which historically marks the arrival of the three wise men/kings in Bethlehem who delivered gifts to the baby Jesus. The plastic baby hidden inside king cakes today is a nod to this story.”

March 2019 Fam Din
That is all fine and dandy.

But here’s the thing–if I want a dessert, I don’t want to have something that evokes a breakfast pastry. And to me, that’s what King Cake tastes like.

I could’ve tried traditional desserts for the season from outside of the US like galette des rois, gâteau des rois or roscón de reyes. But I just didn’t think that any of them would’ve been a hit with the fam – particularly the kiddos.

Of course, there was the sweet beignet route, too. However Seestrah P has made beignets in the past before and nothing I could’ve made in that thread would’ve topped her Cafe du Monde inspired Beignets with Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream.

March 2019 Fam Din
So I took some MAJOR liberties and finally settled on a French dessert – Profiteroles!

I figured a French influenced dessert still had a home in a Mardi Gras menu, right? Another stretch? But I went with it and nabbed Maya and Nina to help make the choux pastry.

Bella volunteered to guard them as they puffed and baked in the oven.

March 2019 Fam Din
The choux pastry came together quick and easy (especially when you finagle 2 nieces to help you) and can be filled with just about anything. Common fillings are whipped cream, pastry cream, custard, fruit but I wanted use ice cream so that we could have a variety to choose from.

March 2019 Fam DinPLUS it gave me the perfect segue to bring in the colors of Mardi Gras based on the ice cream flavor:

March 2019 Fam Din
Since I didn’t make the ice creams (or gelato) myself, I felt compelled to make a chocolate sauce from Bouchon to drizzle over the tops. This WAS in honor of Fat Tuesday!

We created an assembly line where Nini filled the choux with ice cream, I drizzled the chocolate sauce and Luna topped them with matching sprinkles. Teamwork makes the dream work….especially when it’s this yummy.

And no surprises here but the the King Cake was not missed.

March 2019 Fam DinAnd guess what we did after we ate all of that?

We spent over an hour watching YouTube videos of people traveling all over Asia eating delicious (and sometimes crazy looking) foods. We’ve got some issues, I know.

I’m just going to call it research.

March 2019 Fam Din
Until next time Friends….Cheers! ❤


This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Various Wines
Appetizers: Crab Beignets with Rémoulade
Entree: Crawfish Étouffée, Southern Fried Catfish
Sides: Cornmeal Fried Okra, Rice
Dessert: Profiteroles filled with Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce

Beef · Soups/Stews

Ground Beef Chili {aka “Tailgate Chili”}

Ground Beef Chili
I realize that crying about 50 degree weather in March could be categorized as some major first world problems….


Ok. Now that I got that out of my system, should we chat a bit about this Ground Beef Chili?

Sure, I love my tried and true Turkey and Bean Chili. It’s hearty, savory and just darn tasty.

However this beef chili is just….”beefy”. It’s delicious on its own topped with a few onions, a bit of cheese and a dollup of sour cream. But it’s freaking awesome on top of burgers, hot dogs, fries, nachos—which is why I also call it my “Tailgate Chili” where anything goes!

Ground Beef ChiliA few things to mention about this recipe.

First is the addition of baking soda and a bit of water to the ground beef. Sounds strange right? But I picked it up from a Cooks Illustrated recipe and the added step helps keep the beef moist and tender.

Second is the ground tortilla chips. PLEASE don’t skip this! You will be so pleasantly surprised by the deep corn flavor it imparts on the chili and compliments it beautifully.

Last are the beans. I prefer pinto or red kidney beans but really, it’s totally up to you. Black beans, garbanzo beans, butter beans, cannellini beans, navy beans…. Do you, Boo!

Ground Beef Chili
And if you’re going to make a batch of this, why not double it? I have a few quarts of this deliciousness tucked away in my freezer and I will tell you, I never regret that decision when I can have a scrumptious bowl of chili within a few minutes.

Stay warm my fellow So Cal Peeps! ❤

Ground Beef Chili
Serves 8-9


2 pounds ground beef
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon baking soda
kosher salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
½ teaspoon cayenne power
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup ground tortilla chips
2 cups beef stock
1 can (15-ounce) kidney or pinto beans, rinsed
15 ounces pureed tomatoes
1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

In a large bowl, mix the ground beef with the water, baking soda and 2 teaspoons salt. Allow to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy bottom pot over medium heat. Cook the onions and jalapenos until softened—about 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. Add beef and cook, stirring with wooden spoon to break meat up into ¼ inch pieces, until the beef is browned – about 12 to 14 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for one minute. Stir in all of the dried spices including the ground tortilla chips. Cook and stir for 2 minutes.

Pour in the beef stock, beans and pureed tomatoes. Bring to boil, scraping bottom of pot to loosen any browned bits. Once it reaches a boil, lower the heat to a low simmer. Simmer the chili partially covered, for 1½ hours. Stir the chili every 15 minutes or so as it slowly thickens.

Remove the pot from the stove and allow to rest, covered, for 15 minutes. Stir in the apple cider vinegar and add additional salt if needed. Serve with your choice of diced red onion, shredded cheddar cheese, diced avocado, chopped scallions, fresh cilantro, sour cream, lime wedges and tortilla chips



Appetizers/Small Plates · Pork

Pork and Shiitake Mushroom Dumplings

Pork and Mushroom Dumplings
There was a moment the other week when I stopped and said to myself, “Do you have a dumplings problem?”

I mean…sure, it was when I was elbow deep in folding about 100 dumplings. But then I quickly shook off the momentary doubt and kept on assembling.

Because dumplings make the world better!

Pork and Mushroom Dumplings
And if this is how I can contribute to adding positivity, it would be just bad ju-ju if I stopped making them—don’t you think?

Too much of a stretch?

Sorry…I was on a dumplings high.

Pork and Mushroom Dumplings
Speaking of a dumplings high, I am pretty pumped that I’ve got a healthy stash of these little buggers currently in my freezer just waiting to be broken into whenever the cravings hit.

The predominant ingredients in the filling are ground pork and shiitake mushrooms – the perfect pairing.

Pork and Mushroom Dumplings
Shiitake mushrooms provide such an earthy flavor and I use two forms of them in this filling – dried and fresh.

Why two?

It’s because I primarily use the dried shiitakes in order to extract a “mushroom liquid” during the rehydration process. I slowly incorporate this mushroom liquid into the ground pork to not only flavor the meat but it also results in a great texture while producing a juicier filling.

Pork and Mushroom Dumplings
Because juicy dumplings are muy bueno.

Pork and Mushroom Dumplings
Which reminds me to strongly suggest that you avoid using lean ground pork in this.

Just like when you’re making hamburgers, you need some of that fat for a juicier filling.

Pork and Mushroom Dumplings

Once you have these beauties filled and folded, you can opt to cook them any way that tickles your fancy. I generally either boil or pan-fry them and have included instructions for both below. But if you’re in a steaming or deep-fry mood, go for it!

Pork and Mushroom Dumplings

Heck, I often throw some into my instant ramen!

Versatility people – it’s a beautiful thing! ❤

Pork and Shiitake Mushroom Dumplings
Makes approximately 40 dumplings


2 ounces dried shiitake mushrooms*
1 cup boiling water
2 cups finely chopped Napa cabbage
kosher salt, divided
1 pound ground pork
½ teaspoon Sichuan pepper flakes
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 cups minced fresh shiitake mushrooms
½ cup chopped scallions, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons finely minced shallots
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce (more, if needed)
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or other preferred rice wine
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1 package Shanghai-style dumpling wrappers (50 count) + water to moisten
1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Dipping Sauce:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons Chinkiang black vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
½ tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon finely minced ginger
2 tablespoons homemade Sichuan Chili Oil (both the oil and flakes), more to taste

Rehydrate the dried shiitake mushrooms* by placing them in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Set aside for 20 minutes until the mushrooms have rehydrated. Gently squeeze the excess liquid from the mushrooms (reserving the “mushroom liquid”) and finely dice them. Set aside.

Place the chopped cabbage in a colander set over a bowl. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and let sit for about 20 minutes. Wrap the cabbage in a cheesecloth or clean kitchen towel. Squeeze out and discard the excess liquid and place the drained cabbage back in the colander.

Place the ground pork in a large bowl and add in the Sichuan pepper flakes, black pepper and ½ teaspoon salt. Using chopsticks, swirl the meat in a clockwise direction while gradually adding 4 tablespoons of the mushroom liquid. Keeping swirling until the liquid has fully incorporated into the ground pork. To the bowl, add both mushrooms, cabbage, scallions, shallots, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, sesame oil and ground coriander. Using cleans hands, mix the filling until thoroughly combined.

Test the filling by taking a small spoonful of the mixture and pan fry in a nonstick skillet for 1-2 minutes on each side. Taste and adjust for seasonings.

Begin assembly of the dumplings. Lay one dumpling wrapper on a flat surface or in the palm of your hand. Dip your finger in water and moisten the edge of the wrapper. Place a spoonful of filling in the center of the wrapper. Fold the dumpling in half and pinch the center together. Starting from the center, make about 4-5 pleats on the right side of the dumpling. Repeat with the left side of the dumpling so that all the pleats point towards the center. This will also create a flat bottom to allow the dumpling to sit upright and form a slight crescent shape. Place the dumpling on a baking sheet and continue until all the filling/wrappers have been used.**

Prepare the dipping sauce by whisking all of the ingredients together and set aside.

Cook the Dumplings

Boiled Dumplings: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the dumplings to the pot (no more than a 9 or 10 at a time, depending on how large your pot is) and lower the heat so that it’s at a steady but not rapid boil. Stir frequently so that they do not stick together. Allow the dumplings to cook for about 5 or 6 minutes or until the filling has cooked through. Use a large slotted spoon or kitchen spider to remove and drain the dumplings. Transfer to a serving dish and spoon the sauce over them. Garnish with scallions, and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Pan-Fried Dumplings: Heat a large frying skillet to medium-high heat with 2 tablespoon of oil. Place a single layer of the dumplings in the skillet. Fry the dumplings for 1-2 minutes until the bottoms are golden. Carefully pour in about ½ cup of water and immediately place a tight fitting lid on top. Lower the heat to medium-low and allow the dumplings to steam for 4-5 minutes. Remove the lid and cook until all the water has evaporated. Transfer the dumplings to a platter and sprinkle the tops with scallions and toasted sesame seeds. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce on the side.

*If using whole dried shiitake mushrooms, quarter them before hydrating.

**If you would like to freeze the uncooked dumplings, place the baking sheet directly into freezer for 4-5 hours after you have assembled them. Be sure that the dumplings are in a single layer and are not touching each other. Once the dumplings have froze, you may transfer them to a sealed container. They can be kept in the freezer for a few months and should be cooked frozen. Add 1-2 additional minutes to the cooking time.




Condiments/Sauces · Vietnamese

Basic Nước Chấm {Vietnamese Dipping Sauce}

Nước Chấm | Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
Chances are, if you have had Vietnamese food, you’ve had some version of nước chấm.

Bún Thịt Nướng (Vietnamese Grilled Pork over Vermicelli Noodles)
Nước Chấm (also called nước mắm pha) is a quintessential fish sauce-based dipping sauce served with a variety of traditional Vietnamese dishes. And it’s the balance of salty, sweet and acidity that makes it the perfect condiment.

Bánh Xèo (Vietnamese Sizzling Crepe)
You’ll see it with anything from cơm (rice plates), bún (noodle dishes), gỏi (salads), bánh (cakes – usually savory), cuốn (rolls) or even just with proteins.

Gỏi Mít Trộn (Vietnamese Young Jackfruit Salad)
Depending on the dish, nước chấm can vary a bit but it all starts with a similar base: fish sauce, sugar, water and lime juice (or vinegar).

Chả Cá Thăng Long (Vietnamese Style Fish with Turmeric & Dill)
From there you can add things like fresh ginger and have Nước Mắm Gừng. This ginger variation is most often served with poultry or seafood.

Cơm Sườn Nướng - Vietnamese Grilled Pork Chops
When served along rice noodle bowls, you’ll find shredded carrots and daikon in it.

Phở Gà
And in some cases, proteins are served in nước chấm as with the classic Bún Chả Hà Nội. With this dish, grilled pork and ground pork patties are served in a bowl of nước chấm that also contain fresh green papaya slices in it.

Chả Giò
Since nước chấm is such a staple, I almost always have a big batch of the standard version in my fridge ready to be doctored up if need be. And in most cases, this basic version is perfect as is.

The biggest challenge to this dipping sauce is finding the right balance between the very few ingredients it requires. Trust me, I’ve spent my early years making sauces that were either too sweet or too salty or just bland. Thankfully, I finally was able to get a good ratio down that yields reliable results.

Thịt Bò Nướng Lá Lốt (Vietnamese Grilled Beef Wrapped in Betel Leaves)
One thing to keep in mind is that depending on the brand of nước mắm (fish sauce) that you use, you will have to adjust to taste. Some brands are less filtered and are more pungent –not a bad thing, just something you have to compensate for.

Nước Chấm | Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
After you’ve whipped up a big batch, it’ll last in a sealed container in your fridge for about 3 months. It’ll probably be fine a bit longer but you may lose some of the freshness that the lime juice initially gave.

And whether you add ginger, additional herbs or just use the basic version, your palates will thank you for it!

Ăn Ngon!

Basic Nước Chấm


1 cup granulated sugar
3 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced chilies, more or less based on preference
1⁄3 – ½ cup fresh lime juice
1 cup nước mắm (fish sauce)

Place the sugar into a large bowl and slowly pour in the boiling water. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and allow to cool completely to room temperature. Add in garlic, chilies, 1⁄3 cup lime juice and nước mắm. Taste and add the rest of the lime juice if needed — this will vary depending on the type/brand of fish sauce that you use.

The nước chấm can be served as is or stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Fun Fact: I store my stash of nước chấm in old wine bottles that have screw caps on them. So double check next time you’re rummaging around my fridge for a glass of vino. ❤


Sunday Family Dinner

Our February Birthday Girls

February 2019 Fam Din
This month we celebrated the birthdays of these two sweeties — Maya and Princess Leia. ❤

Maya turned 14 and Leia is now 11. Aren’t they just the most adorable pair?

February 2019 Fam Din
And since Tết – the Vietnamese Lunar New Year – was happening at that time, Seester P and her clan made their way down from SF to join in on all of the celebrations.

Our youngest munckin was SOOOO excited to be with her SoCal family!

Ms. Kaelani is growing up to be quite the character! She was a nonstop chatterbox during her visit and was constantly singing!

Mulan’s “Let’s Get Down to Business” is one of her current favs but of course, Moana and Frozen are never far away.

And if you were watching my IG stories that weekend, you likely caught her bellowing out a few lines of a Madonna classic. I won’t divulge which one but needless to say, she was hilarious.

Such a funny and rascally little gal.

February 2019 Fam Din

It’s ALWAYS a fun time when all of the Nguyễn sibbies are together!

Always loud, always chaotic….

Lots of teasing and laughing….

Especially when we’ve got some cocktails in us!

February 2019 Fam Din

For this month, I made Palomas again because I love how bright and citrusy they are. There’s something about them that makes me feel “healthy”…..maybe the grapefruit juice?

I know I’m just fooling myself since it’s accompanied with a heavy pour of blanco tequila!

February 2019 Fam Din

Also at that time, V and L had been puppy-sitting their neighbor’s new little furbaby – Ollie!

February 2019 Fam Din

He’s an adorable little fluffy pup — and all of the kiddos just adored him!

February 2019 Fam Din
Well…all the humanlings that is.

Don’t get me wrong…. Bella didn’t dislike him. I think she was just worried that it was another puppy that she would have to share all the treats with. Plus, she doesn’t like to have to fight for her humans’ attentions because as far as she’s concerned — she’s the queen.

February 2019 Fam Din
I did notice that she was spending EXTRA time with each of her humans to ensure that they still remembered who was in charge.

February 2019 Fam Din
As for Leia – she took to Ollie just fine.

She was just PUMPED that it was her birthday dinner because she knew her birthday “dessert” was going to be delish!

Don’t you just love how she sits? What a little lady…..

February 2019 Fam Din
Ollie is one of the rare beings outside of our immediate family that has attended one of our Fam Dins.

It’s like hitting the lottery!

February 2019 Fam Din
Time for food!

As for the menu that night, we all took inspiration from Maya’s favorite things.

Like her mama and papa, she’s a steak gal.

February 2019 Fam Din
So earlier that morning, I took 6 New York Strip Steaks and cubed them up. Yes….SIX! There were a lot of us!

I marinated the cubed beef in shallots, garlic, EVOO, parsley, cilantro, chili flakes, S & P and ….. um…..

I’m not going to lie…..I threw in some other stuff that I can’t remember.

February 2019 Fam Din

Oh wait! I think there was some lime zest and juice?

I know, I’m a terrible food blogger.


After the beef did its thing in the fridge for about 8 hours, Nina skewered them for me.

February 2019 Fam Din
Tag R – you’re in!

Nina and I then handed the skewers over so that R could grill ’em up.

February 2019 Fam Din
While R finished up, I gathered the fixings I had prepped earlier to go with the skewers.

For the sauce, I turned to one of my most favorites – chimichurri! I adjusted my standard recipe (which is so tasty!) and added more EVOO while I blended it so that it turned into almost an aioli consistency. It was wonderfully creamy and luscious drizzled over the beef.

For an extra bright bite, I topped them with my pickled red onions.

February 2019 Fam Din
Grilled Steak Skewers with Creamy Chimichurri and Pickled Red Onions – how many do you think you could throw down?

February 2019 Fam Din
Thanks for the awesome grill job R!

February 2019 Fam Din
Oh these two….

It makes my heart explode to see how close they are.

And it also makes me cringe to imagine what type of shenanigans they’ll get into together when they’re as old as T and I!


February 2019 Fam Din
Quick pause for a kitchen pic before L and V got started on the other app.

February 2019 Fam Din
Ms. Maya is a big fan of fried calamari so brother V took squid pieces, lightly tossed them into seasoned flour and then fried them up until they were nice and crispy.

February 2019 Fam Din
L made a classic marinara sauce for us to dunk the calamari in.

February 2019 Fam Din
Crispy Calamari with Fresh Marinara – irresistible!

February 2019 Fam Din
Look! I inadvertently made cocktails that matched P’s shirt.

February 2019 Fam Din

By then, it was getting close to someone’s bedtime. No, not me… Kaelani!

So P asked if we could move up lì xì time to ensure the youngest munchkin would still be awake.

Tết is all about welcoming the Lunar New Year with family and includes giving out lì xì for luck to the munchkins. Starting from oldest to youngest, they say Chúc Mừng Năm Mới (Happy New Year) and we give them our blessings and best wishes along with lì xì (little envelopes filled with some lucky moola).

February 2019 Fam Din
Someone was WIDE AWAKE now!

Lì xì does have that magical affect!

February 2019 Fam Din

With the well wishes and lucky money doled out, we put the finishing touches on dinner.

P was getting chilly and didn’t want to get her clothes splattered while she cooked, so she borrowed L’s onesie.

Extra funny since they were Christmas jammies and looked ginormous on her.

February 2019 Fam Din
P crusted up tuna steaks with sesame seeds and crushed coriander before searing.

February 2019 Fam Din
She then topped the Seared Tuna over Mixed Greens and added fresh oranges, crispy wonton chips, sliced almonds and a light sesame vinaigrette.

February 2019 Fam Din

I blame the below on the Christmas onesie.

Or the extra strong refill cocktail we made her.

Probably both.

February 2019 Fam Din
Seestrah T took charge of the entree — an homage to one of Maya’s favorite dishes from Corner Baker.

February 2019 Fam Din

Creamy Pesto Cavatappi with Grilled Chicken … super rich and comforting.

T did a spot on job with this copycat recipe — trust me, I had my fair share of it.

February 2019 Fam Din

How the heck is Lucas doing that with his tongue?!

February 2019 Fam Din

Dinner time! Everyone to the table please!

Bella….always the first one waiting.

February 2019 Fam Din

Some one was SUPER tired by this time and barely made it through dinner.

February 2019 Fam Din

But in her defense, after all that pasta, we ALL were feeling a bit sleepy.

February 2019 Fam Din
For fear of us passing out, we quickly got dessert ready for our two birthday girls.

February 2019 Fam Din
Maya loves strawberries and chocolate and sprinkles.

Big Seester N took the lead with her dessert and made a chocolate cheesecake that had strawberry slices inside. The crust, of course, was made of Oreos….because why not add more chocolate?

February 2019 Fam Din
Nini made chocolate covered strawberries to top the cheesecake with. Aren’t they perfect? As a college student, she could totally build a side hustle selling them–don’t you think?

Everyday we hustlin’…..

February 2019 Fam Din
Strawberry-Chocolate Decadence Cheesecake …. seester nailed it with this one.

February 2019 Fam Din
And don’t forget our 2nd birthday babe – Princess Leia!

When R was grilling the beef skewers earlier, I asked him to also throw on a 7th New York Strip Steak I had bought. Yes…I procured 6 steaks to cube up for our appetizer and left the 7th one whole for Leia’s birthday “cake-steak”.

Hey, a girl only turns 11 once! And that face…how could I not?

February 2019 Fam Din

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAYA AND LEIA! You both are such sweet souls.



This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Palomas, Various Wines
Appetizers: Grilled Steak Skewers with Creamy Chimichurri and Pickled Onions, Crispy Calamari with Fresh Marinara
Entree: Creamy Pesto Cavatappi with Grilled Chicken
Sides: Seared Tuna over Mixed Greens
Dessert: Strawberry-Chocolate Decadence Cheesecake


ps. YAHOO! I DID IT! All caught up with our Fam Din recaps! 😉

Sunday Family Dinner

What the Capricorns Want, the Capricorns Get

January 2019 Fam Din
At dinner in December, our January Babies (Seestrah T and Nini) were lamenting about how they felt like they get shortchanged for their bday Fam Din. Since their month comes right after the holidays where we are constantly feasting and living on the gluttonous side, they were under the belief that they “took one for the team” and only requested dishes that weren’t too laborious nor decadent when it came their turn.

We did have to quickly remind them that their previous dinners included dishes like Sous Vide Pork Belly Baos, Braised Short Ribs over Fresh Ricotta Gnocchi, Toasted Coconut Cake, French Onion Soup, Matcha Mille Crêpes Cake, Fresh Oysters and Dungeness Crab.

That doesn’t sound at all shabby! Am I right?

January 2019 Fam Din
But if the Capricorns wanted to go B-I-G for their 2019 dinner, it was our duty to acquiesce to their requests and get to work. And boy did they know exactly what they wanted!

So much so that little Luna rolled up her sleeves and got down to work.

January 2019 Fam Din
Big cousin Maya was so proud of her that she gave her a break to give her a quick back rub.

Um Maya….next month – you’re rubbing all of our feet!


January 2019 Fam Din
January Fam Din happened to fall on the same day of the NFC and AFC Championship games. Needless to say, we were never far away from a tv.

January 2019 Fam Din
After a quick update on the score and a selfie with Pops, I got to cooking Appetizer #1 requested by both Nini and T….

Duck Dumplings!

January 2019 Fam Din
I assumed that I would be tasked with this dish but I wanted to ask if either of them had even tried duck dumplings before – because I sure as heck hadn’t!

Nope. They hadn’t either.

January 2019 Fam Din
But the Capricorns felt that duck would be delicious inside a little dumpling so off to recipe testing I went. Lucky for me, we just had an epic Foodventure with Peking Duck – so I was feeling rather confident….sorta.

This was something that was going to take A LOT of time so I knew that I would have to prep everything before dinner and then cook the dumplings off that night.

January 2019 Fam Din
After mulling it over for awhile, I decided that I wanted to sous vide duck thighs so that the meat would be nice and tender.

I first marinated the duck thighs overnight in lots of garlic, ginger, five spice, soy, Shaoxing wine and pepper. Then, I sous vide them for 12 hours – yes, 12 HOURS! Thigh meat can be tough so it takes some time.

Oh the things we do for family….

January 2019 Fam Din
Okay…back to the dumplings.

After the duck was done, I shredded the meat and sauteed it with shiitake mushrooms, cabbage, shallots, scallions, garlic, ginger and a whole bunch of spices and aromatics.

January 2019 Fam Din
Then it was time to assemble the bunch!

I chose to fold them in these pretty little crescent shapes with a twisted braid. I have to admit, they were fun to make.

And since I knew that Appetizer #2 would be steamed (SPOILER ALERT – there were 2 different dumplings!), I opted to pan fry these for a different texture with Nini’s assistance.

January 2019 Fam Din
Pan Fried Duck Dumplings that we dunked in hot mustard, chili oil and black vinegar.

Yeah….I’ll be making these again.

January 2019 Fam Din
This is what happens when I ask the girls to get ME a glass of Rosé.

January 2019 Fam Din

Remember these little buggers I had suggested that y’all make for Lunar New Year?

Yup – they were developed for this Family Dinner.

Steamed Crab Dumplings
Super decadent Steamed Crab Dumplings.

Steamed Crab Dumplings
They went SUPER FAST that it made me feel like one of those dim sum cart ladies.

And then V and L were up to prep one of two main dishes.

Steamed Crab Dumplings

Quick funny story.

A couple of days before dinner, V and L texted the group and asked for ideas of which dish should they make. It went something like this….

Us: Umm….V, you volunteered to make a crown roast of lamb.

V: Oh I did? Ok, cool.

January 2019 Fam Din
Moral of the Story: 

If you want one of your Sibbies to make a laborious dish for you, get them to agree to it after you’ve given them copious amounts of wine!

January 2019 Fam Din
Lamb chops or even a single rack of lamb isn’t too complicated. But a crown is an entirely different ball game! It’s quite an undertaking.

Especially if you’re V who got crazily fixated on getting the bones as clean as possible. They had watched several tutorials that advised on doing so to achieve the most optimal appearance after roasting. Brother took it to heart and spent over an hour with several different knives cleaning them. Something that I would’ve been waaaayyy too lazy to do.

Suffice it to say that when he was done cleaning the lamb he promptly told Seester T that she owed him TWO dinners in return.

January 2019 Fam Din

While V cleaned the racks, L took charge of grinding the dried porcini and spices that they used to rub on the lamb. She also made a bright and vibrant chimichurri to go along with it. My fav!

Once the lamb was rubbed down and seared, they used twine to tie the racks into the crown shape and threw them into the oven to roast.

January 2019 Fam Din
TA DA!!!

Isn’t it spectacular??? They did such an awesome job!

Good thing they didn’t task me with cleaning those bones….

January 2019 Fam Din
Crown Roast of Porcini-Crusted Lamb with Chimichurri Sauce.

January 2019 Fam Din

And while the lamb rested, Seestrah T got working on her dish – Garlic Crab Noodles with Lump Crab

This picture does not do justice to how much crab went into this dish. You’ll just have to trust me…or watch the video and see!

January 2019 Fam Din
We actually conspired to make this dish a few weeks back while we were enjoying a big ol’ plate of garlic noodles at EMC Restaurant. Yes….we think about food while consuming food. It’s called R&D.

Often we’ll have these buttery, umami-filled garlic noodles with jumbo shrimp or whole Dungeness Crabs. But we figured, why not with lump crab? Cuts out all of the messy work.

January 2019 Fam Din
I think these two approved.

January 2019 Fam Din

And of course we needed a pic of the Capricorns with the Crowns before V carved them into chops.

January 2019 Fam Din

If you’ve never tried lamb before or are worried about gaminess, try chops that have been marinated in lots of herbs (I love the classic rosemary/garlic/lemon combo) or rubbed in dried porcini like this. Both methods reduce the gamey notes without losing the wonderful flavor that lamb has. The addition of bright sauces (like chimichurri) also assist with this.

January 2019 Fam Din
How many photobombers can you count here?

January 2019 Fam Din
With everything ready, it was time to gather at the table.

As always, someone doesn’t need to be told twice that it’s dinner time.

That face though… ❤

January 2019 Fam Din
At this point, some of you may have started wondering —

“Wait! Rare lamb chops? What did they make for their munchkins to eat?”

January 2019 Fam Din

Worry not, Friends….as you can see, they were just fine.

January 2019 Fam Din
They INHALED the chops!


January 2019 Fam Din

No princess bites here – and we love it. ❤

January 2019 Fam Din
After we finished dinner we cleared the tables and cleaned up a bit. Considering all of the dumplings, lamb, noodles and crab, we definitely needed to chill out a bit before dessert was served.

There was some giant-jenga-madness.

January 2019 Fam Din
And puppy TLC.

We also went outside to try and catch the Super Blood Moon/Total Lunar Eclipse but just as it was supposed to occur, a huge bank of clouds rolled in and covered the sky. But it didn’t stop us from belting out “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in our tone-deaf voices. Cooking is in our blood….well tuned singing is not.

January 2019 Fam Din

So we went back inside and couch potato’ed it for a bit and did a little Instagramming.

And then miraculously, our dessert stomachs were telling us IT WAS TIME!

January 2019 Fam Din
Big Seestrah N took the helm with both desserts that night.

January 2019 Fam Din

N made T a Chocolate Decadence Cake that weighed nearly the weight of Leo and Luna…combined.

T really enjoys a traditional chocolate cake that is moist and chocolatey –check and check!

January 2019 Fam Din
Nini surprisingly requested a Key Lime Pie —  it’s one of my faves so no complaints here.

Her rationale was that she was so full the last time we made it during our fam din at the beach house, that she didn’t get to have any. So her Mama Bear lovingly made up for it.

January 2019 Fam Din
And that was it!

Ok…so it was A LOT.

But we can undoubtedly say that the Capricorns were happy and full.

January 2019 Fam Din
And next time they say anything about not getting their way for their fam din, I will quickly show them to this video.

I repeat – the things we do for family ❤


This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Various Wines
Appetizers: Steamed Crab Dumplings, Pan Fried Duck Dumplings
Entree: Garlic Noodles with Lump Crab, Crown Roast of Porcini-Crusted Lamb with Chimichurri Sauce 
Dessert: Key Lime Pie, Chocolate Decadence Cake