Sunday Family Dinner

Unicorn Cakes and Magical Pugs….

February 2018 Family Dinner

If you think the above photo is just too darn adorable, than scroll down and check out the one below.

Amazing right?

Keep scrolling.

February 2018 Family Dinner

They are just too much. I want to freeze time so that they both will stay like this forever.

Our February Babies.

Oh yes, this time Princess Leia got in on the Family Dinner Birthday celebrations too. After all, she was turning double digits…the big 1-0! (Or I guess, 70 in her case….)

So her fur-less cousin Maya was happy to be sharing her bday fam din with her. And as for our sweet Maya, she turned 13.


I can’t…I seriously just can’t with the munchkins growing up so quickly.

February 2018 Family Dinner

Usually for your birthday, you get to choose what you’d like your dessert to be.

For Leia, it was a no-brainer. She’d be getting candles in a big ol’ steak like her cousin Bella.

But for Maya, I wanted to surprise her and told her “trust me, you’ll like it.” More on that later.

February 2018 Family Dinner
While we were milling around getting things prepped, we noshed on a Cheese Board that L assembled. It had Manchego with apricot preserves, Fromager d’Affinois, Picholine olives, marinated peppers and crackers.

February 2018 Family Dinner
N made the second appetizer. Truthfully, I can’t remember what it’s called but it’s like a Cheesy Spinach-Artichoke Bread Ring Dip. Picture this….take crescent roll dough and form little balls. Line a cast iron skillet with them and then fill the center with a super cheesy spinach-artichoke mixture. Bake it up and BOOM.

Cheesy goodness.


February 2018 Family Dinner

Spotted: Unicorn Herd in their natural environment.

I think they were congregating because they knew it was DINNER TIME!!

February 2018 Family Dinner

Miss Maya was very relaxed about her whole birthday menu. This was pretty much our convo:

Me: What would you like to have for dinner?

Maya: Um….

Me: Seafood? Sushi? Pasta —

Maya: PASTA!

Me: Ok…what kind of pasta? Chicken? Shrimp? Steak —

Maya: STEAK!

And that was it! She’s pretty low maintenance.

February 2018 Family Dinner
V and T put their heads together and came up with this Grilled Steak over Puttanesca dish. It was hearty, flavorful and combined some of my most favorite things –steak, cheese and carbs.

February 2018 Family Dinner
And since Maya loves salads, seester T decided to make the Chopped Salad from Pizzeria Mozza.

Have you had it before? If not, you’ve got to try it!

It has all kinds of goodness like radicchio, lettuce, tomatoes, chickpeas, salami, pepperoncini and provolone. And it’s actually quite hearty that you could have it as a stand alone meal with perhaps some warm toasted baguette on the side.

February 2018 Family Dinner
And then before we knew it, it was dessert time!

I’ve always wanted to make a unicorn cake…blame it on Instagram I suppose. So when I was thinking of what to bake for Maya, Nini suggested a unicorn cake because it would be something that the birthday girl would absolutely love. And if anyone knows Maya, it’s definitely her big cousie Nini.

I realize that Buttercup’s horn (yes, Maya named the unicorn) is a bit excessive, but heck–I’m not sure when the next unicorn cake will come around again so I might as well GO BIG!

February 2018 Family Dinner

I first started off with the sponge and ended up choosing funfetti. Because c’mon, unicorns love rainbows and sprinkles right?

After I baked the three layers of cake, I took a taste and though hmm… just tastes like vanilla cake.

For those of you that like funfetti, this may not be a surprise. But I actually think that it may have been my first time tasting funfetti. Don’t judge me…I’m a chocolate fan myself.

February 2018 Family Dinner

So to OOMPHF up the flavor, I decided to fill the layers with fresh whipped cream and strawberries –two things that I know for certain the bday girl also adores. And I’m totally glad that I did because it really brought something fresh to the cake.

And if you’re going to be extra when baking a cake, it might as well be fore a unicorn cake!

February 2018 Family Dinner

The whole thing was then covered with a light layer of vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream (always my buttercream of choice) and then I went nuts decorating Buttercup with three shades of buttercream using various piping tips.

I used standard fondant to shape her horn, ears and eyes. And for the golden sheen, I used edible gold spray for the inner ear accents as well as her magical horn.

Cute right? I wish my eyelashes were as on-point as Buttercup.

February 2018 Family Dinner

And of course, because she’s so magical, she was dusted with lots of different sprinkles and edible gold stars.

To be honest, I had a lot of fun making this cake!

February 2018 Family Dinner
And let’s not forget the other birthday girl!

Princess Leia got a bone-in ribeye steak that V grilled.

Seriously, look at that face.

February 2018 Fam Din

It’s fair to say that the birthday girls thoroughly enjoyed their family dinner in their honor.

Princess Leia wearing a crown while seated on a plush thrown…..

Maya wearing a floral-kitty headband from when she was about 1 or 2….


February 2018 Family Dinner

Yes, we’re a bit of an eccentric family. But that’s what makes us interesting, right?

February 2018 Family Dinner

Happy Birthday Maya and Leia!


This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Various Wine
Appetizers: Cheese Board, Cheesy Spinach-Artichoke Bread Ring Dip
Sides: Chopped Salad à la Pizzeria Mozza
Entrees: Grilled Steak over Puttanesca
Dessert: Funfetti-Strawberries and Cream Unicorn Cake (And a Steak for the fur babies!)

Pastas/Noodles · Vietnamese

Mì Hoành Thánh {Wonton Egg Noodle Soup}

Mì Hoành Thánh
Daylight Savings was last weekend. But despite what you may have heard — it’s still soup season! And like I mentioned in my Hủ Tiếu post, soups are all about comfort foods for me.

For Dad’s birthday a few years back, I shared my recipe for Sui Gao Noodle Soup. It was an homage to Sam Woo Restaurant (三和) – the Cantonese style restaurant my family had gone to for decades.

And although I usually ordered their Sui Gao Noodle Soup, their Wonton Noodle Soup is still iconic in this gal’s heart—and tummy.

Mì Hoành Thánh
My recently well-stocked freezer, allowed me to make this homemade hug-in-a-bowl. And what homemade goodies did I pull from my beloved icebox for this?

Yes, that’s right.

The only items I relied on the store for were the fresh veggies, herbs and egg noodles. Although, let me confess. I had a few bags of egg noodles in my freezer that I had froze from last month.

What can I say? I love my freezer.

Mì Hoành Thánh
My recipe below does say chicken stock since I generally have that on hand but I do like to use a combination of seafood (usually shrimp stock) and chicken when I have it. Either methods are totally bueno since wonton soup stock is generally pretty light. However, if you only have chicken stock and want to up the ante –throw in a a few handfuls of dried shrimp.

It really does add the OOMFFF of flavor.

Mì Hoành Thánh

Hope you find my easy Mì Hoành Thánh completely slurp-ilicious! I sure do! ❤

Ăn Ngon!

Mì Hoành Thánh {Wonton Egg Noodle Soup}
Serves approximately 6


1 medium sized yellow onion
2 inches fresh ginger
3 quarts chicken stock (or ½ chicken stock, ½ seafood stock if you have it)
1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
3 bulbs bok choy, quartered and washed (or Chinese broccoli)
24-30 shrimp and pork wontons
1 package Chinese egg noodles
1 pound Xá Xíu (char sui), sliced
½ cup sliced scallions
fresh cilantro
½ cup fried shallots
Sichuan chili oil

Place the onion directly on the gas stove grate. Over medium-low, cook and rotate the oven for about 5 minutes until the onion has evenly charred. Set aside. If you don’t have a gas stove, you can cut the oven in half and coat lightly in vegetable oil. Place on a baking sheet and char underneath the oven broiler. Repeat the same process with the ginger.

Pour the stock into a large pot and add the charred onion and ginger. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Add shiitake mushrooms, soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil and peppercorns. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

While the stock simmer, bring another pot of water to boil. Add the bok choy and stir for a 45—60 seconds until it turns bright green. Using a large metal strainer or slotted spoon, remove and drain the bok choy. Set aside.

Using the same pot of boiling water, add the wontons in batches. Allow the wontons to cook for about 3-4 minutes or until the wrappers become translucent and the filling has cooked through. With the metal strainer or slotted spoon—remove, drain and set aside. Repeat until all the wontons are cooked.

Boil the egg noodles according to the package. Pour the noodles and water into a colander to drain. Rinse with cool water and shake to remove excess water.

Divide the noodles, bok choy, wontons and Xá Xíu amongst six bowls.

Taste the broth. Add additional soy or fish sauce as needed. Ladle the hot broth over each of the bowls. Top each with fresh scallions, cilantro and fried shallots. Serve Sichuan chili oil on the side and enjoy!

Pork · Vietnamese

Thịt Xá Xíu {Char Siu – Chinese Barbecue Pork}

Thịt Xá Xíu {Chinese Char Siu - BBQ Pork}
Stroll down the streets of most Chinatowns and I am rather certain that hanging alongside the lacquered Roast Ducks in shop windows, you’ll also find the ubiquitous Char Siu – or Chinese style barbecue pork.

You can’t really miss it from its bright reddish-pink hue, coupled with its deeply savory, spiced and somehow sweet mouthwatering scents.

In Vietnamese, we call it Thịt Xá Xíu and you can find it pretty much served with everything due to its versatility.  We love it with our noodles, whether it be , bún or hủ tiếu. It’s a very common protein in our beloved bánh (sandwiches) and can be found in bánh bao –steamed buns. Heck, it’s great just over steamed rice!

Thịt Xá Xíu {Chinese Char Siu - BBQ Pork}

Since I’ve been on a real kick lately of restocking my freezer, I thought it was high time to add a few stashes of Xá Xíu to the mix.

I’m a BIG fan of keeping a well stocked freezer. Not only for those days that you just feel too BLEH to cook but also for those times you’re hankering some comfort food but don’t have the time to commit hours in the kitchen to make anything. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given myself a little pat on the back when I was quickly able to throw a bowl of Bún Chả Giò (Cold Vermicelli Noodles with crispy Vietnamese Imperial Rolls) together or heat up some Pan Fried Dumplings because I stockpile the freezer.

Seriously, it’s a lifesaver.

Thịt Xá Xíu {Chinese Char Siu - BBQ Pork}

Enough on that…let’s get back to the Xá Xíu…..

Right off the bat, I’ve got to tell you that I happily turn to a Char Sui seasoning packet to start the marinade. I’ve got absolutely no guilt about this and totally feel justified because this is how Mom used to do it.

Can’t argue with that, right?

Thịt Xá Xíu {Chinese Char Siu - BBQ Pork}
I do doctor it up with few things like Shaoxing wine, garlic, pepper and a bit of five spice powder before rubbing the pork shoulder with the mixture. It then marinates in the fridge overnight so that all that goodness seeps in.

Two quick things before we move on.

1) If you use a seasoning packet, the powder (and eventually the marinade) will be pink. Super pink. It can vary on brand but it’s mostly due to some curing salt (think corned beef) and well, food color. If that freaks you out, nix the premixed seasoning and make your own.

2) I like using pork shoulder instead of something too lean. The Xá Xíu should have a bit of fat on it and pork loin, particularly tenderloin, doesn’t it cut it for me.

Thịt Xá Xíu {Chinese Char Siu - BBQ Pork}

Once the pork is done marinading, I bake it in a hot oven for 20ish minutes on a wire rack that sits on a rimmed baking sheet. This not only helps with even cooking but it lifts the pork up from any excess liquids that may render out.

Pro Tip? Add a bit of water to the baking sheet while the pork cooks. The water helps keep the moisture in the oven (and thus in the pork) as well as helps reduce the amount of smoke that may occur from any fat drippings that will accumulate on the sheet.

While the pork roasts, take the marinade and whisk some hoisin sauce into it. You’ll then use this to glaze the pork to help add a bit more flavor as well as get that sheen. Don’t worry that the marinade had raw pork sitting in it because after you brush it over the Xá Xíu, you’ll then broil it for a few minutes on extremely high heat.

Thịt Xá Xíu {Chinese Char Siu - BBQ Pork}
And that’s it!

Easy-peasy, right!? Maybe one of these days I’ll attempt to make it without a premixed seasoning packet but gosh….it’s just so darn convenient and tasty.


Ăn Ngon!

Thịt Xá Xíu {Char Siu – Chinese BBQ Pork}



1 packet Xá Xíu/Char Siu seasoning
½ teaspoon five spice power
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into long pieces about 2-3 inches wide
cooking spray
2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce

In a bowl, whisk together the Xá Xíu/Char Siu seasoning, five spice powder, pepper, garlic, Shaoxing wine and oil. Rub the marinade all over the pork and place in the refrigerator overnight.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Place a wire rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet that has been lined with aluminum foil. Lightly cover the wire rack with cooking spray. Remove the pork from the marinade and pat dry with paper towel. Place the pork on top of the rack and place in the preheated oven. Pour about ¼ cup of water into the baking sheet. The water helps keep the moisture in the oven (and in the pork) as well as helps reduce the amount of smoke that may occur from any fat drippings that will accumulate on the sheet. Roast the pork for about 20 minutes, flipping halfway through, or until its internal temperature reaches about 145 degrees F.

While the pork roasts, pour the marinade from the pork with any liquids that may emerged into a small bowl with the Hoisin sauce. Whisk together to create a glaze. Set aside.

Once the pork has cooked through, remove the tray from the oven. Brush the glaze over the pork and place it back in the oven, directly under the broiler. Broil the pork, rotating every 45 seconds or so to create a nice char. Be careful to keep a close eye on the pork at this point since it can burn quickly. Remove the pork from the oven and let rest for several minutes before slicing.




Hủ Tiếu {Vietnamese Pork and Seafood Noodle Soup}

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang
The East Coast has been experiencing some crazy snow storms lately –to the point that I’m sure that the White Walkers are just vacationing around there until Season 8 of GoT is released. Or at least until a release date is announced.

Just thinking about it makes me shudder and want to bundle up. But before you laugh at me, know that it’s actually been cold in San Diego these past few weeks—even by non-Southern Californian terms. We’re talking in the 30 degrees F in the late nights/early mornings! BRRRRRR!!!!

Maybe a straggling Walker wanted to check out Disneyland?

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang
I’m constantly cold. Which is why I have been nonstop cooking and eating soups lately–noodle soups, mostly. Can you blame me?

I’ve been getting my full of chowders, ramen, wonton noodle soups and of course, Phở. Hey-I need comfort food! But as much as I love phở, there are so many other noodle dishes in Vietnamese cuisine than the popular soup.

There’s Miến (glass noodles), Bún Riêu (tomato & freshwater crab noodles), Bánh Canh (Udon-like noodles), Bún Măng Vịt (bamboo and duck noodles) and Bún Thang (Northern Vietnamese chicken-based noodles)……

But my favorites are Bún Bò Huế (spicy beef noodles) and Mì Quảng (seafood & pork turmeric noodles).


Translation: SUPER DELICIOUS!!!

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang

Though I’ve got to tell  you — I do LOVE me a big bowl of Hủ Tiếu.

Which type of Hủ Tiếu?

Well, that’s where things get a bit difficult because depending on who you ask, the “variations”, well…….vary.

There’s Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang which is considered the Vietnamese version of the Cambodian noodle soup from Phnom Penh.

There’s Hủ Tiếu Mỹ Tho which is the signature noodle dish of the city Mỹ Tho located in the Tiền Giang Province on the Mekong Delta.

And there’s also Hủ Tiếu Tàu, which just translates to Chinese Hủ Tiếu. Yeah…they could have been more creative with that one.

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang

What are the origins of Hủ Tiếu?

Whelp, other than the fact that it originates from China and somehow blended its way through Southeast Asia, everything else is a bit fuzzy. But it has become iconic in Southern Việt Nam and most can at least agree that the broth is pork bone based.

Oh…I forgot to mention that on top of the different the types of Hủ Tiếu you order, you can choose to have it khô (dry noodles served with a dark salty-sweet sauce and the broth on the side) or with nước (broth and noodles served together).

I know….we’re a complicated bunch. But we’re a People that like options.

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang
So which type of Hủ Tiếu do I make?

I can’t really say it’s traditionally Mỹ Tho or Nam Vang. And I’ve got to admit, although it sounds trivial, it’s definitely times like these that I wish I could ask Mom. Would she have the right answer? Eh…questionable. But she’d likely give me a confident answer and just tell me to do what tastes good.

Smart woman.

So that’s what I do.

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang
I enjoy Hủ Tiếu broth because it’s light, slightly sweet and not as spice-forward as phở. Again, I do adore phở –but it’s good to have options. But like phở, it should be wonderfully clear like a beautiful consommé.

Most Hủ Tiếu broths start off with lots of pork bones but I like to add chicken bones too. Why miss an opportunity to have a richer broth right?

To start on that consommé-like path, you’ve got to give the bones a good scrub down. Mom always taught us to clean bones and all proteins first before cooking by exfoliating it with salt and thoroughly rinsing it. Then you’ll need to parboil the bones for several minutes, dump out the water and rinse off any of the impurities that have come out before starting the broth in a clean pot.

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang
I then throw in some onions, shallots and to provide some sweetness– daikon and dried shrimp. This is when you can also add dried squid that has been rehydrated. I didn’t have any on hand when I made this batch but I will next time. Following those ingredients are some dried shiitake mushrooms (not traditional but I like the added depth of flavor), salt and rock sugar. Once you’ve gotten to this point, let the broth simmer on very low but steady heat for about 2½-3 hours.

And remember that consommé-like goal we’re aiming for? It’s this low and slow simmer that seals the deal. That and also skimming the broth every 30 minutes or so to discard of any impurities that may have risen to top.

I know —this is a labor of love….for my stomach.

I should note that traditionally the broth is seasoned with only salt and not fish sauce. But I’ll admit it, after the broth has simmered for a few hours, I’ve been known to throw in a few dashes of Vietnamese liquid gold if I feel that it needs a bit more magic.

I’m a rebel.

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang
Now let’s spend a few moments talking about toppings, shall we?

I believe across the board for Hủ Tiếu, you’ll find that there will be some variation of pork and whole shrimp. But when it comes to everything else–it’s all fair game.

Common items in various Hủ Tiếu are boiled quail eggs, offal, Vietnamese ham, fried shrimp crisp and sliced beef. And when it comes to pork, it can come in the form of poached, ground or  Chinese “barbecue” known as char sui or xá xíu.

They also say that Hủ Tiếu Mỹ Tho should have an abundance of seafood so in addition to the usual suspects, you’ll find toppings like crab claws, squid, fish balls, imitation crab, fish and so forth.

For me, I’m not a fan of many offals, let alone poached pork liver. Don’t get me wrong– I do love a good pâté but liver in this soup form has never got me excited. So I don’t include it. And as much as I love all kinds of eggs, boiling and peeling them are just too tedious for me –so I nix those too. And no–I don’t buy or enjoy canned quail eggs. They taste very metallic to me.

I generally stick to the basics such as poached shrimp, imitation crab and browned ground pork. But if I really feel like going the extra mile (or if I was smart and kept a stash in the freezer), I’ll make xá xíu, too.

Oh–and don’t forget the accompanying veggies, herbs, chilies and fresh lime!

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang
Now let’s talk about the noodle types.

One of the reasons why I like Hủ Tiếu so much is that most of the time, it is served with what is called Hủ Tiếu Dai which are tapioca based noodles. The texture is much more firm than phở noodles have — which are typically rice flour based. Hủ Tiếu Dai are chewy in similar ways to why I adore bucatini pasta  – but without the hole in the center of the noodle. Delish.

But you can also find Hủ Tiếu served with standard rice noodles or even Chinese egg noodles. In those cases, it’s called Hủ Tiếu Mi – also good, but just different. And if you can’t decide which you prefer, some places will serve the different noodles mixed together for you!

Told you we like options.

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang
Lastly, let’s chat a bit more about what I mentioned earlier on having it served khô or with nước.

If you were to ask for a bowl of Hủ Tiếu (whether it be Nam Vang, Mỹ Tho or Tàu), you’ll likely have a wonderful steaming bowl of noodle soup delivered to you. The noodles and broth are in one bowl — and it’s a party. Sometimes they’ll call it Hủ Tiếu Nước (with broth) but generally if you say “Hủ Tiếu”, that’s what you’ll get. And it’s glorious.

However, some spots will have Hủ Tiếu Khô available and I’ll tell you, it’s also glorious. Essentially, the bowls are assembled nearly the same with the exception of two things. The noodles will have a rich salty-sweet sauce either drizzled on top or underneath the noodles and the the broth will be served in a small bowl on the side. You’ll stir the noodles up with that rich sauce — and of course you can pour some of the broth in it too. But this way, you’ll get to enjoy the flavors of the noodles, toppings sauce and then slurp the broth separately. And I’ll tell ya, when I was young, I wasn’t really much into the broths of noodle soups. Sure–I liked some of it but I was more focused on the GOODS! This method was perfect for me! Plus, the sauce adds another level of flavor—yes, it too, is glorious.

Nowadays I enjoy both so don’t make me pick sides.

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang

I know. Probably more than you ever wanted to know about Hủ Tiếu but I was feeling wordy today. I blame it on the weather. ❤

Ăn Ngon!

Hủ Tiếu {Vietnamese Pork and Seafood Noodle Soup}
Makes approximately 6 bowls



4 pounds pork bones
2 pounds chicken bones
kosher salt
1 large yellow onion, quartered
1 large shallot (or 2 small ones), quartered
1 medium-sized daikon, peeled and cut into small chunks
1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
1 small rock sugar piece, about 1 tablespoon
½ cup dried shrimp that has been rehydrated with boiling water, rinsed and drained
3-4 dried squid that has been rehydrated with boiling water, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1 pound ground pork
½ tablespoon fish sauce
½ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 package Hủ Tiếu Dai– chewy tapioca noodles
¼ pound imitation crab, cut into 2 inch pieces
herbs and veggies: fried shallots, fried garlic, bean sprouts, cilantro, culantro, chilies, limes, scallions, etc.
other protein options: pork slices (poached or char sui/xá xíu), boiled quail eggs, liver or other offal, sliced squid, etc.

Sauce for serving Hủ Tiếu Khô:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoons minced shallots
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon 5 spice powder
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
½ cup Hủ Tiếu broth

Place the pork and chicken bones in the sink and liberally sprinkle salt over them. Using the salt as an exfoliant, scrub the bones well and rinse. Place the scrubbed bones in a large pot and cover with cold water. Set the heat to high and boil or 5-7 minutes. At this point, some of the impurities and “scum” will have boiled out. Place a colander in the sink and carefully pour the bones in to drain. Rinse the bones thoroughly to remove all the impurities. If you intend on using the same pot for the Hủ Tiếu broth, wash it well before adding the bones back in. Do not skip any of the above important steps in order to get a clear and clean broth.

Pour in about 6 quarts of water over the cleaned bones and bring to a boil. Add the onions, shallots, daikon, shiitake mushrooms, rock sugar, rehydrated shrimp, squid, peppercorns and 2-tablespoons kosher salt. Stir until the rock sugar has dissolved and lower the temperature to a gentle simmer. Allow the broth to simmer, uncovered, on very low heat for 2½-3 hours. During that time, periodically skim and discard any impurities that may have formed on top of the broth. At the end, you’ll want a semi-dark but very clear broth like a consommé. Before serving, taste the broth and add additional salt if needed.

While the broth simmers, prepare the toppings.

In a small bowl, mix the pork, fish sauce and pepper together. Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over medium. Sauté the garlic until fragrant but not browned. Add the pork and cook thoroughly while crumbling up the ground meat. Take off heat and set aside.

Place the shrimp in a mesh metal strainer. Dip the strainer into the simmering broth and stir the shrimp around so that it poaches in the hot liquid. Once the shrimp becomes bright pink, shake lightly to remove excess liquids and set aside.

Prepare the noodles according to the directions on the package. Usually it will instruct you to soak the noodles for 10-15 minutes in hot water and then boil for a quick few minutes before draining well. Set aside.

To assemble if serving the broth with the noodles, divide the cooked noodles among the bowls. On top of each bowl, place 3-4 poached shrimp, a couple of pieces of imitation crab and a few spoonfuls of cooked ground pork. Sprinkle on the fried garlic, fried shallots and chopped scallions. Ladle the boiling broth over the noodles and toppings. Serve with fresh herbs, chilies and limes on the side.

If serving Hủ Tiếu Khô (dry noodles), prepare the accompanying sauce by heating the oil over medium low in a small saucepan. Add the shallots and cook until just golden. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute, stir to avoid it from burning. Sprinkle in the 5 spice powder and cook for 30 seconds before adding the remaining sauce ingredients. Raise the heat so that the liquids boil and then reduce to a simmer. Allow the sauce to cook for 2-3 additional minutes. Assemble the Hủ Tiếu Khô by adding a heaping spoonful of the dark sauce at the bottom of each bowl. Top with the cooked noodles, 3-4 poached shrimp, a couple of pieces of imitation crab and a few spoonfuls of cooked ground pork. Sprinkle on the fried garlic, fried shallots and chopped scallions. Serve with a small bowl of hot broth on the side along with fresh herbs, chilies and limes.

Sunday Family Dinner

Family Dinner Celebrates the January Babies!

January 2018 Fam Din
Seester T and  Nini are our January Babies! So with all birthday Fam Dins, it was all about them!

January 2018 Fam Din
The evening included some of their favorite foods and of course, succulents. My Fam are somewhat succulents-obsessed….to put it mildly. And T and Maya put this adorable pot together for Nini that just had her written all over it.

Orange is her fav color.

And so are pugs—particularly Princess Leia.

And she also has been known to say that Maya is her Spirit Animal….so there’s that.

January 2018 Fam Din
While we were admiring their handy work, I put my efforts towards that night’s cocktail – Pomegranate Moscow Mules!

We’re big fans of mules with its gingery, citrus punch—and the addition of pomegranate juice was the perfect kick to update the classic.

January 2018 Fam Din
Then it was time to get down on some appetizers! Nini asked her mama to make pork belly baos.

Seester N marinated the pork belly overnight with soy, sugar, rice wine, garlic, ginger and a few other goodies. Once it was ready, she handed it over to me and I sous vide the belly for 10ish hours.

After the belly finished its bath, we placed it in the fridge for a few hours so it was easier to slice.

January 2018 Fam Din
When we were about ready to eat, she took the slices of pork and seared it up on each side.

I wish you could have smelled the house when she did this. It was simply intoxicating.

January 2018 Fam Din
A few hours beforehand, she made the dough for the baos and had it proof for a bit.

January 2018 Fam Din

Then it was time to roll it out.

Super adorbs rolling pin, right?

January 2018 Fam Din
Here they were before she placed them in the steamer.

And now here’s a confession……

Although everything looked perfect up to this point, the baos did not rise after they had steamed. It was the strangest thing!! We did taste a small piece of it and it was great! But we were looking for a smooth, puffed, mini-dome and somehow ended up with a pancake.


January 2018 Fam Din
Luckily Seestrah N thought ahead and was prepared for any potential mishaps. You know, in case we “pulled a Monica”. Please tell me someone got that reference….

While at the Asian market, she swung by the freezer section and picked up a few packages of pre-steamed frozen bao dough. Think of it like the frozen dinner rolls you can buy and just throw in the oven.

They just needed a few minutes in the steamer and they were perfect!! Then it was assembly time.

January 2018 Fam Din
Get a look at these beauties!!

Sis also pickled up some thin cucumber slices earlier on in the week and stuffed them inside the baos along with freshly sliced cucumbers, carrots and a few sprigs of cilantro.

January 2018 Fam Din
They were insanely good — as delish as any I’ve had in restaurants! The pork belly was tender and succulent. The glaze was salty and sweet. And the veggies were the perfect offset for freshness, acidity and texture.

Sous Vide Pork Belly Baos — I highly, highly recommend them!

January 2018 Fam Din
Next up — OYSTERS!!!

To be honest, T had requested those crazy, 10 feet tall seafood towers for dinner. But c’mon now…that would be, as my nieces say, “very extra”.  Brother V got her to compromise and go with a Swan Oyster Depot-esque theme.

Which really just means HELLA seafood.

January 2018 Fam Din
V picked up a gazillion of fresh oysters and clams from our local Dry Dock Fish Company. Birthday gal got to work and was shucking away! I’m telling you, Nini is a Shucking Queen.

January 2018 Fam Din

I whipped up a quick mignonette for them but they were just as delish with a squeeze of lemon and tabascco.

January 2018 Fam Din
And then it was time for a GINORMOUS platter of these babies – DUNGENESS CRAB!!!!!


Brother also picked up a few dozen clams too. He meant to have us enjoy them raw, but dang it! Those suckers were tough as heck to shuck!

January 2018 Fam Din
So I did a little quick inventory of what N had in her pantry and decided to whip up a 20 minute dish – Seafood Squid Ink Pasta!

I sauteed some aromatics and threw in some crushed Roma tomatoes, clam juice and white wine. I then added the clams and some calamari N had in the freezer. Once the clams opened up, I tossed in some al dente squid ink pasta. Hey–we were going for seafood overload, right?

It was quite tasty and for a dish on the fly, we were pretty happy with it!

January 2018 Fam Din
Then it was time for us to do a little clean up before dessert.

Which for Leia, that means commandeer her fur cousin’s crate for a post dinner nap.

January 2018 Fam Din
Which is 100% okay for Bella because she prefers the couch with blankets.

January 2018 Fam Din
Then it was dessert time!

And of course, I had to make one for each birthday girl.

Nini loves all things green tea so when I asked her what she’d like for her bday dessert, she quickly said Matcha Mille Crêpes Cake! She’s a fancy one….

January 2018 Fam Din
It all started with matcha crêpes. And I’ve got to admit, they were the bane of my existence…well, while I was making them at least. I hadn’t made crêpes in YEARS and it took a while to get the hang of it down again.

It probably didn’t help that I started making the crêpes at 11pm the night before Fam Din but at least there was wine!

When all was said and done, I made 25 crêpes with the batter.

January 2018 Fam Din
The next day, I made a matcha flavored whipped cream and began assembly.

One crêpe, then a thin layer of the whipped cream.

And repeat.

January 2018 Fam Din

Once I was done, I had a total of 50 layers. But since I wanted to cover the whole cake in ganache, I used the whipped cream and covered everything in a thin layer before chilling it for a few hours.

January 2018 Fam Din
While I was glazing the chilled cake in a layer of ganache, I put birthday girl to work by having her cut out a stencil of a succulent.

Yes, I know. We’re obsessed.

January 2018 Fam Din


Nini’s Matcha Mille Crêpes Cake!

January 2018 Fam Din
And here’s a peak inside.





January 2018 Fam Din
Pretty, right?

I’ve got to admit, it was quite delicious too!

January 2018 Fam Din
And then it was seestrah’s turn!

After texts upon texts of me pestering her, she finally said she wanted a traditional chocolate cake. Now usually for us, that means Ina Garten’s version of Beatty’s Chocolate Cake.

Man, that is a damn good cake. But as good as it is, it’s not a great cake if you’re looking for a solid crumb for decorating.

January 2018 Fam Din

So I chose a sponge that I used for Maya’s cake a few years ago. It’s really chocolately and delish too–but just sturdier.

January 2018 Fam Din
And then I did this to it.

Because purple is seester’s favorite color.

It’s mine too.

And mama’s.

January 2018 Fam Din
Chocolate Layered Cake with Ombre Swiss Buttercream Rosettes.

January 2018 Fam Din
I actually kind of loved how it turned out in the end.

Now that I think of it, they kind of remind me of Sterling Roses that seestrah really loves.

I mean–I didn’t just think of it. I meant to do it that way all along!


January 2018 Fam Din

Now here’s the thing about us. As much as we love desserts and as much as we bake….we’re not really into eating a lot of frostings or buttercreams. It’s just too sweet or too much most of the time!

Since I figured we’d get our fix of buttercream via the rosettes, I only used a thin amount between each of the cake layers.

Trust me, it was still plenty!

January 2018 Fam Din

And I just had to include this picture because Lucas and Maya’s expressions have be DYING.

January 2018 Fam Din
And that’s a wrap!

Happy Birthday January Babies!!!!

xoxo ❤

January 2018 Fam Din

This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Pomegranate Moscow Mules, Various Wine
Appetizers: Sous Vide Pork Belly Baos, Fresh Oysters
Entrees: Steamed Dungeness Crab, Seafood Squid Ink Pasta
Dessert: Matcha Mille Crêpes Cake, Chocolate Layered Cake with Ombre Swiss Buttercream Rosettes

Pork · Seafood

Sichuan Wontons in Chili Oil Sauce – Happy Lunar New Year!!!

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
Friends, today is the beginning of Tết – the Vietnamese Lunar New Year!

As with every new year, I’ve done all the rituals like scrubbed down the house, prepared an altar of traditional Tết goodies and went to the bank to get crisp “new money” to stuff all the bags of lì xì for the munchkins.

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce

Man…I miss the good ol’ days when I was the one collecting stacks of lì xì. Now, Cô Nam just doles out the red envelopes.

Being a grown up is seriously overrated. But at least there’s still all the good food!

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
Every year I look forward to eating copious amounts of fried Bánh Tét with Dưa Món. Bánh Tét are steamed sticky rice cakes and are cylindrical in shape. Bánh Chưng are essentially the same but are shaped as squares.

The savory ones are filled with pork belly and mung beans. Although they can be eaten just as is, I prefer it fried so the crust is nice and crispy but the interior is still soft. SOOOOO good! And of course, it’s best eaten with a side of Dưa Món – pickled veggies.

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
Bánh Tét/Bánh Chưng are not something my family make—well, at least not since I’ve been alive!

It’s REALLY a time consuming process and it’s one of those things that if you’re going to go through the efforts to make a few, you might as well make 100. But that would take you foh-evah!

So like most Vietnamese folks nowadays, we buy ours. But we still like to cook other traditional Tết dishes.

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to include some dishes in my yearly rituals that we didn’t grow up eating for Tết. And dumplings definitely top that list!

Sure, our Chinese kin definitely prepare and eat a variety of dumplings as a part of their Lunar New Year traditions. They’re eaten for luck because they symbolize wealth and richness as their shape resembles Chinese gold ingots.

But hey–if it can bring luck and taste delicious, why not adopt the practice, right?

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
I’ve shared a few of my favorite dumpling versions with you before like:

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
But for this year’s Tết, I thought I would share with you my Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce.

They. Are. So. Dang. Tasty.

But what’s the difference between a dumpling and a wonton?

Honestly I’ve found that the answer changes depending on the person you’ve asked. But generally folks tell me that dumplings are often quite plump and are steamed or pan-fried. Wontons are most often boiled and served in soups or a broth. The wrappers (or skins) are also supposed to be really thin and since they aren’t filled as much as the former, it allows the soup/broth/sauce to stick to the excess dough. That way, you can just slurp them up!

Oh…and some say that wontons only use square wrappers and dumplings use a round shape. But really… you can call them whatever you want —because I’ll take ANY version of them.

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
These Sichuan Wontons are filled with a 1:1 ratio of pork to shrimp. And unlike my other dumplings, I don’t add much filler other than aromatics. No cabbage, no mushrooms—just protein and few other things.


Because the co-star of this dish truly is the Chili Oil Sauce that it’s pretty much bathed in. The sauce starts off with my homemade Sichuan Chili Oil. Does it have to be homemade? Well…technically no. But it makes SUCH a difference. And not only is my recipe super easy but it lasts a long time in your fridge!

The chili oil is then combined with soy, Chinese black vinegar (there’s really no substitute for it), sugar and a couple of other items. Simple right? That’s because the homemade oil is so aromatic that it needs very little else!

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
And if you’re REALLY fiery, after you’ve sauced the wontons, you can add a few extra dollops of the Sichuan Chili Oil everything. You can sure bet that I do—but perhaps dial it down a bit if you’re serving little ones.

There are also several different ways to fold wontons as I’ve shown above but I generally just go for the standard “ingot” fold as I’ve described in the recipe.

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
And with that dear friends, let Bella and I wish you all Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!!! May the Year of the Dog be filled with happiness, good health, prosperity and endless Foodventures!

ps. Bella believes EVERY year is the Year of the Dog.


Sichuan Wontons in Chili Oil Sauce
Makes approximately 80 wontons


For the wontons:
4 scallions
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves
1 small shallot
½ cup fresh cilantro
1 pound shrimp, peeled and roughly chopped
1 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or other preferred rice wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce, more to taste
2 tablespoons fish sauce, more to taste
1 tablespoon sesame oil
½ tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
80-100 square wonton wrappers

For the sauce:
4 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons Chinkiang Black Vinegar
½ tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons homemade Sichuan Chili Oil (both the oil and flakes)
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
½ teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced scallions

For garnish:
chopped fresh cilantro
chopped scallions
toasted sesame seeds

Place the scallions, ginger, cloves, shallot and cilantro in a food processor. Pulse several times until all of the ingredients have broken down and become roughly the same minced texture. Add the shrimp and pulse until everything has combined and the shrimp has turned into somewhat of a paste. Add the pork, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, sugar and pepper. Pulse just until the ingredients have fully combined.

Test the filling for seasoning by taking a small spoonful of the mixture and pan fry in a nonstick skillet for 1-2 minutes on each side. Taste and if needed, add more soy sauce or fish sauce to the uncooked filling.

Begin assembling the wontons. Place one wonton wrapper down on a flat surface so that it points towards you. Dip the tip of your finger into water and moisten the top two edges of the wrapper. Place about 1 heaping teaspoon of the filling in the center of the wonton wrapper. Fold the bottom corner (the one nearest you) over the filling so that it meets the top point and forms a triangle. Press down to seal the edges of the triangle while pressing out any air that may have been trapped inside. Add a dab of water to the two outer corners of the triangle and fold in so that they meet. Press corners together to firmly seal. Place the wonton on a baking sheet and continue until all the filling/wrappers have been used.

Prepare the sauce by whisking all the ingredients together in a bowl until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the wontons to the pot (no more than a dozen or so at a time) and lower the heat so that it’s at a steady but not rapid boil. Constantly stir so that they do not stick together. Allow the wontons to cook for about 3 minutes or until the wrappers become translucent and the filling has cooked through. Use a large slotted spoon or kitchen spider to remove and drain the wontons. Transfer to a serving dish and spoon the sauce over the wontons. Garnish with scallions, cilantro and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.


Sichuan Chili Oil – A Kitchen Staple

Sichuan Chili Oil
I know…this seems a random recipe post.

But this kitchen staple plays a big part in a recipe I’ll be posting soon in honor of Tết – the Lunar New Year that will arrive on Friday.

So you’ll want to DEFINITELY stay tuned!

Sichuan Chili Oil
Chili Oil, or in this case Sichuan Chili Oil, is a regular in many Asian cuisine recipes. I use it quite often in soups, stir-frys, dumplings, or as a stand-alone condiment.

Sichuan Chili Oil
And although there are many different jars of it that you can easily buy, homemade is always better–and it’s super easy!

Sichuan Chili Oil
The core of this is the use of whole Sichuan peppercorns that can be easily found at most Asian grocery stores or online. The peppercorns are fragrant and carry a wonderful heat.

To start, the Sichuan peppercorns and dried spices are slowly heated to infuse the oil.

Sichuan Chili Oil
After about an hour, the whole shabang is poured over chili flakes and a bit of salt—and boom!

Aromatic and floral Sichuan Chili Oil!

Sichuan Chili Oil
The oil can be kept in your fridge for a year—but I doubt it’ll keep that long!

Pro Tip? Double the batch and give some away as gifts!

Sichuan Chili Oil
Makes approximately 21⁄4 cups


3 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon whole cloves
5 whole star anise
4 dried bay leaves
1 whole cinnamon stick
2 cups vegetable oil (or something neutral in flavor)
2 whole garlic cloves, smashed
1 inch piece fresh ginger, cut into slices
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup Sichuan chili flakes

In a small stainless steel* saucepan, heat the peppercorns, coriander, cloves, star anise, bay leaves, cinnamon stick and oil over medium heat.  Once the oil begins to bubble, bring the heat down to low. Allow the oil to infuse over low heat for one hour, stirring every 5-10 minutes. The aromatics should not get too dark so you’ll need to adjust the heat as needed.

After an hour, add the garlic and ginger and raise to medium-low heat. Allow it to bubble and infuse for an additional 2-3 minutes and remove from heat. Allow the oil to cool for 1-2 minutes.

Place the salt and chili flakes in a heatproof bowl and place a strainer on top. Slowly pour the infused oil through the strainer. Remove the strainer and discard the spices. Stir the oil well and allow to cool completely before transferring it to a jar or other container. The oil can be stored in refrigerator for a year.

*You’ll want to use a light bottom pan so that you can see if the oil and spice are getting too dark.