Chances are, if you have had Vietnamese food, you’ve had some version of nước chấm.
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.
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.
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).
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.
When served along rice noodle bowls, you’ll find shredded carrots and daikon in it.
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.
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.
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.
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!
_______________________________________________________ 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. ❤
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?
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.
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!
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!
Also at that time, V and L had been puppy-sitting their neighbor’s new little furbaby – Ollie!
He’s an adorable little fluffy pup — and all of the kiddos just adored him!
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.
I did notice that she was spending EXTRA time with each of her humans to ensure that they still remembered who was in charge.
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…..
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!
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.
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.
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.
Tag R – you’re in!
Nina and I then handed the skewers over so that R could grill ’em up.
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 standardrecipe (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.
Grilled Steak Skewers with Creamy Chimichurri and Pickled Red Onions – how many do you think you could throw down?
Thanks for the awesome grill job R!
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!
Quick pause for a kitchen pic before L and V got started on the other app.
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.
L made a classic marinara sauce for us to dunk the calamari in.
Crispy Calamari with Fresh Marinara – irresistible!
Look! I inadvertently made cocktails that matched P’s shirt.
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).
Someone was WIDE AWAKE now!
Lì xì does have that magical affect!
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.
P crusted up tuna steaks with sesame seeds and crushed coriander before searing.
She then topped the Seared Tuna over Mixed Greens and added fresh oranges, crispy wonton chips, sliced almonds and a light sesame vinaigrette.
I blame the below on the Christmas onesie.
Or the extra strong refill cocktail we made her.
Seestrah T took charge of the entree — an homage to one of Maya’s favorite dishes from Corner Baker.
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.
How the heck is Lucas doing that with his tongue?!
Dinner time! Everyone to the table please!
Bella….always the first one waiting.
Some one was SUPER tired by this time and barely made it through dinner.
But in her defense, after all that pasta, we ALL were feeling a bit sleepy.
For fear of us passing out, we quickly got dessert ready for our two birthday girls.
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?
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’…..
Strawberry-Chocolate Decadence Cheesecake …. seester nailed it with this one.
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?
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAYA AND LEIA! You both are such sweet souls.
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?
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.
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 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.
After a quick update on the score and a selfie with Pops, I got to cooking Appetizer #1 requested by both Nini and T….
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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
Pan Fried Duck Dumplingsthat we dunked in hot mustard, chili oil and black vinegar.
Yeah….I’ll be making these again.
This is what happens when I ask the girls to get ME a glass of Rosé.
Remember these little buggers I had suggested that y’all make for Lunar New Year?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Isn’t it spectacular??? They did such an awesome job!
Good thing they didn’t task me with cleaning those bones….
Crown Roast of Porcini-Crusted Lamb with Chimichurri Sauce.
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!
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 DungenessCrabs. But we figured, why not with lump crab? Cuts out all of the messy work.
I think these two approved.
And of course we needed a pic of the Capricorns with the Crowns before V carved them into chops.
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.
How many photobombers can you count here?
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… ❤
At this point, some of you may have started wondering —
“Wait! Rare lamb chops? What did they make for their munchkins to eat?”
Worry not, Friends….as you can see, they were just fine.
They INHALED the chops!
Straight up, CAVE-MUNCHKIN STATUS!
No princess bites here – and we love it. ❤
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.
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.
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!
Big Seestrah N took the helm with both desserts that night.
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!
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.
And that was it!
Ok…so it was A LOT.
But we can undoubtedly say that the Capricorns were happy and full.
And next time they say anything about not getting their way for their fam din, I will quickly show them to this video.
Before I get started, let me caution those that get wary about seeing protein in its “whole” state because this recap will show the entire duck (sans feathers) during the cooking process. If that freaks you out, maybe skip this one and just wait until my next post.
One of my favorite things about spending a big chunk of time with the family over the holidays is that we notoriously tackle the more challenging Foodventures that we’ve previously deemed extremely laborious or too daunting to try. I’m talking about things like start-to-finish-Tamales, Xiao Long Bao and the time V created an homage to one of their favorite dishes from Flushings Chinatown – Steamed Glutinous Rice with Crab in Lotus Leaves.
This past holiday break was no exception as Brother and I took a spin at making Peking Duck for the first time using his Traegar smoker. Yes, the decision was made after consuming a few bottles of wine….but aren’t those the best times to make choices?
No? Just us?
Luckily, V& L had discovered a FANTASTIC tutorial by BBQ Champion, Harry Soo, on YouTube that we followed to the “t”.
Fun fact: Harry, who is behind Slap Yo Daddy BBQ, lives in Diamond Bar where 4 out of 5 of us sibbies graduated high school – Go Brahmas!
The day of our Peking Duck undertaking, we popped into 99 Ranch Marketto pick up some of the essentials that started with a 6 pound whole duck. I removed its wing tips and feet with a large cleaver and then slowly used my fingers to lift and separate the skin from the meat.
With Peking Duck, it’s all about spending LOTS of TLC on the skin to create a crisp and glossy finish. Even after using your fingers to loosen the skin, the pros will then use an air compressor to detach the skin so that when the duck cooks, the fat will slowly melt away.
And if the pros tell us to do so, we’re gonna try it! Particularly since V happens to have an air compressor! So he switched out the tubing and rigged a straw to be used as the nozzle — and we were then off to the races!
Easily the CRAZIEST thing I’ve ever done in the “kitchen”. Brother and I were cracking up the entire time but it totally worked!
It’s how we bond.
While Vfinished blowing Howard up (yes, I named him — and yes, it’s after the 80s alien duck movie), I charred the scallions and ginger as well as toasted whole star anise and coriander.
I also mixed up the marinade for the cavity which included five spice powder, brown sugar, hoisin and a grilling spice mix.
After we stuffed Howard with everything listed above, V stitched him up.
Harry Soo calls this a “spiral stich”.
V couldn’t find a wooden skewer to use, so he whittled a wooden chopstick down. Quite industrious I thought and it definitely did the job!
While Brother stitched up Howard, I brought a big pot of water to a boil that included honey, apple cider vinegar and maltose. Maltose is malt sugar and can be found in tubs as shown below at most Chinese/Asian grocery stores. Check the aisles with the honey and jams.
The maltose helps give the duck a nice sheen and color.
Then it was time for Howard to take a little dip in the jacuzzi.
Okay….I admit, it looks a bit savage but just trust the process.
(ps. I did thank Howard for his sacrifice before we started everything….seemed like the right thing to do at the time.)
I ladled the boiling liquid over the skin for a few minutes until it tightened and firmed up.
You don’t want to cook the duck but you want to make sure that it’s evenly coated. Again, this dish is all about LOTS of TLC for the skin.
Once the duck was sufficiently scalded, it was placed on a rack over a sheet pan and went directly into the fridge (uncovered) for 3 days for the skin to dry out.
Three days later (Hey–I never said this was quick), we were left with this. The skin was definitely dried and darkened in color – just what we wanted.
Vthen fired up his smoker to 350 F degrees with soaked apple and hickory wood.
He then proceeded to smoke the duck for about 70ish minutes.
We were a bit concerned because it was much lighter towards the center breast portion. But miraculously in the last ten minutes or so, V said it caught up and became a beautiful dark golden hue all over.
Isn’t he lovely???
While Howard rested, I made up a batch of flaky scallion pancakes – the perfect accompaniment!
They’re really easy to make and I can post a future recipe if y’all are interested.
I also sliced up some thin cucumbers and more scallions to go with the duck and put out some hoisin sauce.
Then we called in Nini and L to do the honors of slicing up the duck. It’s a family affair after all!
They say traditional Peking Duck should be sliced into over 100 pieces.
But no one’s got time for that!
Anyway, I think Nini’s knife-work is just lovely. How many teenagers do you know have such master skills???
And voila! Howard in all his glory (THANK YOU HOWARD!)…
The duck was really delicious….the meat was moist and the skin was lovely. And when eaten with the scallion pancakes, cukes and hoisin–totally legit!
Check out this quick little recap video I put together—particularly so you can see the whole crazy air compressor situation! You can also see some snippets in my IG Stories Highlights.
All in all, I think we were pretty successful and I wouldn’t shy away from doing this again! Love our crazy Family Foodventures!
Us: “Brother, what do you want for your birthday fam din?”
Him: “Um…I don’t know. Let me get back to you.”
Two weeks later….
Us: “Brother, you’ve got to decide what you want for fam din…it’s in a couple of days.”
Him: “Um….how about something simple and easy, like Italian?”
Us: “Itallian…simple and easy?? But ok, Italian it is!”
Brothers…..what are going to do with them?
But at least we had a theme so we were off to the races compiling an Italian feast for him.
The day of I decided to bake up a tray of Rosemary Focaccia for us to munch on….and mostly because I’m a carboholic and love bread.
While the focaccia dough was on its second rise, N made us a few cocktails using Italian sodas. These were her Blood Orange Spritzersand they went down way too smooth!
Of course, because it’s us, there was a Cheese and Charcuterie Board.
Some classics you just can never have enough of.
By then I had pulled the Rosemary Focaccia out of the oven. After it rested for a few minutes, we sliced it up and dipped it into balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Along with the rosemary, you may have noticed the large flakes of salt on the top of the focaccia. We’re BIG fans of Maldon and love putting it on everything– but if you’re not into it, a light sprinkle of fine sea salt would be fine, too.
Nice little bites for appetizers, right?
But hang on…THERE WAS MORE!
V & L brought made two more dishes for us to nosh on as appetizers.
First, was a big ol’ pot of Meatballs with Marinara Sauce. The meatballs were perfectly bite-size and tender!
And second, they made Zuppa Toscana – a warm and comforting soup that had goodness like bacon, sausage, potatoes, kale and chicken stock.
We hadn’t had a soup at Fam Din for quite awhile and we all loved it!
Yes, for those of you that are keeping count–that’s a total of four appetizers.
But we REALLY like leftovers.
Believe it or not, as soon as we finished with the last appetizer, we jumped back into the kitchen to get dinner ready.
Okay…so maybe “gluttons” is more appropriate.
But we’re 100% alright with that.
T took the lead on the pasta dish for the evening. She was interested in making some variation of stuffed shells and when given the choice for protein, Brother went for seafood.
And man oh man…was it decadent!
The filling consisted of lump crab, shrimp and scallops—of which the latter two were blanched in lobster stock! There was also aromatics, seasonings, mayo and the tamales from the shellfish.
HELLA RICH and oh so delish!
In addition to the stuffed shells, I made crispy Pork Milanese….because why not make another entree right?
Though I did realize that we needed some greens to offset the richness of both of the entrees.
With Nini’s help, I pulled together a quick salad of Arugula with Citrus and Parmesan Shavings.
And yes, it did make us feel better.
Oh man…we were stuffed. And there was still the birthday dessert!
So we sent the humanlings off to walk the fur babies for awhile to burn off some of the dinner.
Bella looks like a zombie.
These two Cousies really like this pose a lot.
Back in the casa, seester N put the finishing touches on the dessert she made – Tiramisu!
Her desserts are always so purrrrty.
And Molto Delizioso!
Happy Birthday V!
And when all was said and done, we had a good laugh as we recalled all of the dishes we had made for Brother’s “simple and easy” dinner.
Brothers….what are you gonna do with them, right? ❤
This Month’s Family Dinner Menu
Cocktails:Blood Orange Spritzers,Various Wines Appetizers:Rosemary Focaccia, Cheese & Charcuterie, Meatballs with Marinara Sauce, Zuppa Toscana Entree:Seafood Stuffed Pasta Shells, Pork Milanese Sides: Arugula with Citrus and Parmesan Shavings
I’m taking a quick break from the Fam Din recaps (told ya’ I would be making up for lost time!) to say Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!!!
Yes, it’s that time again…. Tết– the VietnameseLunar New Year!
All of the my Tết prep has been dutifully followed.
The house is sparkly clean, the altar is up and I popped into the bank to get “new money” to fill the red lì xì envelopes for the munchkins.
And OF COURSE, there has to be lots of “lucky” food!
There will be tons of noodles (longevity), fruit (auspicious) and Bánh Tét – steamed rice cakes (prosperity).
And it wouldn’t be the new year if I wasn’t making lots and lots of dumplings that symbolize wealth. I’m fairly certain that I’ve made a couple hundred dumplings this month alone!
Since the Year of the Pig rings in tomorrow, I thought I would take a moment to share with you these scrumptiously decadent dumplings I made for family dinner the other week.
Seester T had requested some type of crab dumplings for her Fam Din menu (more on that soon) so I got to work creating a filling that was truly indulgent and delish.
Since I wanted the crab to shine, I kept the filling quite simple and only supplemented the shellfish with beech mushrooms and cabbage. I did toy around with the idea of adding water chestnuts because I thought the added texture would be nice. But a quick convo with seestrah N had me doubting it.
Good thing too because I did a quick straw poll at dinner where I found out that most of my fam do not like water chestnuts. Who knew?
I will also say that this is definitely one of the times that I skipped the dirty work and bought pre-shelled lump crab meat. Who the heck wants to be picking through shells to get a pound of pure, luscious crab meat?!?
I definitely didn’t!
But it you’re up for it, more power to ya!
ps. I got mine at Costco. The quality is reliable and the price is reasonable.
Once the filling was made, it was time to assemble. I did a little different fold on these dumplings that made them look like cute little pouches.
I started off with my tried and true pleated method but then coiled the edges around to seal them up.
I was quite happy with how they looked after they steamed up. ❤
I suggest serving them with a generous drizzle of my homemadeSichuan oilbut even a quick dunk in my soy-black vinegar sauce was delish too!
I got some solid feedback from the Fam on these so they’ll definitely be making appearances in the future. Added bonus – since the filling is so simple, they were actually quite easy and quick to make.
Though, I’ve got to give Costco some credit there for knocking out a few hours of manual labor. Thanks Costco!
So with that, dear Friends– Here’s to a wonderful New Year! May yours be filled with health, prosperity, joy and endless Foodventures!
Steamed Crab Dumplings Makes approximately 45-50 dumplings
2 cups finely chopped Napa cabbage
16 ounces cooked lump crab meat
4 ounces white beech mushrooms, chopped
½ tablespoon finely minced garlic
½ tablespoon finely minced ginger
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoons fish sauce sauce (more, if needed)
½ teaspoon black pepper
50 thin dumpling wrappers
serve with: chopped scallions, sesame seeds, Sichuan oil
Place the cabbage in a colander; sprinkle it with about ½ teaspoon salt and let sit over a bowl for 20 minutes. Wrap the cabbage in a cheesecloth or clean kitchen towel. Squeeze out and discard the excess liquid and place the drained cabbage in a clean bowl.
Add in the crab, mushrooms, garlic, ginger, Shaoxing wine, sesame oil, ½ teaspoon salt, fish sauce and pepper. Taste and add more fish sauce if needed.
Begin assembly of the dumplings. Lay one dumpling wrapper on a flat surface. Dip your finger in water and moisten the edge of the wrapper. Place about 1 tablespoon of the filling in the center of the dumpling skin. Pick up the dumpling, fold it 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. Wet one corner of the dumpling and wrap/coil the other end together. Pinch and seal so that it creates an enclosed pouch. Place the dumpling on a baking sheet and continue until all the filling/wrappers have been used.*
To cook, arrange the dumplings in a steamer (lined with cabbage leaves or parchment paper) and steam for 7-8 minutes. Transfer the dumplings to a platter and sprinkle the tops with scallions and toasted sesame seeds. Serve immediately with Sichuan oil or your choice of sauce.
*If you would like to freeze the uncooked dumplings, place the baking sheet directly into freezer for 2-3 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 are frozen, 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 when steaming.
A few months before Kaelani’s birthday, she told her mom that instead of going to Hawai’i for her birthday, she wanted to spend it with cousins/family.
Now that’s fantastic for so many reasons but right off the bat–two thoughts came to mind.
How freaking adorable is that? Baby girl ADORES her big cousins so much that her birthday wish is to spend time with them.
At four years old, she’s such a baller that she’s been able to celebrate her first three birthdays in Hawai’i and this year, she’s like “eh…been there done that.”
Here’s hoping that when she gets older, she’ll still want to bypass the Islands to hang out with us.
Better yet–why don’t we ALL just go to Hawai’i together?! MUCH better plan!
Needless to say, Kaelani’s parents agreed to her request so we coordinated our monthly Family Dinner to coincide with their visit.
When asked what birthday theme she wanted, Kaelani quickly said Moana! Maybe I should also mention that the week prior, she would be having a Frozen theme party with her friends in San Francisco.
Yes, two birthday parties. She knows how to live her BEST 4 year old life!
As for food, she just asked for SPAM Musubi to be on the menu. So if there’s Moana and SPAM, we obviously were going with a Polynesian lens.
They spent the beginning of their visit hanging with Pops and eating all of the deliciousness that So Cal has to offer. It was followed by spending the night at Seestrah T’s place in Fullerton so that Kaelani could spend some QT with Maya and Lucas.
On the day of Fam Din, they headed to Brother’s casa in Diamond Bar to play in the pool and hang out with Luna and Leo.
The rest of us quickly followed and got down to some cookin’!
With an island theme in mind, N made us these festive drinks using “P.O.G.” – P.O.G.-tails!
You can’t have a trip to the islands without downing a few gallons of “P.O.G.” – a blend of passionfruit, orange and guava juices.
She mixed up the fresh juices with some rum, lime juice, mint and rimmed the glasses with Tajin. Delicious!
The kiddos had straight up P.O.G. which is darn tasty in and of itself.
It was about this time that I heard brother tinkering around with his Traeger Smoker. I turned around and found him piling up the grates with chicken wings — yes, please!
After some time in the smoker, he brushed them with a layer of BBQ sauce and let them finish until they turned into these beauties!
I had 2….ok, like 4.
Smoked Chicken Wingsneed to become a regular in my life.
Then Nina was up to bat to prep the birthday girl’s one food request – SPAM Musubi!
Now that is a fantastic rice to seaweed to SPAM ratio! Awesome job, Nina!
Most of the time when you pick them up at places, they put a huge block of rice in the musubi – way too much. These were just right!
Then it was Nini’s turn to shine and she got to work on the last appetizer.
Yes, we had 3 appetizers – we like options.
She made her signature Spicy Tuna Pokeand served them with Seaweed-Rice Crackers and Taro Chips.
There’s something about that crack sauce she whips up that makes this poke so freaking delicious. You really can’t stop shoveling it into your mouth – so dang good.
She really needs to start bottling/selling that crack sauce.
Oh-and then Brother jumped back on the smoker because he had some venison stashed in the freezer that he decided to turn into Smoked Venison Jerky.So I guess technically–that makes it four appetizers???
A monkey found its way into the backyard.
After a quick shower, Kaelani decided to leave her mark on V & L’s kitchen table.
Don’t worry–it was encouraged. In fact, it’s become a fun tradition for folks that visit their place to tag up their table.
Some game was on that night that kept the Dudes glued to the couch for a few hours.
And the prep work continued…..
…while the munchkins decorated bags to keep their loot in.
What loot you ask?
LOOT because there was a filled piñata!
Now, I have to say that I had a moment of mixed feelings on this.
Sure–Kaelani wanted a Moana themed Fam Din and her auntie N got her this piñata to fit the theme.
But when it came time for the kiddos to break open the piñata, I had some serious guilt that they were beating up Moana!!
But hey, at least they used a light sabre to break her open.
Even Seester T felt the need to shed a tear for Moana.
But Kaelani didn’t seem to mind at all and gave AuntieN a BIG hug for her piñata.
And gave some love to Uncle C, too!
At that point, someone reminded us to put a pause on the shenanigans because it was dinnertime.
For the entree, T made Shrimp and Fish Tacos. They were topped with a cabbage slaw, lots of pico de gallo, avocado and smothered in hot sauce.
P made SPAM Fried Rice to go along with the tacos. If we hadn’t eaten so much earlier, I would’ve requested that she top it with crispy fried eggs.
But even I know my limits people.
But then N decided to be really extra and took P’s SPAM Fried Rice…..
….and put it into a pineapple bowl.
I definitely do not like pineapple in my fried rice (or pizza) but I give her an “A” for effort.
We then rolled from our dinner chairs to the couch to digest our food and chat some more.
I’m sure you’re thinking….
DAMN. They sure do like to eat!
And you’re 100% CORRECT! But we also like leftovers, too!
And then someone was ready for her birthday cake.
YES – we were full. But do you want to be the person to tell her wait even longer? Nope-not me!
So we all stood up, did a little jiggle to make room in our bellies and then focused on desserts!
I made Kaelani this Chocolate Moana Cake. It was 3 layers of rich, dense chocolate cake that I covered with vanilla bean swiss meringue buttercream. I decorated the cake with handmade fondant plumerias, white chocolate shells, brown sugar “sand” and of course– the Heart of Te Fiti, also made of fondant.
There was a moment when I considered molding the characters out of fondant as well, but when you’re trying to replicate such recognizable characters, it’s REALLY tough!!! The slightest imperfection can make them look wonky! So in the end, I cheated and ordered a personalized edible topper sheet. It’s really quite neat! The topper is an edible icing sheet that is then printed with food color. It comes on a sheet that you peel away (kind of like a label) and then place on the cake. You do need to let it set for awhile so that it can soften into the buttercream but I was really impressed with the vibrant color.
Our birthday girl really liked it!
And yes, it weighed a gajillion pounds!
After we sang to her and she blew out her candles, it was time to dig in.
A little peek inside….
Here’s K giving me a big hug to say thank you.
I’m such a sucker for this little adorable munchkin.
But we weren’t done yet!
Here’s the situation with swiss meringue buttercream.
It’s personally one of favorite frosting to not only use to decorate cakes/cupcakes with but I also prefer it’s flavor and texture. Since it’s meringue based, it’s really fluffy and can maintain its structure really well.
Which means when I make batches of it, I’m left with TONS of egg yolks…..and I just can’t throw them out!
So I typically will use the leftover yolks to make some type of custard based dessert — and this time, it was Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée.
No complaints from the family because it’s a fan favorite!
Also, if you hold off on torching them, they’ll keep in the fridge for a few days. Then, when you get a hankering, just cover the tops with a layer of sugar and brûlée away!
And let’s not forget about this beast!
Yes, dessert #3
Truthfully, we meant to crack out Shave Ice machine earlier in the day but it totally slipped our minds!
We couldn’t NOT use it that night….it was an Island themed dinner, after all!
So we made a couple of cones that were either topped with a Vietnamese Coffee base or a Blueberry Syrup that Leo helped L make earlier that day.
I can’t believe they’re actually sitting down after all of the sugar we consumed.
But birthday girl was rearing to open up her gifts.
And then somehow this happened.
Luna inherited a violin that one of her cousins was no longer using. She hadn’t started lessons yet but it just so happens that seester N used to play waaaaaaay back in the day! So N gave the kiddos a few instructions for them to play a few chords.
And of course, K wanted to give it a try, too!
Needless to say, youngest munchkin had a BLAST with her family for her birthday.
And for us, whenever we can get all 9 of them together (yes, including the 2 fur babies), our hearts are incredibly filled. ❤
Here’s a little video if you want to see the real chaos behind the scenes!
T and her clan had an adventurous getaway to Costa Rica where they zip-lined through the jungles, went on night hikes, encountered monkeys and sloths, stayed in tree houses, frolicked on beaches and indulged in wonderful meals. As I was stalking their vacay via IG, I saw that they kept hashtagging their photos with the “Pura Vida” phrase. Although it translates to “pure life”, I’m told that it’s a indicative Costa Rican phrase that can mean anything from “this is living”, “carefree life” and also as salutations.
Needless to say, they were still buzzing with the “pura vida” bug when they came home and convinced us to take a Costa Rican spin with our Family Dinner menu. The rest of us had never been but we were game to give it a spin!
And it all started with Cocktail Hour!
Inspired by a cocktail T had on vacay, she mixed cilantro-cucumber infused vodka with ginger simple syrup, lime juice and ginger beer. It was delish! Really bright and unexpected – something akin to a mix of a Mojito meets Moscow Mule.
She couldn’t remember the name of it so I’m just going to call it the Pura Vida Cocktail for now.
Seems appropriate, right?
2 BILs and Brother……
Or as I refer to them–the Dudes!
And then we looked over and saw Nina like this.
Which meant one thing…we needed to get going on the appetizers or the munchkins would all become hypoglycemic and either pass out or get super grumptastic.
And that, Friends, is NEVER a pretty picture.
N took the lead on the first appetizer – her take on Chorizo Empanadas.
She’s made variations of empanadas before but what made these different than her previous versions was that the filling also included cubed potatoes and boiled eggs.
They were so bomb!
Instead of a masa dough, she used puff pastry so the exterior was so buttery and flaky while the filling was rich and deeply spiced. And of course, we had to have some chimichurri sauce to dunk them in.
Actually, I’m pretty much a sucker for savory hand pies from ALL cultures.
Portable, savory deliciousness.
Nini and C agree!
While in Costa Rica, T said the ceviche dishes were some of her favorite bites. One day, R and Lucas even went deep sea fishing and caught a sailfish, dorado and a yellowfin tuna. They brought their haul back to the hotel restaurant where the kitchen fixed them up a feast that included mahi mahi ceviche.
dorado = mahi mahi
With that still fresh on her mind, T decided to whip up a big ol’ bowl of bright Ceviche and served them with Tortilla Chips.
It wasn’t just pretty—it was scrump-diddly-dumptious!
Puggle cuddle break!
Oh…and we all fight over this egg chair…..it’s the best.
Nina is awake!
Told ya she needed food.
It was around this time that Brother started prep on his and L’s dish.
I should’ve snapped a pic once he finished mincing the garlic because V is quite meticulous (like Nini!) with his prep and his knife cuts are super consistent.
And here’s L rockin’ out with the black bass!
V and L went B-I-G for the entree and decided to make a version of pescado frito entero – whole fried fish.
After she seasoned the bass, L put them in a cornmeal-flour dredge……
……before gently placing them in a vat of hot oil to deep fry!
You can see why we opted to cook the fish dish outside, right? I’m sure our neighbors just adored us that day.
Then L got to work on the decadent “sauce” to top the fish with — whole shrimp with a SHIZZ TON of garlic, butter and scallions!
She also finished it off with a quick flambe of dark rum but for some reason my dang site is having issues uploading the video I took of it.
After the shrimp were sufficiently flambeed, she topped it over the crispy bass.
To accompany the fish, T made a big dish of Gallo Pinto – Costa Rican Rice and Beans. It was a great way to soak up all the buttery-garlicky goodness from the fish and shrimp, too!
Then things got a little crazy.
I’m telling ya, N is living her best life, I mean– pura vida, these days!
These cuties just sit back sometimes and watch how silly the adults can get.
After the shenanigans settled down and the dishes were cleared, we dug into dessert.
I made Tres Leche – a three-types of milk cake. Now, I won’t say that this is an authentic Costa Rican dessert since there are many claims that its origins are from Mexico. But versions of Tres Leche can be found all over Latin America, so I just went with it.
The photo below is terrible but luckily it tasted great – despite my worries while it baked! Seester’s oven needs some TLC and can be erratic at times with its temperature so I was stressing while it was in the oven. But I guess that’s where Tres Leche can be a bit forgiving since you soak the sponge with a sugary-milk mixture until it just can’t take in anymore. I used this recipe and was pleased with the flavor.
By the end of the night, I felt that we successfully caught glimpses of the food vibes that T and her fam experienced during their time in Costa Rica. And I SURE as heck want to go there to experience it for myself too!
I don’t know how it happened….she sure as heck didn’t clear it with me!
But here we are. The once little chubby and mischievous baby girl is no longer a baby.
Of course our hearts are filled to see what a wonderful young being she has grown into.
But when you were in the room where she took her first breath in this world – it can get really emotional for this Auntie!
Not to mention for her Dad and Uncles, too!
(Sneaky, little photobomber Luna is just pumped to be celebrating her cousie’s bday)
Signs of Nina having a foodie knack emerged very early on.
I like to say that it’s partially due to her genes and partially because Mom and Dad took care of her every weekday until she was two. So you know that they were sneaking her all kinds of fantastic goodies all day long.
It was no surprise that when we asked her what she’d like to have on the menu for her birthday Fam Din, she didn’t hesitate to say: Prime Rib, Garlic Knots, Broccolini and Chocolate Raspberry Tart.
All of her faves.
Hey-we weren’t going to argue because those were some great choices!
The only thing she didn’t have an opinion on was the appetizers.
V and L opted to go the “surf” route to pair with the “turf” entree.
They whipped up these beautiful Brown Butter Seared Scallops.
Maya spent a little QT with her cousie Leo before she jumped into the kitchen to help with some prep.
While the prime rib roasted, the girls assisted T with fixing up the horseradish cream sauce – a MUST have accompaniment to the main course.
And then the roast was pulled out of the oven to rest.
The birthday girl could barely contain her excitement.
Yup. It’s bigger than her head!
After the resting time was up, T began to carve up the gorgeous roast.
A FANTASTIC cook!
Great job, Seestrah!
Per the bday gal’s request, V and L prepared Garlic Roasted Broccolini.
So garlicky delicious.
I was tasked to make the Cheesy Garlic Knots – which was fine by me because they’re easy to make and oh-so cheesily delicious.
It starts with my basic pizza dough, cut into portions and rolled into ropes. After the dough ropes were flattened, they’re filled with minced garlic, mozzarella cheese and a sprinkle of garlic salt. They’re then rolled up, slightly knotted and brushed with melted garlic butter (butter infused with minced garlic and dried Italian seasonings) before a quick bake in the oven. Once out of the oven, I brushed the knots with more garlic butter and sprinkled them grated parmesan and chopped parsley.
I served them with two choices of dipping sauces – marinara and ranch dressing. Winning, right?
Why don’t I make these more often???
Scrumptious choices, Nina, scrumptious choices!
By the way, a few days later I made a little “slider” out of a leftover Garlic Cheesy Knot and Prime Rib….I was making some GREAT choices that day.
And then it was time for Nina to blow out her candles on her birthday dessert.
Nina chose my Chocolate Raspberry Tartthat has now become a staple in the family. Actually, Seester N makes it regularly that it’s pretty much become her recipe.
The crust is a buttery-shortbread –and the filling is like a thin truffle layer. The raspberries bring a nice tartness to the decadent chocolate.
Leonidas needed in on the love and wanted to give his big couise a birthday hug.
And that was a wrap to Nina’s Birthday Fam Din! It was a delicious way to celebrate our dazzling niece. ❤