Sunday Family Dinner

Kaelani’s Moana Inspired Birthday Fam Din!

October 2018 Fam Din
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.

October 2018 Fam Din

How freaking adorable is that? Baby girl ADORES her big cousins so much that her birthday wish is to spend time with them.

October 2018 Fam Din
And Two…

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.”

October 2018 Fam Din
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!

October 2018 Fam Din
Needless to say, Kaelani’s parents agreed to her request so we coordinated our monthly Family Dinner to coincide with their visit.

October 2018 Fam Din
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!

October 2018 Fam Din
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.

October 2018 Fam Din
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.

October 2018 Fam Din
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.

October 2018 Fam Din

The rest of us quickly followed and got down to some cookin’!

October 2018 Fam Din
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.

October 2018 Fam Din
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.

October 2018 Fam Din
Seestrahs! ❤

October 2018 Fam Din
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!

October 2018 Fam Din
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!

October 2018 Fam Din
I had 2….ok, like 4.

Smoked Chicken Wings need to become a regular in my life.

October 2018 Fam Din
Then Nina was up to bat to prep the birthday girl’s one food request – SPAM Musubi!

October 2018 Fam Din
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!


October 2018 Fam Din
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.

October 2018 Fam Din
She made her signature Spicy Tuna Poke and 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.

October 2018 Fam Din
She really needs to start bottling/selling that crack sauce.

October 2018 Fam Din

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???

October 2018 Fam Din
Oh look!

A monkey found its way into the backyard.

October 2018 Fam Din
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.

October 2018 Fam Din

Some game was on that night that kept the Dudes glued to the couch for a few hours.

October 2018 Fam Din
And the prep work continued…..

October 2018 Fam Din

…while the munchkins decorated bags to keep their loot in.

What loot you ask?

October 2018 Fam Din
LOOT because there was a filled piñata!

Now, I have to say that I had a moment of mixed feelings on this.

October 2018 Fam Din

Sure–Kaelani wanted a Moana themed Fam Din and her auntie N got her this piñata to fit the theme.

October 2018 Fam Din
But when it came time for the kiddos to break open the piñata, I had some serious guilt that they were beating up Moana!!

October 2018 Fam Din
But hey, at least they used a light sabre to break her open.

October 2018 Fam Din
Even Seester T felt the need to shed a tear for Moana.

October 2018 Fam Din
But Kaelani didn’t seem to mind at all and gave Auntie N a BIG hug for her piñata.

October 2018 Fam Din
And gave some love to Uncle C, too!

October 2018 Fam Din

At that point, someone reminded us to put a pause on the shenanigans because it was dinnertime.

October 2018 Fam Din


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.


October 2018 Fam Din
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.

October 2018 Fam Din
But then N decided to be really extra and took P’s SPAM Fried Rice…..

October 2018 Fam Din
….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.

October 2018 Fam Din

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!

October 2018 Fam Din
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.

October 2018 Fam Din
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.

October 2018 Fam Din
Our birthday girl really liked it!

October 2018 Fam Din
And yes, it weighed a gajillion pounds!

After we sang to her and she blew out her candles, it was time to dig in.

October 2018 Fam Din

A little peek inside….

October 2018 Fam Din
Here’s K giving me a big hug to say thank you.

October 2018 Fam Din
I’m such a sucker for this little adorable munchkin.

October 2018 Fam Din
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.

October 2018 Fam Din
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.

October 2018 Fam Din
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!

October 2018 Fam Din

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.

October 2018 Fam Din
But birthday girl was rearing to open up her gifts.

October 2018 Fam Din
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.

October 2018 Fam Din
And of course, K wanted to give it a try, too!

October 2018 Fam Din
Needless to say, youngest munchkin had a BLAST with her family for her birthday.

October 2018 Fam Din

And for us, whenever we can get all 9 of them together (yes, including the 2 fur babies), our hearts are incredibly filled. ❤

October 2018 Fam Din
Here’s a little video if you want to see the real chaos behind the scenes!



This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: POGtail, Various Wines and Beers
Appetizers: Spicy Tuna Poke, SPAM Musubi, Smoked Chicken Wings, Smoked Venison Jerky
Entree: Fish and Shrimp Tacos
Sides: SPAM Fried Rice
Moana Chocolate Cake, Shave Ice, Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée


Matcha Chocolate Pocky Cake

August 2015 Family Dinner

It’s Friday gang….so let’s get down with some CAKE!!!

Cake! Cake! Cake! Cake!

Since I posted a pic of this beauty I made for my beauty of a niece, I’ve been getting lots of love (THANK YOU!) and questions about what went into the cake.

So let me break it down for you…

August 2015 Family Dinner

There was a TON of matcha powder….

LOTS of chocolate….

A gleeful amount of butter and sugar……

And three pinches of fairy dust.

Because if you’re not baking with fairy dust, then you’re doing something wrong.

August 2015 Family Dinner

Our Nina loves chocolate and matcha so when it came time to think of a birthday cake for her, I remembered a picture I saw on Pinterest a while back that had a cake adorned with Matcha Pocky Sticks. It was so flipping cute and had her name all over it.

I got down to business. It’s rather impressive in its presentation and surprisingly, not too hard to make. But there are a lot of stages involved—totally worth it in my opinion.

August 2015 Family Dinner

To begin, I turned to my girl Ina Garten and her incredible chocolate cake recipe. Actually she gives credit to “Beatty“…. who is Beatty again? She’s a saint as far as I’m concerned….a Cake Saint {insert sounds of angels singing}.

Seriously, this is THE chocolate cake recipe. We make this all of the time and not only is it near foolproof but it is always a hit whenever we serve it. It’s rich in chocolate flavor (because the hot coffee intensifies the cocoa powder) and wonderfully moist (because of the buttermilk and it’s an oil based batter). Layered cakes, cupcakes, sheet cake—look no further for a base chocolate cake….I’m not exaggerating this time guys.

Pinky swear.

If you’ve never made this cake before (drop EVERYTHING and bake it now!), don’t be concerned if the batter looks really runny before baking. It will come together.

Trust Ina. And Beatty.

August 2015 Family Dinner

I initially had planned to just use buttercream in between the cake layers. But then I thought, why stop there? Let’s add MORE matcha flavor to party!

I ended up making an airy matcha mousse to fill the layers with. The mousse was inspired by the Matcha Cake my seester N made for her hubby’s birthday last year. He, too, loves green tea. Yep, my niece Nina (and her seester Nini) get their love of matcha from their Pops.

August 2015 Family Dinner

After I filled the layers of cake with the mousse, I refrigerated it for an hour or so to allow everything to set up.

While everything was chilling out in the fridge, I turned my attention to the frosting.

August 2015 Family Dinner

These days, I tend to make Swiss Meringue Buttercream to frost almost all my cakes and cupcakes with. I find that it tastes less sweet (though, don’t get me wrong, there’s a hefty amount of sugar in it) and it’s a more stable product to decorate with.

Sure, it is more laborious than an American Buttercream but so much tastier.

To flavor the buttercream, I used… you guess it—- matcha powder!

August 2015 Family Dinner

After the cake was frosted, it was time to add the Matcha Pocky Sticks!

I used 4 boxes of Pocky Sticks for this 9-inch round cake and ended up with just a few spare sticks that quickly disappeared –care of the hovering munchkins.

August 2015 Family Dinner

Next time I make this cake, I will definitely take my time to ensure that the layers are evenly cut so I have a nicer presentation once sliced. I also got sloppy with the buttercream because I assumed the Pocky Sticks would cover any imperfections—but unfortunately some of it seeped through the sticks.

Moral of the story = My laziness always gets me in the end

August 2015 Family Dinner

But with that said, the fam – particularly the birthday gal, really enjoyed the cake. Chocolate and green tea pair so well together and when combined with a whimsical presentation –you’ll have a winning cake.

Happy Friday Friends!

Matcha Chocolate Pocky Cake
Makes one 9-inch cake


Matcha Mousse:
1 cup chilled heavy cream
2 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon gelatin powder
7 tablespoons warm water, divided
2 heaping tablespoons matcha green tea powder|
1 cup milk

Cake Batter (From Ina Garten) :
1¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
¾ cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
½ cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Matcha Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
5 large egg whites
1½ cups sugar
1½ pounds unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
pinch of salt
1½ heaping tablespoons matcha green tea powder

4 boxes Matcha Pocky Sticks
1 teaspoon matcha powder

Prepare the Matcha Mousse:
Using a stand mixer fitted with the balloon whisk attachment, whip the chilled heavy cream on high until it holds stiff peaks. Cover and place in the refrigerator.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and then set aside. In small bowl, mix the gelatin powder with 4 tablespoons water until dissolved. Dissolve the matcha powder with the remainder of warm water in another small bowl.

Using a small saucepan, heat the milk until it just begins to bubble. While whisking, slowly drizzle the heated milk into the egg mixture until everything has incorporated. Whisk in the liquefied matcha. Place the bowl in a larger bowl that has been filed with ice and water to help chill the contents. Continue stirring the mixture until it cools to room temperature –be careful to not splash any water inside the mixture bowl. Once cooled, take the refrigerated whipped cream and gradually fold it into the matcha custard. Cover the bowl and allow the mousse to refrigerate for a minimum of 6 hours. *This can be done the night before.

Prepare the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Prepare the Buttercream:
Add the egg whites and sugar in a mixer bowl set over a pot of simmering water. The water should not be able to touch the bottom of the bowl. While the bowl sits over the simmering pot, whisk until sugar dissolves and the mixture registers 140 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat, and attach bowl to a mixer.

Using the whisk attachment, whip on medium speed until the meringue becomes thick and can hold medium peaks. This can take about 8-10 minutes and once done, the sides of the bowl should not feel warm at all. Remove the whisk attachment and replace with the paddle.

With the mixer on low, add a few cubes of butter and beat until it has full incorporated. Add in a few more cubes and continue with the process until all the butter has been added and the frosting has become smooth. If it looks slightly curdled, keep mixing—it will come together! Sprinkle in the salt and on low, slowly add in the matcha powder until it becomes fully incorporated.

Cake Assembly:
Using a serrated knife, slice each of the cake layers in half so that you are left with four thin chocolate cake layers. Place one layer of chocolate cake on a serving platter or cake stand. Spread 1/3 of the matcha mousse, evenly, over the layer. Place another layer of cake on top and evenly spread another 1/3 of the matcha mousse over the layer. Place a third chocolate cake layer on top and spread the remaining amount of matcha mousse evenly over the cake. Top with the final chocolate cake layer. Place the cake in the refrigerator for an hour to set.

Once the cake has set, frost the entire cake with the buttercream—covering the top and sides. Place the Pocky Sticks upright, side by side, all around the side of the cake –pressing them gently into the cake to secure. With the remaining matcha powder, dust the top of the cake. Optional: Tie ribbon around the cake. Refrigerate for one last hour before serving.