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

Breakfast/Brunch · Sponsored

Crème Brûlée French Toast – Happy National French Toast Day!

Crème Brûlée French Toast

And what better way to celebrate this fun food day and the holiday season than with this decadent breakfast/brunch treat — Crème Brûlée French Toast!

Crème Brûlée French Toast
For this month, I worked with our friends over at Safest Choice® Eggs to up the ante on the traditional French Toast by mashing it up with one of my favorite desserts—-Crème Brûlée.

It all starts off with a rich custard base of eggs, cream, milk and then it’s flavored with warm spices, vanilla extract, Grand Marnier and fresh orange zest. Day old bread then soaks up the custard overnight so that it gets into every nook and cranny.

In the morning, you throw the dish into the oven until the bread becomes golden brown and puffed.  The final step is a generous sprinkle of sugar over the toast and then it’s quickly brûléed.

Crème Brûlée French Toast
The end result?

When you cut into the top layer of caramelized sugar, you get a wonderfully satisfying crunch and the center is rich and decadent. Personally, I think the brûléed sugar gives the right amount of sweetness but if you want to add a drizzle of maple syrup—go right ahead!

Scrumptious breakfast and a make-ahead wonder!

Head on over to Safest Choice® Eggs  to read my Crème Brûlée French Toast post this month and while you’re at it, click here for the recipe.



Drinks · Sunday Family Dinner

Summer Grilling Family Dinner + Fresh Peach Bellinis

Grilled Lobster with Cilantro Chile Butter

We’ve got a fair amount of July Babies in our family. Though, let’s be honest…with a family as large as ours, there are a lot of babies year round. Big Seester N, Big Seester P, brother-in-law, niece, several cousins, an auntie, an uncle….and that just includes the family in the states!

For July’s Sunday Family Dinner, we celebrated 2 of our July babies—Big Seester N and my brother-in-law R. As for theme? We kept the menu quite straight forward but pretty dang delicious.

Summer Grillin’

And of course, since we were celebrating, there had to be a bit of decadence. In the form of lobsters. Lots of lobsters.

N was totally freaking out Lucasaurus with them.

July 2013 Family Dinner

Seester T staffed the grill for a good portion of our meal which totally amused her hubs, the birthday boy.

July 2013 Family Dinner

Now what’s a Sunday Family Dinner without cocktails? Surely not one of ours!

This month we toasted with Fresh Peach Bellinis. Granted they weren’t grilled but they definitely were a nod to summer using wonderfully sweet, white peaches. After adding a few spoonfuls of fresh white peach puree and a squeeze of lime to champagne flutes, I topped off each glass with bubbly Prosecco.

Simply perfect.

Peach Bellinis

And of course, we had to take our mandatory-monthly Seesters pic while holding our cocktails.


Our menu included:

Grilled Rosemary Flatbread.

Grilled Flat Bread

Grilled Pacific Oysters……..

Grilled Oysters

A few Grilled Ginormous Prawns…….

Grilled Prawns

Rosemary Garlic Lamb Rib Chops……….

Grilled Lamb Chops

and Grilled Lobsters with Cilantro-Chile Butter…….

Grilled Lobster with Cilantro Chile Butter

Did I mention that our kiddos have quite the refined palates?

And I think they’re uber adorable.

July 2013 Family Dinner

For dessert? Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée that my niece, Nina, made. Although technically not made on the grill, she did torch the tops to brûlée it.

Totally counts. 🙂

Creme Brulee

The kiddos also made this adorable sign for the birthday babies—I loved that they used their nicknames!


Not only was the dinner scrumptious but it was fairly low maintenance with at least 80% of the “cooking” done on the grill. The cherry on top? It made clean up a breeze!

Peach Bellinis

And for those who cannot travel to Venice to try the original Bellini at Harry’s Bar, give my version a spin. My Seester said it’s pretty darn close to the real thing 🙂

CHEERS to another memorable Sunday Family Dinner!

This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Peach Bellini
Appetizers: Rosemary Grilled Flatbread, Grilled Oysters, Grilled Prawns
Entrees: Rosemary-Garlic Lamb Rib Chops, Grilled Lobsters with Cilantro-Chile Butter
Dessert: Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee


Fresh Peach Bellinis
Serves 4


2 ripe white peaches, pitted and quartered
1/4 cup water
1-2 tablespoons sugar, optional
4 lime wedges
chilled Prosecco or other sparkling wine

Add the peaches and water into a blender. Depending on the sweetness of the peaches, add sugar as needed. Puree until smooth. Optional: Strain the peach puree through a fine-meshed strainer.

Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the peach puree into each glass. Squeeze the juice of a lime wedge into each glass and slowly top with the chilled Prosecco. Gently stir each glass before serving. Cheers!

Note: The Bellinis shown here are garnished with yellow peaches, however, the cocktails were made with the traditional white peach.


Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée for Leonidas.

Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee



In a Vietnamese family, the Đích Tôn is a position that holds a great deal of honor and duty. He is the eldest grandson by the eldest son and is responsible to not only carry on the family name but also our traditions and history.

And this past December, my parents’ Đích Tôn made his debut in the world– Leonidas Knox Nguyen.



Creme Brulee

Of course, Dad was thrilled beyond belief. And how could he not be? Leo is freaking adorable and such an alert little guy. And those cheeks! I could just squeeze and zerbert them all day!


A month after his arrival, my brother and his fam came from NYC for an extended stay so that we could all meet Leo and spend time with his big sis, Luna. While they were here, V and L held a small gathering with the immediate family in Leo’s honor. It gave the fam an opportunity to give our blessings, best wishes and words of us advice to Leo.

Admittedly, there’s a lot resting on the little guy’s shoulder. But at just 3 months, I can tell he will far exceed anything we could possibly hope for.




Oh! And as for the Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée–I whipped up a few batches for Leo’s gathering. Don’t worry Leo, as soon as those teeth come in, Cô Nam will be stuffing you with goodies. xoxo!


Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée
Serves 6


1 Large Egg
4 Large Egg Yolks
½ Cup Sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for each serving
3 Cups Heavy Cream
2 Vanilla Bean Pods, split lengthwise with beans scraped out
1 Pint Fresh Berries, washed and dried

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the egg, egg yolks, and ½ cup of the sugar together on low speed until just combined. Meanwhile, scald the cream in a small saucepan with the emptied vanilla bean pods and beans until it’s very hot to the touch but not boiled. Remove the vanilla bean pods and with the mixer on low speed, slowly add the cream to the eggs. Pour into 6 to 8-ounce ramekins until almost full.

Place the ramekins in a baking pan and carefully pour boiling water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the custards are set when gently shaken. Remove the custards from the water bath, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate until firm.

To serve, spread 1 tablespoon of sugar evenly on the top of each ramekin and heat with a kitchen blowtorch until the sugar caramelizes evenly. Allow to sit at room temperature for a minute until the caramelized sugar hardens. Serve with fresh berries on top.

Slightly adapted from Ina Garten