Poppies, Wildflowers and a Sweet Show




In my opinion, part of the fun in reading blogs is getting to peak inside (or outside) the world of people you might not normally encounter or get to know. Reading food blogs is especially interesting because it opens you up to culinary ideas and concepts that you might not have considered or perhaps even shunned — like grilling food in the snow (!) or making mayonnaise without killing someone.

I also like seeing food bloggers’ world outside of their kitchen. After drooling over WhiteOnRiceCouple‘s photos, especially those from their recent trip to Antelope Valley and Jen‘s National Geographic-esque portfolio , I’ve found a bit of inspiration to photograph some purty flowers too. Below are photos of poppies off the 15 Frwy in Orange County, California and wildflowers at Joshua Tree National Park.


California Poppies in Orange County

2008 Wildflowers Joshua Tree


In other news, Pierre and I were honored to be included in the 2008 Festifools Photography Show, organized by über cool photographer Myra Klarman. A reception was held last weekend to celebrate the opening of the show. The photographs will be on display at Sweetwaters (Washington Street location) through May.


Sweetwaters Festifool





Phở Gà – Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup


Pho Ga


Second in popularity to Phở Bò (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) is Phở Gà. If you live in Southern California, you might have heard of or dined at Phở shops that make only the chicken version. Perhaps not as rich or unctuous as the beef or oxtail versions, Phở Gà still has all the depth and flavor that comes from combination of natural meat stock, ginger, shallot, and spices like star anise, Vietnamese cassia cinnamon, cloves, and coriander seed. The use of preserved or salted lemon here (as called for in the original recipe) is new for me but it added a fragrant, slightly salty-savory accent. I also used fresh Phở noodles, rather than the dried ones, made by Sincere Orient Food Co. — (it has a photo of the beef noodle soup on the front). I’m sure there are other great brands for fresh Phở noodles but this is the best one I’ve found here in Michigan. At Asian markets like Hua Xing Market in Ypsilanti, you can find it in the refrigerated aisle. Unlike the dried noodles, these do not require pre-soaking in water before cooking.

Phở would not be right without the requisite herbs and garnishes of Thai basil, culantro, bean sprouts, chilies and fresh lime wedges. With the cold snap we’ve had here, a hot, steamy bowl of Phở Gà is more than a welcome treat.


Pho Ga - Viet Rice Noodles



adapted from Quick and Easy Vietnamese Home Cooking for Everyone

INGREDIENTS: (4 servings)

  • 16 oz. (454g) pkg. fresh Phở noodles (bánh phở tươi)
  • 3 quarts of Phở Gà broth:
    • 1 whole chicken (approx. 3.5lbs/1.5 kg)
    • 2 lbs. (1kg) chicken neck/back bones
    • 1/4 cup (60mL) Vietnamese fish sauce (nước mắm)
    • 2 Tbl. (25g) sugar (or 1 small/medium piece of rock sugar)
    • 1 tsp. (5 g) salt
    • 1 stalk of celery
    • 10 whole cloves (đinh hương)
    • 5 whole star anise (hoa hồi)
    • 2 small pieces of Vietnamese cassia (cinnamon) bark(vỏ cây quế)
    • 10 coriander seeds (hột ngò)
    • 1 preserved (salted) lemon
    • 4 shallots and a 2-3inch(5-8cm) piece of fresh ginger, both broiled in the oven until slightly charred on the outside.
    • water
  • Herb and vegetable garnish:
    • cilantro (rau ngò)
    • thai basil (rau quế)
    • culantro aka sawtooth herb (rau ngò gai)
    • bean sprouts
    • fresh lime wedges
    • thai “bird” chilies or Sriracha chili sauce


Pho Ga Ingredients



Prepare the Phở Gà broth about 2-3 hours before serving time. Cover and tie the spices with cheesecloth and add along with the rest of the ingredients for the broth into a stockpot and cover with approximately 4 quarts (~4L) of cold water. With the heat on medium, bring to a boil, skimming any scum that forms at the top. Once it comes to a boil, adjust the heat to low and simmer (covered) for approximately 1 hour. At this point, test the chicken for doneness [the internal temperature should reach 165°F (74°C)] If done, carefully remove the whole chicken from the pot and transfer to a large plate/platter. Tent the chicken with foil. Continue simmering the stock (uncovered) for another 2 hours. Taste the broth and add more salt or sugar if needed.

At serving time, bring the stock to a vigorous boil. At the same time, bring another large pot of water to boil. Divide the noodles into 4 portions and using a mesh strainer, separately boil the noodle portions for approximately 1 minute each. The noodles should be cooked but still “al dente.” Give the noodles a quick “shake” to remove excess water and transfer the noodles to individual bowls.

Using your hands, shred the chicken into small pieces/strips. (Knife-cut chicken gives a less satisfactory mouthfeel for this dish.) Top the noodle-filled bowls with the chicken pieces and ladle the hot broth into each bowl. (You could strain the broth before ladling it into the bowls, but, due to laziness and impatience — I just avoid the bones and vegetables while scooping up the broth.) Serve the Phở Gà bowls with a plate of herb and vegetable garnish and let guests help themselves to whatever combination and quantity they like. Slurping is highly encouraged.

Check out these other posts:

Phở Gà from WanderingChopsticks
Phở Gà from VietworldKitchen
A poem on Phở Gà from Geroi (Vietnamese text)


Bon appétit!


Turkish Yogurt Cake – Yoğurt Tatlisi


Yogurt Cake


The foyer where I stayed during my semester abroad in Angers was run by a group of Franciscan nuns who kept a watchful eye on all the girls who stayed there. While they didn’t enforce a curfew, one of the sisters would be sure to remark about hearing the loud sound of the creaky gate doors during the previous night (or early morning, depending on who you ask – and depending on which girl!) They were a lovely group of women who made simple yet elegant meals everyday. On occasion, they asked me to help them with a few desserts. One of the desserts was a cake made from fromage blanc. It tasted like an airy, lighter and slightly tangier version of American cheesecake. It was fabulous – smooth, creamy and with a hint of lemon. I’ve tried to make it using the fromage blanc that is sold here in the States but the results have been less than moyen.

I came across this recipe for Turkish yogurt cake that calls for using strained yogurt and I thought it might taste similar to the one I made with the sisters. Indeed, it tastes very much like it and perhaps even a bit better. You can use Greek-style strained yogurt (I’m another fan of Fage) or you can easily make your own, as I did. To do that, I strained my homemade yogurt by pouring (about 6 small jars) into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allowed it to drain overnight in the refrigerator. Either way, it’s an easy dessert to make that is fairly low on the carbs but high on the flavah. 🙂


Yogurt Cake



from Claudia Roden’s Arabesque

INGREDIENTS: (6 servings)

  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup (60g) superfine sugar
  • 3 Tbl (40g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 2/3 cups (425g) strained Greek-style yogurt
  • grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon ( I used Meyer lemons)
  • juice of one lemon

Optional Orange Syrup:

  • 2/3 cup (160mL) water
  • 1 1/4 cups (250g) sugar
  • 1 Tbl. (15mL) lemon juice
  • grated zest of one unwaxed orange


Beat the egg yolks with the sugar to a thick, pale cream. Beat in the flour, then the yogurt, lemon zest, and lemon juice until it is thoroughly blended.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold them into the yogurt mixture. Pour this into a round, nonstick baking tin (about 9 inches [22 cm] in diameter), greased with butter. Bake in an oven preheated to 350F° (175 C°) for 50-60 minutes, until the top is brown. It will puff up like a soufflé and then subside.

Turn out onto a serving plate, and serve warm or cold.

If you are making the syrup, boil the water with the sugar, lemon juice, and grated orange zest for 3-5 minutes. Let it cool, then chill in the refrigerator.

Bon appétit!


Weekly Salad 14: Spicy Calamari


Squid salad


Do you think I ate that all of that Nutella Bread Pudding? I can tell you with a clean conscience that I did not. I enjoyed my generous serving and the rest went into the metabolic abyss that is Pierre’s stomach.

Wandering Chopsticks outed my inconsistency and indeed, it seems wrong to post a diet salad one day and then proceed with a gazillion calorie-laden and thigh-enlarging bread pudding the next. But the key word is Moderation – a word that rises and falls in its efficacy around here but one that I subscribe to nevertheless.

I do make and eat a lot of Vietnamese and various other salads regularly. I also exercise [fairly] regularly. Still, I’m no willowy twig. I eat chocolate and butter and cream and whatever else I like on occasion but I try to be conscious of the amount and to not over-eat. While my weight may fluctuate somewhat at times, I am committed to eating right most days – well, except on Sundays and on any ethnic holiday 😉

These salads keep me *in check* and they manage to delight me as well.



INGREDIENTS: (2 main dish servings)

  • 1 lb (500 g) cleaned small squid (calamari), tentacles left whole and body cut into 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) rings, drained and patted dry
  • 1/2 large english cucumber, de-seeded and cut into thin, 2-inch (5cm) julienned strips
  • 1 medium sized red bell pepper, de-seeded and cut into thin, 2-inch (5cm) julienned strips
  • cilantro
  • white sesame seeds,for garnish
  • 1.5 Tbl of Spicy Sauce/Dressing
  • cooking oil


Add oil to your wok or skillet and turn the heat to high. Quickly fry and sear the calamari for about 45 seconds (not more than a minute). Remove from heat and toss with the rest of the ingredients.

Next, pat yourself on the back for getting a healthy, tasty meal together in such little time.

Serve immediately.

Bon appétit!


Nutella Bread Pudding


Nutella Bread Pudding


Bread pudding is one of those homey, comforting desserts I did not eat growing up. When I finally tried it, it was one of those Where Have I Been moments. It tasted so sublime; I still remember biting into warm, billowy and soft bread coated with custard that was just set and dotted with raisins. Brilliant! The idea of not wasting food by taking stale bread and turning it into something this good is hard for me to resist.

This recipe comes from Alice Medrich’s latest book, Pure Dessert. I’ve lost track of the number of recipes I want to try from this beautiful book – like flan with raw sugar sauce, bittersweet chocolate and citrus tart with jasmine cream, walnut sponge cake, etc., but since I had some leftover pain de mie, this seemed as good a time as any to make her Nutella Bread Pudding.

Bread. Chocolate. Custard.

That’s all I have to say.



Nutella + Custard


from Pure Dessert


  • Enough 1/4 inch (.6cm) –[I used 1/2 inch (1.5cm)] slices of home-style or bakery white bread or baguette, with or without the crusts, to cover the bottom of an 8-inch (20cm) square (I used an 8-inch round) baking dish, not too tightly, with 2 layers of bread
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup (64g-75g) of Nutella – I actually used about 2/3 cup (150g) – life is short, ya know
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (112g) sugar
  • Scant 1/8 tsp. (1g) salt
  • 1 1/4 cups (300 mL) milk
  • 1 1/4 cups (300 mL) heavy cream


Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325F (160C). Put the bread in the bottom of the baking dish to make sure you have sliced enough to make two layers.

Remove the bread from the dish. If the bread is fresh, lay slices on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes on each side, or until very lightly toasted. Let the slices cool. Spread one side of each slice of bread with Nutella. Cut or break large whole slices (not baguette slices) into 4 pieces each. Arrange the bread, nutella side facing up, in the baking dish in one layer of overlapping pieces, with rounded crusts or trimmed angles showing attractively.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, and salt together. Gradually whisk in the milk and cream. Pour the egg mixture through a strainer into the baking dish. Cover the pudding with plastic wrap and press any floating bread pieces back into the egg mixture. Let stand for at least 15 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the liquid. Preheat the oven to 325F (160C). Put a kettle of water on to boil.

Uncover the pudding and place it in a baking pan large enough to hold it with a little space on all sides, and then into the oven. Pull the oven rack out and carefully pour enough boiling water into the large pan to come halfway u p the sides of the baking dish. Bake until a knife inserted into the pudding comes out free of custard (or with a little Nutella clinging to it), 50-55 minutes. Cool for at least 1 hour.

At serving time, I garnished each slice with thin strips of candied orange peel that I stole received from Warda 🙂 Merci bc!


nutella bread pudding with cafe creme


Bon appétit!



Weekly Salad 13: Gỏi Dưa Leo – Vietnamese Cucumber Salad with Shrimp and Pork…and Some Foolishness


Vietnamese Cucumber Salad


I mentioned a few times before how special Gỏi is and how different it is than salad here and here. This particular dish has a rather special place in my heart because I once lost some seriously chubby, Asian poundage eating it every week for about 6 months [insert legal disclaimer] as part of a healthy, balanced diet that included plenty of exercise.

Many people, particularly women, gain the notorious Freshman 15 in college. For me, it was more like Freshman 30+. When you’re not even 5 feet tall, that ain’t right, man. Of course, it didn’t help that Asian people (like my parents and their friends) are blunt, careless jerks who will not hesitate to say, “Wow – you so fat and ugly! What da hell happen?”

After many failed attempts at low-carbing, de-toxing, Atkins, etc., I realized that white people’s diets were not going to work for me. I looked at my mom and my cousins and saw that they kept their trim figures by eating healthy, Vietnamese food and by getting out and moving about everyday. They didn’t deprive themselves of food they liked but they understood and practiced portion control and moderation. Another thing they didn’t have was a guilt complex with food. If they had a high calorie or fatty snack/meal, they would enjoy it and balance it with other healthy food and exercise.

I started to eat Vietnamese food again, particularly Vietnamese salad (Gỏi ) – on a regular basis. This proved to be a wise choice as Gỏi can be so varied and interesting; thus I did and have not become bored with eating the same ol’ nappy salad for lunch/dinner — I didn’t *fall off the wagon*. Coupled with regular exercise, I lost almost 30 of those crazy pounds (okay, that number’s fudged a bit since last Thanksgiving, but hey…)




INGREDIENTS (2-4 servings):

  • 2 large English cucumbers (approx. 2.2 lbs/1 kg), cut into very thin *half moons*
  • 1 Tbl. salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 lb. (225g) pork shoulder, poached and then cut into thin strips (the size of matchsticks)
  • 1/2 lb. (225g) shrimp (I use the 31/40 size), poached with their shells on and then peeled once cooked
  • 1 large carrot, finely grated
  • large handful of peanuts, roasted and crushed
  • 1 Tbl. freshly toasted white sesame seeds
  • large handful of Vietnamese coriander (rau răm), stems removed


  • 2 red chilies (Thai bird)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • juice of 1 large lime
  • 2 Tbl. sugar (+ more to taste)
  • 2 Tbl. fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup water


Make your dressing by smashing the chilies and garlic in a mortar and pestle. Add the sugar, lime, fish sauce and water. Mix thoroughly to dissolve all the sugar. Taste and add more sugar/fish sauce/lime according to your preference. Set aside.

Using a sharp knife, cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise or and if you have a Japanese Mandoline, use that to then slice it into thin half moons. Add them to a large bowl and toss with the salt and sugar. Allow to sit for at least 1/2 an hour. The salt will cause the cucumbers to weep their water.

Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the ingredients – the pork, shrimp, carrot and garnishes (peanuts, sesame seeds and herbs). Drain the cucumbers and rinse well with water. Next, take a handful of the cucumbers and squeeze and ring out as much liquid as you can. (A potato ricer will also do a nice job of this step.) Mix all the drained and squeezed cucumbers with carrot, pork, shrimp and herbs. Right before serving, toss with the dressing and garnish with the sesame seeds and peanuts. (Preparing the cucumbers this way wilts them but I find them a nice textural contrast to the crisp carrots and tender pork and shrimp and crunchy peanuts.)

Bon appétit!


I want to leave you with a few photos I took on Sunday in downtown Ann Arbor where the 2008 Festifools took place. FestiFools brings students and community volunteers together to create unique public art (mostly large, papier mâché ) that is free and accessible to everyone. It was a glorious day with blue skies and warm weather. You can also view some fabulous photos from the festival’s official photographer, Myra Klarman, here.


Fesifools 2


Pandanus Crème Brûlée – Kem Nướng Lá Dứa




Ah, crème brûlée, I remember you well. I first tasted you on a big-girl date wearing big-girl heels and blue eye shadow. We were so young (and so regrettably unfashionable) then, weren’t we? And now, that boyfriend-turned-psycho is but a distant memory and I’m no longer a size 2, yet and yet, you’re still with me, after all this time. How nice of you…

You know, I’m a self-professed vanilla custard purist. I don’t go for the lemongrass/thyme/verbeena/yuzu/sha la la la/sha la la la- infusions. I want plain, vanilla bean custard – c’est tout. But, for no apparent reason, I bucked all that and made crème brûlée with one of my favorite flavorings – pandanus (Lá Dứa.)




Pandanus is a fragrant, green leaf, sometimes referred to as Asian vanilla because of its sweet, earthy perfume. Vietnamese recipes call for steeping the leaves in coconut milk, soy milk, silken tofu or sticky rice for various dessert dishes. It can also be used in savory dishes where it is steamed with jasmine or basmati rice or as a wrapper for fish, seafood or meat. I don’t know how to best describe its flavor and perfume but I know it’s one of my favorite scents. (If, by chance, anyone has the Dior or Chanel hookup, a pandanus-scented perfume would be really awesome.)

I’m very, very pleased with the flavor of this dessert and my heretical leap. The pandanus flavor was not too strong or overpowering as I was fearing but just enough to make me want to hair spray my bangs and wear a cropped, pink tank top all over again. It’s that good.





adapted from Donna Hay’s Modern Classics Book 2

INGREDIENTS (6 servings):

  • 4 cups (1 L) cream [I used Calders]
  • 7 pandanus leaves (if fresh is not available, you can find these in the freezer — oftentimes near the frozen banana leaves at many Asian grocery stores) — tied into a knot.
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup (225 g) superfine sugar
  • 1/4 cup (112 g) superfine sugar (for the topping)


Preheat the oven to 300F (150C). Place the cream and pandanus leaf bundle in a saucepan over low heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Set aside for 20 minutes.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until well combined. Slowly pour over the cream mixture to the saucepan and stir over medium low heat for 6-8 minutes or until thick enough to coat the pack of a spoon. Remove the pandanus leaves and strain the mixture into 6 x 3/4 cup (each 6 fl. oz/185ml) capacity ramekins. Place the ramekins in a baking dish and pour in enough hot water to come up halfway up the side of the ramekins. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the custard is set. [You can test by gently wiggling the ramekin – the outer edge should be almost set and the center should jiggle like Jell-O]

Place the ramekins on a baking tray, sprinkle with the extra sugar and allow to stand for 2 minutes. Place ice cubes in the tray around the ramekins, place under a preheated broiler and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the sugar is melted and golden.

Check out these blog posts:

Crème brûlée with Jen’s amazing step-by-step photos at Use Real Butter

Crème brûlée from Nordljus

Crème brûlée from WhatsForLunchHoney

Bon appétit!



Weekly Salad 12: Escarole and Boudin Blanc




Escarole is one of my favorite greens. I like the pale, yellow center leaves that are surrounded by lush green outer leaves. I’m not sure why, but it seems escarole does not enjoy quite the same popularity here in the States as in Europe. There, it makes its way to the table in numerous ways. You can often find it tossed into salads with other slightly bitter greens like endive, frisée and radicchio; gently braised with butter or olive oil; or cooked with beans in a soup, both allowing its slight bitterness to mellow out. And so, you’re left with a delicate green that has the sweetness of ice berg lettuce but the texture of young napa cabbage.
    To make this salad, pan-sear and cook the boudin blanc (I used German weisswurst – a similar type of sausage from Alexander Hornung). Slice the sausage and toss with escarole and toasted pine nuts. Serve with a red wine vinaigrette that is heavy on dijon mustard.


    Bon appétit!