from this to that

i was growing restless with fish. so the thought of having to be creative and figure out what to do with fish again was kind of daunting. i looked in my freezer and saw that there was salmon. i was inspired after curing it at work and so i decided to do it at home. i started by toasting fennel seeds and black peppercorn to infuse the fish. it was nicely and tightly wrapped in seran sheet and sat for two days. after, i unwrapped and washed the salt and other spices off then sliced it into thin strips. what did i have with it? a spring mix and avocado salad.

because we eat a lot of fish at home, i usually divide the fish into smaller pieces to have multiple portions for dinner so i would suggest you keep the salmon as one big fillet if you’re going to attempt curing it. it’ll be easier to slice later.

  • 1 T fennel seeds – toasted
  • 1 T black peppercorn – toasted
  • salmon – i had about 12 one oz pieces
  • kosher salt

toast the fennel seeds and black peppercorn for a few minutes. on a flat surface, place a piece of seran wrap on top then the salmon on the sheet. salt very very generously, more so than you think. after the seeds have cooled, sprinkle them on top of the fish. wrap tightly around the fish and place in the fridge for 48 hours. when ready to serve, remove the wrapping and run it under water to get rid of the salt and spices. slice thinly and serve over anything, really.



  • handful of spring mix in a bowl
  • one avocado – sliced
  • salmon


  • olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • black pepper

i opted for no salt for the dressing since the salmon is plenty salted.


happy eating!



patty cake, patty cake

we eat a lot of fish at home since fox doesn’t eat meat, but sometimes when i’m in an uncreative mood it’s really hard to come up with something exciting for the both of us to eat. i was getting so tired of pan-frying, braising, etc, i was running out of ways to make a fish dish. fox loves tilapia, while i think it is so incredibly boring. i decided to make a fish cake, or in vietnamese, chả cá. since i had tilapia, i didn’t bother to go searching for other white fish fillets. it did the job, it was “new” and exciting. you can use it in soup, eat it with rice, or in our case eat it straight off the frying pan. if you don’t have tilapia, don’t fret. use cod, halibut or any other firm white fish, it’ll yield the same result.

  • 1 lb tilapia
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 1/2 t fish sauce to taste
  • 1/2 t salt to taste
  • scallion – white part only, about 2 stems
  • 1 T of sugar
  • 1 T tapioca flour
  • 1/4 t baking powder
  • black peppercorn (optional)

in a food processor, place all ingredients except the black peppercorn (if you’re including it) and let it process until a firm paste. remove from the bowl, if you’re including the black peppercorn, mix well. grease your hand with a little bit of vegetable oil to mix and knead the paste together. flatten the paste into cake form.

on a frying pan, heat some oil and fry the fish cake until golden brown on both sides.


happy eating!


summer is here…?

while it hasn’t been a harsh winter, at least where i am anyway, i still think it is overstaying its welcome. it is probably because of the inconsistency in temperature. in the middle of winter, we had a series of abnormally warmer days where the temperature rose up to nearly 60 degrees. it was nice, but weird and now it is lingering…FOREVER! i feel bad for the flowers that are waiting to bloom at the right time, but they’re being tricked by warm days. the poor daffodils bloomed then wilted then bloomed then wilted. hopefully they will remain in bloom for a long time.  over the weekend, i switched out my clothes. putting my winter jackets to rest and bringing out my lighter clothes.  i was determined.  the weather was so nice, i hope it doesn’t revert back because as i think it’s warmer out, it’s actually cold making me doubt how i should dress to greet the outside world.  but now summer seems to have arrived.  it was mid-80s and today will be in the 90s.  what the heck is going on?

well, whatever the temperature is outside, it is always bright in my kitchen with this easy peasy salad.  the combination of flavors is like a burst of sunshine.  it is completely and utterly effortless.

  • half a bulb of fennel – very thinly sliced
  • one navel orange – peeled and halved
  • pecorino cheese (optional) – sliced


  • olive oil
  • lemon
  • salt & black pepper

combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk well.  then drizzle over the salad until it kisses the salad lightly.  you definitely don’t want to douse your salad.  there is nothing like a soggy salad. blech.


happy eating!


practicing handwriting

a few days ago, i was on the phone with my friend expressing my frustration with technology, we have somehow forgotten what it feels like to receive a handwritten note in our mailbox. can you remember the last time you received something personal in the mail besides junk, things you ordered, or bills? for me it was nearly seven years ago. since email has consumed us, it is all we ever get…everyday. it was as if the mailman heard my call, i received a notecard from a friend whom i used to work with. he shared the same view. in his note, he said that letter writing is lost and we should reclaim it. and he’s right, we should reclaim it! it was lovely to see ink on paper. i wonder if they even teach handwriting in school anymore or is it all typing in front of the sterile computer day after day? while i appreciate technology, i still think these traditions should not be lost but should be enforced like the old days. personally, i feel like technology has made us so cold. birthday texts and facebook messages have replaced birthday phone calls. it’s sad, really.

clearly i’ve not written in a while. so this recipe is very late and much overdue. i braised some chicken a while back.

  • chicken – thighs or legs or both
  • 2 t – roughly chopped ginger
  • 2 t – rough chopped garlic
  • 1 shallot – chopped
  • fish sauce
  • soy sauce
  • 1 t – palm sugar
  • 3 C chicken broth
  • 1 full head of chinese cabbage
  • black pepper
  • cayenne pepper (optional)

in a deep casserole pan, pan fry the chicken until brown on all sides. remove from pan and set aside.

in the same pan, sauté garlic, ginger and shallots for a few minutes until slightly brown then add in the cabbage. sweat until slightly wilted. then add in seasoning and chicken. wedge the chicken in between the cabbage before adding chicken broth. once the broth is added, cover and let sit over low to medium heat.


happy eating!


snakey snake snake

chúc mừng năm mới! i hope your new year brings you lots of joy, prosperity, and happiness!

this past weekend was the lunar new year, with new year’s eve being on saturday and the first on sunday.  it is a time filled with festivities and food.  even though i have lived in the states for nearly 20 years, i still felt homesick and wished that i could be there during this time of year.  it really is the best.  i remember putting on a new outfit for a family photo in downtown saigon filled with blooming spring flowers and cherry blossoms.  my dad looking awkwardly in our family picture, every single year.  my mama with a soft smile while i’m cheesing like you wouldn’t believe.  it was magical being a kid.  then i was showered with money stuffed in the little red envelope from aunts, uncles, and grandmas after i wished them all the prosperity in the world.  the money went straight into my piggy bank which would be shattered the following year while the one from the previous year would be broken and i would count how much i had saved up throughout the year.  i felt rich, oh so rich for a kid! what wonderful times.

since moving to the states, we haven’t really celebrated the way we did back home.  it’s sad that traditions fall short when work consumes your daily life.  my parents stopped making a big deal about tết so therefore no festivities are celebrated.  however, i was determined to do it this year.  it was very last minute.  i tried to convince them to go along but they were very hesitant  and making up lame excuses that they were tired.  so? was my response to their tired reason.  i took on the task of making food, of running my mom around to do shopping, and to host.  i really didn’t mind.  while it felt hectic, i basked in its glory, it made me feel happy inside especially after such a lousy week at work (and lousy is a nice way of putting it) i had something to look forward to at the end of the week.

my mom worked as a hairdresser in vietnam and all of her clients absolutely adored her.  during this time of year people went to get their hair done up to mark the special occasion so she often had to work very late a few days leading up to new year’s.  i waited up for her each night because she would take me to the markets to shop for food, fruits, new outfits, and other things that would make the season bright.  the streets were literally filled with vendors who came to saigon from the countryside to sell their goods, each house hung a long string of firecrackers (it’s a shame they banned them now), baskets upon baskets of fruits, special new year’s treats,  it was absolutely spectacular.  she would use the money she earned from fixing up people’s hair to fill our house with these special things.  our house was small but it definitely never felt like that.

i began making spring rolls on wednesday out of sheer excitement and plus with so much to do, you could never be too prepared.  i froze them to be ready on saturday.  my folks invited some of their friends over so i made a lotus stem and carrot salad which vietnamese people called gỏi, bún (vermicelli noodles) thịt (meat) gà (chicken) nướng (grilled) with chả giò (spring rolls).  i had marinated the chicken in garlic, soy and fish sauce, and palm sugar overnight then i broiled them at 400* in the oven.  the meat was juicy and flavorful.  it was served with spring rolls and herbs, bean sprouts and lettuce seasoned with fish dipping sauce.  we also had bánh chưng (glutinous rice cake with mung bean and pork filling wrapped in banana leaves, but there’s also the vegetarian alternative), bánh tét (another variation of glutinous rice cake but this one is often sweetened) , other vietnamese goodies that are eaten around this time of year.  i really wanted to create it as closely to home as i could.  it did the trick.  i was happy…


happy eating!


bite size spring rolls

spring rolls are one of vietnamese people’s most popular foods. you’ll almost always see spring rolls at a vietnamese gathering. every household has their own variations. when ba makes them, he adds carrots because he likes the crunch when biting into them.  others use taro roots which blends nicely with the meat.  ba’s seasoning is nice but his rolls are often bigger than my liking so when i make them, i usually cut the spring roll paper in half, making them half the size.  i prefer them this way because that means i can eat more without feeling overly stuffed or overwhelmed.

when my aussie cousins were here back in october visiting, he taught me a trick which i am now adopting into my repertoire.  his ma-in-law would pre-fry them first before the guests arrive to their dinner party and then fry them completely twenty minutes prior to their arrival.  this way the rolls don’t sit out for long and they retain the crispiness.  i thought it was such a neat trick.  another one i learned from my parents’ friend is to drain the oil from the rolls, you would stand them up instead of letting them lay down.  i thought my trick was good enough, where i let them to cool off on a drying rack rather than on a paper towel to avoid the skin from softening and becoming soggy.  so, like i said, everyone has their way.  it’s nice to incorporate all of them and apply them to your own method.

i made two versions: one with pork (typical meat used), one with shrimp.

  • about 1lb ground pork or shrimp – if using shrimp put it in the food processor and pulse
  • a very generous amount of dry woodear mushroom – soak in warm water
  • 1 bundle cellophane noodles – soak in hot water to cook them
  • 3 taro roots
  • fish sauce to taste
  • 1 T white pepper
  • a package of spring rolls wrapping paper – you can get the frozen kind or the rice paper made especially for spring rolls (look for the ones that say “chả giò”)
  • three eggs – one is for wetting the wrapping paper

in a food processor, combine the taro roots, mushroom, and noodles and pulse about three or four times.  trust me, this will save you the chopping time.  in a big bowl, combine the meat or shrimp with the roots, mushroom, noodles and two eggs.  use your hands (make sure they’re impeccably clean, please) to mix.  yes that’s right, get in there, don’t be afraid.  then season with fish sauce and white pepper.  don’t over salt them because they are to be eaten with dipping fish sauce.

i cut the paper in half.  once on a rare occasion that i found the half-sized paper at the grocery store (i should have stocked up) so i didn’t need to cut it in half,  but when i went back to the store a second time to look for more, they were nowhere to be found.  i opted for the full size and just cut them.  for the frozen paper, they have them in a smaller size in square shape.  i find that the frozen one doesn’t offer the same crunch or freshness that the rice paper does.  try both ways and you can pick your preference.  ba likes the frozen paper.

if you’re using rice paper:

have a bowl of warm to hot water available, one at a time dip the paper in the water then lay it on a flat surface, let it soften (if your water is hot it’ll soften almost right away).

if you’re using the paper from the freezer:

let the paper thaw, whisk the extra egg in a small bowl.  one at a time, lay it on a flat surface, wet the paper with the egg mixture.

follow the illustration below for rolling instructions, brought to you by fox himself.



happy eating!


when craving calls, i answer

i’m usually not a big fan of pasta, but for the last few weeks i have been craving it.  i was running out of ideas and my fridge was quickly running out of food due to my lack of grocery shopping.  as i was sitting at work, trying to do work and wishing that time would fly by, i drifted off to la-la land thinking what i should make for dinner.  rather than forcing myself to come up with something creative, i opted for pasta because one, it is quick, and two, it is filling.  so pasta it is, i thought to myself.  now, what kind of pasta? was my second thought.  i remember i still have a tin of anchovies in my pantry, a bunch of spinach, and some ricotta cheese.  see, i told you i was lacking food in my house.

with pasta, i needn’t rush.  the meal took me no time.  i mean it, no time.  i took frodo on a really long walk then proceeded with making dinner.  i was even able to relax and enjoyed some television with the beast.

  • a handful of angel hair pasta
  • garlic – smashed
  • one tin anchovies – break it apart
  • olive oil
  • a handful of spinach
  • 1/4 C ricotta cheese
  • black pepper

cook the pasta until al dente, drain and set aside.  in a pan, fry the garlic until brown then add the spinach.  sauté until the spinach wilts.  add in the pasta and the anchovies.  since the anchovies are heavy on the salt, i omitted adding more salt and allow the natural salt of the anchovies to season my pasta.

ricotta, interesting, sure why not?

the ricotta softened the saltiness of the anchovies and gave the pasta a creamy texture.  the sprinkle of the black pepper was a nice kick of heat at the top.


happy eating!


one fish, two fish

i’ve been getting into poaching a lot lately.  poaching food that is.  it is relatively quick and easy, especially with fish.  i’ve poached fish in several variations, using both broth and olive oil. i’ve also tried different fish as well and i found that white fish are usually better, particularly cod and cod-texture like.  it makes for a light dinner.

with shiitake mushrooms:

  • .25 lb shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 fillets of cod – cut into pieces
  • 1.5 C olive oil
  • 2 garlic – smashed
  • salt & pepper

in deep (casserole) pan, pour the olive oil in along with the fish, garlic, and mushrooms.  cover and let simmer over low heat until the fish is flaky to the touch of a fork. it is a slow process.  and as it cooks, the mushrooms and garlic release  their fragrant flavor that infuses with the oil and the fish.


poached fish numero dos:

i had made fish stock a couple of weeks prior and froze it in case i needed it for a future dish.  just like chicken stock, it keeps well in the freezer and is really handy for when something calls for stock.  if you don’t have that available, don’t fret.  you can use store bought stock.


instead of the mushroom and olive oil used in the previous recipe, i used leeks and fish stock, seasoned it with soy sauce and proceeded with the same steps.  for some heat, add red pepper flakes.

happy eating!


sunny side up please.

i admit, i am not a breakfast person. the extent of my breakfast goes as far as sunny side up eggs with a piece of toast. when i was younger and still living in vietnam, ba (dad) met his friend and his three sons every morning to share insights and talk about their application statuses. they always met at the park then they would scooter us to this spot that serves the best, i mean THE best eggs and bread in the entire world. yes I’m proclaiming it as such!  it was just that good that it’s imbedded in my brain to even now. ba always ordered me the same thing, sunny side up eggs wedged in a mini baguette sprinkled with a bit of salt and pepper. that probably explains my love affair with sunny side up eggs. i remember the way the lady made it. it was absolute perfection. the yolk runny, the sides crispy. i aim to make each egg just like she did. it was simplicity at its best. it was pure joy for me eating it. the yolk was so runny that it dripped out of the baguette’s pocket and down my chin. i quickly wiped the spot and licked my fingers with not a care in the world. hell, i was around six years old. the only thing that mattered at the time was when i was going to play hopscotch next.

i rarely eat breakfast. these days, sleep trumps everything. when i do have time, it’s usually just eggs and toast.  it does require a bit more effort than cereal and milk, but it is just so satisfying when you dip your bread into the yolk and break  it apart.  that is my breakfast staple. i was scarred when i first arrived to the states. my first day at school, at breakfast time on my tray was a lonely, dried up corn dog with a container of syrup, a carton of milk, and a box of cereal. “what are these things?”, i thought. as i watched this kid across from me pour the syrup all over the corn dog, i didn’t even dare. it was not a good way to introduce a foreigner to “strange” food. from that day forward i shied away from corn dogs. what a strange concept, a hotdog wrapped in what i saw, a piece of pancake. please shed some light on this…thing that sat in front me coldly. it just looked so sad, no warmth, uninviting, and unappetizing.

fox on the other hand loves breakfast. pancakes, toasts, eggs, coffee, you name it, he loves it. i fancied up our breakfast over the weekend, well it was more like we had breakfast food for lunch. i made an open face egg sandwich with shiitake mushrooms. the way it’s made in restaurant and serve it for at least $12 per plate. the hardest part about this meal was plating. i am the least creative person known to people, when it comes to presenting, i couldn’t care less. i’m more about the taste, less concerned with how it looks.

what you’ll need:

  • a handful of shiitake mushroom – sliced to smaller strips
  • 1 garlic clove – sliced
  • a few drizzle of soy sauce
  • a slice of toast (or other bread you prefer)
  • one egg (per person)
  • a handful of arugula

slice the mushrooms into smaller strips.  on a pan with olive oil (about one teaspoon or so, you’ll need less to create a smokey taste of the garlic), saute the garlic until brown then add in the mushrooms and flavor with soy sauce.  don’t overdo it with the soy sauce. you want just enough to flavor the dish, not a lot where you drown out the actual smoky and earthy flavor of the mushrooms, then put them aside in a bowl.

on the same pan, drizzle another bit of oil and very small amount of butter, crack the egg and let it cook until the sides  get crispy but doesn’t dry out the yolk.

place a piece of toast on a plate, then a little of the mushrooms followed by the egg and more mushroom.  top it off with some arugula and voila.


happy eating!


new year, new you

so here we are again, at a blank page of a brand new book. in this case, it is a brand new year. as the clock struck midnight on the much anticipated day, new year’s eve, what did you leave behind, and what do you want to usher in as the new year begins? i typically don’t like the word resolution or make them as a matter of fact. because i don’t think i have anything to resolve but instead i turn the word into commitment. i actually want to commit myself to the things that i didn’t do last year or any of the previous years that have come and gone in a blink of an eye and actually do them this year.  we spend so much of our time keeping commitments that we make for other people but rarely do we ever keep them to ourselves.  rather than me listing them out for you to read, i will check back in with you at the end of 2013 and tell you how i fared.  deal?

i did a lot of adventurous things in the kitchen this year.  i expanded my horizon and tried many different things.  while they may not seem like a big deal to many but it was for me.  i experimented with cheesecake, pretzels, and foods that seemed out of reach for me because of the intricacies, not from the ingredients but from the steps it takes to make them.  i was determined and i was quite proud of the results.  i tested pie crust after pie crust, while each and every single one of them came out unsatisfactorily, and much to my frustration, i breathed a sigh of exasperation, dusted myself off and tried again.  so here’s to 2013 and to many, many more pie crusts to come.  onward and upward!

below is a pretzel recipe i tried.   i browsed through my the bread bible book first before deciding to attempt this.  i found this particular recipe, i believe on  make sure to read the recipe first before proceeding.  as julia child always said to read the recipe fully beforehand to understand what is needed.

  • 2 t instant yeast
  • 1 C milk – scalded and then cooled
  • 1 T – i only needed one tablespoon but you know as well i do that you can’t just buy ingredients by the spoon so i will have the entire jar for the next time around.
  • 2 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 t salt
  • 2 T unsalted butter – softened and cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 C baking soda
  • 1egg yolk – beaten with 2 T milk
in a small saucepan, poor the cup of milk in to boil then set aside for it to cool.  when it becomes lukewarm, stir the yeast in and add the malt syrup.  add one cup of the flour. stir until the flour has been mixed well, then add the salt and butter.  make sure everything is very well mixed.   add 1.5 cups of more flour and continue stirring, by this point, you can probably use your hands.   knead the dough directly in the bowl or on a clean floured surface for a few minutes.  the dough will un-stick from your hands as you move along.

cover the bowl with a towel and let rise for about an hour or two, i left mine overnight.  it was so soft!

preheat the oven to 450*, with a baking stone.  i don’t have one (note to self: get a baking stone!), so i used a baking sheet.  worked just as well. 🙂

lightly flour a clean surface.  divide the dough into eight pieces.  while this recipe calls for eight pretzels, i found that you can even make more, just depending on how big you want your pretzels.  so it is completely up to you.  cover the baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.  this didn’t work out so well for me because the parchment paper ended up sticking entirely to the bottom of the pretzel and i had to peel it off.  it wasn’t very appealing.  i’m guessing because i had left them in the oven for so long.  if you’re using a baking stone, just lightly dust the surface with flour…lightly.

begin shaping the pretzels by rolling each piece out using the palms of your hands.  start from the center of the dough then work your way out, applying some pressure.  stretch out the dough into one long string.  there’s a cool how-to video on that guided me through the process.

in between shaping, boil three cups of water then add the baking soda.  stir it to dissolve.  and in a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk and milk together, set aside.  the water should just be simmering, on a spatula, drop each pretzel in the soda bath but not dumping it for about 20 seconds or so. the pretzel will soften and puff up.  let the water drain off when removing it so that there’s no bitter taste stuck at the bottom.  brush the top with the egg yolk mix.  totally optional: sprinkle with salt.

bake for about 10 minutes, depending on your oven.  make sure you check on them mid-way.  golden brown at the top, pillowy on the inside.


because it was christmas day, i was running around like a mad person preparing food as my parents were making their way over to eat with us.  i forgot that the pretzels were baking in the oven, needless to say they were left in there a lot longer than they were supposed to be.  instead of a pillowy texture, they became a little hard.  my fault.  really.  note to self again: stop running around so much in the kitchen.  on to the next batch…


i hope your 2013 is filled with many more good eats, more time around the table with those who are dear to you, and many more adventures.
happy eating!