…tasty bites to stimulate your taste buds..

My stomach has been feeling funny for the past few days so I made chao vit, or duck porridge, for dinner.  Whenever I was not feeling well, my mom would make a huge pot of chao.  Chao is made with a duck based broth and rice, so simple yet satisfying.  The broth can be made from chicken, pork, or just water.  Many people cook the rice directly in the broth, but I strained the broth to remove all the fat, and then added in the rice to make a healthier soup.  I probably removed 2 cups of fat.  When paired with toasted gio chao quay (Chinese donuts), they soak up the soup and add a wonderful texture to the meal.  I added a handful of bean sprouts to my chao, squeezed a few drops of lime juice, and topped it with pepper, a few pieces of red chili, cilantro, and green onions.  The crunch of the bean sprouts, the sourness of the lime, and the kick from the chilies brought so many flavors to the chao.  It was a comforting and satisfying meal!


One 5-lb duck
10 cups of water
1 tbsp of salt
1 bulb of ginger, sliced
2 cups of cooked rice
2-3 tbsps fish sauce
Gio chao quay (Chinese donuts)
Pepper to taste
Bean sprouts
Lime wedges, red chili, cilantro, and onions for garnish
Nuoc mam cham (fish sauce) for the duck


Place the whole duck in the pot filled with 10 cups of water.  Add the salt and ginger.  Bring the pot to a boil and let simmer on medium heat for 45 minutes.

Remove the duck from the broth and strain the broth to remove any excess fat.  Add the rice to the pot.  Use a hand blender, blend the rice until finely ground.  Continue cooking for another 30 minutes to let the porridge thicken.  Add in the fish sauce and season to your liking.

While you are waiting for the porridge to finish cooking, chop the duck into small pieces, prepare the fish sauce, and toast the Chinese donuts.

Add a few pieces of duck and a handful of bean sprouts before ladling the porridge to a serving bowl.  Garnish with green onions, cilantro, pepper, and red chillies.



Fish sauce is an essential staple of Vietnamese cuisine.  This flavorful dipping sauce is eaten with countless dishes such as bi cuon (pork rolls), egg rolls, banh xeo (Vietnamese crepes), many noodle dishes and drizzled over fried fish.  The chili and garlic add a huge kick to the sauce.  Without nuoc mam cham, the flavors of many dishes would fall flat.


1 cup warm water
¼ cup sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 tsp of finely chopped chilies


In a small bowl, whisk the water, sugar, and fish sauce.  Add the garlic, chilies, and vinegar to the fish sauce and stir well.  Store in a tightly sealed jar in the fridge up to two weeks.

I am starting off my Sunday morning with dessert.  You heard right!  I have been thinking about making a jelly roll for a while and adapted this recipe from Martha Stewart’s Cooking School.  The building block for a jelly roll is genoise, a French sponge cake.  Genoise relies solely on eggs beaten with sugar until thick and doubled in volume instead of chemical leaveners.  To finish my roll, I spreaded a thin layer of strawberry jam and thick layer of mascarpone whipped cream over the sponge cake before rolling it.  I let the jelly roll sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes so all the flavors have the chance to meld together.  This dessert was absolutely amazing, or shall I say breakfast!  The cake was light and fluffy while the sweetness of the jam balances with the richness of the mascarpone cream.  Sometimes, you gotta start the day with dessert!


2/3 cup sifted cake flour
A pinch of salt
3 large whole eggs and 2 egg yolks
½ cup of sugar
4 tbsps butter (1/2 stick) melted, room temp
1/3 cup of strawberry jam
1 cup of heavy cream, whipped
4 oz mascarpone cream
¼ cup of powdered sugar and more for dusting
Fresh strawberries for garnish


Preheat the oven to 375F.  Bring about 2 inches of water to a simmer in a small sauce pan.  Place the mixing bowl over the simmering water making sure the bottom is not touching the water.  Whisk the eggs, yolks, and sugar until the sugar has melted, about 5 minutes.

Attach the bowl to mixer and beat on high speed until the mixture is pale and doubled in volume, about 5-7 minutes.  Sift flour and salt over egg mixture.  Use a spatula, fold in the flour.  Pour the melted butter down the side of the bowl and gently fold, making sure not to deflate the batter.

Pour the batter onto a baking sheet and smooth out. Transfer baking sheet to the oven and bake until golden brown and springy to touch, about 7 minutes.

Loosen the edges and turn the cake out onto a paper towel.  Fold the towel over the edge of the cake and roll up.  Let it cool at room temp.

Whisk the heavy cream until soft peaks form.  Add in the powdered sugar.  Add in the mascarpone and continue whisking.

Unroll the log and spread a thin layer of jam.  Layer the mascarpone cream mixture on top.  Reroll the cake and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Garnish with fresh strawberries and dust with powdered sugar when ready to serve.

Today, I am going back to my roots and sharing with you one of my all time favorite dishes, pho bo, or Vietnamese beef noodle.  Pho is a northern Vietnamese dish that has become well known worldwide.  Whether you are traveling in Asia, Australia, Europe, Canada, or America, you will likely find a restaurant with this wonderful soup.  If you can find a Vietnamese community, you can find a pho restaurant.  I grew up on pho, eating it for breakfast and lunch from the street vendors near my house.  And during the cold, rainy nights, it was the perfect soup for dinner.  My dad, a northerner, passed on his family recipe to my mom who came from south Vietnam.  Pho has a wonderful broth, flavored with star anise, Saigon cinnamon, charred onion, ginger, and many other spices.  The original recipe does not call for chicken stock, but my mom, who has more than 50 years of cooking experience under her belt, passed on her secret that one can of chicken stock adds even more flavor to the soup.  The daikon also adds a hint of sweetness lessening the amount of sugar needed.  Similar to many other Vietnamese noodle dishes, pho is served with lots of greens, mainly hung que (Thai basil) and ngo gai (which I do not know the English translation).  I also like the texture of bean sprouts in mine.  It adds a bit of crunch.  And of course, a bowl of pho is incomplete without the hoisin sauce and Sriracha!  People like to add brisket, tendon, tripe, and flank to their pho, but I enjoy mine with round steak and bo vien.  I am happy to share with you my mom’s recipe and hope it will send you in the right direction on your pho adventure.


A handful of spices (fennel, clove, coriander seeds, star anise, cinnamon)
1 large white onion
2 pieces of ginger, halved lengthwise
1 lb of daikon
1 tbsp of salt
2 lbs of beef bone
6 cups of water
1 can of chicken stock
¼ cup of fish sauce
3-4  tbsps of sugar
Rice noodles
1 lb of round steak cut in thin slices (ask your local butcher to prepare for you)
1 lb of meat balls  (bo vien from Kim Son)
Green onions and cilantro (cut in small pieces)
Bean sprouts
Hung que (basil leaves)
Ngo gai
Lime wedges
Hoisin and Sriracha sauces


Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Place the ginger, onion, and spices in the oven and broil for 10 minutes.

Clean the beef bones with warm water and place them in a large stockpot.  Add the daikon, ginger, onion, spices, salt, and water to the pot.  Cook on medium heat for  three to four hours.  Remove any scum.  Strain the broth and transfer to a clean stockpot.  Add the chicken stock, fish sauce, sugar to the new pot and adjust the seasoning to your liking.  Let it simmer for another hour.

To cook the rice noodle, in a clean pot, bring water to a boil.  Immerse the rice noodle in the boiling water for a few seconds so you do not overcook the noodle.

When ready to serve, place the bean sprouts and noodle in the bowl.  Place the steak and meat balls on top.  Add the hot broth to the bowl, and garnish with cilantro and green onion.

Serve with hung que, ngo gai, lime wedges, and condiments.

85˚C Bakery Cafe

Today Vu planned a very nice excursion to Laguna Beach since we had the day off.  After lunch and hours of walking, we decided to stop by 85˚C Bakery Cafe in Irvine before heading home.  The first time I came to 85˚C Bakery Cafe was when my parents visited us for Christmas.  As soon as Vu drove in the parking lot, I ran to the back of the line.  There were about 20 people ahead of me waiting for their 85˚C fix.  The line moved relatively fast and within 10 minutes, an employee gave me the ok to enter.  I picked up a tray and tongs and made my way through the bakery knowing exactly what I wanted.  We were lucky enough to get two of their most popular items, taro swirl bread and brioche loaf, along with our other favorites.  Fresh out of the oven, the brioche loaf was light like a cloud with a hint of sweetness.  On the other hand, the taro swirl had a nice crunch and perfect balance of bread and taro.  Everything was ABSOLUTELY amazing!  Even the sea salt coffee!  Known for its excellent selection of pastries, cakes, drinks, and coffee and reasonable pricing, 85˚C Bakery Café has become quite popular among Southern Californians.  If you are in the area, give this bakery a try and it might end up being one of your favorite places.  85˚C Bakery Café has become a favorite stop for both Vu and me.

the line


more pastries

taro swirl

brioche loaf

milk pudding


cinnamon rolls

chocolate chip

sea salt coffee

After 15 days of work, I asked my boss for a day off to relax and catch up on my sleep.  When I woke up, I was craving for chocolate, a rather unusual feeling.  Maybe it was the residual chocolate craving after that dinner at Ruth’s Chris.  I wanted something simple and flipped through Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller when the recipe for brownies caught my eyes.  Brownies remind me of comfort food, something so simple yet likeable by everyone, from little kids to the grandparents.  Brownie is a perfect pick me up after a long day of work or a lazy Sunday morning, something you can pair with a glass of cold milk, rich vanilla ice cream, or by itself.  I adapted the brownies recipe from Ad Hoc at Home but substituted applesauce for two thirds of the butter, a much healthier alternative!  It was my first time baking with applesauce so I was a bit nervous.  I was pleasantly surprised when I had the first bite.  The brownie was rich and retained all of its goodness even with the applesauce!  My husband could not taste the difference either!  I am happy to report that it was a successful batch of brownies filled with gooey goodness!


¾ cup all purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 stick of butter, melted (save half the stick for buttering the muffin pan)
1 ½ cup of applesauce
3 large eggs
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cup of chocolate chips
raspberries and powdered sugar for garnish


Preheat the oven to 350˚F.  Sift flour, cocoa powder, and salt.

Mix the eggs and sugar on medium speed, and then pour in the vanilla.  Add the applesauce and continue mixing.

On low speed, pour in half of the dry ingredients and mix well.  Add the butter and continue beating.  Mix in the remaining dry ingredients.

Add the chocolate chips and mix well.

Pour about 2 tbsps of batter into each buttered well of a mini muffing tray and bake for 12-15 minutes.

Let them cool at room temperature for 5 minutes and garnish with raspberries and powdered sugar.

The past two weeks have been super busy for me.  In between celebrating my birthday, working, and attending the SCCM conference, I have not had time to relax or step foot into the kitchen.  I found out that a friend at work has the same birthday and Amy, my other friend, has her birthday exactly one week after mine so we all celebrated at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.  Fortunately, it was during San Diego Restaurant Week so we took advantage of their 3-course meal for $40.  I picked the seared ahi tuna for the appetizer.  It was very fresh, comparable to Sushi Ota’s.  For the main course, I went with the petite filet which I anticipated to be much smaller than the filet mignon, but was pleasantly surprised by the portion.  It was a bit dry for medium well but was still delicious!  Vu ordered mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat, and they were the best crabmeat stuffed mushrooms I have ever had.  Filled with real crabmeat and no filler, they were seasoned perfectly.  His 12 oz ribeye was even more delicious than my petite file.  Tender and buttery, it was the perfect piece of ribeye.  We ended the night with two heavenly desserts, chocolate sin cake and duo of cheesecake and sorbet.  The chocolate was light but decandent.  I could not stop eating even though my stomach was at max capacity.  I did not enjoy the cheesecake as much but the raspberry sorbet was fresh and delightful.  Overall, it was an excellent meal, perfect for a birthday celebration.

Seared ahi tuna

Mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat

Petite filet

12 oz ribeye

Chocolate sin cake

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