Thursday, December 20, 2007

Butterscotch-Oatmeal-Coconut Cookies

So easy. So decadent. If you need a last minute cookie for holiday gift giving or dessert, this is it. Just mix, drop onto the cookie sheet, and bake.

Butterscotch Chip, Oatmeal, & Coconut Cookies


· 2 eggs, well beaten
· ¾ cup brown sugar
· ¾ cup white sugar
· 1 cup vegetable oil
· 1 cup flour sifted with 1 tsp salt
· 2 cups oatmeal
· 1 cup coconut
· 6 oz. butterscotch chips (sometimes I use the whole bag)


1) Mix all ingredients, then add up to 2 more cups oatmeal

2) Drop on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Take out of oven. The cookies will not look done.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bourbon-Walnut Sweet Potato Mash

Although my focus is on holiday cookie making this month, I want to give a nod to a dish I made twice recently, once for Sunday dinner at my cousin Jeanne’s house and once for Thanksgiving. This recipe is a winner because it takes advantage of all the yams in the markets these days (they seem to be particularly sweet right now), and because it’s super easy. It’s perfect for a multi-course meal that includes other more time-consuming dishes. You can make it a day ahead; just heat it up in the microwave and sprinkle the nuts on top before serving. Because of the bourbon, maple syrup, and allspice, this dish has a wonderfully distinctive flavor that sets it apart as a cold weather side dish.

Bourbon-Walnut Sweet Potato Mash
from Bon Appetit, November 2007


- 4 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams)
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- 6 Tbsp (3/4 cup) butter
- 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
- 2 Tbsp bourbon
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground allspice
- 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped


1) Preheat oven to 350°F.

2) Roast potatoes on rimmed baking sheet until tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

3) Cool slightly. Scoop flesh into large bowl; discard skins.

4) Mash hot potatoes until coarse puree forms.

5) Heat cream and butter in heavy small saucepan over low heat until butter melts, stirring occasionally.

6) Gradually stir hot cream mixture into hot potatoes.

7) Stir in syrup, bourbon, and all spices. Season with salt and pepper.

8) Before serving, sprinkle nuts over and serve.

Serves 8-10.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Tis the Season: Holiday Gifts

Some years, I find Christmas shopping more difficult than usual. This is one of those years. There are a couple people on my list (my new fifteen-year-old niece and my mom) who have me stymied—if you have any recommendations for a hip London teen and a mother who has everything, please feel free to let me know. And just in case anyone who comes across this blog is looking for suggestions, I have a couple I’d like to offer … plus, this gives me a chance to promote some people and projects very close to my heart.

A Dose of Our Minds

For the last two and a half years, I have been leading a teen writing workshop at the Alexandria House neighborhood program in Los Angeles. Last year, we published a book of the teens’ poetry, essays, and artwork. I admit, I’m partial, because these are such amazing kids (I’ve known most of them for years), but outsiders have told me that their work really is moving. It gets to the heart of being an inner city teen. And if you buy a copy, profits go back into the program for writing supplies, new books, photography field trips, and a new volume of their writing next year. A great gift for creative teens.

Click here to purchase A Dose of Our Minds

The Sushi Book

Published by Things Asian Press, (the same publisher behind my To Asia With Love guidebook series), The Sushi Book is for hardcore sushi lovers. This primer by Celeste Heiter covers everything: sushi history, sushi etiquette, sushi lingo, etc. There’s even a chapter of basic recipes for making a sushi dinner at home. Photos are full color and add to the book’s gift appeal.

Click here to purchase The Sushi Book

Click here to purchase To Asia With Love

Click here to go to Celeste’s food blog: Chopstick Cinema

The Unprejudiced Palate

Slow, locally grown food. Are foodies talking about anything else these days? With “locavore” named as the Oxford English Dictionary’s 2007 Word of the Year, and Alice Waters’ recently published treatise/cookbook endorsing her “delicious revolution,” it’s clear that this trend is here to stay. But long before Chez Panisse, back in 1948, Angelo Pellegrini was arguing for the slo-lo way in The Unprejudiced Palate. Having immigrated to the US from Italy, Pellegrini was appalled by the way Americans approached food, and his book is a rebuttal, as well as a primer on how to eat—and therefore live—well. Since he grew as much of his food as he could, and even made his own wine, he knows of what he speaks.

Click here to purchase The Unprejudiced Palate

The Little Saigon Cookbook

Ah, I just can’t help myself. Written by my pal Ann Le, photographed by my sis Julie Fay Ashborn, and featuring my favorite food: Vietnamese … it’s always a winner.

Click here to purchase The Little Saigon Cookbook

Click here to purchase Julie’s Southeast Asia note cards

Spices from Didier Corlou

If you just happen to be in Hanoi this holiday season, pop into La Verticale, Didier Corlou’s new restaurant, which also features a spice shop. I had the good fortune of spending time with Didier a few years ago, when I was in Vietnam researching Communion (coming soon, I promise). Then, he headed up the kitchen at the Metropole. His food was exquisite. Though I haven’t been to La Verticale yet, I just know it’s amazing. But I can vouch for the spices he sells, as my publisher kindly sent me a box of the best, including pepper, cinnamon, a pho blend, a nuoc mam salt, and more.

La Verticale
19 Ngo Van So St.
Hoan Kiem District
(84-04) 944-6317

Monday, November 26, 2007

Crock Pot Beef Burgundy

Crock Pot Beef Burgundy
from The Gourmet Slow Cooker, by Lynn Alley

I was given my crock pot for Christmas last year, and I’ve used it twice, both times for this recipe. Once last summer (a bad idea considering the heat) and once a week ago … perfect for the chill that’s finally in the air at night. I know that the point of crock pot cooking is simplicity: just throw a bunch of stuff in the pot and leave it until a miraculously fantastic dish occurs. This recipe, while easy, does require some sautéing, though you could probably go without if you’re feeling lazy. It’s satisfying on day one, and even better on days two and three, squished between two slabs of buttered bread.


- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 ½ lbs beef stew meat, trimmed of fat, cut into 1 ½-inch cubes
- 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 cups full-bodied red wine, such as Pinot Noir or Beaujolais
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 20 baby white onions
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 lb small button mushrooms, halved
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh thyme, for garnish


Prepare meat:

1) Combine the flour and salt in a resealable plastic bag. Add the meat to the bag, several pieces at a time, and shake to coat completely.

2) Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 2 Tbsp of the oil. In batches if necessary, add the beef and cook, turning, for 8 to 10 minutes, until browned on all sides. Using tongs, transfer to paper towels to drain, then arrange in the slow cooker.

3) Add the wine to the pan and stir over medium-high heat to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the sauce begins to thicken. Stir in salt to taste. Add the garlic, thyme sprigs, and bay leaves. Pour over the beef in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours until the meat is very tender.

Prepare onions (to add one hour before beef is done):

4) While the stew is cooking, peel and trim the onions. Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the remaining 1 Tbsp oil. Add the onions and sauté, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. One hour before serving, add the onions to the stew and continue cooking until the onions are tender.

Prepare mushrooms (to add half an hour before beef is done):

Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the butter. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the mushrooms to the stew 30 minutes before serving. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Transfer the stew to a soup tureen. Garnish with the chopped thyme and serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.

Next up from this book: Apricot Chicken. There is also a curry I'd like to try.

Crock pot note:
I know that there are some wonderful gourmet crock pots out there … I think it was some fancy All-Clad Slow Cooker that all the food magazines were raving about earlier this year … but mine does an admirable job and can be found at Target for $20 or less.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Roasted Portobello Mushroom and Prosciutto Lasagna

Every month I browse through my food magazines and clip recipes. It gets a bit obsessive at times, as I’ll pull recipes from up to a dozen magazines a month, far more than I have time to make, especially given my on-again-off-again stints in the kitchen. Sometimes, I’ll go through my clipped recipes and toss a few away. But there are some that remain, month after month, year after year, tempting me. This is one. This recipe has been sitting around since October 2004 when I cut it out of Bon Appetit. Why I didn’t make it last year or the year before that, I can’t tell you. I only know that when I came across it again a few weeks ago, I knew its time had come. I was right.

Recently, my friend Janet asked me for some quick, comforting suggestions for autumn meals. While this recipe is comforting, it’s also time-consuming. (Sorry, Janet.) But the time invested is worth it. Each bite offers a unique blend of mushrooms, prosciutto, rosemary, thyme, and/or nutmeg, and the sauce is both light and rich. I would serve it at a dinner party when you want something familiar and gourmet in a single dish.

Roasted Portobello Mushroom and Prosciutto Lasagna



- 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 1/2 pounds (about 10) portobello mushrooms, stems trimmed
- 1 cup chopped prosciutto (about 6 ounces)
- 2/3 cup chopped shallots (about 2 large)
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme


- 4 cups whole milk
- 1 14-ounce can low-salt chicken broth
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
- 2/3 cup all purpose flour
- 2 cups (about 8 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg


- 1 pound lasagna noodles
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces


For filling:

1) Preheat oven to 400°F.
2) Brush rimmed baking sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
3) Toss mushrooms with 2 tablespoons olive oil in large bowl to coat. Arrange mushrooms, gill side up, in single layer on prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
4) Roast until tender, about 45 minutes.
5) Cool. Cut mushrooms into 1/3-inch-thick slices.
6) Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in medium nonstick skillet over medium heat.
7) Add prosciutto; sauté until browned, about 3 minutes.
8) Add shallots, rosemary, and thyme. Cook until shallots are tender, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.

(Mushrooms and prosciutto-shallot mixture can be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately and chill).

For sauce:

1) Bring milk, broth, and bay leaf to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Let stand 10 minutes; discard bay leaf.
2) Melt butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat.
3) Whisk in flour; stir 2 minutes.
4) Whisk in hot milk mixture; bring to boil, whisking frequently.
5) Reduce heat to low; simmer 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
6) Remove from heat; stir in Gruyère, Parmesan, and nutmeg. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For lasagna:

1) Cook noodles in large pot of boiling salted water until almost tender but slightly undercooked (noodles will finish cooking in oven). Drain and rinse with cold water. Drain again; pat dry.
2) Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish.
3) Spread 1 cup sauce over bottom of prepared dish.
4) Arrange 1/3 of noodles over sauce, overlapping to fit.
5) Spread about 1 2/3 cups sauce over noodles.
6) Arrange 1/2 of mushrooms over sauce. Scatter 1/2 of prosciutto mixture over mushrooms.
7) Arrange 1/2 of remaining noodles over mushrooms, overlapping to fit.
8) Spread 1 2/3 cups sauce over noodles.
9) Arrange remaining mushrooms over sauce, sprinkle with remaining prosciutto, and top with remaining noodles.
10) Spread remaining sauce over noodles, sprinkle Parmesan cheese over, and dot with butter.
11) Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake lasagna until top is golden brown and sauce is bubbling, about 45 minutes (about 1 hour if refrigerated). Let stand 20 to 30 minutes before serving.

Preparation note:
Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Mushroom notes:
Keep an eye on the mushrooms so they don’t burn. I used a few shitake mushrooms, as well.

Nutmeg note:
Fresh nutmeg ground in a mortar and pestle makes a noticeable difference.

Broth note:
I used vegetable broth, as I don’t like the meaty flavor of chicken broth.

Noodle note:
I accidentally bought no-cook lasagna noodles. I cooked them for just a couple minutes, and this worked fine.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Bridal Shower Shortbread

Weddings are exhausting. Especially when they are planned and carried out in little over six months. Since The Pirate proposed to my sister Julie this spring, there have been three (count 'em, three) ceremonies/celebrations (the wedding at my cousin’s house in Seattle and two parties in Los Angeles and London), a bachelorette party, a bachelor party, three bridal showers, a rehearsal dinner …

Finally, the festivities are over. I returned from London two days ago, leaving my sister behind to enjoy domestic bliss in her new flat in Brixton. After sleeping for 12+ hours without moving a twitch, I woke to find that it’s time for life to get back to normal, which means writing, editing, working with the kids’ programs, doing a little shopping at Trader Joe’s, figuring out what to choose next on Netflix, and posting a blog entry.

The following shortbread recipe is one of my favorites, inspired by Laurie Colwin, whose two food books, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, gave me the courage to take risks in my kitchen, back when I was in my twenties and working at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle. It is one of the easiest recipes you will ever make, tastes far better than any store bought shortbread you can buy, and always impresses the people you give it to. The two sticks of butter help, of course, but so does the whole wheat, which gives each bite a grainy texture that is addictive. This was my contribution to the Los Angeles Bridal Shower #1. Our friend Trae added the blueberries to give some color to the plate. Raspberries or a drizzle of chocolate would also perk things up nicely.

Kim’s Classic Shortbread


- 2 sticks salted butter
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup wheat flour
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt


1. Cream butter with sugar. (I use a beater; you can also use your food processor).

2. Sift flours, baking powder, and salt. Work this into the above mixture. (I’m usually too lazy to sift, and the shortbread has always come out fine.)

3. Pat the dough down into an 8-inch shortbread mold. If you don’t have a mold, use a round cake pan, ungreased. The dough will be crumbly, but once you pat it down it takes its shape. Score the dough, making 6 wedges. (I have also scored the dough to make pieces approximate 1 inch by 1 ½ inches, as in the photo above).

4. Bake shortbread in a preheated 375-degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until the edge is golden brown.

5. Let it cool for 20 minutes and then remove from mold. Cut it into wedges or slices before completely cooled.

Pan note:
The last time I made this, I used my springform pan, which made for easy cutting.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Almond & Cinnamon Shrimp with Avocado Mousse

At the beginning of May, a pirate named Clive came from London to visit my sister. While he was here, we threw a California cuisine-themed party to celebrate—for the party I made Almond and Cinnamon Shrimp with Avocado Mousse. This appetizer vanished within minutes of being placed on the table. The shrimp is both spicy and sweet (but not too sweet) at the same time, and the mousse, while it looks like guacamole, is creamier, providing balance for the cayenne in the shrimp.

A few days after the party, there was further reason to celebrate. Clive proposed, and he and Julie are getting married in August.

Almond and Cinnamon Shrimp with Avocado Mousse
From the Almond Board of California/Chef Tammy Hunyh, Tamarine Restaurant, Palo Alto, California

Ingredients for shrimp:

- 1 lb large shrimp (13 to 16 per pound), peeled and deveined
- 1/2 tsp Saigon cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1 cup sliced almonds, chopped
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
- salt and pepper


1) Combine shrimp, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, paprika, salt and pepper and toss to mix.

2) Heat 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a medium pan.

3) Add half of the shrimp to the pan and sauté over medium-high heat until cooked, about 1 minute on each side.

4) Immediately dip shrimp into almonds to coat.

5) Repeat with remaining butter and shrimp.

6) Serve warm with avocado mousse.

Ingredients for avacado mousse:

- 1 ripe Haas avocado, pitted and peeled
- 1 Tbsp crème fraiche
- 1 tsp mayonnaise
- 2 tsp fresh lime juice
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp sugar


Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend well.

Note on cinnamon:
Vietnamese (Saigon) cinnamon is not essential, but if you can get your hands on it, I recommend it. It has a softness that adds a silken quality to this dish.

Note on amount:
I doubled this recipe, and next time I think I'll triple it!

Clive & Julie

(Clive is actually an actor who played one of Davy Jones’ pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean. But it’s just so much fun to say that my brother-in-law-to-be is a pirate!)


Pictures by Julie Fay. Check out more at Julie’s website.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A Gift of Honey

At the end of last year, Chez Pim organized the second annual Menu for Hope, a global raffle to raise money for the United Nations World Food Program. Food bloggers and generous foodies around the planet offered up mouthwatering prizes, and I was the lucky winner of three gorgeous jars of honey and a gooey honeycomb from Malfroy's Gold in Australia. This honey is made from eucalyptus and has a distinctive caramel flavor. In one word: addictive.

Not only did I have the pleasure of striking up an e-friendship with the owner, Tim, as we figured out how to get that honey from New South Wales to L.A., but I found many new uses for honey. Among my favorites:

- Drizzle thin slices of tart apple with honey and sea salt.

- Drizzle honey and sea salt on vanilla ice cream.

- Slice a baguette and drizzle the slices with Pasolivo orange olive oil and honey. This is incredible in and of itself, but you can also top it with a sliver of Manchego like my sis did at our last dinner party, to give it another layer of flavor.
- I also recommend trying this Butternut Squash Bruschetta, which owes its unique flavor to honey, chili flakes and walnut oil.

Malfroy's Gold Website

Pasolivo Website


Pictures by Julie Fay. Check out more at Julie’s website

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tom Kha Gai & The Bangkok Market

This is my confession: I lived in Southeast Asia for four years and didn’t learn how to cook a single dish. It was not until I returned to America, leaving behind corner stalls and their 25¢ meals, that I took on the cuisine in my own kitchen. Feeling the need to start with something simple, I announced to my friends that I was going to make tom kha gai, and everyone should drop by on Sunday night to marvel at my epicurean skills. I looked up a recipe for the popular Thai chicken-coconut soup online; gathered the garlic, ginger, and turmeric; and chopped and simmered according to the directions. Not only was it bad tom kha gai, it was bad soup. Some of the worst soup my not-so-diplomatic friends had eaten.

I was sad. I spent years in the tropics nurturing a love for the region’s complex fusion of salty, sour, hot, and sweet. The grit of ground rice powder, and the tang of lime. How could I have failed? As if I had been challenged, I started Googling, downloading recipe after recipe for tom kha gai, laying them out side by side on my kitchen counter, studying them in search of my Rosetta Stone.

Why did none of these new recipes mention turmeric? Why did some call for ginger and others for galangal? Maybe my failure was due to the kaffir lime leaves I wasn’t able to find. But could a leaf really make that much difference?

Armed with a recipe I cobbled together from my research, I accepted that my local Ralphs and Gelson’s grocery stores weren’t up to this project, and started investigating alternative markets. In a copy of Los Angeles Marketplace, I happened upon a recommendation for the Bangkok Supermarket on Melrose Avenue. Just past Western, it is a smog-stained white building topped by a nondescript sign that blends into the L.A. haze. It has an unimpressive, miniscule, door-ding parking lot, but the moment I stepped inside, I knew I’d found the pungent keeper of the secrets to tom kha gai.

Along with banana leaves, clay cooking pots for less than ten dollars, and the fleshy sweetsop fruit I thought I’d never taste outside Asia, I found kaffir lime leaves. A whole bundle for $1.19. And on the floor beneath them: a cardboard box filled with lemongrass at 39¢ a pound. Aisle B yielded half a dozen brands of nam prik pao. Who knew there were so many options when it came to chili paste?

I gathered excess amounts of everything I needed and headed back home. During the next month, fortified by visits to the Bangkok Market, I experimented. I discovered the necessity of the individual ingredients, their complements and contrasts, and why ginger is not galangal. Its spiciness lacks nerve. Ginger nips, but galangal bites. Those who think the fire in tom kha gai comes solely from its chilies are mistaken. It is chili combined with the slices of galangal that bring out the soup’s distinctive heat.

The kaffir lime leaves also work with their accompanying ingredients, providing a sherbet blend of citrus and cream. Tom kha gai may seem to derive its creaminess from coconut milk, but it is in fact the union of this milk with the leaves that give it its buttery undertone. The third essential fusion is lime and lemongrass. Both lend the soup a refreshing quality. But while lime provides tang, lemongrass counters with a soothing balm. Its fragrance reminds me of the subtle relief that nightfall eases through Southeast Asian cities.

The soup’s citrus, spice, cream, and heat require a final ingredient for balance: salt. But tom kha gai does not call for even a dash. Instead, it wants fish sauce, and when it comes to this stinky component, less is more. If you ever wonder if just one tablespoon is stingy, keep this in mind: It isn’t, and it never will be. One reeking pot of soup I made, which included a quarter cup, can attest to this. The Bangkok Market offers many kinds of fish sauce, and I recommend the Three Crabs brand.

It took me a few months to produce a tom kha gai that satisfied me like the soup I’d often had in Thailand. This is a long time to master just one dish, but I believed that it was worth it. So I returned to the Bangkok Market with my second recipe, for Laotian laap, and I calculated that at the rate I was going, I’d be ready in a year or two to throw a Southeast Asian dinner party.

Tom Kha Gai


- 8 kaffir lime leaves
- 3 cans unsweetened coconut milk (Chaokoh brand)
- 1 can chicken broth
- 6 fresh galangal slices, about 1 inch in diameter
- 4 lemongrass stalks, lower third only, cut into 2-inch lengths and crushed (see following note)
- 4 fresh small green chili peppers, halved
- 1 Tbsp. Thai roasted chili paste (nam prik pao)
- 1 whole boneless chicken breast, cut into small slices or cubes
- 1 can drained, canned whole straw mushrooms
- ½ cup drained, canned sliced bamboo shoots
- ¼ cup fresh lime juice
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves
- 1 Tbsp. fish sauce (nam pla)


1) Place 4 of the kaffir leaves in a large saucepan. Add the coconut milk, chicken broth, galangal, lemongrass and chilies. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

2) Strain out and discard all pieces. Bring the strained liquid to a boil. Reduce heat to medium to that it boils gently.

3) Add remaining 4 kaffir leaves, roasted chili paste, chicken, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and fish sauce.

4) Boil gently until the chicken is cooked throughout, about three minutes.

5) Stir in lime juice and cilantro leaves.

Working with lemongrass:

Cut off the root tip, and then cut a two-inch piece (approximately one-third of the stalk) from this end. Peel off the outer layer. The inner piece is what you’ll work with. It can be sliced thin and tossed in marinades, or crushed with the flat of your knife to bring out the oil. You can also drop the crushed pieces with 2 sprigs of mint into a glass of iced tea, or alone into a cup of hot water to help you sleep.


Pictures by Julie Fay. Check out more at Julie’s website.

Bangkok Supermarket
4757 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, California

This essay was originally written for a food writing class and published on La Lunchbox.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Doggone Good: Homemade Dog Biscuits

I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for dog biscuits for ages. I first made it a couple years ago with the kids at the Alexandria House After School program. Once a month we try out a new recipe, and this (along with salsa and fried rice) is still a favorite. I’m sure its popularity was boosted by the fact that after we made the biscuits, the kids packaged them in colorful boxes and gave them to a trainer who trains assistance dogs in a women’s prison, and she brought her German Shepherd for the kids to meet.

Because this recipe is so easy, it’s a great one for children. And as for all the dogs I’ve made these biscuits for, they love them. Birdie is particularly fond of a variation with grated carrots in it.

Dog Biscuits
from the Peninsula Humane Society in San Mateo


· ½ cup cornmeal
· 6 Tbsp olive oil
· 2 cups whole wheat flour
· 2/3 cup water or broth
· Cookie cutters


1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) Mix all ingredients together well.

3) Roll out to ½ inch thick.

4) Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutter.

5) Bake 25 minutes.

Note on cookie cutters:
The smaller the better for small dogs.

Note on ingredients:
Because Birdie loves carrots, I sometimes cook some up and mash them into the batter, or grate some raw and mix those in before cooking.
Birdie after too many biscuits!
Pictures of Birdie by Julie Fay. Check out more at Julie’s website.
Alexandria House is a true grass roots success story. I’m proud to have been involved for more than 5 years. If you live in L.A. and are interested in volunteering your time, please check it out.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Blue Cheese & Wild Mushroom Crackers

Although the holidays are well over, the gifts I received just keep on giving. My mom went crazy picking out kitchen goodies: a sharp and shiny mandoline, a crock pot (which I have already made pulled pork in), canning tools (more pear & jasmine tea jam + new varieties on the way), countless ceramic baking dishes and even a cheese making kit: about two years from now, I will post the results of my cheddar cheese making efforts. And with the little bit of Christmas moolah I got, I bought a beautiful, cobalt, 3-1/2 quart, Le Crueset wide French oven that I found at less than half price at Marshalls—it definitely goes down as the deal of 2006.

As well, many of the recipes I made for holiday parties have lingered on, sneaking into my pre-spring repertoire. I’m over the cookies for a while, but the crackers continue to be perfect for parties and gifts. The cracker recipe I like most came from Martha Stewart Living. I can't say that I'm a regular Martha reader. No matter how beautiful all of her projects are, they usually seem unrealistic to me: no one has that much time to stencil and make candles. But I have to give Martha credit. Every time I read a copy, I always find at least one great recipe that becomes a staple. Blue Cheese & Wild Mushroom Crackers are the latest.

Blue Cheese & Wild Mushroom Crackers
adapted from Martha Stewart Living, December 2006


- ¼ oz (about ½ cup) dried wild mushrooms, such as chanterelle or porcini
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 8 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- 1-¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
- ¼ cup whole milk
- coarse salt


1) Preheat oven to 350.

2) Finely grind dried mushrooms in a spice grinder.

3) Toss butter and cheese into the food processor and mix until smooth.

4) Add flour, mushroom powder, and pepper, and mix until just combined.

5) Add milk, and mix just until mixture comes together. The dough will be stiff.

6) Divide dough into 3 discs. Make 3 rolls, 1 to 1-½ inches wide, wrap in parchment paper, and put in fridge for 1-2 hours.

7) Take from fridge. Cut thin, 1/16 inch crackers. Spread out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Gently pierce with a fork 2 times. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

8) Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

A note on dried mushrooms:
I picked up a nice, inexpensive blend from Cost Plus/World Market. Trader Joes is another good place to stock up on little packets of dried mushrooms.

A note on grinding mushrooms:
Speaking from experience: do not use your flour sifter. It worked (kinda) but it is now my mushroom sifter, not my flour sifter anymore.

A note on cutting the dough:
After taking the dough from the fridge, cut as soon as possible and cut as quickly as possible.

Check out my friend Ann Le’s fabulous new website: L.A. Lunchbox.

And don’t forget that it’s time to make your limoncello if you’re going to have it ready for summer sipping!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Butternut Squash Bruschetta

Yikes! I can’t believe that February is nearly over and I haven’t put up a single recipe. This is partly because I’ve been working like crazy and living off easy favorites like broccoli and tofu, drizzled with a mixture of soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, garlic, and sesame seeds, and baked at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. It is also because I don’t have a great picture for this bruschetta recipe. And this is a recipe that deserves a great shot: it looks so beautiful arranged on a wooden cutting board.

But comfort food season is almost over, and I want to share this before the weather gets too hot for spicy squash dishes, so here it is, sans accompanying story, avec mediocre photo. For those of you who have never considered using squash in a bruschetta, (I know I hadn’t, until I found this recipe), this is one of the best appetizers I’ve made in ages. It was also the talk of the party I took it to.

Butternut Squash Bruschetta
adapted from “‘ino’s Butternut Squash Bruschetta,” published in New York magazine


- 2 cups butternut squash, peeled and seeded
- 2 Tbsp honey
- ½ tsp chili flakes
- ¼ cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
- 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp sea salt
- pinch of pepper
- 1 baguette, cut on a bias into ½ to 1-inch slices
- 6 tsp walnut oil
- 4 tsp asiago cheese, grated


1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2) Toast the walnuts.

3) Cut squash into ½-inch cubes.

4) Gently fold the first 7 ingredients together in a medium bowl.

5) Spread mixture evenly on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes, then gently stir ingredients, and continue to cook for another 15 minutes.

6) Remove from oven, and let cool to room temperature.

7) Meanwhile, toast the baguette slices in the oven until they are slightly crisp.

8) Scoop a generous tablespoon of the squash mixture onto each piece of baguette. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and garnish with a drizzle of walnut oil and grated asiago.

Note on bread:
Make sure the baguette isn’t too narrow. The topping is chunky, and if the bread is too small, the topping easily falls off.

Note on walnut oil:
I have made this a couple times, and once I forgot to drizzle the walnut oil. It still tasted great. For good, reasonably priced walnut oil, go to Cost Plus or Trader Joe’s.

Note on making this as a side dish:
This is an excellent side dish. If using it as a side dish, you should cut the squash into 1-inch chunks.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Song of the South

Oops! I was going to spend the weeks leading up to Tet (Lunar New Year) celebrating Vietnamese food, but since we had our annual Southern Blues Party on Saturday night, I feel that I must digress. For more than three years, my sister Julie, my cousin Jeanne, and I have been throwing themed dinner parties at Jeanne’s house—Jeanne is truly a hostess extraordinaire. We throw two to three a year, and themes have included: Greek, Latin, Italian No Pasta, French, and 60s Kitsch (I made Twinkie Tiramisu). But Southern Blues was so much fun the first time that it’s now a tradition.

This year we had about 30 people, old friends and new—as is always the case. Julie is STILL in London, so she missed out, and we missed her. We also had ridiculous amounts of food. Everyone is encouraged to bring a dish and some people brought up to three. We had fried chicken, spicy coleslaw, glazed ham, biscuits, corn bread, three different kinds of mac ‘n cheese, Natalie’s famous spinach Madeleine … I know there was more, but I’m still kind of dazed from all the eating and can’t think clearly. The one thing we missed out on was grits; when my friend Ann went to the grocery store to buy some, she was told there was a recall. Who knew grits could be recalled! Oh yes, there was also plenty of bourbon, including a marvelous apple spiced infusion courtesy of Jeanne.

I made two dishes: Pulled Pork & Pecan-Coated Catfish. Both were ridiculously easy. Enjoy!

Pulled Pork
(adapted from

This recipe was my excuse to try the new crockpot my parents bought me for Christmas. Works like a charm!


- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp Tabasco
- 3-4 lbs pork shoulder roast (it’s okay if it’s on the bone)
- 5-6 dashes liquid smoke
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp ground paprika
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 2 tsp ketchup


1) In a large non-metallic bowl, combine cider vinegar, chopped onion, Worcestershire sauce, and hot pepper sauce. Add the pork roast, cover, and marinate in refrigerator for up to 6 hours and as long as overnight. Turn occasionally to keep roast coated with marinade.

2) Remove the pork from the marinade, scraping the onion back into the marinade. Lightly pat the roast dry with paper towels. Pour the marinade into a slow cooker and add the Liquid Smoke. Place a slow cooker meat rack or ring of foil in the slow cooker.

3) Combine the sugar, salt, paprika, and pepper in a cup. Rub the pork roast with the seasoning mixture and place on the rack in crockpot.

4) Cover and cook on LOW for 7 to 9 hours, or until very tender. Transfer the pork to a cutting board; cover with foil to keep warm.

5) Skim the fat from the surface of the cooking liquid. Stir in the ketchup.

6) Using 2 forks, pull the pork apart into shreds. Return the pork to the crockpot and stir liquid through it. You may want to first drain out some of the liquid, if it looks like there’s too much. You can always add more later.

7) For potlucks, set the dish beside a place of biscuits or hamburger buns and let everybody go for it.

Serves up to 8.

Pecan Coated Catfish
(adapted from Teri’s Kitchen:


- 4 catfish fillets, about 6 ounces each (I couldn’t get catfish and so used sole, which was excellent. You can also use halibut.)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3/4 cup pecans
- 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- 2 Tbsp butter, melted
- 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 Tbsp fresh dill weed
- 1 Tbsp fresh parsley
- Olive oil
- Lemon wedges


1) Preheat oven to 375° F. Butter or spray a 13x9x2-inch baking dish.

2) Place fish in dish; sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3) Grind the pecans in a food processor until finely chopped. Throw in the breadcrumbs and grind some more. Throw in the dill, parsley, and cheese, and grind even more. (Don’t even bother chopping the dill and parsley beforehand). Stir in the butter and mustard and mix until well combined.

4) Pat the crumbs onto the top of each fillet. Drizzle with olive oil (I didn’t, and it turned out nice and flaky).

5)Bake until fish is done, about 15 minutes. (I needed to bake a little longer than 15 minutes for fillets ¾ inch thick).

6) If desired, place under broiler for additional browning of crust. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.

Serves 4.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Southern California's Little Saigon

A few months ago, my friend Tiffany, who is the editor of Preferred Destinations, asked me to write an article about Little Saigon, a Vietnamese community located in Santa Ana, Westminster, and Garden Grove in Southern California. I'm not very good at article writing (as a failed attempt at a food article writing class with an editor at Bon Appetit can attest), but I wanted to share my Little Saigon with others, so I took the assignment. As part of my tribute to Tet, which will be on February 18 this year, I'm reprinting the article here, in a slightly edited form. If not a journalistic gem, it is a good introduction to some of the area's great restaurants and shops. Enjoy, and make sure to pick up a copy of Ann Le's The Little Saigon Cookbook to learn even more about the community.

Little Saigon
Having lived in Vietnam for four years, there are times when I am homesick for it in a way that nearly breaks my heart. I miss the communion of the people, the intimacy of the neighborhoods, the flavors of mint and chili in a bowl of steaming noodle soup shared with a friend. It is a country where neighbors look out for one another, shopkeepers know your stories, and restaurants serve as public living rooms.

Fortunately, I have Little Saigon.

Less than an hour's drive south of Los Angeles, this community of more than 200,000 Vietnamese was founded by refugees who settled here after the end of the war in 1975. “Restaurants and businesses here originally functioned as points of survival,” says Ann Le, author of The Little Saigon Cookbook. “They were born from a struggling immigrant community’s needs rather than a Chamber of Commerce P.R. campaign.”

What this means—and what makes Little Saigon one of the most exciting, if under-appreciated, destinations in Southern California—is authenticity. From the outside this may be just another unremarkable expanse of strip mall urban sprawl. But the moment I enter a candy store, herbalist shop, and pho café, I am back in Vietnam. Each time I eat Banh Cuon Dac Biet Tay Ho (steamed rice paper crepes filled with minced pork and served with shrimp tempera and pressed pork) at Tay Ho, I am transported back to the little street stall where I once ate this dish for breakfast at least three times a week. Every time I drop into Bao Hien Rong Vang for banh com (sweet rice cake made with coconut, vanilla, and mung beans), I feel as if I am back in Ho Chi Minh City, where a friend’s mother once bought these treats for me at a shop of the same name.

The best way to begin your explorations of Little Saigon is with the food, and as you sample various dishes, you are in essence sampling the diversity of Vietnam, which is made up of distinct culinary regions. Most visitors begin in Hanoi, with pho, the now ubiquitous noodle soup that originated in the north. Citing its freshness, Ann favors the beef pho at the whimsically named Pho Kimmy. Pho 79, which has a branch in the Asian Garden Mall, is also a popular choice with locals. Another northern favorite, and a dish I would eat every day if I could, is bun cha (delicately grilled pork served with rice vermicelli, lettuce, and herbs). Song Long offers a commendable version, Bun Cha Song Long, in an appealing Viet-Franco setting.

In central Vietnam, in the 1800s, the royal chefs of the former imperial city of Hue distilled the country’s already refined cuisine. At the charmingly accessible Quan Hy, you may sample some of the most popular results, including banh beo (steamed rice cakes with shredded shrimp) and bun bo (imperial noodle soup with beef and pork). For a more homespun take on these dishes, head to Huong Giang, but be forewarned that the staff speaks limited English, and as with many restaurants and shops in Little Saigon, credit cards are not accepted.

Both zealous carnivores and diehard herbivores will appreciate Vietnam’s diplomatic approach to food. At Anh Hong, which originated in Saigon in the 1950s, a traditional seven-course beef meal is served with a side of local color, as the predominantly male crowd gathers to talk, drink, and devour dishes such as beef tartare marinated in lemon juice, beef sausage wrapped in la lot leaves, and thin strips of beef simmered at the table in vinegar fondue. On the flip side, Vietnamese gastronomy, with its strong Buddhist influences, takes an equally visionary approach to vegetarian food. The array of soy-based “chicken,” “lobster,” “duck,” and even “kidney” at Au Lac is impressive. If you are feeling adventuresome on a Sunday, drop by the Chua Hue Quang pagoda around lunchtime. Take a peek at the spiritual side of life in Little Saigon, and then wander next door. Nosy but polite trespassers are often invited to share in one of the best vegetarian lunches in town. English is at a minimum, but the experience is one-of-a-kind.

Don’t want to be limited to a single dish, approach, or region? Variety is the spice of life at the Westerner-friendly Saigon Bistro, a favorite of Crystal Wadsworth, Executive Director of the Westminster Chamber of Commerce, or homey My Nguyen, serving the kind of inexpensive family-style dining Ann and so many of her peers were raised on. The swanky, French-influenced Favori is also a top choice, with a good wine list, a wide selection of approachable dishes, and notable specialties such as ca nuong mo banh (baked whole catfish, whiskered grimace and all!), which you transform into fresh spring rolls right at the table.


While food is inarguably Little Saigon’s starring attraction, the shopping scene, though small, is one of Southern California’s best-kept secrets. The Asian Garden Mall houses the largest jewelry market in Orange County. I had ventured through this impressive bazaar numerous times, but it is not until I explore the mosaic of glittering boutiques with the effervescent Kathy Buchoz, the mall’s property manager, do I understand that en masse they serve as a microcosm for the community’s story of struggling refugees making good on the American Dream. Available to lead group tours, (she can be reached through the Westminster Chamber of Commerce), Kathy is more than a manager. She is the reverential keeper of the histories of every person who has a store in the mall. No one is introduced without an accompanying background, which generally ends with a tale of good fortune: the success of his or her shop.

Our first stop is Tick Tock, one of the mall’s original tenants. Started by immigrant Tan Hong, it is now run by Tan’s son Viet, who studied the art of watch making in Switzerland before returning to Little Saigon to transform the mom and pop joint into a showroom worthy of South Coast Plaza. In many ways, Tick Tock and the other shops in the mall recall an old-fashioned, all-American ethos that has been usurped by the chain store mentality. Viet is visibly enthusiastic when he declares, “I am so proud to carry on my family’s business.” He explains that the lab is maintained right in the store, and all work is done by his father or himself. Of particular note for visitors are the terrific prices, especially since Tick Tock is an authorized dealer for every brand it carries, including Baume & Mercier, Tag Heuer, Ebel, Omega, Gucci, and Versace. Also of great value in the mall are handbags, gold, diamonds, and other precious gems. With five shops, the family-run Ngoc Quang Jewelry offers the widest high-end jewelry selection.

Asian Garden Mall is also fun to explore solely for the experience, beginning with its exterior walls, which display molded concrete artwork by an artist from Beijing. Marble statues of the gods of happiness, longevity, and prosperity welcome you at the front entrance, which brings you directly into the food court, where you can fortify yourself with wonton soup and a refreshing glass of sugar cane juice at Hoa Binh Fast Food. As you wander, highlights include orchids, lucky bamboo, jade, ginseng at the traditional Phuoc Loc Tho Herb & Tea, and even ao dais, the tunic and trouser combination worn by Vietnamese women on special occasions, which are sold at Thanh Trang Bridal Shop. Unfortunately, most regular clothes are too small for Western bodies.


Once I have eaten and shopped and usually eaten again, leaving Little Saigon takes me nearly an hour, because of the ritual that has developed over the course of my many visits. From the mall, I walk to Dong Phuong Tofu, bypassing the snacks in the front case for the fresh tofu and soymilk processed in the onsite factory. The shop meets the soy-based needs of Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and I still get a thrill every time I purchase a block of still-warm tofu for a dollar, to take home and incorporate into that night’s dinner.

Next, I cross the street to Lee’s Sandwich Shop for the house specialty, a ca phe sua da (AKA: Lee’s Coffee). Starbuck’s Frappuccino has nothing on this condensed milk-based iced coffee when it comes to the jolt factor. Lee’s, which began in San Jose and now has more than thirty franchises, also specializes in banh mi, the Vietnamese version of a deli sandwich on a fresh baguette. Banh mi makes a terrific snack or light meal; you can also try it at Banh Mi Che Cali, a café favored by Ann for its homemade bread, mayonnaise and pâté.

From Lee’s I hop in my car and drive a few blocks to my final stop, the Vua Kho Bo candy shop in the T&K Supermarket Plaza. Since I don’t have a sweet tooth, I usually skip the candies for a few scoops of dried jackfruit for my sister and a bag of dried tamarind for myself. So far, I’m still avoiding the dried squid and crab. Armed with treats and my iced coffee, and growing ever more caffeinated by the minute, I head for home, comforted by the knowledge that whenever I long for the sights, sounds, and flavors of Vietnam, they can be found just a short drive away.
Getting Your Bearings:
The core of Little Saigon is located in a section bordered by Bolsa, Westminster, Magnolia, and Brookhurst Avenues. Most of the restaurants and shops listed in this article are located within these boundaries. A few exceptions lie just beyond on the main streets.
- Anh Hong: 10195 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, 714-537-5230
- Asian Garden Mall: 9200 Bolsa Ave., Westminster
- Au Lac: 16563 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, 714-418-0658
- Banh Mi Che Cali: 8948 Bolsa Ave, Westminster, 714-897-3927
- Bao Hien Rong Vang: 14092 Magnolia, Ste. 115, Westminster, 714-892-2205
- Chua Hue Quang Pagoda: 4918 W. Westminster Ave., Santa Ana, 714-530-9249
- Duong Phuong Tofu: 15022 Moran St., Westminster, 714-893-2022, ext. 206
- Favori: 3502 W. First St., Santa Ana, 714-531-6838
- Huong Giang: 14564 Brookhurst St, Garden Grove, 714-531-2464
- Lee’s Sandwich Shop: 9261 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, 714-901-5788
- My Nguyen: 14282 Brookhurst Ave., Garden Grove, 714-839-5541
- Pho Kimmy: 14932 Bushard St., Westminster, 714-775-1699
- Quan Hy: 9727 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, 714-775-7179
- Saigon Bistro: 15470 Magnolia St, Westminster, 714-895-2120
- Song Long: 9361 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 108, Westminster, 714-775-3724
- Tay Ho: 9629 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, 714-839-1389
- Vua Kho Bo: 9717 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, 714-775-7166
- Westminster Chamber of Commerce: 14491 Beach Blvd., Westminster, 714-898-9648
If you want to try cooking a Vietnamese dish at home, I recommend Clay Pot Fish. Yet another friend of mine just used my recipe and loved it.
photos by Julie Fay

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Chuc Mung Nam Moi: Celebrating Vietnamese Flavors

With the Year of the Pig due to arrive on February 18, I would like to spend the next month focusing on Vietnam, beginning with a recipe from The Little Saigon Cookbook, by Ann Le.

About two years ago, Ann came serendipitously into my life. I was hunkered down in Cook’s Library researching Communion, and she happened to be there buying a gift for a friend. Casual conversation over the merit of a few Vietnamese cookbooks led to a wonderful, constantly evolving, enriching friendship ... as well as partnership with my sister on Ann's book—Julie took the photographs.

Ann wrote The Little Saigon Cookbook out of respect for the Southern California immigrant community in which she was raised and a desire to preserve its culinary traditions for future generations. For this post, I asked her to choose a favorite recipe from the book. Despite this being a porcine new year, she selected the following chicken dish, which I enjoyed many times when I lived in Vietnam.

Traditional Shredded Chicken and Cabbage Salad (Goi Ga)

Goi ga, regarded as the coleslaw of South Vietnam, is a refreshingly sweet and tangy salad. The chopping and slicing steps to make it may seem laborious, but they’re necessary to let all the ingredients be more evenly coated by the dressing. Note that each part of the salad is dressed separately before the final tossing. There are a number of ways this salad can be expanded, such as by adding boiled shrimp and pork, more cucumber slices, shallots, or other cabbages (except red cabbage). Just make sure you have the dressing perfected—a balance of tangy, sweet, and salty flavors—as it is the clincher to creating the invigorating taste of goi ga. The fish sauce should not be overwhelming. Serve this salad at room temperature.


- 3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 dried Thai bird chile, thinly sliced
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 5 Tbsp fish sauce
- ½ cup paper-thin slices yellow onion
- 1 head green cabbage (Savoy or Napa recommended)
- 2 medium carrots, peeled
- 2 chicken breasts (approximately 1 lb. total)
- 1 medium cucumber, peeled and julienned
- 3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- ½ cup finely chopped fresh Vietnamese coriander leaves
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
- ½ cup crushed lightly salted peanuts


1. In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, chopped garlic, sliced chile, sugar, and fish sauce. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Add the sliced onions and set aside.
2. Shred the cabbage and carrots with a mandoline into a large bowl. Pour half of the dressing over the vegetables and let them marinate for at least 15 minutes.
3. Boil the chicken breasts in salted water until fully cooked. Let cool, then shred into thin pieces by hand.
4. Add the chicken, cucumber, cilantro, and mint to the marinated cabbage and carrots. Add the rest of the dressing and toss. Let the salad sit for about 10 minutes before serving to allow the cabbage to wilt a bit.
5. In a skillet over high heat, toast the crushed peanuts. Add them to the top of the salad as a garnish just before serving.

(Serves 6)

Make sure to check out Ann’s new foodie website, LA Lunchbox (, debuting in March 2007.


photos by Julie Fay