It's hard to believe I'm getting closer to a half-century mark today. Luckily, I've never been one to worry about getting older. I like birthday. Birthday is an excuse to eat cake and not feel guilty about it.

To celebrate another year of my life, I made lots of brownies to share with my friends, neighbors and students. These brownies are made from Valrhona Unsweetened Chocolate. They are dense, gooey and intense in flavor. This recipe is adapted from Joy of Baking.

Did I tell you chocolate is my favorite ingredient to work with. It makes everything taste better. :)

makes 8x8 baking pan

- 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 4 oz. salted butter, cut into pieces
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips
- 3/4 cup roasted walnuts, chopped
- 1/8 cup roasted cocoa nibs


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour the pan.
2. Melt chocolate and butter together in a medium pot over medium-low heat.
3. Remove from heat, whisk in sugar.
4. Whisk in eggs, extract and flour.
5. Fold in chocolate chips, walnuts and cocoa nibs.
6. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

More brownie recipes :
Brownies with cocoa powder
Brownies with hazelnut flour
Nutella brownies


Happy National Ice Cream Day!

Since It's a national ice cream day, I want to share with you a homemade coconut ice cream recipe. I used coconut puree, but you can also use coconut milk.

Inspire by fried banana ice cream (a Thai dessert) that you see in Thai restaurants, I pair this coconut ice cream with pan-fried sweet plantains.

makes 2 pints

- 1 cup half and half
- 4 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 cup coconut puree, room temp
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
- 1/4 tsp. salt


1. Make creme anglaise : In a medium pot over medium heat, bring half and half to a boil. Whisk yolks and sugar together in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the hot cream. Add the yolk mixture back to the pot. Bring the mixture back to 165 degrees over medium heat.
3. Strain the custard over an ice-bath. Immediately whisk in the rest of ingredients. Let cool completely in an ice-bath.
4. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
5. Transfer to an ice cream maker, churn for 15-20 minutes.
6. Pour into containers and freeze.


Pink Lemonade Cupcakes

These cupcakes are super lemony, super moist and super tasty. You won't need a boxed cake because this recipe is so easy and everyone can make it. You'll get better flavor using fresh ingredients like fresh egg and fresh lemon.

Pink lemonade cupcakes are perfect for summer. I topped them with pink lemonade swiss meringue buttercream. You can also use lemon cream cheese frosting or lemon meringue frosting.

makes 12

- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 lemon zest
- 1 egg
- 1 cup cake flour (or all-purpose flour)
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 3/4 tsp. baking soda
- 1-2 drops pink food coloring


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the cupcake pan with liners.
2. Place butter into a medium microwave-safe dish. Heat the butter for 15 seconds on high. If you still see solid butter, heat for an additional 15 seconds.
3. In order, whisk in lemon juice, sugar, sour cream, vanilla, zest and egg.
4. Sift all dry ingredients together, then whisk all dry into the batter. Add food coloring.
5. Divide the batter evenly among lined cups, fill about 3/4 full. Bake for 15-18 minutes.


Road Trip

When I was living in the Caribbean for two years, I had to come back to the States every six months in order to keep my green card. In 2006, my husband and I needed to stay in the US for 6 weeks long so we decided to buy a van to be our home away from home. Living in a van wasn't something I thought I could do, but it turned out that the freedoms of living in the back of the van were amazing. Plus I got to wake up to the new adventure every morning.

Since then, living in a van hasn't been a problem to me. When my husband told me he wanted to do a road trip again, I was sold. Our plan was to visit the National Parks in Utah and Arizona. We spent our first camping night at the campground in Green River State Park, where we got bitten alive by million of mosquitos. Oh well, lesson learned--not to camp close to the breeding ground. It wasn't convenience to take Moby into National Parks, so he stayed at Karen's canine campground for a few days while we were checking out all National Parks.

We started off our trip by camping overnight at Murphy Point, Canyonlands. It was the most beautiful and peaceful place on earth I've ever come close to, especially when the sun lit up the sky with a golden sunset. Our campsite was on a hilltop overlooking the vast red maze of sandstone canyons and spires that name the park. This campsite only accessed by a hiking trail. There were only two of us that night. It took us about an hour to reach the campsite. No facilities were provided here, such as water, restrooms or trash cans. You must be wonder how we stayed clean. Here's the tricks for Backcountry Hygiene.

After Canyonlands, we visited Arches, Antelope Canyon, Bryce and Capitol Reef. We spent every night in the back of the van. Again, I'm sure you're wondering how we showered. Easy, there were many campgrounds that provide hot showers. Truck stops also had the best showers, just so you know. :)

We picked up Moby and continued our road trip to Million Dollar Highway, Durango, Santa Fe, Petrified Forest, Flagstaff, Sedona and Grand Canyon. It wasn't easy for three of us to live in such a small space every night when Moby returned to the van. Instead we stayed in a motel for some space. 

In ten days, we covered six States (California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico) and seven National parks (Arches, Canyonlands, Antelope Canyon, Bryce, Capitol Reef, petrified Forrest and Grand Canyon).

Here are some tips for this road trip.
- Make plan when travel with your dogs.
- Bring enough water.
- You need to make a reservation ahead of time when boarding your dogs at Karen's canine.
- Moab is a charming little town that provides lots of car washes, includes drive-thru car washes.
- Escalante has a nice coffee shop. They make everything from scratch. The best homemade muffin for this trip.
- Camping at Canyonlands needs a permit.
- Upper Antelope Canyon is accessible by guide tours only. You must book a tour ahead.
- Avoid credit card skimming, using cash instead of credit card in any gas stations.
- If you happen to be in Chama, New Mexico. Stay overnight at Chama Trails Inn and have dinner at High Country Restaurant and Saloon.
- In Santa Fe, lunch at Tabla de Los Santos. It's a mix of French, Mexican and American.
- In Flagstaff, check out Beaver Street Brewery.
- Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest are pet friendly parks.

Check out more photos here!


fruit picking

Picking my own fruit to make jam would be a fun thing so I headed out to Brentwood last weekend and got some strawberries, cherries and apricots. I prefer less sweet jam. The result is my jam tastes very fresh but doesn't keep as long as jam with more sugar.


Strawberry Balsamic Jam
makes 3 jars (8 oz.)

- 2 lbs. strawberries, hulled and halved
- 1/2 lb. sugar
- 2 lemon juice
- 1 tbsp. balsamic

Cherry Kirsch Jam
makes 5 jars (8 oz.)

- 3 lbs. sweet cherries, pitted
- 12 oz. sugar
- 2 lemon juice
- 1 tbsp. kirsch


Strawberry Balsamic Jam
1. In a large non-stick pot, bring all ingredients to a boil over medium low heat. Stir until sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes.
2. Once the mixture hits the boil, turn the heat up to high and continue cooking until the mixture reaches 220 degrees.
3. Remove from heat and skim off the foam.
4. Pour into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4" head space. Wipe rims and apply lids.
5. Process in a boiling water for 10 minutes.

Cherry Kirsch Jam
1. Add cherries into a large non-stick pot. Using an immersion, puree 1/3 of the cherries.
2. Add sugar and lemon juice, and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Once it hits the boil, simmer for 5 minutes and stir until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, cover and let stand at room temperature for an hour.
3. Bring the mixture to 220 degrees over high heat (about 10-15 minutes). Stir constantly.
4. Remove from heat and skim foam from the surface. Stir in Kirsch.
5. Pour into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4" head space. Wipe rims and apply lids.
6. Process in a boiling water for 10 minutes.


thai iced tea from scratch

makes 16 oz.

- 4 tbsp. Thai tea leaves
- 1 cup hot water
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 2 tbsp. condensed milk
- 1/2 cup ice cubes
- 2 tbsp. evaporated milk


1. Add hot water to Thai tea leaves, cover and infuse for 5 minutes. Discard the leaves.
2. Add sugar and condensed milk to the tea. Mix until combined.
3. Add ice cubes and evaporated milk.



nutella brownies

I came across the recipe that only use two things to make brownies today. I was so excited, so I started making it right away. It was quick, only 45 minutes and I got to eat these gooey brownies. The original recipe use one cup of Nutella, but I use a whole jar. Why not. :)

makes 8"x8" pan

- 1 jar (13 oz.) Nutella
- 4 eggs


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the baking pan with parchment paper.
2. Using medium high speed, whisk eggs until light and frothy, about 8-10 minutes.
3. Heat Nutella in a microwave for a minute, stir every 15 seconds.
4. Gradually add warm Nutella into eggs. Continue whisking on medium low speed until just combined.
5. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes.
6. Let it cool completely in pan before cutting it.

Note: Instead of 4 eggs, use 2 eggs and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour for cakey brownies.


bread pudding

This lightly spiced, booze and extra thick bread pudding is made from croissant bread. There is twice the custard to bread. This bread pudding is crunchy on the outside and custardy smooth on the inside.

makes 1-pound loaf pan

Bread Pudding:
- 6 large croissants, cut into small cubes
- 6 eggs
- 2 2/3 cups half and half
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup rum (optional)

Creme Anglaise:
- 1 cup milk
- 3 yolks
- 3 tbsp. sugar
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste

Preparations :

Bread Pudding:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Place croissant cubes in a greased loaf pan.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the rest of ingredients. Pour over croissant.
4. Bake in a water bath for 45-50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. 
5. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.

Creme Anglaise:
1. In a pot, bring milk to a simmer. At the same time, whisk together the rest of ingredients in a medium bowl.
2. Slowly pour warm milk into yolk mixture. Whisk until sugar has dissolved.
3. Pour the custard back to the pot, and continue whisking until it reaches 165 degrees.
4. Remove from heat, strain the custard into a bowl set over an ice-bath to stop the cooking process.


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