My BFF Maya has outdone herself, once again. She sent me my favorite Indonesian treat from Portland! When she used to live down here, she would let me try all kinds of Southeast Asian feast from her homeland, and bacang, with sweet and spicy meat wrapped in sticky or regular rice and steamed in banana leaves, was my absolute favorite.

She sent me a total of four — two made with regular rice and the rest made with sticky rice. I think my favorite was the latter, since I’m a huge fan of the flavor and texture of glutenous rice.


The timing was especially perfect because it was Friday and I just wasn’t in the mood to cook dinner. It was a wonderful way to start the weekend, with the lovely rice treat or two, washed down with a glass of wine.

Thank you, Maya! I love you!

Thanksgiving 2014


This year’s Thanksgiving dinner took place at my parent’s house, with five couples who are most important in my life: my parents; my parents-in-law; my sister and her boyfriend; me and Kevin; and Audrey and Minnie (the house dog). I didn’t want my mother to tire herself out by cooking such a large meal, so I volunteered to cook the meal for everyone this year, with my mother setting the table, my in-laws bringing the dessert and my sister bringing the wines. I was the official catering lady of the evening, with disposable tin containers and all!

Since I was transporting the food and they were destined to get cold, I decided to prepare everything the night before (except for turkey) and store them in the fridge until we were ready to hit the road. I’m glad I did this because I was able to just relax and play with the kid during the day, completely stress free!


It took me about four hours total to prepare the stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables, braised red cabbage, and Greek salad. Kevin whipped up the haricot vert at the parent’s house right before all the guests arrived.

I also prepared a charcuterie plate (not pictured), with prosciutto, salami, smoked salmon, and some goat cheese, brie, and colby jack, with cucumber slices and assorted crackers. My in-laws brought giant pumpkin pie and apple pie (and whip cream!) what were heavenly.

I think everything turned out pretty decent, but I must admit that I’ve cooked a better Thanksgiving meals before.

Here’s the menu for the evening!  Each recipe makes enough to fill the 9 x 9 pans.


Roasted Turkey:

It takes about 4 hours per pound to defrost the turkey in the refrigerator, and it takes 20 minutes per pound to roast the bird in the oven. As long you know these two things, you’re good to go! We roasted two, 13 pounds turkeys this year to feed 9 people. It turned out that that was WAY too much, since 4 out of 9 were our parents with small appetites, and another one was a toddler. We only got through one, and everyone took pieces from the other one home.

Pat the turkey with paper towel to dry. Take out all the giblets out of the caucus. Rub the turkey with a mixture of finely chopped rosemary and thyme, grated garlic, salt and pepper, and olive oil. Place the turkey on a roasting pan and roast the turkey in a 375 degree F oven for about 4 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degree F. Take out the turkey every hour and baste the skin with the mixture or the dripping from the bottom of the pan. Make sure to do this quickly to maintain the oven temperature.

thanksgiving 1

Braised Red Cabbage:

Chop 2 heads of red cabbage into half inch strips. In a very large pot, sauté the cabbage in olive oil until slightly wilted, about 10 minutes. Add sliced apples (2 medium – I used Fuji for its tang and crispy texture) and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add 2 cups apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup maple syrup, sprinkle salt and pepper to taste, and cook until the cabbage and apples are completely wilted. Add dill for garnish. Serve hot or cold. Personally, I love letting this sit overnight and serve it cold.

Sauté Haricot Vert:

Boil about 2 pounds of haricot vert in a large pot of boiling water for about 3 minutes, take care not to overcook (This is optional. You can do all the cooking in the pan. Boiling them first speed up the cooking process). Drain the beans and add them to a large frying pan. Sauté them in olive oil, in medium high meat, until you reach the desired consistency. We like ours slightly crunchy so we don’t overcook it. Add ¼ cup white wine, 1 tablespoon butter, salt and pepper to taste, and cook until the liquid evaporates. Add ¼ cup lemon juice, ¼ cup almond slices and toss. Garnish the plate with lemon wedges.

thanksgiving 12

Roasted Root Vegetables:

Chop 5 medium size unpeeled red potatoes (more, if you’re using the small ones), 2 large onions, and one head of cauliflower into bite size, and add them in a large roasting pan. Also add one bag of ready-to-eat baby carrots and 5 cloves of peeled garlic to the pan. Toss the vegetables in ¼ cup olive oil, making sure that each vegetable is well coated with oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. Bake in 375 degree F oven for about one hour, or until the veggies are tender. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.

Mashed Potatoes:

Peel and cut 10 Russet potatoes and add them in a pot of cold water. Bring the water to a boil in high heat and cook the potatoes until fork tender. Drain the water and return the potatoes in the same pot. Using the handheld blender, mash the potatoes until smooth (I like mine a little lumpy so I went easy with the blending). Add 1-1/2 cups milk, 10 grated garlic, finely-chopped rosemary and thyme, slat and pepper to taste, and cook in medium heat until fluffy. Do not over mix, as doing so will turn the potatoes into a paste.  Garnish with herbs.

thanksgiving 11


I used the boxed stuffing this year! I just sauted 2 large onions, 10 stalks of celery, and 5 cloves of chopped garlic in a large pan.  I added, to the vegetables, 3 boxes of cornbread stuffing mix and poured in 2 boxes of vegetable broths. I’m actually not too crazy about cornbread stuffing but Kevin insisted on his favorite so I compromised, like a good wife that I am.

Greek Salad:

Chop 10 medium size tomatoes into cubes. You don’t need to remove the seeds. Half one large English cucumber lengthwise and scrape out the seeds from the middle. Chop the cucumber into bite-size cubes. Toss the tomato and cucumber cubes in a large bowl. Add 5 cloves of grated garlic, ½ cup olive oil, crumbled feta cheese, handful of finely chopped parsley, salt and pepper to taste, and toss. Cover and let the salad sit in a refrigerator overnight.

thanksgiving 6

My mother- and father-in-laws made these two lovely dishes – pumpkin salad (like potato salad but with pumpkin) and roasted Brussels sprouts! These two were probably my favorite dishes of the night!

I think everyone’s top three dishes were: Haricot vert, pumpkin salad, and braised cabbage.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Day 1: LA Adventures

maya and hirono

The last time Maya visited me, Pon Pon was only four days old. I had just returned home from the hospital after delivering the baby, and I was exhausted, severely sleep deprived, hormonal, stressed, moody, and a hot mess — definitely not a good company.  So I’m happy that we got to spend quality time together this time around. She came down from PDX for Pon Pon’s first birthday party and I got to spend a week of quality girl time with my BFF.

After the party, I took off my mommy hat and headed to Mondrian Hotel on Sunset for a baby-free weekend. It was my first time being away from Pon Pon overnight and I have to admit that it was a little tough at first (yes, I have become one of those parents who can’t stay away from their bebe for more than a few hours)  … but I knew that Kevin was holding down the fort at home and she was in good hand. By the time Maya and I got on the road, I was no longer a mom but a buck wild party girl (okay, this is totally not true).


Mondrian Hotel was lovely.  The room was very tiny but we got the room with an amazing view of West Hollywood.  Maya and I are such Asians – as soon as we walked into the room, we started snapping pictures!


I wish there was a bath tub … but the shower had a pretty good water pressure.


Our balcony overlooked the Herringbone restaurant.


Picturesque West Hollywood.  You can see Beverly Center and Lawry’s Prime Rib, our wedding venue, from here.


I remember when Sunset Boulevard was the place to hang out on a weekend.  It was so much more quiet and tamed this night.  I wonder if this famous strip has lost its charm, or I just got older.  Things didn’t look as mesmerizing as I once remembered as a wee twenty-something.


After we unpacked and unwind, we headed over to Little Next Door for some late dinner.  We weren’t overly hungry, so we decided to eat something light with a glass or two of wine.

Maya and I almost always order fresh oysters when they’re available and we’re usually happy with them.  Unfortunately, this was not that time.  Each oyster was so tiny that we felt like we got ripped off.


I order this Salad Nicoise almost every time I’m here at the restaurant.  It’s not necessarily that it’s the best item on the menu, but because I’m a Salad Nicoise addict and I cannot say no to it when it’s on the menu.


Here’s Maya’s fish dish.  We ordered dessert and coffee but we forgot to take pictures.

We were so exhausted by the time we finished dinner, we returned to our hotel room, took off our shoes, and just watched the Olympics.  Although we were in the middle of action in a city that doesn’t sleep (okay, that’s not true .. unlike NYC, bars close early in LA), we realized we’d much rather stay in and relax in our comfortable pajamas.  I guess you can take a girl out of a home, but you can’t take her hominess out of a girl.

Salmon Cakes


I am trying so hard not to pass judgment or make assumptions about others. I recently read a story about a certain celebrity couple who left their three-month-old baby home to fly to Paris, to attend a certain celebrity event. The former self would have judged and said, “Dude, what the #%@#? They’re such #$@%-ing awful parents for leaving their newborn, just to satisfy their own vanity!” (By the way, I’m trying hard to curse less too.) But the new self now thinks, “Everyone is entitled to their own choices, and if going away and taking a little vacation from parenting actually makes them better parents, let them to fly to a foreign country and flaunt those mega post-baby boobies!” It’s not easy, but I’m trying!

So, in the spirit of positive thinking, giving the benefit of the doubt, looking on the bright side of life, and glass is always half full, give Salmon Cakes from a canned salmon a try! Canned fish often gets a bad rap but these flaky cakes are delicious!


Salmon Cake
(Adapted from Ten Dollar Dinners, as well as Food Network)


2 strips bacon, cooked until crispy, crumbled, bacon fat reserved
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 egg
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 lemon, zested
1 (14-ounce) can wild salmon, checked for large bones
1 baked or boiled russet potato, peeled, and fluffed with a fork
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil


Heat 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat in a small saute pan over low heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Cool the onions for a bit.

Mix the bacon, onion, egg, mayonnaise, mustard, sugar, and lemon zest in a bowl. Add the salmon and potato, mixing gently after each addition. Form the mixture into 12 small patties. In a shallow dish, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and pepper, to taste. Coat the patties in the bread crumb topping. Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat, and cook the salmon cakes in batches until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Add more oil, as necessary. Arrange on a serving platter and serve.

I didn’t make the recommended side dishes. Instead, I served the cakes with pasta salad and string beans.


Happy Christmas


I guess it wasn’t just me who didn’t feel all that festive this Christmas. Kevin thinks having Christmas fall on a Tuesday had something to do with it, and I completely agree. Good for those people who took the Monday the 24th off, or even better, the rest of the year off. It was strange to work on Monday, take a day off to celebrate Christmas on Tuesday, and back to work on Wednesday.


We spent Christmas Eve at my parents’ house and had a wonderful holiday dinner. My mother roasted a 2-pound chicken (which I forgot to take a picture of) and feasted on tonkatsu (pork cutlets) and other appropriately green side dishes like her famous spaghetti salad, string beans tossed in sesame, steamed Brussels sprouts, and spinach. The spread wasn’t very Christmas-y but everything was delicious. My father picked up a decadent chocolate cake from a bakery owned by a Persian family. He asked to have “Merry Christmas” written on a cake but the pastry chef didn’t know how to spell it, so we ended up having a cake that read, “Happy Chrisms.” I thought that was hilarious.

We were invited to Kevin’s sister’s house for an amazing prime rib lunch on Christmas day. I was so into gulfing down the food that I forgot to take pictures. The meat was perfectly cooked, and the green salad and the sweet corn casserole served on the side were absolutely to die for. She definitely knows how to cook! Thank you so much for the amazing meal and thoughtful gifts.

I hope you all had a happy Christmas, and getting ready for the new year!

Giving Thanks at Thanksgiving

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving with family and loved ones! And those of you who worked or shopped the Black Friday sales last night – hats off to you!

This year’s Thanksgiving was amazing. We had a wonderful time last night with my husband’s side of the family, and indulged in traditional Thanksgiving feast, prepared by a chef at Kevin’s sister’s workplace. We were impressed with how the turkey came out extra moist and delicious, even after it sat there for a few hours.

In addition to the usual mashed potatoes and stuffing that came with the meal (plus bread pudding for dessert), there were a few other delicious homemade flares, like vegetable soup, fried shrimp, tomato salad, green bean casserole, sautéed French haricot verts, and chirashizushi.

I wish I took pictures of Porto’s Fruit Tart and Rustic Tart that we had for dessert. They were amazing, as usual (although the Rustic Tart, unfortunately, was not as good as the first time we tried it a few weeks back). It’s always very crowded at this famous Cuban café and bakery, but this day was extra crazy. When I got there around 11:30 a.m. to pick up the tarts, the line went out the door, and went around the building, into the parking lot!

I hope you enjoy the rest of the week relaxing and spending time with your loved ones!

Mozza Fever

Here’s what I ate today …

Breakfast: It’s so difficult for me to eat breakfast so my sister, caring for my body, gave me a box of Special K cereal for Christmas. She said that it’s better to eat this than nothing at all … so I had a bowl with almond milk this morning. I probably won’t be able to eat eggs and potatoes for breakfast, but I can certainly eat this. It’s pretty darn good. Thanks, sis!

Lunch: A bowl of white rice, topped with several different kinds of kimchi that I picked up from a local Korean supermarket: squid, cucumber, and root vegetable … and seaweed salad.

Also had leftover from last week’s Christmas dinner: A slice of turkey breast, green bean casserole, stuffing, and cauliflower salad.

Dinner: Dinner at Tiffany’s, with Shannon and Roya, for a girls’ night in. We cooked up (I actually read the ingredients and instructions out loud as Tiffany and Shannon cooked in the kitchen) dishes from The Mozza Cookbook: Tricolor Salad (with arugula, endives, and radicchio, tossed in Caser-inspired dressing), mussels (with homemade garlic mayonnaise), and crostini. We are crazy about Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza, so needless to say, this was a fantastic night.

Not pictured: Fubuki manju (Japanese sweets) after lunch, banana bread (baked by Shannon) before dinner, and 2 glasses of red wine with dinner.

Rewriting Thanksgiving Tradition with New Dishes

I still remember my first Thanksgiving dinner vividly. It was 1985, a year after we came to the states, and we were invited to my parents’ friend’s house, who cooked us and other new Japanese expats traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, stuffing, yams, cranberry sauce – the works (they were also Japanese but had been in the U.S. much longer than many of us there). Perhaps looking back, maybe those dishes were not all that authentic (I have a sneaking suspicion that there were soy sauce hidden somewhere) but for many of us who were completely foreign to this mysterious holiday, seeing a whole turkey displayed beautifully across the table never felt more American — the world we only knew through movies and books!

For the next two decades, our family developed our own Thanksgiving tradition, with my mother cooking turkeys and traditional side dishes. It was a trial and error for my mother, who learned to cook turkey and stuffing simply by looking at holiday spreads on a magazine, and peaking her curiosity while strolling down the isles at a supermarket in the autumn months.

About five years ago, my mother passed down the torch and Thanksgiving became my holiday, and a chance to hone my cooking skills. I was becoming increasingly interested in cooking and baking around that time, and she thought it was a good chance for me to tinkle around in the kitchen, while she finally got to relax. For the first several years, I cooked the same items my mother cooked, the same way she cooked them. But through time, I got bored with traditional stuffing and mashed potatoes, and decided to explore into more seasonal and healthy alternatives.

I replaced regular turkey with an organic, free-range kind. I ditched regular potatoes for parsnips. I bid farewell to heavy cream and welcomed in soy milk. And I even said goodbye to pancetta, bacon, and another flavor-enhancing animal products and replaced them with vegetable or chicken stock.  I even started using agave nectar in place of sugar. Sure, I agree that these products make foods taste delicious and I may incorporate them from time to time, but everything is done in moderation. And when I do use BS ingredients (Butter and Sugar), we only eat a very small portion of it. Our Thanksgiving has evolved into a unique culinary festivity with no real resemblance of the old tradition, but I think our family enjoys the new tradition that we’re rewriting every year.

This was my first year hosting the dinner at my new place, and while every part of my body was hoping to impress everyone with beautiful centerpiece and mind-blowing dinner, I decided to go the opposite direction and go super simple, serving dishes that required only little cooking.

The turkey was very straightforward. I rubbed the mixture of minced garlic, Dijon mustard, chopped parsley, sage and dill, olive oil, and salt and pepper, all over the 10 lbs. bird and cooked it in the 375 degree (F) oven for about four hours. There was no stuffing up the … um .. cavity, only lemon wedges around the pan from my folk’s backyard.  I must say that the meat came out slightly dry but it was still very flavorful.  I didn’t make the gravy even through there was a pool of juicy dripping at the bottom of the pan because I thought it would be too greasy.  True Japanese family that we are, we sprinkled drops of soy sauce for extra flavoring!  🙂

For starter, I prepared my go-to appetizer of prosciutto-wrapped asparagus for everyone to enjoy when they arrived.  Everyone munched on these, olives and enjoyed red wine while I finished up the last of cooking.

Instead of the traditional mashed potatoes, our family favorite is mashed parsnips made by mashing the boiled roots and cooking it with low-fat milk (it is so sweet, filling, and delicious).

I did not plan on cooking a cauliflower dish until I found these purple ones at a supermarket. It was so beautiful and enticing that I HAD to have it. I cooked the florets with chicken stock and flavored them with curry powder and cinnamon.

This red cabbage dish was perhaps my favorite of the night. I picked up the red cabbage because I fell in love with the deep purple color (what is up with me and the color purple this year?), and while trying to figure out what I should do with it, I came across this recipe for Braised Red Cabbage on the Food Network site, courtesy of Guy Fierri. I didn’t follow the recipe much, but I got the inspiration to cook it in red wine vinegar and agave nectar for a perfect combination of sweet and tangy! I know I’m going to make this dish over and over again!

Our Thanksgiving is not complete without the simple but delicious grilled vegetables. I marinated the sliced onions and zucchinis in olive oil and red wine vinegar for several hours, and grilled them on a pan with a little more olive oil.

This sautéd string beans was inspired by a dish I had the other day at Buca di Beppo. I fell in love with the way the string beans were flavored with tangy lemon, and I tried to replicate it here.

I don’t know why people buy a canned cranberry sauce when it’s so easy to make one yourself that tastes 10 times better than the manufactured ones! I made mine by cooking the cranberries with a juice of one orange, its rind, three tablespoons of agave nectar and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. It was still very sour but it tasted so good with turkey meat!

And last but not least, I made Ina Garten’s Pumpkin Roulade with Ginger Buttercream for dessert (okay, you caught me. This is THE super duper guilty portion of the meal redface ). I was intimidated at first because the recipe was labeled “difficult,” but don’t believe it – this is really simple to make! It is a little tricky to roll the cake with a kitchen towel but if you follow the direction carefully, it will come out okay.  The pumpkin spice cake was delicious and the mascarpone filling was so rich that you only need a small slice to feel satisfied and completely euphoric (which is great when you only have a little room left in your stomach)!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with your loved ones! 🙂 There are so many things to be thankful for this year, and I was really happy to be able to spend it with my family. My boyfriend was sick and he couldn’t join us this year … I’m sending him my love and my wishes for a speedy recovery! (Feel better, honey! I love you!)

Holiday Lunch: Michael’s Restaurant

A great thing about dining with a bunch of people – as in holiday lunch with colleagues – is that you get to check out a wide array of dishes the restaurant offers. The not-so-wonderful part is that the dish you order never looks as good as your friends’, and you end up regretting your choice the entire time. It’s a terrible feeling!

I’m usually content with what I order expect this day at Michael’s Restaurant in Santa Monica, where everything I selected seemed wrong and everyone else’s seemed right.

For a starter, I ordered a Dungeness and Blue Crab Salad because I was in the mood for wonderful pieces of crab on top of green salad. But what I got was a mixture of crab meat, diced apples and Japanese cucumbers in rich mayonnaise-based dressing. The dish was beautiful and flavorful but it unfortunately didn’t satisfy my need for greens (yes, I should have read the menu carefully). The image of the grilled shrimp salad that I passed over was flashing through my mind the entire time I was eating my dish. Boo.


Dungeness and Blue Crab Salad: Organic Market Apples, Japanese Cucumber, Petit Greens, Cider Gastrique

Other starters that made it to our tables were:


Seasonal Oysters, on the Half Shell, Banyuls Mignonette


Sashimi of Yellowtail, Pickled Vegetables, Baby Cilantro, Black Bean Oil


Cauliflower Soup, Lemon Brown Butter, Crispy

For lunch, I ordered the Alaskan Hook and Line King Salmon with asparagus and mushroom risotto. The dish was delightful – with perfectly cooked Arborio rice and tender piece of fish – but I didn’t feel that it was seasoned well. Everything was more on the bland side, and I had to add some salt and pepper to season the dish, which I usually don’t prefer to do. The hanger steak that others ordered looked so good, that I was wishing that I ordered it instead!


Alaskan Hook & Line King Salmon, Asparagus & Wild Mushroom Risotto, Black Truffle Jus


Seared Hanger Steak, Red Bliss Potatoes, Wilted Spinach, Bordelaise Sauce


Seared Tuna Salad, Romaine Hearts, Fingerling Potatoes, Hard-Cooked Egg, Blue Lake Beans


Alaskan Halibut, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Soybeans, Sweet and Gold Potato Puree, Mushroom Vinaigrette

The dessert, however, was perhaps the best part of lunch. I ordered the Apple Pie Souffle Tart, which had the combination of flaky, chewy, tart and sweet, all in one. But again, the Chocolate Fondant Cake looked more delightful than anything else.


Apple Pie Soufflé Tart, Salted Caramel Sauce, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream


Chocolate souffle


Panettone French Toast, Maple Panna Cotta, Poached Seckle Pear, Cranberry Sorbet

Michael’s was, to me, one of those “perfect on paper” restaurants. The menu was sophisticated, food was good and the ambience was pleasant,  but it wasn’t … excellent. There was something missing from making it a divine experience, although I cannot pinpoint exactly what that would be. Maybe it I tried it again and order different dishes, I may be able to figure out that missing piece of the culinary puzzle.

Michael’s Restaurant

1147 Third Street, Santa Monica, CA 90403