VEGAN Mac ‘n Cheese

Vegan Mac ‘n Cheese? Say what?!

I love real cheese and real Mac ‘n Cheese, so I’m only posting this recipe because it fooled me and tastes like the real deal. I’m not vegan, so pulling off a non-vegan recipe without it tasting fake is rather impressive. Since this dish leaves out the cheese (and we all know some of the best Mac ‘n Cheese calls for high-fat, high-caloric, and sometimes artificial flavors) it’s actually healthier than the original classic. Don’t worry, the flavor and texture of creamy cheesiness is still there!



  • 300g pasta – Penne or Fusilli works great instead of Elbow Macaroni
  • 350g (1 cup) chopped potatoes
  • 170g (1/2 cup) chopped onion
  • 170g (1/2 cup) chopped carrots
  • 1 cup water (use from pot of boiled veggies)
  • 230g (2/3 cup) raw cashews
  • 75g (1/3 cup) coconut milk
  • 2 1/2 tbsp nutritional yeast (Hefeflocken in German, not to be confused with plain Hefe or Haferflocken)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • salt & pepper
  • couple dashes of cayenne pepper and paprika (optional)



  1. Soak cashews in hot water for minimum 1 hour.
  2. Boil and cook pasta until al dente in salted water (usually 6-8 minutes). Drain and set aside.
  3. Boil potatoes, onion, and carrots in a couple cups of water for about 10 minutes or until tender.
  4. Use a slotted spoon to place veggies in blender or food processor and add a cup of the boiled water they were in.
  5. Drain cashews and add them to blender.
  6. Add remaining ingredients, generous pinches of salt, pepper, and blend until smooth.
  7. Pour over pasta and enjoy!







Photo cred: Angela Joseph

Tofu StirFry

Great with rice, noodles, or inside summer rolls.

The tofu can be replaced with almost any meat or fish.

If you want a refresher about cooking rice or combining Asian sauces, refer to my Asian Food Essentials blog post.

Tofu packs a lot of protein and has zero cholesterol. The texture makes it a good substitute for meat if you want to veganize or vetetarianize (yep, made that up) a meal. The smaller the tofu is cut, the better it blends with sauces and flavor. In this case, make sure you buy firm tofu.

For this dish, I pressed the tofu dry for a few hours assembling it in such an order starting from the bottom: 1) plate or cutting board  2) layers of paper towels  3) Tofu  4) more layers of paper towels  5) a cooking pot filled with a couple canned foods to weigh it down.



I cut the tofu into about 1 inch (2.5cm) cubes.


After tossing it to be thinly coated in cornstarch (Speisestärke in German), I dropped them slowly into some shallow vegetable oil for frying.


A couple minutes of frying and gently stirring will hopefully lead to some lightly golden crispy cubes. Dry them on paper towels when done.


Then in a large pan, add a little vegetable oil to cook some bell pepper, ginger, regular onions & green onions, and garlic until tender.


Add about 4 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp brown sugar, and a little water if necessary to coat everything. Then add the fried tofu.


I couldn’t decide if I liked it better served with rice or as left-overs the next day with rice noodles.


A side of arugula kept things fresh the next day. To spruce it up more, I added a little peanut butter and sesame oil to the noodles when I heated them up. Yum.



Rome, Italy

“Mi scusi, mi scusi!”


“Buonissimo!”  (Italian words are so fun to say!)

My whole life, I had always wanted to visit Italy. From photos I had seen, to stuff on TV, to everything I had heard about Italy – I was fascinated by all of it. Something innate in me made the thought of its pasta, wine, historical & scenic views, and even the language feel comforting.

Then the idea of an Italian grandmother in the kitchen is something of its own. You can’t beat that kind of comfort. Although it might be stereotyping, I have no shame in believing that Italian families have it the best. I would love for my staple food to be pasta and for the weather to flourish vineyards. They also take things slow in Italy, unless you’re driving with them, which is when things can get crazy. Nonetheless, I finally got to experience the culture and visit Italy’s capital, Rome. For the four-day trip, I was accompanied by Bae, Becky, and Dan.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. The talk about adapting to local customs. I had no problem doing this there. I ate traditional Roman cuisine, and if it wasn’t for all the walking, I’d weigh 10 kilos more by now (that’s just over 22 pounds for my people back home). Cheeses, breads, meats… the epitome of foods which taste awesome but are terrible for you. That didn’t stop me from having Spaghetti alla Carbonara for 4 days straight.

Traditionally made with Guanciale (a salty, cured Italian meat from pork cheeks), eggs, pepper, and Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese.

One of the restaurants we ate at was called Trattoria Vecchia. They had a couple specials on the menu that got flambéd in either a Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese wheel. The cheese is smoothly melted and coats the pasta generously.

We prepared breakfast in our Airbnb apartment. A bakery down the street sold these cookies that Italians usually eat with coffee in the morning. These lemon ones were recommended. The center was chewy and it was perfectly sweet & tart.
Not the best photo but I couldn’t wait to dive into one restaurant’s homemade Tiramisu.

Many resources said to book tours in advance for attractions like the Vatican Museum. Glad we did this and got to pass the extremely long line for buying tickets at the door. I found out that the Vatican City was its own country and was heavily guarded. Made the whole experience feel very sacred.

The Vatican Museum was full of sculptures, paintings, tapestries, history, and biblical-everything. It felt like taking a walk through the bible.

St. Peter’s Cupola, the dome, was a trek. Never-ending stairs led us up to the very top, where we had a panoramic view of the Vatican City. The hallway of steps winding up the dome was extremely narrow. Claustrophobic for some, I imagined how awful it’d be for someone to get too tired and need to get back down. The humidity in some parts of the hallways were almost unbearable and it wasn’t even summer yet. Regardless, totally worth it when you get to the top.


After 4 hours of the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica, we had a late lunch of lasagna (Becky’s is pictured because again, I couldn’t wait to dig into mine) and pizza. This place had a slightly thicker pizza crust compared to another one we went to. Both kinds were good, even though I prefer the thicker crust. You know it’s good when you see those wood-fire oven marks.

The Colosseum was another attraction we booked in advance. Admittance to the highest level (the Belvedere) and the underground level was only possible with tour guides. Even though I tried booking about 2 months in advance, all the English tours were sold out so I had to book a tour in Italian. I learned that others have used this trick and it happened to work out.

This is now one of my favorite historical attractions I had ever been to. I envisioned how it would be in the past… walking in to be a part of the audience… to watch a show of gladiators and wild animals – man against beast. It probably would’ve been epic. The arena and the stone structures used to build it were of great magnitude.  It made me feel like a small spectator on the grounds of such a manly and ancient sport. The Colosseum, afterall, was the largest arena built in the world.

The Trevi Fountain was a charming feature. It was crowded (again, wasn’t even summer yet and look at all the people) but we had to partake in the tradition of tossing a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder. Some people would make a wish, while other rumors said this tradition guaranteed your return to Rome in the future. I read that at the end of each day, the coins were collected by the city and went to charity. Every single day turned up around €3000 in coins!


The Spanish Steps. Only named this because of its location near the Spanish Embassy. I didn’t think there was anything special about the steps but it made a nice resting point.

Pictured here is the bottom of the steps. It gets about 4 times higher, totalling 135 steps.
View from sitting on the Spanish Steps

Rome is a city that banned all euthanisation of animals. We visited a cat sanctuary that was on an ancient, sacred ground called Torre Argentina. It was actually where Julius Cesar got stabbed by his rival, Brutus.

There were around 150 cats and it was awesome to see that they were so well-cared for that they didn’t care to leave the premises. For 7 days a week, volunteers took care of them and helped put them up for adoption. Interesting that this photo doesn’t show any visible cats, but there were definitely tons of them upon entering the other side, where the adoption office was located. How cool is this site for cats to roam freely?


View from top of Castel Sant’Angelo
Rome was way greener than I expected!
Arc di Constantino and peak of the Palatine Hill as seen from top of the Colosseum
The Pantheon, a former Roman temple, is now a church

In conclusion, early May was an ideal time to visit. Less crowds, cheaper accommodations, and good weather (it rained hard for about an hour but was great otherwise – and the rain only called for another “Wine o’clock” as Becky would say). Speaking of wine, I never documented the different wines we tried, but I can safely say all the house wines were fantastic. You can’t expect less in Rome. The locals were so nice and I couldn’t get tired of hearing the language.

On our last day, we finally got to try some gelato. Creamy, rich, decadent. Great way to end the trip. Until next time, addio Roma!


Paris, France

Bonjour, Paris (“pah-rhee”)

Land of romance, fashion, and culinary cuisine. Well, for me, only the last part mattered. I never understood the hype about the Eiffel Tower and how standing in view of it would be romantic. It’s just a tall, pointy structure.. In fact, back when the tower was first built, the residents nearby hated it and thought it was ugly. As for the fashion part, I normally wouldn’t refer to myself as a fashionable person. Well, none of this stopped me from visiting the city with my friend, Tamara.

I usually have a small list of sites or restaurants to check out in any new area I visit. For Paris, my list quickly grew into what consisted of 15 food items to try. Here’s that list, in no particular order. These all made it on the list because they were either traditional French foods that should definitely be tried when in one of the world’s culinary capitals, or for other reasons which I would explain. Continue reading to see additional remarks about the food and more about our trip.

Foie Gras  

I like pâté and I heard that foie gras is the luxury version.

It lived up to this expectation. It was buttery and melted in your mouth. Salty and savory. Can easily be my new addiction.          

Croque Monsieur

Such a fancy name for a ham and cheese sandwich. I’ll take it.

Actually, Tamara ordered it and I tried some of hers. Seems like such a simple dish, but the quality ingredients made it exceptional. 

Baguette (not pictured)

Ain’t no bread like the French baguette. It’s used in Vietnamese sandwiches because of France’s influence during the Vietnam War. I’d say it’s my favorite bread next to sourdough. I spotted people walking around with a whole baguette in-hand as if they were prepared to snack at any moment, and I spotted this a bunch of times. Even though the ends were just sticking out of their paper bags, it looked like the largest snack anyone would carry around so nonchalantly.

Duck Confit

I love duck, another French/Vietnamese specialty. And the definition of this dish means the duck was “slowly cooked submerged in its own rendered fat”…I’ll take all of it.

The skin was perfectly crunchy and crispy. Then the meat was tender and juicy. Sometimes in between the meat and the skin, there were little pieces of fat that melted and coated the bite in flavor. Heaven.


Supposed to be the most simple French staple – ham and butter sandwich. Didn’t end up trying this specifically, but had similar ham sandwiches. Besides, I don’t think anyone ever left Paris broken-hearted that they didn’t get to try this …no offense to the Jambon-beurre.


Probably the first French word I ever said in my life.

Ladies and gents, I am here to tell you that I did not think a croissant would taste much different in Paris. I was proven terribly wrong in the best way. It was flakey, buttery, soft and warm on the inside, and confirmed to be my favorite pastry.  


Fancy bag for fancy macarons.
Flavors from top to bottom: Orange Blossom, Raspberry, Coffee, Chocolate, Pistachio, Salted Caramel (my favorite), Rose, and Vanilla.

The flavors and the texturrre! We were recommended to go to this macaron boutique called Ladurée that was located on Champs Élysées, a well-known street for shopping. These words, Champs Élysées, was so fun to say once you learn how the locals pronounce it. You can find variations of its phonetic pronunciations online, but this is mine: “shawwnce-ah-lee-zayy”.


Egg, Potatoes, Onion, Raclette, Bacon, & Crème fraîche
Bolognese, Mozzarella, Minced Meat, Merguez, Mushrooms, Onions, & Peppers.
Banana & Nutella

A good option for breakfast OR dessert. This pastry sways both ways. Naturally, Tamara and I tried a sweet crêpe and a couple savory ones. All were really good. The restaurant was called Brother´s Crêpes & Café. It reminded me of an American fast food chain on the inside, but their crêpes were fresh and delicious. 



Had this as dessert after my meal of escargot and 7-hour Braised Lamb with Beans (“Agneau de 7 heures, haricots au jus”) at the restaurant Bouillon Pigalle. Tamara had the coffee éclair, which was sweeter than my chocolate éclair, but mine was better. Dark chocolate frosting on top of the light & crispy-soft pastry, filled with cold creamy chocolate similar to ice cream. Yum.

Steak frites

It’s steak, it’s fries, how is that a bad idea? Plus, one of my favorite TV chefs, Katie Lee, got this classic dish in Paris right before my trip and it looked like a must. In the end, this was one of the missed items on my list because I just couldn’t bother to find time for it. It would’ve been expensive and probably not the best steak I’ve ever had. I had recently cooked a steak at home that I swear was the best steak of my life. That, however, is for another blog post.


They were drowned in an aromatic, garlic basil pesto sauce. This sauce, mostly oil, was so good that we had to get every drop soaked up with our table bread.


Also pretty common in Vietnam. I’ve only tried small ones and I knew the ones in Paris were a little bigger. Plus, SNAILS. If you’ve never tried them before, I guess they can appear squeamish. But they taste great! The texture is not bad either – rather a soft-chewy. We had them twice and they were good both times.

Steak tartare


Because eating raw meat has a carnivorous and primal feel. And it feels forbidden and scandalous. Most Americans would cringe at the idea of eating raw meat. We’ve been conditioned to be scared of Salmonella, E. coli, and a list of other food borne diseases. So why is it safe to eat in Europe? I have no idea. If you know, comment below! Getting back to steak tartare in Paris: it was so good, we had to have it FOUR different times! Since there were variations of how this dish is made, we thought it would be good to try it at different restaurants to see how they measured up. All were very good. You could tell the quality of meat was good because it melted in your mouth. Taste was fresh in a way that is hard to explain. Even though served cool, the taste was still savory. Sometimes dressed in onions, capers, pepper, Worcestershire, or a tiny bit of mustard, I liked all variations.

Crème brûlée


We got to enjoy this dessert after a meal of steak tartare at the restaurant Café des 2 Moulins, which was featured in the movie Amélie. The sugar crust made a cracking sound when broken into with a spoon – a sound that never disappoints. Then the creamy sweet custard below was rich of vanilla and also did not disappoint.

Quick Burger (Dark Vader Burger)

Okay, this one is the most misplaced. It’s only on my list because: I read that it existed in Paris, the buns were as black as the villain, and my boyfriend is a Star Wars fan. Turned out, the burger was for a limited time and no longer there, but I got to try a different one.


This cheeseburger was a generous size and tasted great, especially for being around 5 Euros. We enjoyed our burgers on the terrace of the restaurant Quick Burger, which is actually a Belgian chain. Located on the Champs Élysées strip of shopping malls and restaurants, the terrace was brightly under the sun and facing the lovely street of shoppers. Great spot to enjoy a burger.

…and Frog Legs

A rather ancient French dish, but authentic nonetheless.

Had it before and it actually tastes like chicken. Tamara had never tried it until Paris and we concluded that it tasted like chicken and clam combined, an unsuspectingly good combo.

The whole trip was actually better than expected. Paris wasn’t as big as I thought and it was easy to walk everywhere. Mid-April is prone to rainy days and we had just missed a lot of that. Our days were sunny, with little moments of clouds and less moments of sprinkling, and the last day was hot enough for me to complain a bit on our walking tour. The sites were beautiful and full of history. The people were pleasant. But most of all, the food was epic.

Mini toy boats and gorgeous view at the park.
Paris’s famous Berthillon ice cream. Smooth like velvet. Coffee & Chocolate flavors.
Delicious blue cheese. Did you know that Paris has one kind of cheese for every day of the year? 365 different kinds!


Café des 2 Moulins, restaurant featured in the movie Amélie
Bar inside Café des 2 Moulins
Small artists’ square in the neighborhood of Montmartre, hidden away next to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica.
Artist at work.
What would a Paris blog post be without the Eiffel Tower?
Salmon Quiche. Had a generous amount of salmon. Was so good I couldn’t wait to take a picture.
View from the popular shopping mall, Printemps.
Eggplant and Goat Cheese Quiche. So good!
Beignet and Espresso
The Arc de Triomphe is one of the most famous monuments in Paris.
The Notre-Dame Cathedral. Smaller than I expected.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was one of my favorite movies for a long time. Oh, the feels.
Entry inside was free.
7-Hour Braised Lamb and Beans
The Louvre Museum kept some of Napoléon III’s apartments in tact. Here’s his dining room.


IMG_0034 (1)
“50 Shades of Julius Caesar?” –Tamara
A bittersweet discovery of a memorial. We didn’t know that Princess Diana had died in Paris, at the tunnel entrance of a highway near the Eiffel Tower.
Here is the only reason why I wanted to go to the Louvre Museum. Mona Lisa herself. The most famous painting in the world. This was the first time I was so prepared to be disappointed because of how small I heard the painting was. Turned out a little bigger than I thought and even more colorful than expected. She’s a beauty.
She was encased in glass far from guests.
Artsy entrance to the subway station.
And of course, the Moulin Rouge.

So there you have it. You stay classy, Paris. Until next time, au revoir.

2-Ingredient Pancakes


Fun fact: Best way to peel a banana is by pinching the end (opposite from stem) and peel from there. Monkeys do it and there are less fibrous strings this way! Know a better way? Comment below.



Start with 1 Banana and 1 Egg.



Put into a bowl for mashing.



Mash – with fork or masher.



Cook in oiled pan for a couple minutes each side on medium-low heat.



Enjoy on its own, or with a dallop of Peanut Butter or Nutella.


More CAKES & Cupcakes

Saint Patrick’s Day: A feast & drink day!








For this year’s St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th, 2013, I had the honor of hosting a small ‘soiree’ that brought together new friends, great assortment of foods, and even shots of Jameson Irish Whiskey

Known as an Irish religious feast day, we couldn’t help but serve various types of good eats; so we made it a potluck! From stout beer cupcakes (with a whiskey chocolate ganache center and Irish cream frosting) to homemade pizza, I think everyone went home with a happy belly. Throw in some green and it’s St. Paddy’s Day, right?! (Check out, thanks Kari!)






A special guest who attended was local artist and sculptor, James Kelsey. A peak into our conversations include topics like local music and art gatherings, or lack thereof. A lot of inspiration and admiration was tossed around. Check out James’s work on

Here is James (right) attempting to play an accordion at the party! Good people, accompanying each other with laughs and a good time =)




With everyone smiling, munching, drinking, and even sitting around a fire, I’d say the night was a success. This concludes that in order to throw a successful St. Paddy’s Day, you need: 1.) Food 2.) Drinks and 3.) Green. Also, here’s a list of Irish slangs, so what are ye waiting for? Don’t be a gobshite and up the yard!







A Real Grilled Cheese Sandwich


Made with Colby and Cheddar cheese, these sandwiches are meatless, yet hearty! For more flavor, I added grilled onions and garlic. Another flavor trick is using mayo instead of butter or oil to spread on the bread before toasting it. Served with blanched broccoli, this sandwich was a simple and satisfying meal. A fun luncheon idea would be to let guests choose from their choices of cheeses and vegetables… so many varieties!


Slices from Chef Jimi’s freshly baked French bread. You could use sourdough or any other loaf.


The crumbled cheese looks ready to be melted while laying under some grilled onions.




One of the best ways to make any grilled sandwiches would be to use a Panini press. Don’t have one? Don’t fear! Use a heavy pot or pan to press the sandwich on a stove top. After a few minutes on medium heat, you can flip the sandwich to cook the other side and that’s it!



Asian BBQ Tacos: A Favorite!

Originally made on accident, Chef Jimi created the taco shells to be perfectly chewy and crispy. After a light, crispy crunch when you bite in, comes a soft medley of rice, meat, and bold BBQ flavors. Sweet, salty, with caramelized onions, garlic, and garnished with fresh green onions, these tacos are the best around.

Can be made with any meat. This time, we used pork. The pork was sautéed with grilled onions, garlic; a mix of Hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, chili sauce, and Worcestershire. A little flour was used to bind it together. This is comfort food brought to another level.


Dark Chocolate Espresso Oreo Balls

Only 3 ingredients! Thanks to Grandma Bev for her Chocolate Oreo Balls recipe, which led to this slightly altered version. She made some for the holidays and nobody could eat just one. I changed it up only because I love dark chocolate.



1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened

1 package (16 oz.) Oreo cookies, crushed (I used a store brand and it was about 40 cookies)

12 oz. dark chocolate bark/bar, chopped (I used 4 packages of “Endangered Species Natural Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans” which donate 10% of net profits to endangered animals)

  • Using a blender or mixer, mix the cream cheese with Oreo cookies.
  • Roll into about 1-inch balls, using wax paper to set them on if you need to
  • Chill for at least 30 minutes


  • Melt the chopped chocolate bars or bark in the microwavable bowl, 1 minute at a time, stirring occasionally


  • Using a toothpick or two spoons, roll the balls in the melted chocolate to coat. Set aside on wax paper or on a wire rack


  • Chill again for at least 30 minutes, the longer the better. Serve cold or room temperature.

Salmon Sushi Roll

Even without a bamboo sushi mat, you can still make homemade sushi rolls. This version is my one of my favorites, but instead of cream cheese, I normally like it with Avocados. Here’s a simple version of a Salmon Roll, of which you can use many substitutes such as tuna instead of salmon, or cucumber instead of cream cheese, or both. We used FRESH, raw fish. Here in Washington, it’s possible to get the best Salmon around. Regardless of which fish you use, make sure it smells like nothing but the ocean or salty sea air.



  • Fresh, raw or cooked fish (raw Salmon, this time)
  • 1 package Seaweed wrap (also known as Nori, and available at most grocery stores now)
  • White rice (you can use a sushi rice recipe that requires vinegar for an even more authentic taste)
  • Narrow cucumber slices
  • Cream cheese
  • Pickled ginger and Wasabi for garnish (we used our homemade pickled ginger, but you can buy it in jars)

Cut the skin off the fish it’s still on. This is best to do with the skin facing down, hand placed on top of the fish, and slide the knife horizontally through, in a long sawing motion (get as close down as you can to the skin with your knife). Then slice the fish into half-inch thick, narrow pieces.


Lay out a sheet of seaweed wrap. Using a spoon, spread on an even, thin layer of rice to cover entire sheet. You can wet the spoon a few times to keep it slippery and keep the rice from sticking. Pat down with the wet spoon to set the rice.


Place the fish slices toward the bottom and any other topping on top like the cucumber or cream cheese. And roll up firmly.


Cut the roll carefully (sharp knives come in handy here), starting from the center. You should be able to get about 8 pieces.


Place the pickled ginger and wasabi on the side. Serve with soy sauce. The ginger can be eaten in between bites as a palette cleanser or at the end of your meal. It’s purpose is not only to be a palette cleanser, but is also known to help reduce the Mercury content commonly in fish. I just happen to like the taste of it with my sushi. Wasabi can be mixed into the soy sauce for a spicy kick, but some people just place tiny pieces of it onto the sushi bites.


Natty Patty Banana Nut & Chocolate Cupcakes

These are the most fun cupcakes! The biggest hit at Julius’s 4th birthday party. Small and cute, kids and adults love them. My favorite part is that instead of battling with frosting on top, the frosting is in the center!



  • 1 package Banana Nut muffin mix
  • 1 package or box Chocolate cake mix (and milk, eggs, or oil according to the back instructions)
  • 1 can or jar of white frosting, butter milk or vanilla
  • food coloring, liquid or gel, doesn’t matter (red, green, yellow)
  • Non-stick cooking spray or cupcake paper liners

Bake the chocolate cake package according to directions in a cupcake or muffin pan, lined or not (I’ve tried both, just do what you think is best for your muffin pan.

Separate the frosting into three even amounts. Mix in the food coloring a little at a time to get the desired color. I chose red to look like ketchup, green to look like lettuce, and yellow to either look like mustard or cheese.

The photo above features the yellow looking like mustard. Below is a photo that shows the yellow in a square outline to look like cheese corners. For best results, pipe the frosting out of a plastic bag corner with the tip finely cut off. All you need is a little frosting around the outside edges to be visible. You don’t need to fill the center.


Cut the cooled chocolate muffin-tops off. This will be the “patty”. I discarded the bottom.

Cut the cooled banana nut muffin-tops in half and these will be the top and bottom “buns”.

Pipe on the frosting in whatever order you like, I put “ketchup” on top of the bottom bun, then the chocolate patty next. Then “lettuce, and cheese or mustard” on top of the patty. Make these ahead of time too, and save them in the refrigerator.

Dinner Party with Chef Liberty Duncan


As she calls it, “The best job I’ve ever had,” Liberty Duncan (pictured far right) takes full pride in working in a restaurant. Sous Chef in-training, Liberty falls under the wing of Darin, the owner of Boccata Deli & Market in Centralia, WA (a Mediterranean restaurant with a warm, European-style feel). Darin has taught Liberty enough about cooking to have her ecstatic to be a part of our dinner party. She made Beef & Barley Stew with Root Veggies; and for dessert, a Chocolate Avocado Pie. To complement her meal, Chef Jimi brought homemade rolls and homemade croutons to top our salad. I brought drinks and made the Oreo crust in Liberty’s pie. With her experience in the restaurant, combined with some experience cooking for her family, and inspiration from her grandpa, it’s needless to say that her dinner turned out delicious.

Liberty“It’s great to see people enjoy it, come together, and everyone’s happy.” -Chef Liberty


A specialty of hers is, “Lemon Salmon with Rice and Green Vegetables. And stews. And pretty much any pasta.” So in conclusion, I think I speak for everyone at the dinner party that we’ll be having Liberty cook for us again. 

Photo Credit: Chris Newhall and Aaron Deager

Jim’s Dough Makin’

Crostinis, loaves, croutons, French bread, Italian bread, pastries, he makes it all.

He gets upset when a grocery store doesn’t carry Pita bread.

He is… Chef Jimi Karanikolaou.






With a collection of recipes from his Grandma Bev, to his own creations, Chef Jimi is a bread connoisseur! He makes the best, buttery dinner rolls.  

Croque Madame: The Fancy Breakfast

This is the style I would use to make someone breakfast in bed for a special occasion. And it’s easy!


  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • 6 slices of white bread, with crusts cut off
  • 6 eggs
  • Butter
  • Bacon (or Ham)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Shredded cheddar and Colby cheese for garnish

Béchamel (cheese sauce):

  • Butter
  • Flour
  • Milk (I used whole)
  • some grated Parmesan cheese

For the Bacon:

Preheat oven to 425° F.

Cut bacon pieces in half and place flat on baking dish. Bake until almost crispy (usually under 10 minutes).


For Béchamel cheese sauce:

In a pan, melt butter and mix with equal parts flour to make a roux. Make it a little thicker than usual. Add milk and stir constantly. Then add some grated Parmesan cheese to taste, not much, we’re not making an Alfredo Sauce. Add salt and pepper.


Turn oven to down to 350°s F.

Cut edges off the bread and flatten with a rolling pin.


Brush melted butter around the edges and corners. Today, I didn’t have a brush so I drizzled the butter on with a spoon.


Spray a muffin pan with non-stick spray. While folding the edges to fit, place the bread slices in. Press the inside down slightly to mold it in.


Place one bacon piece in each mold.


Crack open the eggs over a bowl and get rid of a little of the egg whites. The entire egg would over-flow in the mold. Place egg on top of bacon. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.


Using a spoon, pour on the cheese sauce to each one. Bake for 15 minutes if you want your eggs over-easy and 17 – 18 minutes for more well done.


Sprinkle on shredded cheddar cheese for added color and garnish.

The Delectable Burger

These burgers are my take on In-N-Out Burgers. In-N-Out is a classic burger joint located mostly in California. I highly recommend you go there. I will say that they have the BEST burgers.

For the buns, we used homemade burger buns by Chef Jimi.



  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • Mustard
  • Burger buns
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Cheddar cheese (we used ones mixed with Colby cheese)
  • Extra Virgin olive oil
  • Butter
  • Salt and pepper


Secret Sauce: I admit, I have never used measurements when making this. Maybe one day I’ll update this post with exact measurements. Until then, we’ll keep it called the “Secret Sauce” because you have to figure out. MWUAHAHAHAHA!

  • Mayo
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Pickle Relish
  • Vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

In a pan, add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and stir in chopped onions. Add salt and keep heat on medium-low, so the onions can sweat out and caramelize. This can take up to 20 minutes, and you may want to adjust the heat.. keeping it on low for a long period, but then turning it up at the very end to get a little charring going on.


In a mixing bowl, combine the ground beef with the egg, salt, and pepper. You can leave the egg out, I like it because it binds the meat together. Then separate into even balls, and flatten each one into a patty. Keep in mind the patty will shrink when cooked, so don’t be afraid to make them larger than you think.


Spread a thin layer of mustard on each patty before cooking. This gives the meat a great flavor you wouldn’t expect.


Have some butter in a pan and set it to medium-high. Sear the patty for about 3 minutes, mustard side down. Then spread mustard on the other side. Flip and add a slice of cheese on top. Cover with a lid to melt the cheese. They’re done after about another 3 minutes. Set on a plate and cover to keep warm.


While the patties are cooking, you can toast your buns in another pan. Just with a little butter at the bottom. If the heat is pretty high, it’ll only take a couple minutes.


My preferred arrangement of ingredients:

  • Sauce smothered on each bun
  • Then grilled onions on each bun
  • Lettuce on bottom bun, then tomatoes, then patty, then top bun


These were made a little small, but larger than sliders. Perfect for each person to have two.

Fettuccine Alfredo with Sausage & Bell Peppers

Mmm Creamy Alfredo sauce. My absolute gluttonous favorite. I would eat it everyday if it didn’t mean suffering the consequences. This version is paired with a sausage and bell pepper medley. Just because the Alfredo sauce is so creamy and flavorful with garlic, the sausage and bell peppers could be replaced with any meat and veggies. And this isn’t limited to Fettuccine pasta noodles either, try it on top of any pasta! It’s just THAT glorious.

Fun Fact: When choosing bell peppers at the market, think about what you’ll cook them with. Bell peppers with 3 bumps (or points) at the bottom, tend to be sweeter and keep their shape; great for eating raw or dipping in Ranch dressing. Bell peppers with 4 bumps are better for cooking and getting that nice, charred taste. To me, there’s not THAT much of a difference. Just cool to know.



  • 1 package Fettuccini pasta, boiled ‘al dente’ (“to a bite”, not too cooked and soft)
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons Flour
  • 4 tablespoons Butter
  • 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (not pictured)
  • 4 – 6 Garlic Cloves, minced
  • About 1 cup Heavy Whipping Cream (1 med. container is fine) (Or milk)
  • About 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (a 5 oz. container will do)
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper, chopped length-wise
  • 1 Green Bell Pepper, chopped length-wise
  • 1 package of Smoked Sausage (about 1 pound)
  • About 1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning (not pictured)
  • Optional: cilantro or parsley for garnish
  • Salt & Pepper

Boil pasta in large pot with a lot of water. (Read my “Boiling Pasta” post for great details on mastering al dente pasta. Unless you’re confident they’ll turn out great, the extra seconds to read it is well worth it.) Reserve about 1 cup of the starchy water and set aside. Drain and set aside.

Sauté the bell peppers and sausage in a little olive oil on medium-high heat. Add salt and pepper. They’re done when softened and charred around the edges. Set aside in separate bowl or container.



In the same and emptied pan, add the butter to make a roux (pronounced “rue”). After it melts, add equal parts flour, or a little less at first. Add more if you want it thicker. Turn up the heat a little. Stir constantly to prevent burning. Then add the minced garlic to slightly toast before pouring in heavy whipping cream. Keep stirring.


Turn the heat back down and add the parmesan cheese. This is the part where you add as much starchy water as you’d like from the pasta earlier. Season with salt and pepper, and Italian Seasoning. Taste the sauce at this point and see if it needs more seasoning.

Pour the Alfredo sauce over the pasta, and add the sausages and bell peppers. Depending on how large your pans are, I usually do this part in the same pot I used to boil the pasta.

Serve with garlic toast (See my “Seasoned Garlic Butter” post)

Recommended: Garnish with diced tomatoes and cilantro or parsley.


Spring Rolls

Traditional spring rolls

Pictured above are traditional Vietnamese Spring Rolls. Usually filled with rice noodles, pork, shrimp, cilantro, and wrapped in rice paper. I added shredded carrots here.

There are many places you can find in Westminster, CA that make spring rolls fresh and daily. If there’s an Asian community near you, chances are you kind find these pre-made and packaged with a dipping sauce. It is great while on-the-go. My family and I used to sit around the dinner table and roll our own Spring Rolls for dinner. It’s a fun way to get people to interact; adding more or less of different ingredients, and building their Spring Rolls together.


I’ve been able to find rice paper and other oriental ingredients at most grocery stores. Big corporate grocery stores are very likely to have them now.

Below is my version of Spring Rolls with what I had instead of rice noodles—regular rice. And it worked perfectly. Dipping it into your sauce of choice was a little difficult with the rice falling out, so I started spooning on my sauce, which worked as well.

rice paper

Step 1: Wet the rice paper in warm water for up to 15 seconds (it will drastically soften in no time). Here, I filled a large bowl with warm water, almost a little hot, which gets the job done faster.

spring rolls

Step 2: Lay the rice paper on a plate and fill with ingredients. I used rice and chicken stir–fry. Add veggies for crunch if you wish.


Step 3: Fold as shown above. Sides first, then bring the bottom up and keep rolling it.


Here’s a couple of them next to a fish sauce I used for dipping.

Seasoned Garlic Butter

garlic butter

  • Melt 3 tablespoons of butter (or margarine, if you prefer). You can do this in a microwave for about 30 seconds.
  • Add about 1 tablespoon of Italian Seasoning or your favorite herbs.
  • Mince 2 cloves of garlic finely, then add to butter sauce.
  • Drizzle while warm or baste with a brush onto bread to make garlic toast.

Garlic Butter on Toast

Asian Food Essentials

Asian Sauces
These are the sauces that I have recently used in all my Asian dishes. The combination of these flavors make your dish taste oriental and makes your kitchen smell like a Chinese restaurant. I add about 1 tbsp of soy sauce and equal parts of the rest (1-2 tsp) to beef, pork, or chicken, it doesn’t matter. I have no brand preference. Shown are sesame oil, soy sauce (I prefer low sodium), Worcestershire (not very Asian but I like the smokiness), Hoisin (an Asian BBQ sauce), and rice vinegar.

One of the next essentials is either rice or noodles. Or both.

Here you can see how to cook rice without an automatic rice cooker.

Step 1: Whether it’s a small pot or large one, make sure the dry rice is only 1/3 of the way up or less. When cooked, it expands like crazy.

Step 2: Rinse the rice and pour out the cloudy water a couple times while the rice stays at the bottom. The more you do this, the more starches wash away and causes the rice to be softer and fluffier.


Step 3: Add enough water to cover over the rice about an inch up or so. The method my mom taught me was to place my index finger tip at the top of the rice. The water level should come to the first line up on your finger (sounds crazy, it really is just about an inch, but that’s what the Asian lady did). Supposedly, it doesn’t matter if you’re cooking 3 or 10 servings, this form of measurement works.

Step 4: Bring the water up to a light boil. Then turn it down to a simmer. If you don’t have a lid, you can just place aluminum foil to cover. Doesn’t have to be too tight.


Step 5: Check on the rice after about 15 minutes. I carefully fluff it with a fork to see how cooked the bottom is compared to the top. If it seems soggy towards the bottom, leave the cover off and leave on low. If the whole thing seems dry, add a tiny bit more water, cover, and continue to cook on low. This seems tedious, but without an automatic cooker, different stove tops and burners changes everything.


The next essential is meat of choice. I’ve tried these sauces with beef, pork, and chicken. All equally delicious when you sauté it with garlic, onions, and vegetables. Probably also great with fish. In this case, I finely sliced beef and chose to side it with sautéed spinach and garlic.

Stir fry beefBeef rice and spinach

Spinach. Not just for Popeye..

Spinach can be juiced, put in salads, sandwiches, creamed, and so much more. Here are a few ways I’ve used it.



  • In a pan, add a little olive oil. The spinach will wilt so much that you don’t want too much oil to make it soggy. The spinach can also look like it’s over crowding the pan, but you can pile it pretty high.
  • On medium heat, slowly stir, letting the several layers wilt.
  • Add minced garlic, salt and pepper.
  • That’s it! SO good as a side for rice and stir–fried meat.


This is how much the same pan reduced down. I leave the garlic pieces a little bit chunkier in this dish and it’s amazing.

Spinach & Artichoke Dip

This was soo good that we forgot to take an official photo. This picture was found but it captures the need we had to cut up crostini bread to eat with the dip right away.


  • 1 small package (10 oz.) of frozen chopped spinach
  • equal parts chopped artichoke hearts (jarred, canned, or frozen, doesn’t matter)
  • 1 package (6 to 8 oz.) of cream cheese.. Melt slightly in microwave.
  • 1/3 cup mayo
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • salt and pepper

Serve at room temperature or warm.

Just Raw


Great as a salad or as the greens in a hearty sandwich.

The Simple Breakfast

Bacon… and… Eggs.

The most simple yet satisfying breakfast I can think of.

  • Preheat oven to 425°F.
  • Align bacon on baking dish.


  • Place bacon in oven for about 10 minutes or until desired crisp.


  • In a small pan, spray lightly with non–stick spray, and crack 2 eggs in (I wouldn’t do more than 3 at a time).
  • Add salt and pepper.
  • Keep on medium–low heat.


  • Immediately place a lid on. I like my eggs over–easy so it takes just a few minutes.


If your eggs are very fresh, you’ll notice a layer that isn’t cooking very well. Tilt the pan back and forth a little until the edges of this layer reaches the heat. That helps. FYI: This layer is called the middle albumen and is very high in protein and riboflavin! 


The bacon looks super greasy here so I normally place them on paper towels when they’re done.


I would always like at least one piece of toast to sweep up what’s left of the yolk on my plate.