Happy Lunar New Year ~ Vietnamese Steamed Layer Cakes

We had a little culinary adventure this year in honor of the Lunar New Year in Vietnam (Tết). Rob and I love Vietnamese food, and we often go out for it in the International District. I also attended a Tết festival in Seattle Center this year where they had dragon dancers, firecrackers, and a chef demonstration. The chef made steamed rice cakes, which inspired me to give this type of cake a try at home!

I found this recipe on a Vietnamese cooking website called DanangCuisine.com. They were very pretty little desserts, with several layers of color from pandan and mung beans. I followed the recipe rather closely since I had never tried anything quite like this before in my kitchen. I did use light coconut milk instead of the full fat version, and I reduced the sugar a little bit, but otherwise followed the expert. 🙂


Based on a recipe from DanangCuisine.com

200 g tapioca starch (7 oz)

50 g rice flour (1.76 oz)

1 tsp pandan extract (or 5 fresh pandan leaves)

100 g peeled mung bean (3.5 oz)

200 g sugar (8.8 oz)

pinch of salt

400 ml light coconut milk (14 fl. oz)

300 ml water (10 fl. oz)

Rinse the mung beans a few times until the water becomes clear and soak in water for at least 1 hour (or overnight). Add just enough water to barely cover the beans and cook in a rice cooker until done. Alternatively, you can steam the beans for 15-20 minutes or until soft.

In a saucepan over low heat, dissolve sugar and salt in coconut milk and water. Let cool. In a large bowl, combine tapioca starch, rice flour and the coconut mixture. Stir well until dissolved.

In a blender, combine 350ml (1 + 1/2 cups) of the above batter with the cooked mung beans and blend until smooth. You will get a yellow batter.

Add pandan extract to the remaining batter. You will get a green batter. (To make pandan extract, blend 5 finely chopped pandan leaves with 120ml (1/2 cup) water and extract the juice.)

Grease the mold (or several smaller molds, such as ramekins) with vegetable oil. Fill the mold(s) with the green batter to a depth of about ½ inch (1cm). Cover and steam for a few minutes until slightly set. Then add the same amount of the yellow batter. Continue pouring and steaming the alternate colors until the molds are filled to the top.

After the last layer, steam the whole cake for another 15 minutes. When you poke the center of the cake with a chopstick and see no batter spilling, it is done.

Let cool completely and cut into pieces with a greased knife. You can keep the cake(s) in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days. Warm slightly in the microwave before serving.

Happy New Year!

PS. If you live in the Northwest, Uwajimaya has all of the ingredients in this recipe. I love to visit my local store and explore the ingredients that most American markets don’t carry.

Valentine’s Day/Chinese New Year ~ Moo Shu Pork and Homemade Fortune Cookies

This year Valentine’s Day (and our engagement anniversary) and Chinese New Year happened to fall on the same day, so we celebrated everything together with a romantic Chinese dinner at home. I love to celebrate holidays from all over the world in my own little way. It gives me one more way to spice things up with special moments. Who can’t use another reason to celebrate in the dark winter months? I tried two new recipes, and I would recommend them both if you would like a quiet night at home with Chinese take-in ~ Moo shu pork and homemade fortune cookies. It was an adventure in the kitchen, and I now have a greater appreciation for what my favorite local Chinese restaurant does after trying these dishes! The dishes were a little healthier since I could control the salt, cuts of meat, etc. Plus, we could make our own personal fortunes for each other to open, which was a fun bonus of making our own fortune cookies. (Is it cheating if you write your own fortunes?) 🙂 The first recipe I tried was Moo Shu Pork. The original recipe was from my favorite Cooking Light magazine, and it can be found at MyRecipes.com. I used simple cremini mushrooms instead of shiitake and wood ear to save quite a bit of money. But other than that detail, I followed the recipe pretty closely since it was already a lightened version of the dish.Moo Shu Pork2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons sake

1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 (1 1/2-pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed of excess fat, and cut into 1 x 1/4-inch strips

4 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms

1/2 cup sliced green onions

3 tablespoons minced garlic (about 12 cloves)

2 tablespoons fresh ginger grated on a Microplane

3 tablespoons sake

3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

3 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage stalks

4 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage leaves

2 tablespoons sake

Hoisin sauce and flour tortillas for serving

Combine the first 4 ingredients in a zip top plastic bag. Add the pork. Seal and marinate in the refrigerator for about an hour, turning occasionally. Remove the pork from the bag, and discard the marinade.

Combine the sliced mushrooms, green onions, garlic, and ginger in a small bowl, and set aside.

Combine 3 tablespoons of sake and the next 4 ingredients (through black pepper) in a small bowl. Stir well with a whisk, and set aside.

Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork, and stir-fry for 3 minutes.

Remove the pork from the pan. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of vegetable oil to the pan. Add the eggs, and stir-fry 30 seconds or until soft-scrambled. Add the mushroom mixture and stir-fry 1 1/2 minutes. Add the cabbage stalks and stir-fry 30 seconds. Add the cabbage leaves and 2 tablespoons of sake. Stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the pork and the cornstarch mixture. Stir-fry 2 minutes or until the sauce is thickened.

Serve wrapped in warmed tortillas with hoisin sauce.

The second thing my husband and I made together was a batch of fortune cookies. I would recommend doing these with a partner, since they harden very quickly once they come out of the oven. We each filled out personalized little strips of paper for the fortunes, and then opened each other’s for a surprise. The original recipe was from the Food Network.

Homemade Fortune Cookies

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 cup sugar

2 large egg whites

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon water

Cooking spray for the pans

Write your fortunes on little pieces of paper before you begin.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch and sugar.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg whites, vanilla, oil, and water. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until smooth.

Working in batches of 4, drop the batter by tablespoons on a baking sheet covered with a silicone mat. Tilt the baking sheet in a circular motion (and use your finger if need be) to spread the batter into 4-inch diameter circles.

Bake until the edges of the cookies are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, and working quickly, use a spatula to remove the cookies from the baking sheet. Put a fortune into the center of a cookie and fold it in half. Bring the points together with open seams on the outside. Arrange in muffin tins to help keep their shape while they are cooling.

Repeat with the remaining fortunes and cookies.

We paired the meal with Sofia Blanc de Blancs (the same kind of sparkling wine that we enjoyed on New Year’s Day, which seemed fitting) with mandarin orange slices floating in the bubbles for the occasion.

I decorated the table with red (the color of both holidays) and a blend of Chinese New Year and heart decorations for Valentine’s Day and our engagement anniversary. For example, I printed a Year of the Rat image and a Year of the Dragon image, since they were the years that Rob and I were born. That added a little personal romantic touch. I also printed a matching Year of the Tiger image for the middle of the table, which was the year we celebrated today.