Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cherry On Top

I was pretty late getting into the frozen yogurt craze, and I have to admit I didn't like Pinkberry the first time I tried it because I just didn't like the flavor of the plain yogurt. Then hubby saw that a new yogurt place called Cherry On Top opened up in Diamond Bar and was offering locals two for one coupons, so we ventured over there during the dog days of summer. Then I tasted the green tea and the mango yogurt and got addicted.

Cherry On Top is part of a chain, and this one in Diamond Bar always seems to have a steady stream of customers. It's located next to a Ten Ren and a Baskin Robbins in a strip mall. From a mile away, you can see the bright pink decor through the glass windows and upon entering, you hear the loud music and notice the glass cherries dangling from the ceiling. Our boys love it.

And another thing our boys love is to run to the counter, grab a container (usually the biggest one) and then run to the yogurt machines, where they self-serve their own yogurt. They like the strawberry-banana, and in addition to the green tea and mango yogurt, I've taken a liking to the peach. I believe there were 12 different flavors of yogurt to choose from.

An advantage to getting the two for one coupon is that I don't have to taint my exclusively mochi and fruit-topped yogurt with their toppings, which include things like gummy bears, chocolate chips, and sprinkles. But on this trip, it was part of my birthday dinner and cousin was with us, so I had to share with C. So he decided to dump his white chocolate chips all over my yogurt, and he put some strawberry-banana yogurt in there too. Yes I'm a selfish mommy. The point of all this rambling is that you get to self-serve your own toppings too, and their fruit toppings are pretty fresh.

Once you get everything in your container, the staff will weigh it and charge you by the ounce. Always comes out more than what we expect, but we hand over the cash willingly.

Cherry On Top is fun for the kids and yummy to the tummy for all.

This location is at 2761 S Diamond Bar Blvd Diamond Bar, CA (714) 538-5749

Sunday, September 28, 2008


One thing about having kids is that hubby and I often reap the benefits of a visit to doting grandparents who spoil them with the likes of these:

Or would this photo be the one to whet your appetite enough for a trip to a Vietnamese shop?

Yes, my parents went on a binge at Banh Mi Che Cali. I was too busy eating to ask them which branch they went to, but it's either the Alhambra or the Rosemead location. I usually like Van's sandwiches better because I like the pate they put on theirs, but these banh mi dac biet (cold cuts sandwiches), were not too shabby either. Tons of mayo on these, and the baguettes were crunchy and warm:

A tip for ordering sandwiches to go is to have them place the veggies in a separate bag so that the sandwiches don't get soggy during transport. We also had some nem cuon (grilled pork sausage rolls):

...and chao long (rice porridge with pork innards). That thing you see on the spoon is a cube of blood. We call them jello, and my kids will eat them.

The kids also had some chicken buns (banh bao), but they were bitten into by the time I got around to snapping pictures. For dessert, there was banh chuoi (logs of sticky rice and banana rolled in banana leaves). These are the green logs tied up with red string in the first photo above.

There was also banh khoai mi (cassava cake):

...and banh cam chien (fried sesame rice balls filled with mung bean paste):

Alright, I have to stop and make it clear that I did NOT eat all of these myself on this day. I've eaten them all before and attest to their deliciousness, but no, I'm not that much of a pig. Now onward with the goodies. The one thing I like at Banh Mi Che Cali over Van's is their selection of che (which basically means soupy Vietnamese desserts). As evidenced by those tubs of che above, my parents went crazy on the che today.

My favorite has always been the che dau (sticky rice and black eyed peas dessert). I've left it out of the photo, but you would normally douse this with coconut milk:

Che bap (corn and sticky rice dessert), usually also with coconut milk:

Che troi nuoc (mung bean paste filled rice balls sprinkled with sesame seeds in a ginger soup):

Banh chuoi hap (steamed bananas with coconut milk, which I again left out):

Che khoai mon (sticky rice with taro), usually covered in coconut milk:

...and this last one which my mom couldn't remember the name of. Anyone know? Mom are you reading this?

There you have it. This che-fest should last me until...oh..tomorrow?

Banh Mi Che Cali Alhambra is at 647 W Valley Blvd Alhambra, CA 91803 (626) 293-8396

Banh Mi Che Cali Rosemead is at 8450 Valley BlvdRosemead, CA 91770 (626) 288-5600‎

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Earthen Restaurants

I mentioned in a previous post my birthday just passed. Guess what, I sometimes just don't have one birthday dinner, I have a few. My cousin wanted to take me, hubby, and kids to celebrate, and I couldn't decide where to go. It's always tough business finding a place to eat out here in the eastern part of the San Gabriel Valley. Finally she suggested we go to Earthen Restaurants in Hacienda Heights, which was highly recommended to her by a friend. Not sure why it's Restaurants and not Restaurant.

Earthen Restaurants is located in the same plaza as a 99 Ranch Supermarket and the West Coast buffet. As soon as we entered, I noticed the CASH ONLY sign, but since I was being treated, I was counting on cousin's pocketbook to be fully loaded.

The place was on the small side but was quite clean, and we were seated promptly, even though it was quite busy for a weeknight. One way I measure how good the service is at an everyday restaurant is by how they serve my kids (excluding the foo foo fancy places). There are places we go to where I have to ask for everything for them: booster, high chair, plastic forks, water (sorry, my kids can't drink hot tea or wine), extra napkins. Then there are places like Earthen that asks what we need as soon as we enter, and lay out all the kids stuff as we are sitting down. Awesome!

Well, cousin recommended we get certain dishes. So we did. We started out with the Noodle with Soybean Sauce. I guess this is the ja jiang mein, which I understand is a northern Chinese dish that is popular in Korea. Little sister of mine watches thousands of hours of Korean dramas a year and from seeing so much ja jiang mein on those shows, had wanted to try this. We tried asking for it at a Korean restaurant once, but the waitress told us it would be found at Chinese restaurants, not Korean ones. Confusing. But the ja jiang mein was very good, even though it looks gross in the picture. Lots of flavor but not too overpowering.

We also ordered the Combination Chow Mein, because hubby, who is not very open to new things, didn't want to even taste the ja jiang mein. The chow mein had just a hint of spice, so the kids were able to eat it too. The thick round noodles had on it meat, seafood, and veggies. It was flavorful and not too greasy.

Our favorite was the Green Onion Pancakes. Crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, it was delicious.

The pork pot stickers came on a plate of 8. They were large and also had that perfect crispness on the outside, but the filling was just ok.

The pricing was decent and the servings were generous. I have fond memories of eating dumplings at Oakland's Shan Dong, another restaurant serving northern Chinese cuisine, so I will have to return here to try their dumplings and compare. For northern Chinese food, definitely come here. But really, can you not find ja jiang mein in Korean restaurants around here?

Earthen Restaurants is located at 1639 S Azusa Ave Hacienda Heights, CA (626) 964-1570

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Grandma's Fish Cake Rolls (Cha Ca)


As long as I can remember, my mom has made these fish cake rolls for us for many, many dinners. I recently found out that this dish was passed on to her by my paternal grandmother, who passed away half a decade ago. I learned to make this from my mom while I was away at college, but since I found out where this dish originated, I can't help but think of my grandma everytime I prepare it.

A note about fish paste (cha ca). You can certainly make it from scratch by grinding up fish by yourself, but since I'm too lazy and tired, I find it rather easy to buy either fresh fish paste or frozen from my local 99 Ranch or another asian supermarket. If you buy the frozen tubs, you will need to defrost it under water before you make it, or let it defrost overnight in the fridge. I've tried defrosting it in the microwave but it ends up cooking it and it becomes clumpy. There are also red fish paste and white fish paste. I've always used the white kind for the rolls.

Fish paste.

Does anyone else cook these rolls or have seen them made anywhere? There are fish cakes, of course (and I will write about these in a future post), but I haven't seen any of these fish rolls outside of my family circle.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Baa Baa Little Sheep

Someone had a birthday recently. Who was it? Me! My family asked me where I wanted to eat, and I was in the mood for spice, but couldn't decide between the new Boiling Crab knock-off in San Gabriel or the Little Fat Sheep Hot Pot restaurant in Monterey Park. I eventually chose the latter.

We had eaten at Mon Land Hot Pot City in San Gabiel in a former life, but I'd have to say my memories of Mon Land was that the food was good, but that it was quite dark inside. So when I stepped inside Little Sheep, I was surprised at how well lit the place was, and how clean it was. The staff was extremely friendly and immediately sat us and got us served.

OK, I'll have to admit that I might be biased towards Little Sheep because as soon as we stepped inside the restaurant, the staff buzzed around my four month old son. Not to brag or anything, but if there ever was an asian Gerber baby, it'd be R, my baby. Case in point, he gets comments everywhere we go, and here, he captivated the staff and the surrounding patrons. My brother kindly asked if he could borrow R for a day to use as a chick magnet when he noticed all the waitresses coming by to pinch R's fat cheeks.

I digress, but yes the staff was friendly. As we sat at one of the large round tables, I noticed we were smiled down upon by the larger than life Mongolian ladies decorating one of the walls. On another wall was a painting of a pasture full of sheep, of course. Each table has a hot pot that sits into a recess in the center. Once seated, three appetizers came out: boiled peanuts, pickled radish, and asian buns. Nothing too special there, but a nice gesture nevertheless. And then a waitress came to ask which two broths we wanted. We picked the half and half broth: one side was medium spicy, the other not spicy. First impressions after taking a sip was: wow, this is spicy. I think next time we will choose one step lower than medium because their medium was way too spicy. Trust me, I like my spices, but this was too much. There were tons of herbs and peppers in the broth, and yes, it tastes like herbal medicine, but was still good. Definitely cured my dad's cold.

Then we started ordering our plates from the check-off menu. Each plate ran anywhere from 2 to 5 dollars. The meat and seafood were the priciest. We got lamb, pork, beef, and chicken, and they all ended up being really good. I thought the clam and scallop were ordinary, but fresh. everything else was quite fresh too. Meatballs were a little dry, but the shrimp ball was large and yummy. Of course, we had veggies and mushrooms too, and we also got this green noodle (can't recall the name) that was delicious and which soaked up the broth nicely. The icy tofu, not so well.

There was a good variety of side dishes too. We ordered the jellyfish which was seasoned perfectly and tossed with goji berries. The manager insisted we get the scallion pancakes too, but we opted out this time. For about $118, we fed our group of 6 adults and 2 kids nicely.

I'm salivating at the memory of all the flavors we tasted that night, and I'm looking forward to coming back again soon. I haven't been back to Mon Land for so long. Are the two still comparable? I guess I'll have to go and see for myself.

Little Fat Sheep is located at 120 S Atlantic Blvd Monterey Park, CA 91754 (626) 282-1089

Monday, September 22, 2008

Got Soymilk?

When I went on my quest for the perfect container for C to bring his lunch in, I also went searching for something for him to bring his milk in. Originally, I packed him with a bottle of Vitasoy soymilk everyday (the one on the left in the photo). This was a temporary solution because frankly, I wanted C to get his calcium too.

Then I came across these single servings of soymilk that were fortified with calcium and vitamins AND were organic too. I bought a case of these. Each case had 24 8.25 oz containers, and the price was comparable to the Vitasoy. Now today after reading the news about the melamine tainted milk that put more than 10,000 babies into hospitals in China, I went and checked to see where the Vitasoy was made. It was Hong Kong. All the more reason to ditch the Vitasoy for the Kirkland brand. C loves these chocolate ones, but I think they're kinda sweet for me. I wish they had the plain ones.

I had saw that Foogo had a straw bottle that would keep milk cold for 6 hours, and I tried putting milk into C's food jar to test it out. It did keep it cold for that long, but when I drank it, I felt kind of nauseated, and the milk tasted metallic. Reading reviews of it, some people experienced the same thing, so my quest for a good milk thermos continues.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Some Like it Hot (Or Cold)

The start of C's public school career a few weeks ago posed to me a dilemma that most unsuspecting moms don't usually encounter until they receive a menu from their child's school those first few days. You'd think schools would feed their students better, but these menus lists $3.00 lunches consisting of things that resemble second rate fast food. Chicken nuggets, corndogs, mini pizzas. Hello! I can get those things for much cheaper at Costco and "cook" them myself.

And so my research for the perfect lunch vessel began on the internet. I wanted to be able to pack both hot and cold items together in C's lunchbag. In my desperate search, I came across bento boxes large and small, tupperware type containers, and thermoses galore. I finally settled on this cute little food jar called a Foogo. I bought two of them.

Granted there are cartoon decorated Funtainers that function just as well, but I wanted to pick something that wouldn't make my kids become outcasts at lunch when they reach puberty. And for the money I paid for two Foogos, I expect them to last just that long, if not longer.

The Foogo containers are vacuum insulated, which means I can fill one with hot stuff and a second one with cold and place them side by side in C's lunchbag without one's hotness cancelling out the other's coolness. I tested to see how long it would keep milk cold, and after 6 hours, cold milk was still cold. I asked C if his food was still warm (or cold) when he opens them at lunch, and he tells me yes. You do have to prepare the containers the way it was meant to be prepared, and that means boiling hot water in the morning to heat up the insides of the Foogo, or putting in ice water and sticking the Foogo in the fridge overnight to get it prepared for cold foods.

These containers only hold 10 ounces each, just the right size for a small child. They are stainless steel, and although they're made in China like everything else, I don't think stainless steel can be laden with lead even if you wanted it to. These containers are great considering the recent BPA news, and for now will have to do. Any other options for bringing both hot and cold stuff together in a lunch box?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I See the Moon and the Moon Sees Me

Do you celebrate the Mooncake Festival aka Tet Trung Thu aka Mid-autumn Festival? Or rather did you celebrate it last Sunday? My family and I are still trying to finish all the mooncakes we received the last few weeks. These ones are filled with lotus paste, our favorite type.

There are some who like the fruit and nut filled ones but my kids would rather douse their tongues with spicy beef jerky until they can't take it anymore. No really. At least C, my eldest, would.

Hubby actually bought some mooncakes from Costco to try, and they were actually edible and not so bad. But my dear mom, who only goes for the best when it comes to food, taught me to only get freshly made ones from the local bakeries, so this is where we get ours from nowadays:

Van's, my favorite Vietnamese bakery. My favorite bakery, period. This year, I got some of their taro paste mooncakes, but these spoiled very quickly and we never got a chance to try them. Oddly enough my mom's taro mooncake also went moldy quickly too. Must have been in the same batch.

How do you celebrate Tet Trung Thu? Last Sunday, my family gathered over at my mom's. She did her little thing setting out food for the ancestors, and then we had Thai hot pot (lau Thai) for dinner. After filling ourselves, we then had a feast of desserts. This included cocktail, mooncakes of course, and fruit. Enough glucose to turn you into a diabetic. And while we were eating, our two eldest boys ran in and out looking up at the moon and chasing the crickets. Good food, good times.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

And So It Begins

My first post. I'd thought I'd start by explaining just what that title means. I'm a mother of three really cute boys, two of whom love, love shaved ice. Not the Hawaiian type of shaved ice in the cone, but the Taiwanese ones where you get to choose two or three items ranging from jelly to fruit to beans and top it off with some yummy condensed milk soaked ice.

My eldest just started public school, so now we spend the weeknights getting him to bed early and now never have time to go anywhere on those days. But oh come those wonderful Sundays when we have all day after church to go out and visit family, get treats, do a little shopping. And my idea of a perfect Sunday afternoon would be to go out, grab a bite to eat, get some shaved ice for dessert, and then head over to visit my parents in the SGV (San Gabriel Valley for those outside of L.A.) Hence, the title above.

This blog will be focused a lot on food and cooking, but I do have a lot of interests outside of the culinary area. I like to scrapbook, read, garden, knit, travel, and shop, so there will be plenty of posts in those areas too, among other things. Please bear with me as I take my first baby steps into the public blogging world!