January 23, 2023

Bolo Bao is a DELICIOUS soft Hong Kong bun with a crumbly, sweet, cookie-like topping that you can find at any Cantonese bakery. While “Bolo” means pineapple, and “Bao” means bread, there’s not actually any pineapple in this bread. Its name comes from the criss-cross pattern atop the bread, which looks like the pattern on a pineapple. This bread can more accurately be described as a marriage between a soft, lightly sweetened bun + a crumbly soft cookie on top. It was one of my childhood favorites, and I love that this recipe allows me to make a small little bun at home anytime!

read more
April 1, 2021

This content may use referral links. Read my disclosure policy for more info.

Instant Coffee + sugar + hot water. Blend. Dollop onto milk.
So. Good.

I was pretty sure I was the last person to hear about this delightful coffee concoction, but when I texted a photo to one of my friend groups last year, 4 of the 5 didn’t know what it was. When I posted it to my IG account, enough people asked what it was that I decided there were definitely more people that needed to know about it. And bloggers don’t let readers miss out on recipes that are both super easy and super yummy (and extremely Instagrammable). So I wrote this post up for y’all, and then… I forgot about it? I don’t know what happened, but here we are a year later, and I will now think of this as my “1-yr anniversary with Dalgona Coffee” celebratory post. If you haven’t tried it yet, this coffee whip is everything you are hoping it would be: creamy and frothy (without using any cream), tasty, and EASY.

It’s been about a year now since I started making it. As we had all started to adjust to the new normal of hunkering down at home last spring, I watched the world learn new things: how to bake banana bread, how to bake sourdough, and how to make Dalgona coffee. Dal-what?? What was this beautiful creation, and how could I get it in my life?!

It’s really as easy as this picture says:

I use Bustelo instant coffee and 1 tablespoon of sugar (I prefer my milk tea with 50-75% sugar, for reference)

The ingredients are easy to procure, and it’s a texture and taste I would pay good money for. But I don’t have to! You can totally make this at home!

What do I use to blend it?

The main question is how you plan to blend the coffee whip. If you have a hand immersion blender with a whisk attachment, I definitely recommend that. It’s what I use, and it takes about 30 seconds to whip up (unless you’re ridiculous like me and try to do it one-handed while taking a video and end up splattering it on everything within a 2 ft radius).

If you don’t have a hand immersion blender with whisk attachment, the most common recommendation seems to be to use a hand mixer (but you’d have to wash a big bowl afterwards) or a milk frother. Though… if you have a milk frother, I wonder if you might be too fancy for instant coffee. Then again, I have a milk frother and I still like this particular drink very much.

The other option is to use a wire whisk and blend it manually. I’ve read online that it is taking people upwards of 20 minutes when using a whisk, and someone even told me it took an hour. And I honestly couldn’t imagine why. Maybe he tried a little bit of liquid in a big bowl? So I tried it myself and timed it, just so I could tell you here.

First I put the ingredients into a glass, then spun the whisk around with my hands like I was trying to start a fire. I stopped when it was about 3-4x the volume of the original mixture, which took exactly 5 minutes. I dolloped half of the coffee whip into a glass of milk for Ben, and the other half for myself. Stir, sip, and…

It was delicious!!! True, the final result is *slightly* less pretty, but it tasted just as good and still had that wonderful creamy texture. Honestly. And if you were willing to do the fire-starter method for longer (maybe tag team with someone), you could probably get more volume/fluffiness. But I don’t think it’s necessary.

So if the lack of a hand mixer or milk frother or hand immersion blender is keeping you from trying this, and you don’t have 20 minutes of whisking strength in your arms, then try this fire-starter whisking method!

Also, make sure you stir everything up nicely before you drink it to get that whipped texture mixed in, and use your fat boba straw to get nice big gulps of that creaminess!

March 21, 2021

This content may use referral links. Read my disclosure policy for more info.

A gorgeous chewy chocolate cookie with crisp edges, that beautiful crackle, deep toffee flavor, generous blobs of chocolate wafers throughout, and the perfect sprinkle of Maldon sea salt: My new all time favorite chocolate chip cookie!

I know, I said I had a different all time favorite in 2014… and yet another different one in 2017. But I guess my cookie tastes grow and change with me. Who knows what 2024 will bring! Also, I still make the Salted Chocolate Chunk Shortbread all the time (SO GOOD have you tried it yet??). There is always a stash in the freezer ready to save me and Ben when we have that specific craving, which happens more often than is good for us. But that shortbread and these drop cookies are two totally different categories to me, so I don’t feel like I’m giving those cookies the shaft by sharing these.

I got this recipe from one of the youth at church, and was kind of skeptical at first. I mean, Tasty recipes were fun to watch, but would this cookie actually taste good?

Yes. It did.

Alvin Zhou, the recipe author, made a fun video comparing three favorite cookie recipes: The 2-minute vs. 2-hour vs. 2-day cookie. I actually tried making the 2-day cookie, toffee and all, and even though those are “the ultimate” chocolate chip cookie, I have to be honest: I like this one (which happens to be the 2-hour one) even better! Seriously, these cookies are amazing. They’re everything you want from a nice bakery chocolate chip cookie: chewy with a toffee taste, nearly the size of your face, cracks running across the top with big oodly pools of chocolate looking you deep in the eyes… and that hint of salt splashed across the top. They have earned a permanent residence in our freezer drawer, so when I have a deep craving for one (like… right now), I can pop one in the toaster oven any time.

They’re easy to make and the video on the Tasty website gives you a good idea of the consistency you should have at each step. You don’t even need a mixer, so if you’ve been craving chocolate chip cookies, you definitely need to give these a try!

Notes about ingredients:
I’ve been miffed by comments online like, “This recipe was the worst! I substituted A for B and cut the sugar in half, and the whole thing was hard as a rock! Horrible! Don’t try this recipe!” But c’mon now, that’s not the recipe’s fault! Some substitutions work well, but many can change the final texture or taste significantly. So I wanted to make some notes about ingredients to help you get the best results!

A sprinkle of Maldon sea salt on top gives it a little crunch and the perfect hint of saltiness to balance all that sweet!

More tips for success:

read more
February 19, 2021
Chocolate Babka Roll with Chocolate Streusel (YUM!!) and Fudge Filling (mmmMMmMMm)

There is so much I love about Melissa Clark’s Chocolate Babka recipe: The fudge filling, simple syrup, and most of all, the chocolate streusel! I could eat that streusel every day.

Melissa Clark’s Chocolate Babka is bread and chocolate heaven:
Fudge filled swirls topped with chocolate streusel and finished with simple syrup. YUM.

But as often as I would love to toast up a thick slice of chocolate babka, I don’t always have it in me to make it. It can take 6-27 hours to finish, depending on how long you let it rise for, so I set out to find a way to adapt my favorite elements of her babka and turn it into a roll. After going through and trying various recipes online, I found a combination I LOVE: pillowy, soft bread dough (the same one used for the copycat Cinnabon rolls I make) and the three elements of Melissa Clark’s 26 hour babka that I love best: the fudge filling, the syrup, and the streusel! These last three can all be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge until you’re ready to make the bread dough.

This shot is not representative of how much fudge filling there is. I think it was one of the end pieces of the roll, but trust me–it’s very chocolatey!

The other thing I love about having this in roll form is that I can easily wrap and freeze each roll individually to enjoy weeks later for a midnight snack or a treat-breakfast. If you’re looking for your next pandemic baking project, give these a try! They’re so delicious!

read more
December 30, 2020

Back in May, when we were all trying to figure out how to stay sane while staying home all the time, I decided to make DIY milk tea kits for some friends. A lot of our favorite milk tea places, like Boba Guys, were temporarily closed and I thought this would be a nice way to add some delight to a very difficult time. I make milk tea at home all the time, so it’s not unusual for me to have a jar of simple syrup ready to go in the fridge and my favorite tea leaves (specifically for milk tea) in the cupboard. I’ve learned over time that you can’t just substitute milk or condensed milk in willy nilly; you have to have a really rich and creamy milk component or the whole thing will come out unsatisfyingly watery.

But if it’s your first time trying it, all these components can be mini hurdles that make the whole endeavor kind of frustrating: figuring out which tea leaves actually work well in a milk tea, the annoyance of boiling up and cooling down some simple syrup, and learning the hard way that even your whole milk is not creamy enough to give your milk tea the body you were hoping for.

So I tried to make a kit that would be as user-friendly as possible! Inspiration came easily, as Boba Guys had just published The Boba Book (aff. link)! It could not have been more well timed: Their shops weren’t open, but now we had the secrets to their magical concoctions at our fingertips!

This book is fantastic. I have especially enjoyed their recipes for Classic Milk Tea and Roasted Banana Milk!

After ordering their recommended tea leaves, I tried out their recipe and it really hit the spot! I knew I wanted to share it with more people, so I ordered more packs of tea and made kits including bottles of premade house syrup and half and half. Finally, I made little instruction cards to print out and include with the kit.

Print these simple instructions out on cardstock, cut in half, and tuck into your kit!

All of the required ingredients for the Classic Milk Tea are included in the kit (except the optional toppings… apologies to the boba lovers!). If your friend runs out of syrup, instructions are included to make more. But at least for their first few go arounds, the pre-made bottle of syrup should make things a bit easier!

To make the kits, I ordered a set of these cute bottles on Amazon (affiliate link). They’re kinda pricey, but pretty packaging makes my heart sing, and I needed all the uplifting I could get back in May! Plus, I have used the extra bottles a ton since then to store my own syrups, condensed milk, lemon juice, salad dressing, etc. at home. They’re great!

Next, I boiled a large batch of house syrup, let it cool, and divvied them out into the jars. I bought a half gallon of half and half and filled up more jars, and then put together the kits with the tea leaves and instructions. Voila! Happiness in a little box! I made sure my friends were home when dropping them off so they could refrigerate the liquids immediately. This part was not hard, since everybody was home. All. The. Time. (And we’ve all been back at home again for the last month! What’s the situation where you live? I’m *SUUUUPER* curious to hear how it is in other states and countries!!).

And that was it! Spreading sunshine, one milk tea kit at a time! Happily, the Boba Guys shops have re-opened, but if you don’t have one near you, you can recreate their delicious drink in your own home! Whether you decide to make your own sets of kits to share with friends or attempt to make some milk tea for yourself, I really hope this can bring some cheer and delight to YOU in what has been a very difficult year!

I hope you are all well, and I would love to hear from you and and how you are doing and managing during this unprecedented year. Hope you had a happy holiday, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

November 29, 2020
Our new Thanksgiving tradition!

We had a quiet thanksgiving at home this year, and as much as I missed hugging my grandparents and seeing my relatives, the day turned out to be really lovely. Since we didn’t have any place to go, or anyone else to cook for, I felt truly free to do whatever I wanted and spend relaxed time with my family. So after a quiet day of pom pom animals, Legos, and Sleeping Queens (affiliate link to our current family game obsession), we sat down to a delicious meal of hot pot and apple pie. Does it get any more Chinese American than that?

Hot pot: Choosing from a generous spread of thinly sliced meats, veggies, and noodles to dip into flavorful simmering broth, taking it out when it is perfectly cooked, and dipping it into your own bowl of tasty, customized sauce. Each bite is freshly cooked, hot, and soul-satisfyingly delicious! It’s such a fun way to gather and eat! This photo is from my friend Lily’s table, because apparently several of us had the same idea, and her spread was way prettier than ours!

One of the best things about hot pot is that other than a well-timed grocery run, there isn’t much prep. All the cooking happens at the dinner table, which left me even more time to tinker freely in the kitchen all day. So I decided to make an apple pie. A simple but fancy-looking one with a pretty braided lattice pattern a la Chrissy Tiegen. I had three goals for my pie: make something easy but delicious, make it not too sweet, and try the pretty braided lattice design.

My big little girl did most of it!

I used store bought crusts from Trader Joe’s, fresh Golden Delicious apples from our CSA box, and tweaked a recipe I had found on allrecipes.com for the filling, hoping to avoid the overly sweet filling that I usually associate with apple pie.

It may look tedious, but it’s 2020, and this braided lattice design turned out to be really fun and satisfying to do! I’m not sure if JoEllen in 2021 will have the time or patience to cut and braid strips of dough for a beautiful pie, but if my daughter’s in, then I’ll try make time for it! Seeing her delighted smile at her unhurried, relaxed Mama as we stood side by side making pie made me realize, for the upteenth time, how much I need to slow down and enjoy these small moments. My full presence and unhurried enjoyment of hers leaves the biggest impression on her, and I think it’s these little things that she’ll remember the most someday.

After filling our bellies with hot pot, we all managed to find some space to enjoy pie together. The story of actually eating the highly anticipated pie turned into a saga and memorable moment that deserves its own post (filed under “parenting”)… but I’ll have to save that story for another time. Suffice it to say, the pie was delicious and we just might have started a new family tradition with it!

Apple Pie
Adapted from this recipe



  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Melt the 1/2 c butter in a saucepan. Whisk in 3 tbsp flour to form a paste. Add 1/4 c water, 1/3 c sugar, and 1/3 c brown sugar, and bring to a boil. Stir in 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Reduce temperature and let cool slightly, then pour over your sliced apples and mix so that slices are coated.
  2. Place the bottom crust in your pan. Fill with apple mixture, mounded slightly. Cover with a lattice work crust.
    Note: If you’re worried about your outer edges burning, wrap with a strip of foil for the first 30 minutes of baking.
  3. Bake 15 minutes in the middle of preheated oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the temperature to 350°F. Continue baking for 35-50 minutes, until apples are soft and the lattice design is golden brown.
    Note: If your pie pan is on the small side, place a baking sheet on the rack underneath to catch any dripping.


*I used to think Granny Smith apples were the ideal apples for pie, but Kenji at Serious Eats recommends Golden Delicious, and I’m glad I went with it! If you do go with Granny Smith, you might want to increase your sugars up to 1/2 cup since they’re a bit more sour.

July 20, 2020

Thanks for sharing your comments and thoughts on my last post as I reflected on ways I’ve been thinking about and trying to grow in my understanding of race-related issues in America today. I’m still learning, discussing with friends, and reading like there’s no tomorrow. Sometimes I literally don’t have until tomorrow to finish my reading, as my library app constantly reminds me with the many books I have checked out.

I get that commenting is less common in today’s blogging culture, but if there were any posts I really wanted to hear back from you all on, it was that one! My family and I are continuing in our learning journey and would love to hear from you how you are engaging and learning, too. In the meantime, I wanted to share a recipe with you that has been on repeat this last month: Salted Chocolate Chunk Shortbread. I’ve already gotten friends hooked on Chocolate Shortbread, and while that is still my #1, this one is an excellent cookie that is different enough to feel like variety, but similar in all the right ways. I first heard about the recipe from my friend Wendy.

Wendy and I have been besties since high school. She is special to me in so many ways. I remember walking the hallways of our high school together, early in the mornings before school started, to pray for our classmates, teachers, and staff. And that’s saying something, because five years later in college, we were the roommates who could easily sleep in until noon if we didn’t have class. While the early morning walks didn’t last very long (we were high schoolers after all), we still had plenty of chances to bond. We had classes together, were in clubs together, went to church and youth group together, ran in cross country and played badminton together. But one of my favorite things to do with her was to bake!

One Christmas, we decided to make a variety of cookies for our friends. We had a whole bunch of cookies we were planning to bake up and package to deliver to our friends at school. There were simpler ones, like chocolate crescents, and more complicated and time-consuming ones, like the almond lace cookies, which had to be baked in multiple batches and kept us up late into the night. Being the relatively inexperienced bakers we were, we ended up staying up until 3am on a school night finishing things up! I still can’t believe we did that, and I would be surprised if any of our friends even remembered the cookies today.

But it was so worth it. We made a lifelong memory and can look back on those carefree high school days fondly. So when she sent me this message last month, it wasn’t just someone suggesting something for me to try. It was Wendy! And COOKIES!!

I made it that very week.

And readers, let me tell you, it just added another layer of cement to our already-solidified friendship. In the past, we have texted about chocolate shortbread in a way that made me feel like I had discovered a new love language, and from my very first bite of this chocolate chunk shortbread, I felt like she was hugging me all the way from the East Bay.

I used my very best chocolate on these, and it was totally worth it. My favorite way to enjoy them is not fresh out of the oven, but about 10 minutes after I take them out of the oven. Actually, my favorite FAVORITE way to enjoy them is to wait til they’ve completely cooled, then toast them for 6-8 minutes in the toaster oven (just like a slice of bread toasted to medium darkness), and then I wait another 5 minutes before taking that first heavenly bite.

This is actually how I enjoy most cookies (especially chocolate shortbread and chocolate chip cookies): toasted for 6-8 minutes, left to cool for another 5-8 minutes, and then savored: one crisp-chewy warm oozy chocolatey bite at a time. YES.

Sigh… I already ate a chocolate chunk shortbread heated this way at 4pm today, and now I have just tempted myself into another. Brb.

Ok. So while my chocolate chunk shortbread cookie is toasting, I’ll add a couple other notes:

  1. You really do need to roll it in the crunchy sugar. The original recipe calls for demerara sugar, but I had turbinado sugar on hand and it turns out they’re similar enough for this recipe. I would not substitute with regular white or brown sugar, though. The large sugar crystals add a wonderful crunch.
  2. These freeze well. I keep logs of them in the freezer next to my rolls of chocolate shortbread dough :]
  3. I’ve doubled the original recipe below. I see no reason to make only one batch, so I did the math for us. You’re welcome.
read more
May 29, 2020

TLDR: This garlic cheesy bread makes me as excited as bacon does. Serve it with spaghetti… or really any American meal, or just enjoy it on its own. Seriously it’s so easy and so tasty!! The key secret ingredient is mayonnaise. It pulls everything together and adds that extra something that makes this spread next-level!

I loved high school. I loved my friends, playing sports, and being a part of clubs and projects. It was the best when friends and sports merged together, which is one of the reasons I loved being part of the cross country team. I had initially joined to build up endurance for basketball, but it quickly became a hobby of mine in its own right. I’m pretty sure it was that freshman year of cross country when I first tried Chris’s mom’s amazing garlic cheesy bread, and it wouldn’t be the last.

Chris was my first boyfriend, and a great friend for years after that. His mom was the quintessential soccer mom. She brought snacks and treats and smiles and hugs and even gave me rides to many of the Saturday cross country invitationals, her face always bright with energy while I stumbled towards her minivan in the dark, early hours before sunrise. When I try to imagine what it will look like to be a cool mom ten years from now, I imagine being like her: full of snacks, full of smiles, and full of this CHEESY BREAD! It must have been at one of our pre-race carb-loading dinners that I had my first taste. I was hooked.

This cheesy bread was one of her specialties. We could smell it the moment we walked into their home, and would drool when it came out of the oven, hot and bubbly. Whenever Chris brought it for a potluck, it was polished off before anything else. I remember asking her for the recipe, but the only information I managed to catch was that it had mayonnaise in it. Huh. Mayonnaise. Who would have thought?? Turns out this was the KEY ingredient, and the most important piece of information I would need.

Finally, several years ago, I decided I needed to crack the code on this cheesy bread. I tinkered with basically everything tasty/unhealthy that made sense to me, and after rounds of experimenting, this was the result: Cheese, butter, mayonnaise, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. It is so easy, and it is so good. Honestly, I have no idea if it tastes anything like Chris’s mom’s actually does, but it lives up to the memory of it, and that’s something.

Spread a good thick layer on each slice!

Nowadays, this cheesy bread makes a regular appearance at our house. The kids and I are bacon-level excited about it when it is placed on the table, and I have learned to make more than I think we need because it always gets gobbled up. It’s a crispy, savory, melty, cheesy, garlicy, tasty cheese toast– what’s not to love? Plus, you probably already have most of the ingredients for it.

Do you use fresh garlic?
I usually like to add fresh minced garlic, but we didn’t have any on hand today, so I did without. And it was perfectly fine. No one missed anything. But if you have it, use it! There’s nothing like the smell of fresh garlic and cheese and butter filling up the corners of your home 🙂 Mmmm!

What kind of bread works best?
I make it on Acme’s Italian batard whenever possible, but you can use any crusty loaf, like a good French bread or sourdough. If you have an oblong loaf, you can also simply cut it in half lengthwise and spread each half with the spread, like Costco’s garlic bread. This would probably be healthier. But I enjoy a greater ratio of melty cheese spread to bread, and I like the crisped edges all around, so I do slices.

If you have humongous slices of bread (like middle slices from a big round sourdough), then cut each slice in half before spreading, otherwise the very middle will get soggy.

read more
May 25, 2020

This content may use referral links. Read my disclosure policy for more info.

Ice + cold brew + milk + condensed milk.

It doesn’t get much easier than that.

It is supposed to get blazingly hot the next two days here, and I’m ready and prepped with my cold brew to make my favorite Vietnamese iced coffee. Once you have your cold brew ready, it’s just a matter of dumping ingredients together and shaking them up until it’s got a wonderful layer of frothy goodness ready for sipping (or gulping!). It is so, so good, and if you have never tried making it, this is as good a time as any!

If cold brew sounds very fancy to you, just think of it like this: Tea is usually leaves steeped in hot water for a few minutes. Cold brew is simply ground coffee steeped in tepid water for a few hours. And then it lasts in your fridge for like a month. I like to use ground coffee from Cafe Bustelo to make a big batch:

I’ve actually shared this recipe before, and in the last five years I have found no way to improve upon it, so please check out the original recipe to get more frothy details! What I really want to talk about here today is my mason jar setup. Specifically, my mason jar lids:

I have wanted to share about my mason jar lids for a long time now, but it always seems like a really silly thing to write about: “Guys, I have plastic lids for my big mason jars and they makes me SO HAPPY.”

But that’s the truth of it. I have reached that part of life where I have a favorite baking spatula and favorite cooking turner. When I discovered that the lid from my cast iron pot fit perfectly over my cast iron frying pan, I was absolutely elated. I might have done a little happy dance. A good pair of kitchen shears that come apart nicely for the dishwasher brings me great satisfaction, and I have never been more pleased to own reusable straws. It’s the little things, guys.

Which brings me to these plastic lids. I have a set of wide-mouth mason jars that I use all the time (why are they 10x the price on Amazon?!), and a set of plastic wide-mouth lids that I pair them with. Together, they live in my tupperware drawer, and get just as much use as my expensive Snapware does. I use them to store leftover soup, shake up milk tea, shake up iced coffee, make overnight oats, store watermelon juice, etc. They’re also handy for storing dried goods in the pantry, like leftover dried pasta or those last few handfuls of pretzels or Cheez-its.

read more
April 5, 2020

This content may use referral links. Read my disclosure policy for more info.

April 2, 2020: I originally wrote this post in February, before COVID-19 really turned our world upside down. Let’s pretend it’s February, and that we might actually be celebrating a friend’s birthday soon and have a reason to make a whole cake.

(Or, we can just be like me and make yet another chocolate cake (or two…) to eat at home JUST CUZ. Because boy, if there were ever a time to treat yourself, this is it. I’m already wondering when the next okayest time to make another one of these is…)

February 2020

My phone lit up and I saw the happy message from my mom:

"I'm enjoying the birthday chocolate cake right now. So yummy Jo. This is the kind I want every year for my birthday until I die, :) hehe"

That’s what my mom just texted me about this cake that I just made her a few days ago. And I have to agree–it’s a pretty bomb cake. The bottom is made of a dense, fudgy, flourless dark chocolate layer that hits all those deep dark chocolate cravings. The top layer is essentially a whipped dark chocolate ganache, which means it is a huge quantity of rich, dark chocolate truffle spread out in a thick layer and called “cake.” No objections here.

Dorie Greenspan created this elegantly simple and decadent cake, and I’ve been eating multiple slices a day since Thursday, when I first delivered the cake to my mom. I ate two at her birthday dinner, and then I made a whole new cake that very night after putting the kids down. My college friend had invited us over for dinner the next evening, and I wanted to bring something delicious because she’s the kind of person who does everything with excellence and I wanted to bring something excellent for her! This cake did not disappoint.

Having made it twice in 24 hours, I naturally started to look for some shortcuts. Nothing that would compromise the amazing texture and flavor of the cake, but time-saving (and dish-saving) shortcuts to make it easier to make this heavenly concoction even more accessible in the busyness of life. So, grab your favorite springform pan and give this cake a go. If you love chocolate, you will not regret it!

P.S. If you want to go the extra mile, I’d recommend serving it with a simple raspberry sauce like this one.

read more