Japan in Photos: Part 1

Time flies when you're having fun...it's hard to believe in a blink of an eye February suddenly melted into April. It's been a year since our honeymoon in Europe and this year, we decided our International target would be Japan.  Ah Japan! The land of the rising sun.The mysterious place of robots and gadgets and machines and home to the best sushi and kobe you'll ever taste. I was ready to explore her wonders and I prayed (perhaps a little too hard) that we'd see some Sakura blossoms. We had the luxury of staying with a friend for this trip. A long time friend actually, one I've known back when we were just little twerps in high school.  It's refreshing to see how far we've come along, how much we've grown up, and how our lives are gradually starting to take shape. Thank you Alex for your wonderful hospitality and time, to many more years of friendship (and headlocks)!



Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow: Off to pick up Eric!

Brown Sugar Sage Panna Cotta with Spiced Candied Walnuts

I’ve eyed Food52 for awhile now – drooling over their recipes, fawning over their contests, so this week I figured what the hell, I’m going to go for it!


So this week the contest was Your Best Walnuts & Sage recipe. “Holidays behind us, we’re ready to return to the pure, clean flavors of winter. We want recipes highlighting the earthiness and muted hues of walnuts and sage – bonus points for thinking beyond pestos.”


Okay. I think I can do that!



Keeping pure, clean flavors of winter in mind, I opted to make one of my favorite healthy desserts – a yogurt panna cotta.  I used brown sugar for a bolder flavor to round out the strong perfumes of sage and used soy and 2% greek yogurt as my base.

To add an element of surprise I made Spiced Candied Walnuts for a nice crunch and playful bite at the end, how else are we supposed to keep warm during these cold winter months?



So there you have it – Enjoy this Brown Sugar Sage Panna Cotta with Spiced Candied Walnuts. This playful wintry dessert will leave you wishing for more.  Feel free to add honey comb and garnish with a fresh sage leaf for an extra touch of elegance.


You can make these a day ahead of time and they can stay stored in the fridge for up to 3 days. To assemble the dish as I have, make sure you layer the candied walnuts under the panna cotta as it serves as a nice crust to the dessert!


Brown Sugar Sage Panna Cotta with Spiced Candied Walnuts
Recipe Type: Dessert
Author: Joy Zhang
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 3 hours
Total time: 3 hours 30 mins
Serves: 3-4
A yogurt and soy based panna cotta with scented with sage and topped with spicy candied walnuts
  • Brown Sugar Sage Panna Cotta
  • 2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 1 cup soy milk
  • 1 cup 2% Fage Greek Yogurt
  • 1/3 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/3 cup Fresh Sage
  • Honeycomb, for garnish
  • 3-4 small fresh Sage leaves, for garnish
  • Spiced Candied Walnuts:
  • cup sugar
  • 1 cup raw walnut halves
  • teaspoon cayenne
  • teaspoon kosher salt
  1. In a small bowl, mix the gelatin with the water and let stand until softened, about 5 minutes. In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer with the sugar and cook until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the softened gelatin until dissolved.
  2. Whisk in the yogurt until evenly mixed. Add fresh sage leaves. Steep for 10-15 minutes. If you prefer a stronger sage flavor, feel free to increase to 1/2 cup of sage. Strain mixture into a 1 quart measuring cup or large bowl. Divide the panna cotta mixture into 4 4-ounce ramekins and refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.
  3. To serve, sprinkle each ramekin with candied walnuts and garnish with honey comb and fresh sage if preferred.
  4. --------------------------------------
  5. In an oven or toaster oven preheat to 350°F. Lay walnuts evenly on baking sheet lined with foil. Bake for 5 minutes or until just toasted. Walnuts have high oil content so be careful to not overcook. Remove from oven and cool in a bowl.
  6. In a medium saucepan, pour sugar and cook over medium heat until it begins to melt. Once sugar is a light amber, pour in the nuts and add the cayenne . Stir with a wooden spoon, making sure all walnut pieces are evenly covered.
  7. Spread them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat mat if you have one. Use a fork to separate any pieces that are touching and sprinkle with a pinch of Kosher salt. Set aside and cool. Chop into small pieces and place in a small bowl.


A 2011 Review

It's been a good year. I started my own business.

I made lots of yummy food, mostly healthy with some desserts.

I got married and had a Hallowedding.

I started a garden; though a challenging year, it was still a good one.

I traveled to Costa Rica, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy and Belgium.

I learned more about love  and the many ways that it's beautiful.

I met some of the best chefs in Dallas.

And even had the chance to try some of their food...



I went to California and discovered heaven in a tomato and waves of peace in an ocean.


I photographed a few weddings and look forward to more next year.


I started my first film project -- 1-2 Simple Cooking and it was awesome.  Can't wait to show you guys soon!


I became more connected to nature, to food, and most importantly, myself.

I learned the best way to live life is to be yourself - chase fearlessly, choose wisely and always love openly.  Life is too short to live otherwise.


Thanks to everyone who made this year so special.  I can't wait to see what 2012 will have in store.  Happy New Year to you!

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

During the holidays, one of my favorite things to do is baking.  It's this beautiful meditation as baking takes a patient heart, a careful eye and most certainly a sweet tooth.  When the weather is cold outside, the kitchen becomes my favorite place of solace -- as it's always been my most sacred spot to relax.  I always believe that homemade gifts are the ones people remember, so what better way to spread the love than baked homemade gifts?  For years I've searched long and hard for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe, the kind that you can't stop eating, the ones with just the right about of crunch, chewiness and chocolate.  I've tasted some great chocolate chip cookies in my lifetime but never found a home recipe to match.  But ALAS, right in time for the holidays I've finally stumbled across the best chocolate chip cookie I've ever tasted.

Jacques Torres, Mr. Chocolate himself was kind enough to share his chocolate chip cookie recipe via the NY Times.  Thanks to the Master Pastry Chef, this recipe will now become a family tradition for me and I can hardly wait for the memories that'll surround these cookies.  I'm not sure if the magic lies in the combination of cake flour and bread flour in the dough, or that it HAS to be refrigerated for a solid 24 hours -- but whatever it is, don't change a thing.  I haven't tasted a better masterpiece.

(If preferred, you can add a whole vanilla bean in place of the extract as I've done.  Just simply scrape the seeds and mix into the dough!)

The best part about cookie dough is it's simple to make and you can portion ahead.  What I did was quadruple the recipe, freeze overnight, slightly defrost the next day and portioned out around 75-65 3 ounce cookie balls using a cookie scooper.  Then I refreezed for an hour and placed half a dozen to a dozen in individual ziplock bags.  Don't forget to write the date!  Then you can simply bake a batch whenever needed as they take only abou 10-12 minutes in the oven and VOILA!  The best chocolate chip cookies will be ready for delivery :).  Whether its for a party, a gift for family or friends -- this recipe will leave any loved one with a happy tummy and full heart.  Thank you Jacques Torres for the genius recipe and NY Times for sharing the love.  Happy Holidays!