Category Archives: family

Meals 134 + cookie within a cookie

I love Girl Scout cookies, especially Thin Mints and Samoas/Caramel DeLites. Accordingly, my sister sent me a recipe for Thin Mint Stuffed Chocolate Cookies.

Baking frenzy re-ignite.

Whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter, two clementines, and vanilla Activia yogurt

Breakfast: Whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter, two clementines, and vanilla Activia yogurt

Broccoli, carrots, bell peppers

Lunch: Broccoli, carrots, bell peppers

Brisket and rare steak pho

Dinner from Pho Garden (take-out): Brisket and rare steak pho

Thin Mint Stuffed Chocolate Cookies baking mess

What the kitchen looked like after I baked the Thin Mint Stuffed Chocolate Cookies. Brace yourself…

Thin Mint Stuffed Chocolate Cookies (from Lovin From the Oven)

Yields 32 cookies

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
32 Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies (Keebler’s Fudge Shoppe Grasshopper Mint Cookies work equally well)

Cream together the unsalted butter and sugar.

1. Cream together the unsalted butter and sugar.

Stir in melted chocolate, eggs, vanilla, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until well combined.

2. Stir in melted chocolate, eggs, vanilla, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until well combined.

Gradually mix in the cocoa powder and flour until just combined.

3. Gradually mix in the cocoa powder and flour until just combined. Chill dough in refrigerator for at least an hour.

Cookie building process with thin mints

4. Take about 2 teaspoons of the chilled cookie dough and flatten in the palm of your hand. Place the mint cookie on top of the flattened dough. Flatten another piece of the dough and place it on top of the mint cookie. Fold and pinch together the sides so that the cookie is completely covered, making an even layer of cookie dough around the thin mint. Repeat process with remaining cookies.

Baking and cooking process for thin mint stuffed chocolate cookies

5. Place on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets, spacing about an inch apart. Bake 10-12 minutes. Cool for 2 minutes on the pan before transferring to wire cooling racks.

The result? A decadent, cakey chocolatey layer surrounding the crisp minty center. I attribute the soft cakiness to the rare inclusion of both baking powder and baking soda in this cookie recipe. Delish.

Cross-section of Thin Mint Stuffed Chocolate Cookie.

Cross-section of Thin Mint Stuffed Chocolate Cookie.

Why I love japchae

Ready to nosh on japchae I made with my mom.

For Mother’s Day, an homage to my mother’s japchae, with a recipe:

In my book, no celebration is complete without japchae, a Korean stir-fried noodle and vegetable dish. According to Korean tradition, you’re supposed to eat noodles on your birthday because the long, continuous shape is associated with a long life.  My mom’s japchae is extraordinarily tasty, so it has become my family’s noodle of choice for birthdays and special occasions. Famous for their length, japchae noodles have extended into all my life’s formative stages, and they continue to connect me back to my Korean heritage, even as I feel myself becoming more and more American.

The first vivid memory I have of japchae is from my younger sister Christina’s doljanchi (an elaborate traditional first birthday celebration). For a brief moment, she looked elegant and regal in her colorful striped hanbok (traditional Korean dress), sitting behind a table of delicately stacked rice cakes, fruits, and side dishes. But within seconds of being seated, Christina proceeded to roll up her sleeves, crawl onto the table, grab fistfuls of japchae, and stuff her face. As the noodles slid down her chin and onto her hanbok, the guests roared with laughter. Even at the age of one, Christina understood that it was worth looking ridiculous in order to enjoy my mom’s japchae.

Fast forward a few years, and my pimply twelve-year-old self was in the kitchen with omma (my mom), watching her make japchae. She used seven main ingredients: dangmyeon (sweet potato noodles), green bell peppers, onions, garlic, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, and beef, cutting out the spinach and excess sugar that ruins restaurant japchae. Once each ingredient was properly cooked and seasoned, she’d mix them together by hand, wearing loose plastic gloves to protect her soft skin from the smelly onions and garlic. To save time, she conducted all taste tests by scooping up some of the japchae with her gloved hand and holding it in the air expectantly. “Try this, and tell me if you think it needs more soy sauce,” she’d say. If I scrambled to find chopsticks, she’d get impatient. “Just eat it out of my hand!” I’d do so begrudgingly, getting sesame oil all over my blemished chin and realizing that I’d be in for another fresh crop of chin acne the next morning. It was worth it though. The japchae was irresistible: chewy noodles, flavorful mushrooms, tender vegetables, and fragrant sesame. Like Christina at her doljanchi, I was willing to look ridiculous (acne is pretty traumatic for a seventh grader) after I’d had the privilege of tasting a handful of omma’s japchae.

Japchae continues to make me look ridiculous to this day. When I set out to make japchae for this blog post, I found myself with no plastic gloves for proper hand-mixing; heck, I didn’t even own a single set of chopsticks. What kind of Korean was I? Who did I think I was, trying to cook japchae out of my decidedly gringo kitchen? It wasn’t easy, but I did it. Chopping the bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms took forever. Even with the expertise of instructional videos from YouTube, my vegetable pieces ended up clumsy and inconsistent (thank goodness the grocery store sold pre-shredded carrots). Mindful of vegans (in actuality, feeling lazy and exhausted), I skipped the beef. Mixing the noodles and vegetables with a fork was like torture: it took all my upper and lower body strength to evenly incorporate the soy sauce and sesame oil-based marinade into the noodle and vegetable mixture. As I struggled to stir, I tried to compensate for my lack of upper-body muscle with exaggerated arm movements a la David Brent’s fusion of Flashdance and MC Hammer from the BBC’s The Office. Again, I looked ridiculous.

Japchae I made on my own. Note the pitifully chopped vegetables.

I started thinking: how does omma make this look so easy? Well, she’s been doing this for longer than I’ve been alive, and per her own words, “Korean housewifery is my major.” Of course, this is a figure of speech: she graduated from Ewha University in South Korea with a degree in mathematics and had aspirations of teaching. But when my father’s software engineering career brought her to the United States, she found herself faced with an enormous language barrier and refocused her efforts to homemaking. My birth solidified her position in the family as the master of all things home-related. In the kitchen, she barely even needs a cutting board anymore, and she can cook anything from the familiar japchae to lasagna, which bears zero resemblance to anything remotely Korean.

Unlike omma, I fully intend to stay in the country of my native tongue and pursue a career outside the home. This is what she wants for me as well: as much as she’s enjoyed taking care of her home and her family, she often speaks wistfully of how nice it would be to have more independence and a source of income outside of my dad’s. I look forward to having a degree of independence that my mother doesn’t have, but I know that my japchae (or anything else that I cook, for that matter) will never be as good as hers.

Or maybe it will be, if I can just position myself in the right industry, per the history of japchae. A liege named Yi Chung first created japchae in the early 17th century at a party for King Gwanghaegun. The king liked the dish so much that he promoted Yi Chung to the position of Secretary of the Treasury. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like that anymore; no matter how delectable my japchae becomes, it probably won’t get me promoted in my current Silicon Valley tech job. But that’s not going to stop me from trying to live up to omma’s japchae greatness, no matter how ridiculous I look in the process.

Omma’s Japchae


  • Starch noodles (“dangmyun”)
  • 150 grams of beef
  • 1 medium size carrot
  • 1 medium green pepper
  • 1 medium size onion
  • 5 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • soy sauce, salt, sesame oil, sugar

Makes 4 servings.

How to prepare your ingredients before stir frying:

  1. Soak 5 dried shiitake mushrooms in warm water for a few hours until they become soft. Squeeze the water out of them and slice thinly.
  2. Cut the carrot and bell pepper into thin matchstick-shaped pieces 5 cm long.
  3. Slice one onion thinly.
  4. Slice 150 grams of beef into thin strips.

How to stir-fry:

  1. Boil 2 bunches of noodles in boiling water in a big pot for about 3 minutes. When the noodles are soft, drain them and put in a large bowl.
  2. Cut the noodles several times by using scissors and add 1 tbs of soy sauce and 1 tbs of sesame oil. Mix it up and set aside.
  3. Add ½ tbs soy sauce and ½ tbs sesame oil and mix it and place it onto the large bowl.
  4. On a heated pan, put a few drops of vegetable oil, a few shakes of salt, and your carrot strips. Stir with a spatula for 30 seconds. Put it into the large bowl.
  5. Place a few drops of vegetable oil on the pan and add your sliced onion. Add a few shakes of salt. Stir it until the onion looks translucent. Put it into the large bowl with your carrots.
  6. Place a few drops of vegetable oil on the pan and add your beef strips and your sliced shiitake mushrooms. Stir it until it’s cooked well, then add 3 cloves of minced garlic, ½ tbs soy sauce, and a pinch of sugar. Stir for another 30 seconds and then put it into the large bowl.
  7. Add 2 tbs of soy sauce and 2 tbs of sesame oil to the large bowl. Mix all ingredients.

Meals 107: Remembering my grandparents

portraits of Jen Lee's grandparents

Portraits of my grandparents, and the meal we offered to them

My dad was only ten years old when his father passed away. His mother, on the other hand, saw him through college, marriage, and the birth of his first child (thaaaat’s me!). Healthy as a horse, she was constantly cooking, shopping, traveling, nagging, pinching our cheeks. I thought she would outlive all of us.

Incense for Korean death anniversary ceremony

My dad preparing the incense

My grandparents passed away on the same day in late January, but forty years apart. Every year, we commemorate my grandparents’ death anniversary with a small ceremony at home. My dad prepares a speech with family updates, and my mom cooks up edible spiritual offerings, which we eat after the ceremony. The ceremony evolves a bit each time – for example, accordingly to tradition, we’re not supposed to offer pork to the spirits, but this year, my dad insisted that we serve sam gyup sal (Korean pork belly meat – see my previous post for a picture) to my grandfather, as it was one of his favorite foods. I can only wonder how my sister and I will adopt this tradition when we’re old enough to be concerned with commemorating death anniversaries.

I love reconnecting with my Korean roots at the end of the day, even though I consider myself first and foremost American.

breakfast with salad and cereal

Breakfast: Salad, Puffins cereal with soymilk

CL3 ham and cheese sandwiches, salad, broccoli

Lunch: Ham and cheese sandwich corners, broccoli, mixed greens

dinner with fish, sam gyup sal, seaweed soup, kimchi

Dinner: Pan-fried fish, sam gyup sal (pork belly), seaweed soup, kimchi

Dessert: Gigantic strawberries

My mom, admiring the strawberry

Meals 91: Bon voyage, Christina

My sister Christina went back to school in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. She’s studying art at Carnegie Mellon University, and she’s produced some impressive works in the past few months:

Screen Shot 2013-02-14 at 11.45.21 PM

Intrigued? Check out more of her stuff in her online portfolio.

In order to send Christina back to school properly, our family had sushi, followed by Asian-style desserts, two food genres not easily found (up to her California-conditioned standards) in Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Cornflakes with soymilk, vanilla Activia yogurt for breakfast

Breakfast: Vanilla Activia yogurt, cornflakes with soymilk

Lunch with shredded pork, hominy, broccoli, mixed greens, tuna quesadilla

Lunch: Spicy shredded pork, hominy, broccoli, mixed greens, tuna quesadilla

mayan hot chocolate

Midday dessert: Mayan hot chocolate shot

Seaweed salad with sesame oil

Dinner from Sushi O Sushi: Seaweed salad

Japanese-style beef short ribs from Sushi O Sushi

Dinner: Japanese-style beef short ribs

Agedashi tofu from Sushi O Sushi

Dinner: Agedashi tofu

Miso soup from Sushi O Sushi

Dinner: Miso soup

Omega three roll, spicy kani tuna roll from Sushi o Sushi

Dinner: Omega three roll and spicy kani tuna roll

baked salmon with california roll known as Lion King Roll from Sushi o Sushi

Dinner: Lion King Roll

Salmon, yellowtail, and maguro tuna sashimi

Dinner: Salmon, yellowtail, and maguro tuna sashimi

Green tea bingsoo aka shaved ice

Dessert from Honeyberry: Green tea, banana, and kiwi with frozen yogurt and shaved ice (bingsoo)

Waffle with strawberries, bananas, and whipped cream

Dessert: Waffle with strawberries, bananas, and whipped cream

Meals 88: Tamarine

Tonight, I went to Tamarine, a Vietnamese fusion restaurant in Palo Alto, with my family and Marshall (warning: the website plays smooth jazz muzak…whyyyyy?). The food was stunning – see for yourself below. Note that I kept a Spartan diet beforehand to save room for our spectacular dinner.

brunch of Tim Tams and a salami sandwich

Brunch: One caramel Tim Tam cookie, half a salami and provolone sandwich with olive tapenade

pork cracklings and banh mi roti from Tamarine

Dinner: Crispy pork rinds with hot sauce, banh mi roti with curry sauce

Salt and pepper calamari

Dinner: Salt and pepper calamari with green curry and fish sauce

Kobe beef pho

Dinner: Kobe beef pho

Tempura nori rolls with soba noodles

Dinner: Tempura nori rolls with soba noodles

empress sticky rice with garlic, ginger, leeks, egg, sweet soy drizzle

Dinner: Empress sticky rice with garlic, ginger, leeks, fried egg, sweet soy sauce drizzle

basil tofu from Tamarine

Dinner: Fried basil tofu  

shaking beef from Tamarine

Dinner: Shaking beef with soy, garlic, onions, watercress

Butterscotch pecan bread pudding from Tamarine

Dessert: Butterscotch pecan bread pudding

Cocount tapioca pudding with mango and passionfruit from Tamarine

Dessert: Coconut tapioca pudding with mango, passionfruit, and sorbet from Tamarine

Chocolate lava cake with vanilla bean gelato and raspberry syrup from Tamarine

Dessert: Chocolate lava cake with vanilla bean gelato and raspberry syrup

Not pictured: Shrimp cupcake, POM pork spareribs with plantains, clay pot cod