asian tofu

Australia: Aquarium and Mr. Wong’s

It rained over night and was expected to rain throughout much of Thursday so we planned to visit the aquarium this day.

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Our morning routine was the same.  I took a quickie run after nursing P, going up the steps towards Elizabeth Bay (that we went up the previous morning) and then back home.  It was like doing the stairs in Santa Monica.  Then I made the three of us food – eggs all around.  P napped for his usual 2 hours while I journaled and once he woke up we figured out the best means of transportation to get us to the CBD.  We ended up taking the train in and grabbing lunch at a burger spot called Grill’d in the same area as Din Tai Fung.  Lots of power lunching going on.

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Similar to Moo Burger, this place focused on quality ingredients with a range of burger options.

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Kyle got the Steak Sandwich (above) and I got the Simon Says (below). 

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P had puffs and pouches (banana coconut prune – watch out!). 

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My gluten free bun had sesame so I’m not sure avoiding wheat was even worthwhile in terms of Patricks allergens.  I was fairly lax on vacation – even though I always try to avoid nuts, I was still eating bits of soy and wheat here are there – and we definitely started to see an increase in his overall eczema with dry red splotchy skin around his neck as a result.  I really wanted to just enjoy the vacation and eat what I craved and not give ordering a second thought, but that’s not very practical given our situation.  That said, I didn’t want to spend years over-analyzing every single menu item either.  I tried to find the happy medium, but I think P had some skin flares as a result, which made me feel kinda guilty.  I just kept telling myself that I’d get back to my allergen free eating again post-vacation and in the meantime I should try to enjoy the local cuisine.  I didn’t want  to be "that American" (with all the foods I was eliminating) and yet I didn’t want P or my GI tract to suffer.  It’s a tough balancing act.  Incidentally, my gut was virtually symptom free in Oz (except for two acute moments) which is just insane considering how much foreign stuff I’d been eating.  Definitely a noticeable change from my usually picky stomach.  I wish I knew why it was so happy in Sydney!!

Anyway, we also split herbed fries and aioli.  The fries were way good.  Packed with salt and rosemary.  Mmmm, salt.  The burger was good but since we had Moo Burger to compare it to, I’d say it wasn’t quite as impressive.  The difference was that at Grill’d the toppings for the burger weren’t as generous.  I still polished off every last bite though.  P slurped down his meal and then we set off for the Aquarium.  Oddly enough he fell asleep in the ergo on the way (pretty early as compared to the timing of his other afternoon naps) so we just stalled by hanging out in Darling Harbor.

We walked across the bridge and went into the mall for some cool air and window shopping and about 30 minutes later Patty-cakes woke up and we entered the Aquarium.

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We had free passes from Kyle’s friend Julie (that she won in a work auction) so we skipped the line and went right in.

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It was kinda cool seeing all the fish.  My little water baby was really into it and would hardly pose for photos (lest we interrupt him looking in the glass at the turtles and fish and stuff!).

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We saw a ton of small fish, as well as shark eggs and penguins, and just when I was getting a touch bored with it we got to the cool part where you go under water and see all the manatees and sting rays and sharks swimming all around you and over your head.  Scary.

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After the aquarium we went back downtown to grab a Starbucks and free wifi but at some point Pacman got exposed to something that caused him to break out in hives on both arms.  I cleaned him off and kept an eye on it but he didn’t seem bothered by it and it never progressed so who knows.  It was a good reality check because I think I kinda forgot how careful we have to be.  I mean, I’ve obviously been wiping down every single table and high chair he gets into, but I’ve been more relaxed with the other stuff I let him touch (aquarium glass, plants, trees, flowers, etc).  I am so torn in just letting him be a kid and explore and keeping him safe and protected.  I don’t want  him to be a bubble boy but it was scary seeing his arms all puffy and red so far away from home and our (pharmaceutical/medical) safety net.  Anyway, since he’d been in the ergo for so long we took the train to The Rocks to let him play in the grass a bit before dinner.

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He crawled all over trying to chase down the birds (and trash).  His hands were covered in dirt and of course he put them right in his mouth.  Such a boy.  Dirt he eats, but broccoli gets the side eye?!?  Really!?  I fed him more puffs and a banana and pouch and then we went to meet up with Laura for our dinner date.

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We went to Mr. Wong, another place I had read about in Bon Appétit.  It’s kinda hidden in a little alleyway but based on the line that was already formed at 5:15 it’s well known for how good it is.  They don’t take reservations for groups smaller than 6 and they only save half the restaurant for walk-ins so you have to line up early to get in once the doors open at 5:30. 

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Two words. Worth. It.  [!!!!]

Sorry in advance for the sub-par iPhone photos.  What can ya do?

P was sorta having a melt down during the meal but we did push his limits by keeping him out so late (we were seated at ~6).  I thought the open kitchen view would be distracting enough but he was in mama mode and I ended up feeding him puffs between my own bites.  This food was probably the best of the trip thus far.  I know that’s a lot of hyperbole since I’ve raved about every single meal but that’s because they’ve all been so good.  We haven’t had a bad meal yet (or even a so-so one!). 

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In order from top to bottom and left to right…  We started with duck pancakes.  I love plum sauce.  I don’t think I’ve had duck more than twice in my whole life (maybe not even?) but it was delicious.  Tasted just like the dark meat of chicken to me – not gamey like people describe it (truthfully, I still don’t know what “gamey” means as I have yet to try most meats that are described that way).  The other dishes we got were crispy fried tofu, green beans with pork mince in xo sauce, beef short ribs, and roasted crispy chicken.  A lot of firsts for me at this meal, including the pork mince and short ribs.  The tofu looked like it was going to be bland but it was sooooo not bland.  The outside was way good.  The green beans were also exceptional thanks to the awesome sauce.  But the short ribs were the best thing on the table.  I thought the garnishes looked silly all piled on top but the way they worked together was like magic.  Every single component was mmmmmm.  I ate a ton of them.  So full.  I’d love to try the whole menu given how stellar the ones we ordered were.  But P was barely hanging on and I didn’t want to be the rude person with a fussy baby in the restaurant.  Fortunately it was really loud and nobody noticed him at all.  I had already called ahead to ask if they were baby friendly or not and they had high chairs and there were other kiddos there too so I don’t think it was a big deal.

We took the train back home and put Pacman down after he ate a little bit of ground turkey (I thought he could use some protein since he seemingly lived on fruit, pouches, and puffs while we were out and about all day).

Sasa in Walnut Creek

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I mentioned in this post that I went to Sasa for dinner with my family while home for the holidays.  As you can see from the menu above (or clicking on the restaurant the link), their food concept is Asian Fusion with small plates to share.  I love small plate menus because then you get to order a ton of things so you wind up sampling a lot.  And trust me, this menu had plenty I was eyeing.

In fact, the food was so freakin’ good, as a food blogger, I felt it wasn’t cool glossing over it during my two-a-day challenge.  So here’s the full story (with more than two photos).

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Edamame to start.  Standard.  Please note Kyle’s big frosty Sapporo next to it (so jealous I can hardly deal!).

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On the left: my dad’s regular miso soup; on the right: my mushroom miso soup.  I tried both (because his came first and I thought it was my mushroom one due to the obvious and confusing presence of mushrooms).  His was better as it had tofu and seaweed, whereas mine was plain with just mushrooms.  Oddly mine was smaller and cost more.  So to anyone dining at Sasa, order the plain miso.

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This was the Rainbow Cauliflower Tempura which was seasoned with togarashi and nori salt and had a parmesan lemon aioli on the side.  I didn’t try the aioli, but the cauli was awesome.  Not too heavy or greasy, but still crispy and fried.  I think it’s pretty common to like tempura anything (which I do).

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Neither Kyle nor I tried these Ginger Chicken Meatballs with teriyaki sauce, but the rest of my family seemed to enjoy them.  When I go back I want to try the veggie skewer option of sweet potatoes with a sweet sesame glaze (doesn’t that sound awesome?).

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Everyone pretty much agreed that these Roasted Asian Squash Dumplings were the highlight of the meal.  They were so so good.  Warm and oozing with flavorful squash while delicate and crispy on the outside.  They came with crispy fried sage, balsamic-brown butter sauce, and hazelnuts.  I probably could have eaten four plates of these myself.

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This California Roll was the only sushi we got all night and I didn’t even try it (I did steal some of the ginger though) because it came at the same time as the dish below.

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This is the Crispy Tofu Steak which was topped in seaweed, a three mushroom tamari sauce and truffle oil.  The best part was the outside of the tofu (which wasn’t a firm fried shell as the name of the dish implies but rather a kind of chewy coating).  Paired with the sauce and the seaweed it was quite good.  The inside of the tofu was kind of bland and basically just tasted like tofu (I didn’t mind it because I like the flavor of tofu, but it certainly didn’t wow us).

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My dad and Kyle split these Tempura Prawns Lettuce Wraps.  The battered prawns were accompanied by veggies, candied walnuts, and honey-miso aioli.  My dad said there was too much aioli and Kyle (of course) removed the cucumbers with surgeon-like precision, but other than that they devoured them.

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This Pan Roasted Salmon with celery root puree, crispy spinach, and soy-thyme butter sauce was the runner up of favorite dish.  It was larger and heartier, so we all got a sizable piece of fish and the celery root puree was all but licked clean.  I especially loved the crispy spinach.

Sasa really impressed us with their attentive service (nobody’s water glass was ever below 50% full) and diverse menu.  There are still several items that I want to try, so I anticipate going back next time I’m home.  They also have a sushi bar (and entire sushi menu that we basically ignored) and big screen TVs in the front room (where we watched the 49ers lose, boo).

The only teeny tiny critique we had was that we often needed more than chopsticks to split various dishes (so perhaps they should offer a spoon or knife to larger groups with certain plates).  Otherwise it was a lovely evening and we all left content.

DC: LPQ

I was wet.  I was cold.  I was tired.  I was in the mood for something familiar.

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And so Kyle and I went across the street to Le Pain Quotidien, a bakery and cafe with a veg friendly menu that I already know and love.

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Sorry about the lack of light.  I started with tea.

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We shared two appetizers.  First, the soup of the day, a (vegan) broccoli soup.  And second, the seasonal tartine with sweet pea hummus, garden vegetables and smoked tea vinaigrette.

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I’d had this particular dish on my mind for a while, ever since Gena posted about it a few weeks ago, in fact.

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It was awesome.  Really awesome.  So light and fluffy and flavorful!  The soup, however, was rather bland.  Watery almost.  Neither Kyle nor I liked it, so it was neglected after a few bites.

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Kyle’s entree was the Vegetarian Quiche with spinach, mushrooms, leeks and Swiss cheese on a whole wheat crust.  He loved it.  I got the Asian Organic Tofu with tri-colored slaw and miso-ponzu dressing.  I also loved it.

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The dressing was perfect (and not heavily doused on the greens either).  Plus the huge chunks of tofu were plentiful but not excessive. 

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On our way out I started eyeing the baked goods, especially the latest addition to LPQ, the rawnola.  I was told “no photos” mid-shot, so that’s why it’s blurry.  FYI, you can get a bag of it to-go, or order it off the (seasonal) menu as a part of the vegan parfait (with acai soy yogurt, chia seeds, and sprouted buckwheat rawnola with goji berries).  Mega yum, right?

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Another seasonal special?  The vegan carrot cake with citrus icing and pistachios.

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I would have ordered one, but I already had one waiting for me back at our hotel room.  :) 

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Which was what I had for dessert an hour later.

Thank you LPQ for having delicious innovative vegan options for every meal – breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snack, etc.

Next on my to-try list:

  • Vegan Cranberry Acai Muffin
  • Avocado Tartine with chickpeas, cucumbers and spicy tahini
  • Organic Black Bean Hummus with avocado and spicy tahini
  • Wheatgrass & Citrus Spritzer lightly sweetened with organic agave

Brocc in the crock

Here’s how dinner turned out. 

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And here’s how it came to be.

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Crock-pot Teriyaki Tofu & Broccoli

Ingredients:

  • 1 large head of broccoli
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 block extra firm/firm tofu (organic, non GMO please!)
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp teriyaki sauce (or 1 tbsp maple syrup + 2 tbsp tamari)
  • 2 tbsp arrowroot (or cornstarch) (split into 1 tbsp + 1 tbsp portions)
  • optional: garlic and onion

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Directions:

Add oil, teriyaki sauce, and sesame seeds to tupperware.  Cube drained and pressed tofu.  Add tofu to tupperware, place the top on and shake so all the ‘fu is coated.  Then add 1 tbsp of arrowroot, cover and shake again. 

Then add chopped broccoli and remaining 1 tbsp of arrowroot and shake again.

Repeat with chopped red bell pepper.

Basically you shake rattle ‘n roll between each ingredient’s addition to the tupperware.

I kept it in the fridge to marinate overnight (this is seriously the most massive tupperware we own).  If you don’t have a humongous tub, you could keep it the a freezer sized ziplock or the crock-pot itself, but I do recommend letting it marinate a while. 

While I was at work I gave Kyle idiot-proof instructions on what to do with it.

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Pour in slow cooker and set on low for 5 hours.

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Not the most photogenic of meals, but who really cares about that (besides food bloggers)?

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Served over a bed of brown rice, it was the perfect thing to come home to (for the record “perfect” means anything I don’t have to cook).

Hippie notes:

  • I recommend making extra sauce on the side to pour over the rice.  Note I said on the side as opposed to simply doubling the teriyaki in the recipe.  You don’t want to end up with teriyaki soup. 
  • Ginger, onion, and garlic would be delicious additions.  You can leave the onion in chunks, but mince the garlic and ginger and blend it into the sauce.
  • You can use less sesame oil if you want, but I was in the mood for greasy (but still healthy) Asian food when I was making this.  If you’re craving a more authentic Asian recipe, the crock-pot is definitely not the way to go.  Get out the frying pan.
  • Tweaks for FODMAPs people: eat broccoli in moderation, use tamari and maple syrup instead of teriyaki, don’t add garlic or onion.

Meal time trivia

1. What’s the breakfast I’ll never get sick of?

Oatmeal. 

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Because no two bowls are the same.  Ever. 

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I’m in a ’smores phase at the moment thanks to these home-made marshmallows

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Some of my latest combos have included peanut butter, marshmallows, cinnamon, raisins, bananas, and carob chips.

Many of my co-workers (among others) think oats are too “healthy” to be good and too boring to repeat.  To me, that means they aren’t thinking outside the box.

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2. Why is My Cousin Vinny so amazing?

Grits

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Think about it.  It’s a savory way to start the day AND it involves a whole grain. 

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Like oats, the add-in options are limitless.

This was an overnight slow cooker recipe that had:

  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup plain almond milk
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tomato, sliced
  • salt & pepper

Before you head to bed, set your slow cooker to low for 6 hours and you’ll wake up salivating.

I’ve also made one with whole corn and Sabra roasted red pepper hummus.

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No offense to traditional diner fare, but this offers a bit more in the way of nutrients.

3. Why being a female is annoying?

Hormones.

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Why can’t I quit you!

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I’ve baked four batches of cookies over the past week.  Kyle has tasted six…maybe less.  Either way, I’d venture to guess I’ve consumed 95% of them myself.

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To make chocolate egg filled cookies, you place a small amount of [chilled] dough on the [greased] pan, then you press the chocolate into the dough, then you mold another [larger] piece of dough to cover it.

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The result is cookie bliss.

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The problem is that they take no time to make. 

Basic Vegan Cookie Dough

  • 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1⁄2 tsp baking soda
  • 1⁄4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1⁄4 tsp sea salt
  • 1⁄3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1⁄4 cup canola oil

Combine mixed wet ingredients with mixed dry ingredients.  Chill in the fridge for a few minutes.  Form balls on greased cookie sheet.  Bake for ~12 minutes at 350 degrees.

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Using the basic dough, I made a few different variations – some had chocolate inside, some just had chocolate on top, some had no chocolate, some had cinnamon and raisins, and some I didn’t even bake and just ate as cold dough (don’t worry, it’s vegan batter).

Help me.  I need an intervention.

4. Why getting married means more than a name change?

Registry.

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I feel like I should divide my blog life into two parts – B.C. and A.C. – before crock and after crock.

It’s become an integral part of my meal prep and cooking.

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Case in point: Mexican beans and rice (above), teriyaki broccoli and tofu (below), spring stuffing.

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And don’t forget about those breakfast ideas at the beginning of the post (corn grits, steel cut oats, brown rice pudding, and buckwheat porridge all share in the rotation).

5. The quickest way to make your readers hate you?

Tease them.

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Those recipes you guys keep asking about?  I swear I am getting around to posting them.  Please don’t give up on me!

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Feel free to chime in on any of the topics!