Tag Archives: food

Authentic Sichuan Mapo Tofu · 麻婆豆腐

As autumn rolls around, there’s nothing that feels more comforting to the soul than rich, spicy dishes. If I’m being totally honest, I love spicy food year-round. It’s as common for Chongqingers to say that they eat spicy food in the summer to sweat and cool themselves down, as it is for them to claim it warms them up in the winter.

Mapo tofu is a Chinese dish that is now ubiquitous throughout the world, but it originated centuries ago from the Sichuan province, in my hometown of Chengdu. So it should come as no surprise that the version nearest and dearest to my heart is the original, numbingly-spicy version of the dish, one that I grew up with in my household.

I’ve found that there are three ingredients that trademark mapo tofu: chili bean paste (豆瓣), fermented black beans (豆豉), and of course, Sichuan pepper. In my opinion, omitting any of these three ingredients distinctly changes the dish, so I’d caution against substitutions.

Dietary restrictions:

  • nut-free
  • gluten-free
  • refined sugar-free
  • paleo
  • Yield: 4 servings
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes


  • 1 lb (450g) medium-firm tofu*
  • 5 oz (115g) ground meat*
  • 1 scallion stalk, chopped
  • 1 tbsp (15mL) chili bean paste
  • 1 tbsp (15mL) fermented black beans
  • 1 tbsp (20g) minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp (8g) minced ginger
  • 1 tsp (5g) dried chili peppers
  • 3 tsp (3g) finely ground Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1/4 tsp (1g) ground black pepper
  • 5 tbsp cooking oil


  1. Boil water and pour into a bowl. Add salt and mix well.
  2. While the water is boiling, cut the tofu into medium-sized cubes. Add the cubes to the water to soak and soften.
  3. Grind the peppercorns. Set aside about half for garnish later.
  4. Grind the rest of the peppercorns, black pepper, and dried chilies in a food processor or mortar and pestle.
  5. Chop the scallions, and set aside.
  6. Mince the garlic and ginger, and set aside.
  7. In a pan that can handle high heat (I used a flat-bottomed wok), heat a tablespoon of cooking oil and cook the ground meat, making sure to salt it. Break it up into little pieces. Remove and set aside.
  8. Adjust the heat to medium heat, and add the rest of the cooking oil until the wok begins to smoke. Add the chili bean paste, black beans, ginger, and garlic, stir-frying patiently while the mixture blooms and the colors deepen.
  9. Add the ground spice mix, continuously stirring to make sure heat is being distributed evenly. Add a splash or broth or water as needed to deglaze the wok bottom.
  10. Drain the tofu, and add the cubes and beef back to the wok, gently spooning sauce over them.
  11. Top with the scallions and ground peppercorn.
  12. Serve immediately with rice.*

Recipe Notes

  • Soft or firm tofu can be used. If using soft tofu, be gentle when cooking the cubes.
  • Any type of ground meat should work, but I prefer ground beef.
  • This dish is great as leftovers the next day. It can revive leftover, dried out rice very well!

Spiced Persimmon and Fig Muffins (GF, NF, Paleo)

Fall is in full swing, and it’s my favorite season for several reasons. Not only do the leaves change color and introduce stunning shades of yellow, orange, and red to the scenery outside, but the produce available in supermarkets now includes fun, seasonable items: different types of squashes, pumpkin, and fall fruits inspiring bursts of creativity in my kitchen.

Of all the fall goodies to feel excited about, persimmons are my absolute favorite. I grew up eating both types of persimmons (Fuyu and Hachiya), and my dad is very enthusiastic about drying persimmons to snack on. It’s fairly common to see dried Fuyu persimmons topped with powdered sugar eaten as a snack in China, and I certainly had my fill of sugar highs from indulging in one too many per sitting when I was younger. Yep, I’ve had portion-control problems since 1991.

There are two distinctly different types of persimmons. Fuyu persimmons are shaped like beefsteak tomatoes, and textured like apples. They have a slight crunch to them, and are mildly sweet. Hachiya persimmons are teardrop-shaped; when they’re ripe, they’re incredibly sweet and juicy, which makes them perfect for baking. It’s best to avoid eating these before they’re fully ripened, as their sharp taste usually causes an extremely dry mouth as a side effect. When using Hachiya persimmons in recipes, make sure that they’re soft; the persimmon should feel like a water balloon about to burst. To ripen them faster, place them in a brown bag with a banana for a day or two.

I’ve had a craving for muffins lately, and thought it’d be fun to incorporate persimmons into an easy recipe. I am also a huge fan of dried figs (as a snack, or as an ingredient in baking) because they bring a toffee, caramelized flavor when used in baking. For this recipe, I actually experimented with three variations, pairing the batter with Turkish figs, white mulberries, and cranberries. Though all three combinations turned out well, I thought the fig and persimmons pairing was the most delicious by far, so that’s the one I’ll be sharing, but honestly—get creative and replace the dried figs with whatever fruit you want! The beauty of this recipe is that there is room to experiment. The two magical ingredients in this recipe are Fuyu persimmon chunks, and dried figs. While Hachiya persimmons are better for incorporating into batter because they’re juicier and softer, biting into chunks of Fuyu persimmon in the finished muffin is absolutely divine. Dried figs, on the other hand, add a gooey layer of caramelized sweetness to the muffin.



  • 2 1/2 cups gluten-free flour
  • 2 ripe Hachiya persimmons
  • 1/2 Fuyu persimmon, chopped into small pieces
  • 5 dried figs, chopped into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup honey, agave nectar, or rice malt syrup
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp pink salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Microwave the Hachiya persimmons, honey, and coconut oil together in a bowl for 30 seconds on high.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the microwaved mixture, vanilla extract, pink salt, cinnamon, baking powder. You can use a hand mixer to mix this, or manually mix by hand if you want an arm workout.
  4. Let the mixture cool to room temperature before mixing in the eggs, so the heat from the mixture does not cook the eggs. Popping the mixture in the fridge for 5-10 minutes can speed up the cooling process.
  5. Taste test your mixture, adding coconut sugar or stevia to sweeten as necessary. I wouldn’t sweeten with a syrup such as honey or agave here, as the mixture will already be extremely moist. As a rule of thumb, batters always taste sweeter than the finished product.
  6. Add the chopped Fuyu persimmon pieces, and 4 of the 5 figs, to the mixture by hand to preserve their shape and texture.
  7. Pour the mixture into baking cups, and top with the remaining fig pieces.
  8. Bake for 50-60 minutes.

When your muffins are finished baking, they will likely be very moist and slightly soggy in the center, so make sure to let them cool for at least 30 minutes. The juices from the Fuyu persimmon pieces seep through the muffin when warm, and it makes for glorious, gooey bites. When eating these muffins after they’ve completely cooled, take the taste to the next level by heating them in the microwave for 10 seconds prior to devouring.

Osteria Mozza (Los Angeles, CA)

People might bill me as a hater for saying this, but I’ve never been a big fan of Los Angeles. Too spread out, too much traffic, a little too materialistic. In fact, I actively try not to spend too much time in the city, but as I have tons of friends living there, it’s not always avoidable. One thing I will admit is that Los Angeles’ food scene has always been impressive. Though SF has a considerable lead in quality when it comes to fine dining, and many molecular gastronomy experiences, LA trumps SF in: Korean food (absolutely no competition), Mexican food, and casual-chic, which is what I’d categorize Osteria Mozza to be. I’m extremely, extremely critical of casual-chic restaurants, as they’re difficult to execute well. Dishes need to be approachable (no plating tweezer action to be seen), yet elegant and refined in flavor, texture, and presentation.

I was honestly a bit surprised that there wasn’t a wait and plenty of reservations available when we decided on a whim to go. Given that Nancy Silverton has been featured on Chef’s Table and has notched several other impressive achievements underneath her belt, I expected there to be more demand in visiting this restaurant, but am secretly glad there wasn’t because it means I might not have gotten to experience it otherwise! To add a bit of context, I had **extremely** high standards for this restaurant, because a good friend of mine declared: “I only want to celebrate my birthday here of the rest of my life”. I probably couldn’t say that about any restaurant I’ve ever tried, despite boundless love for many. Anticipation was high for every item, and did not disappoint.

There’s a small piece I want to share about the sommelier, who was probably the most impressive part of this restaurant. Candidly speaking, I know close to nothing about wine–only that it’s a lovely way to accent food when paired correctly. Given the range of flavors we ordered, nothing specific stood out as we turned the pages of the wine list. When asked about our price range, we opted for a bottle in the $50-$70 range, and the only requirement beyond that was “something not too dry”. As soon as sommelier left the table, I wondered aloud, “I should have told him I’m not a fan of cabs, don’t want something too full-bodied, and something that’s not too acidic.. some fruity or floral flavors would also be nice”. Our sommelier came back with just one bottle—at first, I was a bit surprised, having expected him to be back with 3 or so choices and allowing us to whittle down the selection from there, but he confidently said he thought he had found the perfect wine for us. Doubt grew in my mind, until he described the wine as “medium-bodied, with berry accents, not too dry, not too acidic”. It was pretty much as if he already knew what I had forgotten to explicitly mention to him, and one sip of the wine later, I was sold on the idea that our sommelier was actually a mind-reader.

What I’m really here to write about is the experience of aged balsamic, handmade pastas, and bombolones. So without further ado… let’s get into the dishes. I apologize for the image quality on these photos–still experimenting with the best way to shoot in low light without behaving too obnoxiously in a nice restaurant!


  • Burrata & Pane al Pomodoro: early girl tomatoes, speck & pickled ramps (10/10): I’m partial to burrata as it’s my favorite cheese, but the table was in agreement that this was a knockout dish. It was a beautifully bright cheese: the texture felt reminiscent of gooey marshmallows, the sweetness subtle and simply divine with the sweetest crushed tomatoes I’ve ever had in my life.
  • Sweet Corn Capallecci (10/10): As a devout fan of chanterelle mushrooms, but only an occasional consumer to their somewhat prohibitively high price tag, I absolutely loved this dish. It was a definitely summer pasta; as I’ve only ever sampled capallecci stuffed with cheese, corn was a pleasant new experience for me. Chanterelles don’t have quite as earthy of a taste as other mushrooms do, and they really added a layer of complexity to the salty-sweet dynamic at play. This dish could have easily been come out of a streetside trattoria in Florence, and eating it transported me back to the summer I traveled Italy a few years ago.
  • Fonduta Ravioli with 20 year old aged traditional balsamic from Modena, Italy (10/10): The clear favorite of the night was this ravioli. Not only was the fonduta unequivocally the best filling I’ve ever had inside a ravioli, but I’ll get a bit more into the aged balsamic they used. Fonduta isn’t a cheese, it’s a concoction that can be thought of as fondue, made with fontina cheese and thickened with milk, eggs, and butter; in contrast, traditionally Swiss fondue makes use of wine and cornstarch, so fonduta comes out lighter and less “cheese-like” than fondue. If cheeses were textiles, this fonduta would be Chinese silk.
    • Incredible fonduta aside, what makes this dish special and unique is the 20-year old aged balsamic from Modena, one of the only towns producing balsamic vinegar in the same way it was produced for Italian royalty back in the day. Small things like this and asking a lot of questions about how food is sourced and prepared can provide a lot of insight into how thoughtful a restaurant is in designing their culinary experience, and how seriously they take their craft.
    • Balsamic vinegar bears many similarities to wine in its production process – both are made from grapes and fermented in barrels, and the longer, the better. It’s important to make the distinction between traditional balsamic vinegar and the type used on salad, which generally lacks the complexity and nuances that come with a longer and more rigorous production process. How interesting is it that some of our most delicious food are produced through the process of fermentation? There’s an entire organization in Italy solely dedicated to identifying and categorizing different types of balsamic, and the highest-grade type you can get has been aged 20-25 years. We were essentially drizzling our pasta with the Hermes of balsamic vinegars; it’s crazy to realize that the grapes from this vinegar started fermenting when I hadn’t even learned multiplication yet.
  • Bombini (10/10): Bombolones can be thought of as miniature fried donuts, and these were served with blueberry compote and lemon marscapone. Though I do think that this is the “safe choice” for dessert, knowing what to expect isn’t always bad. I’m personally a huge fan of leveraging lemon against sugary flavors, and using fruit reductions to infuse sweetness. This was one of those dishes where each component contributed something different—the donuts contributed the texture, the blueberries added sweetness, and the lemon balanced both the density of the donuts and the sweetness of the blueberries. Each piece on its own would have been lackluster, but they worked well in partnership with each other.
  • Torta Della Nonna (4/10): this is the one dish I actively disliked in everything we ordered, and our table came to the consensus that it tasted like a rubber shoe. It didn’t have much flavor and was so dense for what it was, and the honey didn’t do anything to either enhance the flavor or offset the richness. According to a friend and fellow foodie, Torta della Nonna is Nancy’s most famous dessert, but I have to say that our table unanimously felt the bombini outshined this selection by a long shot. It’s unfortunate because dessert is the final impression of a meal, and finishing strong leaves you basking in completion and bliss, rather than wanting for more.

The tagliatelle with oxtail ragu, grilled figs, and mozzarella with anchovies and garlic toast were also delicious, but my philosophy is that when I can’t vividly recall the experience and how I felt eating that particular course, I tend to omit in write-ups, preferring to draw attention to dishes that I felt made the experience stand out. There was a baked peach dessert that I was so curious to try, but my dining companions capped me at two desserts this meal, so I could only longingly gaze over at a neighboring table’s – it’s definitely something I plan to include in my next meal here!

The one gripe I have about Osteria Mozza is that I would have liked for them to serve the dishes in a way that allowed the flavors to build off of each other in intensity and richness; it’s worth noting I believe the experience could have been twice as excellent if I had consumed dishes in a different order. A good example were the two cheeses and the grilled figs that came out at the same time. Cheese has a broad spectrum of tastes and textures, and the way both of these were prepared only served to further distinguish them from each other; while the burrata was mild and sweet with the tomatoes, the mozzarella experience was strongly characterized by the saltiness of the anchovies. The pancetta wrapped figs were totally different and should have followed the two cheese plates. Though it was still heavenly, by the time I took my first bite of burrata, my palate had already been calibrated to the saltiness of the figs and anchovies. Part of me feels as if I should have been able to discern the most sensible order of consumption based on their ingredients in them, but this is also something the restaurant can easily solve for by making suggestions or being more thoughtful in the order they bring out dishes. We fared better in the guessing game with the pastas–I don’t think my tastebuds would have appreciated being hit with oxtail ragu first.

The ultimate verdict is that Osteria Mozza is the best Italian restaurant I’ve tried in the US (very similar to how I felt Sushi Yoshizumi was the best sushi restaurant I’ve had outside of Japan) – nearly all the dishes felt thorough and complete. I love that their menu is seasonal, and felt very much like I could have been at an indoor trattoria in Rome if I went by the food and wine alone. Indulging in Osteria Mozza felt like a playful summer night in Italy, and I definitely see our paths crossing again 😉

Parker-Lusseau Pastries and Cafe (Monterey, CA)

I’ve been trying to squeeze as many trips into the end of summer as I possibly can, and managed one pretty well-planned daytrip to Carmel–you can find some snapshots and words here. Carmel is a trove of delicious food because almost everything is local. When I go places, I gravitate to places utilizing local, in-season produce, ideally from farmer’s markets. Not only are you supporting local farms and agriculture this way, but flavors that shine through are worlds apart.

Although we went to a number of restaurants in Carmel that day, I wanted to single out Parker-Lusseau. The original Parker-Lusseau opened in 1998, and is still a family-run business today. Anne Parker originated from LA, and met her husband Jean Lusseau while she was training as a pastry chef in Belgium. Guess where Jean Lusseau is from? Brittany, France, which also just happens to be the birthplace of my favorite chef, Dominique Crenn (of Atelier Crenn). Parker-Lusseau is the best bakery I’ve been to outside of France. And France has an absurdly high number of patisseries that are delicious. This quaint little shop bakes fresh bread every morning and it’s pretty much unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. I frequent Vive La Tarte and The Mill in San Francisco, but Parker-Lusseau easily blows them out of the water. It’s very much a small shop feel where people ask you what you thought of the pastries and keep up with what’s going on in their neighbors’ lives. I absolutely loved it and am certain I’ll be back during my next trip down to Carmel.

Kougin-Amann: A caramelized croissant made with extra butter and sugar so the outside gets extra crispy. In other words, an accelerated heart attack in baked form–one that is well worth the premature death. I had never had a Kougin-Aman before, and have to say that my life was changed. In the similar vein of how Atelier Crenn and Jiro Sukiyabashi changed the way I felt about fine dining and sushi, the Kougin-Amann at Parker-Lusseau redefined what it meant to be an exceptional pastry. The pastry is actually a specialty of Brittany, where Jean Lusseau is from. It tasted less like a croissant and more like a flaky donut; I think this is what the cronut was supposed to emulate, except the French have been doing better it for centuries!

Fruit Croissant with Fresh Peaches: A quintessential example of local produce incorporated into pastries. Summer is peach season, and the way these peaches from the local farmer’s market were folded into a buttery, flaky croissant was fantastic. Croissants are incredibly delicate in their texture and tastes, and I’m actually not a fan of the supremely oily/buttery ones because it tends to overpower the natural sweetness of the yeast. I’m partial to lightly accenting flavors such as apricot or peach. The tough thing about fruits in pastries is that most mediocre pastry shops tend to reduce and glaze them to a point of unbearable sweetness that sends you spiraling into a sugar crash induced food coma. That, and you can tell the fruit isn’t fresh, which is what makes all the difference in how Parker-Lusseau executed this gem of a croissant.

Apricot Pistachio Tart: So we already know I’m a sucker for apricot and peach flavors, but what you also probably know about me is that I have a mild obsession with trail mix, and make my own (because I hate picking out all the pieces I don’t like). It’s some gourmet trail mix that I do plan on sharing here at some point, and one of my favorite nuts is pistachios! I’ve found apricots to be slightly more subdued than peaches in flavor, which nicely offsets the density that pistachios can sometimes hold. I hesitated on this one because I tend to shy away from tarts, finding most of them to be horribly overprocessed and far too sweet, but the lady who didn’t judge me for coming back for a second order of pastries encouraged me to give this one a go. Unlike most tarts I’ve tried in the past, this one didn’t overpower with glaze and sugar; again, crediting this to their emphasis on fresh fruits.

Bichon (Puff Pastry with Lemon Cream Filling): I ordered this because I’ve seen a variety of meyer lemon and lemon in all sorts of things lately (ice cream, croissants, etc.). The tart/sweet combination works wonders when done right, and this bichon was no exception. Perfect puff pastry enveloping a lemon cream filling that clung delicately to the different layers of pastry. We have a lemon tree in our backyard, so I know what a good lemon tastes like! Good lemons are almost sweet, but not in the same way that meyer lemons are. The acidity is higher, but there’s none of that bitter aftertaste on your tongue.

Conclusion? Go. If there’s one place you must stop at in Monterey, it should be this one.