Friday, September 30, 2011

My Birthday Getaway in Tahoe & San Francisco, Pt1

Fresh off the Farm Peaches!

For my birthday, Hubby took me on a short getaway.  I'm so lucky that he always treats me so well :o)  We went to Lake Tahoe for a couple of days and then drove over to San Francisco for a few more days.  It was nice because it fell over the Labor Day Weekend Holiday, so we were able to extend our mini vacation.  

I took the food shots in this post and Hubby took the rest.

Manzanita @Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe, CA

We stayed at the new Ritz Carlton located in North Tahoe.  It's more of a ski resort, but a great location for a summer stay too!  During the winter, you can ski in and out from the hotel and they have a gondola on the grounds that takes you up to the top of the mountain.  They even have a Ski Concierge/Valet that helps you get all your gear together and gets you ready to go out on the slopes!  Our view from our room was the pool and a ski

One of the reasons I picked this hotel was because Traci Des Jardins has a restaurant at the hotel.  She is a well known chef from San Francisco who's most famous restaurant is Jardinaire. I really didn't have high expectations for the restaurant since it's located in Tahoe AND in a hotel, but I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed our meal tremendously!

Asparagus Salad w/Serrano Ham, Egg & Parmesan

I loved this "salad", the combo hit the mark! There were so many parts to it, but it all complemented each other perfectly.

Yellow Tomato & Cucumber Gazpacho

This was Hubby's app.  He loves Gazpacho and orders it whenever he sees it on the menu.  I still haven't tried to make it at home ;o)  It was funny because after he ordered it he was talking about one of his favorite one's he'd had in the past was with yellow tomatoes and didn't even realize that this one was yellow until I  pointed it out to him (I had taken a pic of the menu)

Duo of Beef...Filet & Short Rib

I love when restaurant have duo's or even trio's on menus.  I always want to try everything, so it's great when they have combos like this.  For our anniversary we went to a place that served a trio of game meat...yum!  I loved the filet in this duo.  I usually don't like filet because it's tender, but doesn't have much flavor to it.  This one was one of the best filet's I've ever had!  I found out from the Sous Chef that they Sous Vide it and then finish it off in a skillet or grill (I can't remember exactly how they finished it).  It had so much flavor for a filet!  Maybe the slow cooking of the Sous Vide brings out flavor... 

The Short Ribs were just ok to me.  I really don't care that much for Braised Short Rib, I think it's on too many menus now and you can get it just about anywhere.  Even though I don't like it that much, I still wanted to try it! This could have been the perfect one...   My favorite way of eating Short Rib is BBQuing it the Korean way :o)

Trio of Game from Saddle Peak Lodge Restaurant, Calabasas, CA

For our anniversary we went to Saddle Peak Lodge where they are known for their Game.  

Top Left...Antelope
Bottom...Elk...I had them switch out their Vanilla Butternut Squash (I'm not sure why they think they need to add vanilla to something that is already naturally sweet) for Creamed Corn.  This was the best dish!! It had a smokiness to it and was the filet.

The other's were too lean and a little tough for me.  I didn't think they had much flavor to the meat...that's what you get for farmed Game;o)

Mystic River Salmon

Hubby's entree was really good.  The skin was perfectly crisped!

Coconut Sherbert on Coconut Tuille

The sherbert was a little sweet, but it had a nice coconut flavor and the tuille was a nice touch!

Stainless Steel Mirror Ceiling :o)

I loved this ceiling!  I thought it was a regular mirror, but the waitress informed us that it was Stainless Steel!!  I couldn't resist taking a photo...

Tap Water!

When are you ever satisfied with unfiltered Tap Water at a restaurant??  In Tahoe!  I couldn't get enough of the stuff ;o)

Breakfast View

We don't usually eat breakfast, but it was included in our room package.  We didn't want to "waste" it, so we had breakfast everyday in both Tahoe & San Francisco.

House Cured Salmon & Bagels

I'm not sure why I always order bagels when we are at a hotel because I'm always disappointed, but I just can't help myself ;o)  The salmon was really good and the tomatoes weren't bad...

Emerald Bay

I'm not an outdoors person at all and hate to exercise, but thought going on a hike would be a great idea in Tahoe :o)  We spent Hubby's 50th b-day in the Galapagos & the Amazon Jungle of Ecuador and hiked around everyday for a few hours and I didn't get worn out from that, so I thought it wouldn't be much different here.  I didn't think about Ecuador being flat and Tahoe being a  We had the best time hiking and picnicking here, but I could barely walk the next day because my legs were so sore...

Emerald Bay

We started out at the top of the mountain and had the most beautiful view of Emerald Bay.  The hike down was about a mile, going down was much easier than coming back up ;o)  

Picnic Area

We spied a picnic area...

Our View for Lunch...

We found a table right next to the lake.  This was Thurs before Labor Day Weekend, so there was no crowd at all in either the hiking areas are the road going around the lake.  I can only imagine what it's like when it is packed...what a nightmare!  

It was so peaceful and beautiful here.  We loved watching the birds as we at our lunch.  

Roast Beef w/Grilled Onions on Sourdough Baguette & Black Forest Ham w/Cornichons on Sliced French Bread :o)

We found this cute little sandwich place on the way to Emerald Bay.  We did check out the Cafe at the hotel, but they mostly had hot sandwiches.  I asked at the Front Desk if there was anywhere else to get sandwiches, but he was young and useless!

Me, "Is there a place that we can pick up sandwiches for a picnic?"
Young One, "The Cafe upstairs has sandwiches."
Me, "I already looked up there, but they only had hot sandwiches.  Is there somewhere on the way to Emerald Bay where I can pick up deli sandwiches?"
Young One, "Our In Room Dining Service may be able to make sandwiches for you."
Me, "My husband's getting the car right now, we don't have time to wait."
Young One, "Let me call In Room Dining to find out."  (He picks up phone to call.)
Me, "Uhh, no, we don't have the time."
Young One, (covers phone), "They said it would take 30 mins."
Me, "I know, I said we don't have the time to wait, is there a place that we can pick-up sandwiches in the area?"
Young One, (hangs up), "Let me call the Concierge."  (Concierge was upstairs and on the far side, so I didn't want to walk all the way up there.)  Concierge line is busy.
Young One, "Let me see if I can find something in the computer.  There's a Pizza Place."
Me, "No, they would have hot sandwiches like Meatballs."
Young One, "There's a grocery store near by."
Me, "No."
Young One, "It looks like there's a sandwich shop in "The Village"
Me,"My husband got the car, thanks for your help, I'll just go on Yelp and see what I can find."

Moral of the story, sometimes it's just easier to go on

Our Friend Mr. Goose :o)

He and Mrs. Goose were swimming in the lake and he may have thought I'd feed him, so he hopped up on shore to watch us eat ;o)

Catching his Lunch :o)

Love the action shots that Hubby got of the bird...

Another Picnic Area...

So Serene & Beautiful...

Fannette Island & Tea House

Eagle Creek

After our picnic we decided to keep hiking to see the water falls.  I thought this "creek" looked like a waterfall ;o)  

Stairs to Lower Eagle Falls

I thought I was going to die going up these stairs, can you say "Out of Shape ;o)"

Lower Eagle Falls

There's just something so magical about waterfalls!  It was less than a mile each way to get to the falls from the picnic area...

I really didn't expect to find any good food in Lake Tahoe, but we had two really good dinners.  My b-day dinner at Manzanita and another place called Cafe Fiore in South Tahoe.  This restaurant is owned by a friend of a friend of ours and that is how we found out about it.  It's a cozy Italian place and we loved it!  It was warm enough in the evening, so we dined Al Fresco.  I didn't take any photos since it was really dark and I didn't want to offend the proprietor ;o)

Fried Chicken

I really hate going to chain restaurants when I don't have to, so I like to try to find unusual local places when we travel.  We decided we would stop for lunch on the way to San Francisco and thought somewhere near Sacramento would work best.  I was able to find this place called Happy Apple Kitchen in Grass Valley.  It is a working orchard that has peaches & apples in season. The restaurant is in a little house and they have both indoor & outdoor seating.  The food wasn't the best, but it was pretty good.  I had the Fried Chicken and enjoyed it, it had an interesting sweetness to it so I thought maybe they added apples to the batter.  I asked the waitress and found out that they use frozen fried  I guess like French Fries, sometimes frozen is better!  They serve everything with a apple slice...cute!  Hubby had a hamburger and he said it was just run of the mill.
Homemade Peach Pie

The Peach Pie was really good, but the fresh peaches that we bought from the fruit stand were awesome!  So juicy and sweet!!  I don't remember the last time I had peaches that were this good.  It could be because they were picked that day;o)  We picked some up to take to our friends in the Bay Area and also got some for ourselves.  Since room service breakfast was included with our hotel we had the peaches every morning.  It's kinda nice having fresh picked peaches on Hotel China & Silver :o)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Making Homemade Tofu :o)

Hiyayakko...Cold Tofu...

I've been dragging again getting my blog posts out. We took a mini-vacay a couple of weeks ago for my birthday and spent time in Lake Tahoe & San Francisco.  It was a very romantic and relaxing getaway for us.  We stayed at the new Ritz Carlton in North Tahoe, I'm so lucky that Hubby always treats me to the best! For my b-day dinner we ate in the hotel at Traci Des Jardins' restaurant..what a fab meal!!  Then last weekend we went to a beautiful wedding in Morro Bay.  It's really nice to be able to drive to so many great places in California :o)  I'll be posting about the trips at a later date...

On to the food...  I've been making homemade tofu and loving it!  It seems that I get little "signs" sent to me and then it hits me hard and I pursue whatever it is.  I've always loved tofu, but never thought of making it at home.  It seemed like it would be too much of a pain.  I do remember my mother making it, but she made a softer version and didn't go through the same process that I have been.  

My first "sign" was that we were at a local Japanese restaurant called Robata Jinya and they served a soft/silken tofu that was made at the table!  I was fascinated by this.  They place a cone shaped container on the table and then pour hot soy milk into it and then add another liquid and then it sits for about 10 mins and the soft tofu is made!  It was so delicious, they serve it with soy sauce and some other condiments.  I was very curious how this was made and they told me they just add Nigari to it.  I'd never heard of this, Nigari, it turns out that it is just Magnesium Chloride and is a coagulant to make the tofu.  

Link to Robata Jinya...

My second "sign" was that my father-in-law sent me an email about an American student at Washington University in St. Louis (his alma mater) that makes tofu.  My FIL thought it would be of interest to me since I've been blogging about food.  The article was very interesting since they had photos of the step by step process. 

Article from St. Louis...

After all this I was on a mission to make tofu at  At first I thought I could just buy the soy milk, but then I learned that the store bought stuff may be fortified with calcium, other vitamins, salt & sugar, so I figured out I need to make the soy milk myself.  You can just soak, cook, process on the stove top, but I decided that getting a Soy Milk Maker would be the easiest way to go.  I thought that I would be able to pick up all the components at the local Japanese market, but no, not many people make tofu at home.  I couldn't find the mold and they only had one type of soy maker at the store.  When I asked for Nigari, everyone at the store looked at me funny and they finally pointed me to the Health Food section (people use this as a dietary supplement).  I was able to find liquid Nigari and the woman in that section asked me why I would want to make tofu, it's such a   I was also able to get the dried soy beans at the store, but the rest of the stuff I bought through Amazon.

Soy Milk Maker

You just soak the beans at least 6-7 hours or overnight then throw it in the maker with some water and the soy milk is done in about 15 mins.  The bad thing about the maker is that it makes small batches, so I need to make 2 or 4 batches to make a decent amount of tofu.  I originally made it with 2, but decided the tofu was too small, so I've been making it with 4.

I don't like to drink Soy Milk, but Hubby likes to put it in his coffee. It's great when I don't have any regular milk in the house and then I can whip up some soy milk in 15 mins to add to his coffee.  I'm not much of a coffee drinker, so maybe it would be good in my tea.  The machine can also make Almond Milk and others like that.  I haven't tried it yet.  I read on another blog that hot soy milk is really good, maybe I should try it like that...


This is the mold, material to strain the tofu & dried soy beans.  The holes on the mold are for the liquid (whey) to come out from the tofu.

More Stuff...

I got liquid Nigari from the store, but the crystallized Nigari came with the mold.  I've been using the crystallized version.

Innard of the Soy Milk Maker...

This is the inside of the Soy Milk Maker. A metal cover covers the blade...

The Blade...

It's very important that that metal cover is used during the soy milk making process.  I learned this the hard We had gone out to a nice dinner and I was wearing a new black lace dress.  When we got back, I thought I'd make the soy milk that evening and then make the tofu in the morning.  I started the machine and went into the other room. During the chopping phase, it seemed that the machine was making a louder noise than usual.  I went to check it out and foam was oozing out, so I stopped the machine and peeked into it and it seemed like it was ok, so I restarted it. BAD mistake!  As soon as I started it, it started making the awful noise and this time the soy milk spurted out in one big splash all over my new dress!  I was lucky that I didn't get burned, luckily, the cleaners were able to get the stain out ;o)  It turned out that I forgot to put that metal cover on, it protects both sound and confines the soy beans as it gets chopped.  I won't be making that error again!  Another time the machine was making a loud noise and since I learned my lesson from the past, I turned it off and looked inside.  This time the cover had gotten loose.  You can always learn from your mistakes ;o)

1st Strain...

After the soy milk is made, it needs to be strained.  This is the strainer that came with the machine.


This is what's leftover after straining.  It's called Okara in Japanese and can be eaten.  I haven't figured out how to cook the Okara and I never liked it when I was a kid, so I've just been throwing it out.  I gave some to my mom and she loved it, she now wants me to freeze it and save it for her :o)  Some people even make "diet" cookies out of it. That will be my project in the future...

2nd Strain...

In the simple instructions that came with the soy maker, they just tell you to strain the soy milk once with the strainer that came with the machine.  My first couple batches of tofu came out super grainy.  Finally, a light went off in my head...strain the soy milk through a cheese cloth too....duh!

Heating the Soy Milk...

The soy milk comes out hot from the maker, but after the 4th batch it does cool down.  I reheat to just under 200 degrees.

After adding the Nigari...

For 1 cup of Dried Soy Beans, I mix 1 tsp of Nigari in 1 Cup of hot water.  For 2 cups of Dried Soy Beans, I  mix 2 tsps of Nigari in 1 Cup of hot water too.  

When adding the nigari, you shouldn't stir too much or too hard or too gently or it just really doesn't  I keep reading all different ways of adding it.  They also say to add just part of the Nigari and check it after 1 min and add more if you need it.  I came to the conclusion that you just stir the milk a little and then add all the nigari mixture, cover it off heat and wait 16-20 mins.

Separating the Curds & Whey...

After 16 mins I use a strainer and throw out most of the liquid/Whey...

Prepping the Tofu Mold...

During the waiting phase of the curds & whey separating, I prep the mold.  I just wet both the wooden mold and the straining material.  My sister-in-law in Japan read that over there, some people just cut holes into a container that store bought tofu used to be in and uses that as a mold, makes sense huh!   You just have to make sure that the holes of the mold are at the bottom, so that the liquid can leach out.

Bean Curds in the Box...

The curds are ladled into the mold then covered by the cloth...  Be sure to do this in the sink because the liquid comes out from the bottom.

Such a Pretty Box...

The top of the mold is put in place...

Weighing Down the Tofu...

I press down the top and then weigh it down with whatever is on hand.  You control the firmness of the tofu by how hard you squeeze down on the curds.  I seemed to make it too hard my first few tries and now press it medium firmness.  The harder you press, the firmer it will be. It's a trial and error thing...

Freshly Done!

Done after pressing for 15 mins.  It all seems to be 15 mins cycles.  You need to be careful when you take it out of the mold and peel it away from the cloth, it's both hot and fragile.  This one is 2 batches of soy milk (1 cup of dried soy beans), I've been making double this lately.

Cooling Down...

It's placed in cold water to cool it down.  Some people like to eat the tofu warm.  Also, the term Nigari means bitter, so I also read that you want to change the water several times, so that the tofu is not bitter.  I haven't had any problems with the tofu being bitter.  The only problems I had was getting the right texture.  My biggest problem was when the tofu was grainy...yuck, and I figured out that I just needed to strain the soy milk twice :o)

So Clean & Pure...

I cool it down for about 15-30 mins in water then store the tofu in fresh water in the refrigerator.  I read that since there are no preservatives in this tofu, it will only last a day or two, but I find that it's fine even after a week!  I've had tofu that has gone bad in the past and you KNOW when it's bad...

Cold Tofu w/Bonito Flakes, Green Onions, Ginger & Soy Sauce

Traditional Japanese Cold Tofu is served with Bonito Flakes, Green Onions, Ginger & Soy Sauce, it's called Hiyayakko. Nowadays, people are adding many other ingredients such as corn, kimchi, wakame etc.  I like it the traditional way ;o)

I guess the question is, "Is it worth it to make homemade tofu?".  For me, it takes about 2 1/2 hours not including the soaking time of the beans.  Most of the time is waiting, so yes, for me, it is worth it.  I think it does taste better than store bought, but it also can be wishful  It's not a night and day difference, but I'm still having fun making the fresh tofu.  I still can't figure out how to make the soft tofu that I had at that restaurant.  It seemed so simple, but I just can't make it happen at home!