In Instagram, Restaurant Inspiration: Uncle and Chilled Tofu

Last week I read a post on Brooklyn Supper that had me reminiscing about our final days in New York and our first days in Colorado (which, I can't believe, is now almost two years ago). 
When we moved out here, I left a large circle of friends and family back east. I knew a few people in Denver, but I didn't know anyone really well. I decided to do the only thing one can do in such a situation: I hit the ground running. I explored almost every neighborhood in the city and I talked to everyone in sight (I've been described as loquacious, which I think is a nice way of saying, she talks a lot). I figured it was a numbers game; if I chatted with at least 25 people per week, at some point, I would click with someone. So I went to children's reading classes at the public library and picnicked at every playground and park in the Denver. And now some of the people that I met in those early days are some of my closest friends in Colorado.
Hold-out, selfie, ladies night
Tina was one of the first people I met when we got to town. I can't remember how our first interaction actually materialized, but I feel like it had something to do with my now-defunct WNYC tote bag (yes, I was the sucker who donated during the pledge drive) and a food-related conversation I had with her husband. Within about 5 minutes we realized that we had lived only a few blocks away from each other in Brooklyn, and we had a lot in common. It was also pretty convenient that we had children the same age.
For more than a year we had weekly play dates, sometimes meeting up more than once for a museum outing or a hike. But now that we've both taken on a few work-related projects, there isn't as much free time. And since my eldest son is in part-time pre-school, and her daughter is in a full-time program, we don't see each other as much as we used to.
Sad, yes, but that's why there's ladies night! (Holla.) I used to feel guilty about going out, but now I realize that those adult-only interactions make me a better mother, a better me and a better friend. I can concentrate on the conversation we're having without looking over my shoulder to see where my kids are or what they are up to. And to be honest, sometimes I just need a break. 
So we went to Uncle, and ate, drank and caught up. It was great.

Uncle, which is in the Highlands section of Denver, takes inspiration from Momofuku and puts out one fabulous plate after the other. We started off with the chilled tofu (served with ginger, scallion, soy vinaigrette and wakame) and fried green tomato steamed buns. Then I got a giant bowl of udon with mushrooms, which hit the spot. I'm a huge fan of finishing off my meal with something sweet, so we ordered the Monkey Bread, served with gelato, pretzels and potato chips...can you say, heaven
Inspired by the very simple preparation of the chilled tofu, I decided to make this recipe (below) from Fifteen Spatulas (no relation). The dish wasn't exactly like the one I had at Uncle, but it made for a really nice meal, and it only took a few minutes to put together. I adapted the recipe by adding a little bit of grated ginger to the sauce, but that was pretty much it. 

Chilled Tofu with Scallions and Soy Sauce (Adapted ever-so-slightly from Fifteen Spatulas, printed with permission)
** Note: Uncle uses silken tofu in their dish. I think that's what I'm going to use when I make this again. For this recipe, I used soft block tofu. 
Yield: 2 servings
14 oz block of soft or medium tofu (don't use firm)-- or try silken.

2 scallions, sliced
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 tbsp sriracha

Optional: I added 1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger
To make the sauce, whisk the scallions, soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, rice vinegar, sriracha, and ginger together in a small bowl. Then taste the dressing to see if you need to add or adjust any ingredients to suit your taste level.
Slice the tofu into squares or small rectangles, soak them in the dressing and then chill them in the fridge for an hour or so. This will allow all the flavors to meld together and get the tofu chilled. Enjoy!

H-Mart In Instagram and Dubu Jorim (Korean Braised Tofu)

The new year has brought new things. Otis, my spunky 3-year-old, is now in pre-school for the first time. We got a lucky break because the class had been full, but one little boy had to leave and we slid right into his spot. I was nervous about how Otis would react on his first day (and I was feeling pretty emotional about the change too). But when we walked into the classroom, Otis saw the appropriately-sized tables and chairs, the books and the trains. He turned to me and said, "This room looks great, mommy. It's going to be a wonderful day." He had a serious case of perma-smile when he found out that music, MLK-friendship-hand-painting and swimming was in store for him too. And that was that. No tears, no meltdowns, no drama. 
I chatted with his teachers for a few minutes and when I turned around, Otis was having a very intense discussion with another classmate about train track construction and switching points on the line (he knows a lot about trains). I waved goodbye, picked up Theodore (the 17-month-old), walked outside, and got into the car. Then I did what any mother would do on her son's first day of preschool. I went to H-Mart
The Korean super-store supermarket has everything you could possibly need if you were on the hunt for authentic Asian ingredients. It's also worth noting that they have the best prices on herbs, greens, pomegranates, bitter melon, bok choy and avocados. 
Our local H-Mart also has an amazing organic tofu stand, where tofu is made fresh daily (there's silky sliced, fried, and firm block). I picked up a 2-block tray and it was still warm. Like I said, it's the real deal and it's fresh.
I found a 1 pound bag of Korean red pepper. They didn't seem to stock anything in a smaller size, so I have a lot of it. But it won't go to waste because this is the same red pepper used in kimchi and bibimbap, and I'd like to make both. I picked up a bunch scallions and all the other ingredients I had at home.
It took me under 20 minutes to put the whole dish together, and then I marinated it overnight. The tofu absorbed so much flavor and it was really delicious. I ate it plain and then tried it with some sushi rice. Both were great.
Dubu Jorim is a very popular dish in Korea and often packed for school lunches with a few other side dishes and some rice. And that's kinda perfect since Otis started school this week. I think a Korean-style meal box (dosirak) is definitely in his future.

Dubu Jorim: Traditional Korean Braised Tofu
(Adapted ever-so-slightly from Blogging Over Thyme)
2 lbs. block of tofu will serve 4 (with rice) or 2 very hungry people.

Marinade: Yields roughly 2 cups
Serve chilled

The ingredients are simple and the preparation is straight-forward. This recipe marinates the tofu for 6-8 hours, which allows the flavors to meld together (in the most delicious way). But other methods serve the braised tofu immediately, with the sauce spooned right on top. Be sure to use authentic, finely ground Korean red pepper (which is widely available at Asian supermarkets).

1/2 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon Korean red pepper powder (finely ground)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
3/4 cup scallions, sliced
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/8 cup toasted sesame seeds

Combine all the ingredients in small bowl and let them sit for 10-15 minutes (while you prepare and braised the tofu).

Pan-Fried Tofu
2 blocks of firm tofu, sliced into thin rectangles (about 1/2- inch in thickness)
vegetable oil

Slice the tofu into thin rectangles and then pat them dry with a paper towel.
Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat with a few tablespoon of vegetable oil (until there is a layer of oil coating the pan). Once the pan is hot, add the tofu, spreading it out in the pan so that the pieces are not touching each other. (It will take more than one round to get all the tofu braised). The tofu should sizzle when it hits the pan.
Sear tofu on each side for roughly 3-4 minutes, until it's light brown on both sides. Remove the tofu and place it on a paper-towel lined plate to absorb any excess oil. Repeat until all the tofu is seared. Allow the tofu to cool to room temperature.
Place the tofu on a baking dish, or any other container with a large surface area (and relatively high sides)--you can do this in two layers, if necessary. Pour the marinade over the tofu, cover, and refrigerate for roughly 6-8 hours. Turn the tofu once or twice during this time, so that all of the piece get marinated properly.
Best served chilled by itself, or with some sushi rice.

Weather, Soup Season and Edamame Wonton Soup

Here in Denver, the local news pretty much covers two subjects: the weather and the Broncos. Sure, there might be a report on a random act of violence or a political clip. Maybe you'll tune in when there's a rescue story of a cat who was stuck in a tree (isn't there always one of those), but a good deal of the news coverage in this part of Colorado is dedicated to the weather and football. My husband and I joke that even in the off-season, Broncos coverage hardly wanes, and you'll find out everything you ever needed to know about training camp, recaps of last season and projections for the upcoming one. This is Broncos country and it's close to a religion here. After the Broncos, people want to know about the weather. 
Now I'm hardly a meteorologist, but I too find myself obsessing about the weather. The fluctuation in temperature this time of year is something particular to this part of the country. Since Denver is "high dessert" you might start a morning jog in a parka, spend lunch in a t-shirt, and then crave a big bowl of soup as the temperature drops like a stone once the sun goes down. But during the day it's usually around 50 or 60 degrees, 
and it can feel warm because of the high elevation and the strong sun. That means you can spend a lot of time outdoors. 
That said, the Fahrenheit dips pretty low at night. And all this back-and-forth, up-and-down makes me a bit sniffly. That's when I start craving soup...often, and almost daily. 
So I've stared making a list of the soups I'll be making this month: Mark Bittman's mushroom barley is looking good, so does this one for broccoli-cheddar, and of course I will get a big pot of pesto-minestrone going next week. I've dusted off my copy of Love Soup and I'm looking through it to see what is calling my name...
But I stared my soup season with this edamame wonton soup from The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook. (It's worth buying. Yes, it's that good.)
I made this soup a few weeks ago and revisited it again today. I used mushroom stock last time, and this time around I used a good quality vegetable stock (but not low-sodium like the recipe suggests). But play around with this recipe. I think there are lots of possibilities.
Enjoy this one on a chilly autumn night...and happy soup season!
The Sprouted Kitchen by Sara Forte,© 2012.) 
  • 4 green onions, white and green parts, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups shelled edamame, cooked and drained
  • 2 tablespoons regular or vegan sour cream
  • Dash of hot sauce (I used sriracha)
  • 40 round wonton wrappers
  • 4 cups mushroom or low-sodium vegetable broth (I used a non-low-sodium, so I diluted it with 1 cup of water)
  • 1 lemongrass stalk
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
  • Microgreens or pea shoots, for garnish


  • Combine the green onions, sesame oil, basil, edamame, sour cream, and hot sauce in a food processor. Process to a puree.  
    • On a lightly floured work surface, place a heaping tablespoonful of the edamame filling in the center of a wonton wrapper.
    • Use your finger to wipe a bit of water around the edge of the wrapper. 
    • Place another wonton wrapper on top of the filling and press down along the edges to adhere. 
    • Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. 
    • To make the broth, warm the mushroom broth in a pot over medium-low heat. 
    • Pound the lemongrass with the back of a heavy knife to release its oils and discard the tough outer layer. 
    • Mince the inner, pale portion of the bottom of the stalk and add it to the broth along with the mirin and soy sauce. 
    • Gently simmer for 10 minutes to combine the flavors. 
    • Cover and turn the heat to low to keep warm. 
    • Add enough of the broth to a saucepan to cover the bottom, about 1 cup, and add a single layer of wontons (you will probably need to do this in two batches). 
    • Cover and steam over medium-low heat until the wontons are warmed, about 2 minutes. 
    • To serve, divide the wontons among four shallow bowls and pour about ½ cup of the remaining broth on top. 
    • Garnish with a sprinkle of the toasted sesame seeds and sprouts and serve hot.
    A great variation to this recipe can be found on Love and Lemons here.

    Cooking from the Pantry, Part II: Ginger Fried Rice (and Boulder Farms)

    I'm up to my eyeballs in boxes, packing tape and bubble wrap. Our third bedroom is fast become a staging ground for our impending move, which is less than 2 weeks away (eek). I'm trying to get as much done as possible. This way, when my husband gets here, we can do some hiking in the mountains and head over to the farms near Boulder. Of course there are tons of things to do in the city as well (like a date night at the retro- Lakeside Amusement Park , the Sunnyside Music Festival and 'Now Boarding' at the Denver Art Museum), but sometimes I like to hit the road and get out of town. 
    This morning I got a little bit of packing done and then we spent the rest of the day outside --this weather is absolutely spectacular. You can feel it; fall is just around the corner. That, my friends, makes me downright giddy. The cooler nights are wonderful, and while the sun is still really strong during the day, we now have a respite from the oppressive heat of June and July. Those heat waves seem to be behind us. (And hopefully those wildfires too.) This weather gives me a serious case of perma-smile. 
    So, we went back to Boulder for a little hike and to check out a few farms that we had never visited. Our first stop was Cure Organic Farm, which has a great farm store. I picked up some wonderful looking produce (included in today's bounty: tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, beets, peaches, carrots, and leeks)...
    ...and then we fed the pigs and saw the ducks.
    I  have to tell you (and this might sound strange coming from an vegetarian who grew up in a kosher home), but I totally love pigs. There was a little part of me that wanted to take one of these guys home, but I think that we've got enough on our plate right now...and I'm not sure a) how keen the farm would be to give us one of their porcine friends, and b) how keen my husband would be having a pig roaming around our backyard...
    I though about asking if the pigs had names, but then decided not to. That's because the last time I was on a farm and asked, "What's the pig's name?" the response was "Bacon Bits." I was horrified. I've learned it's better not to ask questions if you don't really want to hear the answers. 
    We read David Wiesner's "Three Pigs" almost every night, so Otis was really excited about these guys, um, gals. 
    Our second stop was Munson Farm, right across the street from the Cure Farm. There I picked up white corn, Palisade Peaches, and some watermelons that looked like perfectly shaped bowling balls. There were also Zinnia flower beds that were "cut your own." 
    When we got back to the house I decided to do a little cooking. A new restaurant called Uncle opened in the Highlands and, according to Eater, it's "Momofuku-esque." Reading the review got me thinking about a Momofukufor2 recipe I had seen for Ginger Fried Rice (adapted from Mark Bittman). I had pinned it on my recipe board a while ago, but never got around to making it. So last night I cooked up some rice, since the recipe calls for day-old rice. I had the rest of the ingredients on hand (either in the fridge or the pantry) and included my recent farm purchases-- eggs and leeks. 
    I thought this recipe would work well as an installation for my "Cooking From the Pantry" series-- where I try to use up ingredients from the cupboard-- in this case, rice. 
    I think I'll be making this one again and again. It's tasty and simple. So here it is:
    Ginger Fried Rice Recipe (Courtesy of Momofukufor2 blog, adapted from Mark Bittman at the, adapted from Jean-George Vongerichten.)
    Serves 2
    1/4 cup canola oil
    1 tablespoon minced garlic
    1 tablespoon minced ginger
    1 cup thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed and dried
    2 cups day-old cooked rice, preferably jasmine, at room temperature
    2 large eggs
    1 teaspoons sesame oil
    2 teaspoons soy sauce
    In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup oil over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp and brown. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels and salt lightly.
    Reduce heat under skillet to medium-low and add 2 tablespoons oil (or maybe even just 1 so it's not too oily) and leeks. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season lightly with salt.
    Raise heat to medium and add rice. Cook, stirring well, until heated through. Season to taste with salt.
    In a nonstick skillet, fry eggs in remaining oil, sunny-side-up, until edges are set but yolk is still runny.
    Divide rice among two dishes. Top each with an egg and drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil and 1 teaspoon soy sauce. Sprinkle crisped garlic and ginger over everything and enjoy hot.

    Pines to Peaks (and a Bon Appetit's Cold Soba Salad with Summer Vegetables)

    Our Colorado-Relocation-Project has gotten a reprieve, a lifeline if you will. We decided to give the job hunt another 6 months instead of packing up at the end of August. If jobs line up, we get to stay. Hip, hip, hooray! If it doesn't come together in that time, we have to move back to New York City (what's the opposite of hip, hip, hooray?) I've joked that if we go back east you'll find me at Bellevue hooked up to a Lithium drip, but I am only partially kidding. So keep those fingers crossed and here's to hoping that it works out for us.
    Now as much as I love it here in Colorado, raising two small boys while my husband commutes back and forth from Brooklyn can be a bit challenging. Usually I get a teeny-tiny bit blue when we pile into the car and drive him back to the airport at the end of a visit. I know that we will see him in a few weeks, but I can't help feeling a little bummed. He does too. As do the boys. I suppose this is how military families feel, but at least my husband isn't going off to battle. Okay, he's battling "the system" and fighting on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised, but I think we can all agree that it's not exactly the same thing. Anyway, I find that taking a nice hike the day after he leaves helps me clear my mind and the boys love it too. 

    This time around I found myself wanting to go to a pine forest, which had something to do with the recent article I read at the gym titled Colorado's Forests Are Bugging Out with Bettles. Usually I prefer not to read anything too heady while on the elliptical, and I have a tendency to opt for trashy, pointless, gossip magazines. But they weren't available at the gym last week, so I picked up a copy of the most recent Westword and got reading...
    The article answered a lot of questions I had regarding the beetle problem, which is responsible for destroying vast swaths of forest pine from the mountain states all the way up into Canada. The piece had a lot of good background information and presented some solutions that may curb the damage. I won't flesh out any of the points that were made, as I am not a forester, an ecologist or evolutionary biologist-- but definitely read it if you want to learn more. 
    I wanted to check out what was going on with the pines and I found a hike that looked great. The "Pines to Peaks" trailhead was only 10 minutes from Boulder, which is only about 35 minutes away from our house. I decided to make a day of this pine forest pilgrimage, so we did some cooking before we left. I made a Cold Soba Noodle Salad with Summer Vegetables (delicious) and I brought along some honeydew carpaccio for dessert. It was perfect. 
    We saw female deers and a few fawns too. And then Otis pointed to a sign and yelled, "Lion!" I nearly lost it. We were, in fact, in mountain lion territory. And although a sighting is extremely rare, there were instructions on what to do and what not to do if you meet one of these predators. 
    Now I can fight off a street pigeon, but a mountain lion? I don't think so. I picked up some rocks and put them in Otis's hiking bucket...just in case.

    There are lots of healthy pines, but these trees have succumbed to a beetle infestation. Pine trees secrete a resin (yellow goop) that can help defend against the beetles. But there hasn't been a lot of rain and that affects the trees and their resin quality. Well-watered pines can defend against thousands of invaders. An ill-watered tree can not. The beetles are also being observed at higher (and higher) elevations. 
    That said, the vistas on the trail were magnificent and there were tons of wildflowers too...

    About 10 minutes away from where we did our hiking are these beautiful homes in Boulder's Mapleton Historic District

     Then we went down to the pedestrian mall and walked around. Before I knew it, I found myself in front of Tee & Cakes on 14th Street (how did that happen?). After a day of hiking (and carrying two kids part of the way back down the mountain) I felt like a special treat was in order. I got the s'mores and they were so good... 
     ...and this is what I brought along for our picnic. (Photographed at home, not on the hike!) 

    Cold Soba Noodle Salad with Summer Vegetables (Adapted slightly from Bon Appétit, July 2012)
    Yield 4-6 servings
    Active time: 30 minutes
    Total time: 30 minutes
    1/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
    1/3 cup vegetable oil
    1 tablespoon Sriracha (hot chili sauce)
    1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
    8 cups matchstick-size pieces mixed summer vegetables (I probably had about 6 cups and I used carrots, cucumbers and radishes)
    Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
    8 ounces buckwheat soba (Japanese-style noodles) or vermicelli noodles
    1/2 cup (loosely packed) cilantro leaves with tender stems
    4 scallions, thinly sliced
    1 tablespoon black sesame seeds (you can use white too, but I prefer black)
    Whisk first four ingredients in a large bowl. Add vegetables; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper.
    Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente; drain. Run noodles under cold water to cool them; drain well and add to bowl with vegetables. Add cilantro and scallions; season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle sesame seeds over and serve.