Entries from November 24th, 2014

{SF} Hodo Soy and the Art of Tofumaking

September 23rd, 2010 · 6 Comments · Custards, Recipes, San Francisco, Tools


Following my last post on the Soy and Chocolate tasting, some of you dear readers might be wondering, how did Michael Recchiuti get the idea to pair soy with chocolate? The answer is Hodo Soy Beanery, an artisan soy company in Oakland founded by Minh Tsai. At the Hodo Soy Beanery, soybeans are turned into soymilk, tofu, and yuba, and an array of prepared foods. I was lucky enough to be invited on a tour of the factory and learn more about the noble soybean – even as a veteran tofu eater, there was a lot for me to learn!


A shot of the factory interior. Hodo Soy carefully selects the soybeans it uses for ideal protein and fat content; the soybeans all come from a Midwest cooperative and are organic and non-GMO. To the right side of the photo are the tanks where the soybeans are cooked, ground into a mash, and then separated into soymilk and leftover pulp called okara. The okara doesn’t go to waste – Hodo Soy typically sends it to farms to be used for feeding animals, but it can be used in the kitchen, as the okara financier at Michael Recchiuti’s Soy and Chocolate Tasting proved. However, Hodo Soy typically doesn’t sell its okara.

It does sell the soymilk though, and it’s delectable stuff. Growing up in a Chinese household, I was exposed to soymilk at an early age – those little rectangular Vitasoy boxes were omnipresent in the pantry. I also loved the hot, fresh soymilk served with golden fritters, the Chinese version of weekend brunch. I relished the creamy, slightly beany taste of the soy milk, so I’ve never had the hang ups some people have about drinking “bean juice.”

Soymilk is meant to taste like soymilk, not like dairy milk, which perhaps is why those who are looking for something that tastes like milk but-isn’t-milk might come away disappointed. And I wonder if some of the Westernized brands of soy milk are trying to cover up the beany flavor, which results in this (to me at least) strange, chemical taste and chalky mouthfeel. The first time I drank some non-Vitasoy, “vanilla-flavored” soy milk I said, “Oh! No wonder people say they don’t like soymilk!” Soymilk isn’t meant to taste like milk, it’s not meant to taste to like some bland-but-healthful drink, it’s meant to taste like soymilk.

Minh and Hodo Soy clearly embrace this philosophy – their soymilk contains nothing but soybeans, water, and some sugar for the sweetened version. No chemicals or preservatives – you have to consume it quickly, but in my opinion it’s not that hard. I took a bottle of Hodo Soy’s soymilk home with me; it’s been a while since I’ve guzzled milk out of the jug, but that’s what I wanted to do with this soymilk!


Pictured above, some of Hodo Soy’s medium tofu on the left, and their braised tofu on the right. (For an explanation of how tofu is made, see the Soy and Chocolate recap for a quick demo by Minh.) Tofu is typically sold in soft/silken, medium, and firm textures, but as Minh noted, “Here in America they really like their tofu firm – there is even extra-firm sold in stores!” While firmer tofu is good for cooking, soft or silken tofu is where the true art of tofu-making emerges. The difference in tofu texture is based on the amount of water contained in the tofu: for firm tofu, most of the water has been pressed out so the result is compressed, tight block. Silken tofu contains as much water possible while the curd just maintains integrity; typically the tofu is not even pressed, as that would make the curds firm up, but instead the mixture is allowed to just set. While soft and silken are often used interchangeably, true silken tofu is like a barely set flan – it just holds its shape, and if you agitate it too much it will fall apart. You spoon it up like a cream-white custard, and it virtually dissolves in your mouth.

Hodo Soy’s silken tofu comes in little tubs packed completely full so the tofu has less chance of wobbling around and falling apart during transport. If you’ve only ever seen the vacuum-sealed packs of firm tofu slabs in the supermarket, you might even think this is nascent tofu, and in a way it is: it’s delicate and perfect and a promise, like a unbroken eggshell. I take a spoonful and I think, how could anyone ever call tofu just health food? It’s comfort food.


This is the most eye-catching part of Hodo Soy’s operation: the specially-designed tables where they create yuba, or tofu skin. Similar to what happens when milk is heated, when soy milk is heated, a skin forms on the surface. This skin is then carefully pulled off and allowed to dry. You can see the tables are set up to allow maximum surface area for the yuba to form. One of the workers then hand-peels off each piece of yuba and hangs it up – almost looks like a laundry line, doesn’t it? Yuba is highly prized in Asia for its high protein content and flavor. As you can imagine, “harvesting” the yuba by hand is a time consuming process, and machines have been created to mechanize the process, but Minh believes it compromises the quality of the result. Thus at Hodo Soy they do it the old school way – it’s a beautiful, evocative experience to see the steam rising from the trays of soymilk and the sheets of yuba slowly swaying in the steam.


Because yuba contains so much protein, it is an ideal meat substitute – if you ever go to a Chinese restaurant and see items like “Vegetarian Goose” on the menu, likely they are made with yuba. Lightly pan fried in soy sauce, these yuba strips are like slightly chewy noodles; Hodo Soy does recommend eating them that way, or using them as spring roll wrappers.


Boxes of Hodo Soy’s prepared items all lined up. You can also see the bottles of soymilk in the back. All of Hodo Soy’s items have a very limited shelf life as there are no preservatives used. Not only does this speak to the integrity of their operation, but I think it really reinforces the concept of tofu as an artisanal product, made in small batches with care. Minh explained how when he was a young boy in Vietnam, he would walk with his grandfather to the market every day and buy a block of freshly made tofu from local tofu maker. It would be consumed that night for dinner -the very definition of fresh. When MInh came to the US, the processed packages in the supermarket had no resemblance to the tofu in his memory. So he set out to create his own tofu. That quest led to Hodo Soy tofu being sold at farmers’ markets, high end grocery stores, and finally the opening of the Hodo Soy factory in Oakland.


I applaud MInh and Hodo Soy for revitalizing the art of tofumaking in the West – I asked him if he was intimidated by tofu’s less-than-sexy reputation here when he first starting selling his product, and he admitted yes, but he was pleasantly surprised to find an quickly growing audience for his tofu at farmers’ markets, and not all of them Asian! Now that Hodo Soy has a brand new factory, their products are also carried at select stores around the Bay Area. Unfortunately, because of the perishability and fragility of their product, Hodo Soy does not ship outside of the area. Perhaps they will expand in the future, but for now, if you’re looking to expand your soy experience, try going to your local Asian markets. Some of them may sell fresh tofu or soymilk. Also, look for Chinese(especially Taiwanese) restaurants that open in the morning – they will often serve hot bowls of fresh soymilk – delicious, especially with Chinese-style fried doughnuts.

One of my very favorite tofu dishes is, unsurprisingly, a dessert: called dou hua, or tofu flower, it is a sort of pudding made with silken tofu. Because silken tofu is so fragile, it is often drizzled with sauce or covered with toppings, and then spooned up like an ice cream sundae. There are savory versions of dou hua, but the Cantonese version I loved getting in dim sum houses features a scoop of silken tofu in a sweet ginger syrup. As you dip your spoon in, the tofu fragments into little pieces that you slurp up with the syrup like a sweet soup. Tofu and ginger – perhaps not the first ingredients you’d think of for dessert, but dou hua is both refreshing and comforting at the same time.

Hodo Soy generously sent me home with a tub of their silken tofu, and I thought about making this dessert, but as they actually sell their own version of dou hua, I decided to get creative and make a dou hua inspired dessert – a ginger tofu pudding. Hodo Soy’s silken tofu is perfect for this since it’s so delicate – it is almost like a custard. If you can’t find super soft, silken tofu, a soft tofu will work as well – I tested this with a supermarket brand and it came out fine, just slightly denser in texture. With some late fall peaches on top, I found this a tasty cross of East and West. Hope you enjoyed learning about the fascinating soybean!

Disclosure: I received several of Hodo Soy’s products for review.


Ginger Tofu Pudding

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup sugar

2 inches ginger root, cut into 1/8″ slices

11 ounces silken tofu

3 grams powdered gelatin


Combine the water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Boil over medium heat until sugar dissolves.

Add in ginger and continue boiling for about 10 minutes. The syrup should thicken slightly.

Remove from heat and take out pieces of ginger.

Place tofu in a food processor and process until smooth.

Pour in ginger syrup and process to combine.

Place gelatin in a heatproof bowl and stir in 1/4 cup of water. Let sit for a couple minutes to let it combine.

Place gelatin in microwave and heat for 20 second intervals until the gelatin has fully dissolved into the water. Do not let it boil.

Strain the tofu mixture into a bowl. Pour in the gelatin and stir to combine.

Divide the mixture among individual cups or bowls. Place in refrigerator and let chill overnight to set.

Read more →


{SF} Like a Kid in A Candy Store

September 12th, 2010 · No Comments · San Francisco, Sweet Spots, Sweet Spots


When a pre-packaged box of chocolates just won’t do, CocoaBella Chocolates comes to the rescue with their handpicked selection of chocolates from around the world. My favorites include Christopher Elbow, Marquise de Sevigne, and Valrhona.


Brett Beach, one of the founders of Madecasse Chocolate, conducting a tasting of his chocolate bars at the store. See my extended review of Madecasse here.

Cocoa Bella Chocolates

2101 Union Street

San Francisco, CA 94123


845 Market Street (Bloomingdale’s Mall)

San Francisco, CA 94103

Read more →


{SF} A Soy and Chocolate Pairing with Michael Recchiuti

September 9th, 2010 · 18 Comments · Events, San Francisco, SF Events, Sweet Spots


A week ago I got the opportunity to attend a most intriguing presentation and I'm eager to share the experience with you! The event was a Soy and Chocolate pairing, part of Michael Recchiuti's Taste Project where he combines his renowned chocolate with another unexpected ingredient, such as cheese, beer, or salt. As Michael explained to us, he loves learning about other food artisans and he enjoys the challenge of turning his master chocolatier's skills to a new and unknown product.

His latest discovery was Hodo Soy Beanery, an Oakland-based company dedicated to making fresh tofu. This tofu is completely different from the chalky white slabs you see in stores – its shelf life is only days long, and it tastes astonishingly rich and fresh. I've grown up eating tofu, but even I was surprised at how much of a difference there was in the flavor of fresh tofu, and how little I actually knew about the making of tofu! The founder of Hodo Soy, Minh Tsai, was also on hand at the the tasting to talk about his product.

We arrived at the Recchiuti kitchens in San Francisco to a candlelit table scattered with soybeans – elegant but whimsical, the tone of the whole event. As the guests chatted, a steady drumming we initially took to be background music grew louder and louder until we realized it was live drumming – by Michael! Michael Recchiuti is a drummer! With a guitarist husband and drummer brother-in-law, I could totally appreciate this!

I think everyone at the tasting was curious to see what Michael and Minh would do with soy and chocolate. Tofu is not an easy product to pair with chocolate, because of its high water content. Tofu will shed water as you work with it, and of course water is the natural enemy of chocolate. Michael admitted he did a lot of experimenting to discover how best to use all of Hodo Soy's soy products – tofu, soy milk, and even the rarer side products like okara and yuba (which I'll discuss below). The following is the tasting menu we experienced that day:


Soy beans given the Michael Recchiuti treatment: lightly caramelized, then dusted with wasabi and matcha. Devilishly poppable.


This was my favorite of the tasting: a custard made with soy milk, topped with a financier and fresh cherries. The financier was actually created with a "flour" of the dried pulp from pureed soybeans, called okara. It had a nutty flavor and lovely pillowy texture – all in all a really tasty combination. The custard was so silky too – reminded me a little of Japanese chawanmushi.


This appears to be a shot glass of chocolate milk, but in fact is a more complicated concoction – a mixture of hot soy milk and chilled chocolate milk swirled with caramel. The soy milk was poured over the chocolate milk right before it was served to us, resulting in an interesting ever-evolving layering of flavors. Very fun.


We then got to visit the room where Michael's chocolates are created. The majority of the space is occupied by the enrobing machine: you can see Michael and the rest of us gathered around it and a portion of the conveyor belt. A veritable yellow brick road, upon which chocolates travel, to be covered in chocolate and blow-dried to a perfect shiny finish.


Squares of tofu topped with a marzipan made from okara (who knew it was so versatile?) and ground almonds, ready to be enrobed. I think this is so emblematic of Michael's approach: he doesn't just dip tofu in chocolate, he thought of a multi-component concept that used several soy products. The soft, mild tofu against the richer, denser marizpan. Reminiscent of the chocolates with pate de fruit on top of ganache – a nice play of textures and flavors.


The tofu squares, now covered in dark chocolate and topped with a nougatine disk. Gilding the lily indeed.


This is Minh Tsai, founder of Hodo Soy Beanery, talking about the process of making tofu. He then proceeded to demonstrate how to make tofu, an eye opening process that took just minutes.

He combined a coagulant (calcium sulfate) with water and then carefully poured hot soymilk over the mix. Tsai likened the process to pouring tea – you need to pour the milk from the proper height so the force of the milk hitting the water will properly disperse the coagulant.


The mixture is stirred for a while until it begins to clump up.


The mixture is poured into a box lined with cheesecloth and covered. Then Minh pressed down on top to push out the excess water and get the tofu to consolidate. Here's the excess water coming out of the box.


In a few more minutes, a b lock of still-warm, very fresh tofu is unwrapped from the cheesecloth. Minh cut it up and we all got to have a piece – an experience very similar to eating freshly made mozzarella. I had never seen tofu made before so this was a really fascinating demonstration.


Back in the dining room, Michael enlisted the help of pastry chef William Werner to make his next dish, a take on crepes Suzette with sheets of yuba standing in for the crepes. Yuba, or tofu skin, is a soft, pliable skin that forms on top of steaming soymilk – I know it may sound strange to the Western palate but it's a delicacy – soft and richly creamy. It can be eaten fresh, as is, or cooked – often it's used as a meat substitute just like regular tofu. 


Here is the yuba "crepe" wrapped around late summer peaches with a scoop of soy milk ice cream – yum! MIchael admitted this was one of his favorite dishes of the day.


I guess this tasting truly had a "Dessert First" philosophy since the savory course was served last! I really loved it though – a slice of fresh Purple Cherokee tomato topped with some silken tofu and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with cacao nibs. Very fresh and summery.

We were also sent home with some of Michael Recchiuti's burnt caramel hazelnuts and Hodo Soy's tofu as treats; so generous!

It was a thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable afternoon. I just really loved being able to hear two food enthusiasts talk about the passions that move them  – the depth of their dedication and mastery of their craft was evident in every bite we took of their creations. My next post will be about my visit to the Hodo Soy Beanery, so I want to mention how amazing I think Michael Recchiuti is for creating these Taste Projects; they are truly wonderful experiences. If you get a chance to attend one, I highly recommend it – Michael is a great guy with so much knowledge to share. Another reason to go is that all of these dishes are one-offs for the tasting and you can't get them at his retail store – although I'm hoping for a reappearance of those wasabi-and-matcha soybeans in the future!

If you're looking to try some of Michael's Recchiuti's chocolates, I highly recommend anything with burnt caramel – one of his signature flavors, or one his takes on classic favorites, like his whoopie pies or peanut butter pucks. San Francisco is a great place for the chocolate lover!

Read more →


A Wedding Mini-Recap

September 3rd, 2010 · 39 Comments · Personal


 Hi All,

It's Labor Day weekend and I'm in Kansas City having a second wedding reception with Husband's relatives and close friends. Apparently I've brought California weather with me - sunny, dry, and beautiful. (Ironic, since it's been absolutely freezing cold in SF this summer).

I'm working on a writeup of a visit to Michael Recchiuti's chocolate factory, but meanwhile, I hope you might enjoy a short recap of my wedding in May. I know it's indulgent, but many people have been asking for vendor information, so I thought I'd compile it in one post while also showing off our photographer's truly excellent work. I've also tried to provide a mini-recap of that magical day for all of you to enjoy for this Labor Day weekend. (For those of you interested in dessert only, skip to the end for dessert info:) )

All photos in this post are by Ricky Wong of W Photography. I can't highly recommend him enough.  Although the ways by which you can blow your wedding budget are innumerable, I believe finding the right photographer is an investment worth every last penny. How could I not - I photograph my food on a daily basis! If I hadn't been preoccupied with getting married that day, I would have certainly had a lot more photography-related questions for Ricky - as it was, I could only marvel at his amazing efficiency and on-the-spot creativity in creating some truly memorable shots. Just take a look below.


Shoes: Badgley Mischka

As a certified shoe fanatic, I couldn't envision boring white wedding shoes I wouldn't ever wear again. Pink, flowery and sexy - much more my style. Someone called them my Carrie Bradshaw shoes!


Wedding dress: Rosa Clara

Six wedding dress stores later and I finally found the dress of my dreams. Ivory silk chiffon, cathedral length train that I had cut down since I was getting married in a park instead of church. I'd never heard of Rosa Clara, a Spanish designer, but she has some beautiful gowns in her collection. Oh, and I got my dress at a sample sale - thank goodness for sample sales!

Bridesmaid dresses: Alfred Angelo


Hair and makeup: Aimee Lam, Beauty Up Close.

The sweetest lady you will ever meet. Aimee is wholly responsible for how I looked that day - no makeup melting or hair collapsing!


Groom's suit: Ted Baker

I love him because he wore a pink tie for me. And looks damn good in a suit.



Flowers: Huckleberry Karen Designs

I absolutely _loved_ my flowers. And I'm not much of a flower person. I bascially showed Karen some photos of bouquets I liked, told her I wanted pale pink, and she came up with magic. See Karen's post for a detailed breakdown of the bouquets and the ceremony flowers.



Hotel: Mandarin Oriental San Francisco

A beautiful view of the city from the bridal suite.


Outside the California Academy of Sciences (right next to the garden where we got married) before the ceremony. This is likely the best I'll ever look in my life. What you don't see is the lovely freezing San Francisco bay winds blowing through the park. I am actually trying really hard not to shiver uncontrollably in this shot. Fortunately, it was much warmer in the garden!!


Ceremony: Shakespeare Garden, Golden Gate Park.


We were in serious danger of getting rained out. Fortunately the day turned out absolutely beautiful: sunny, bright, and clear. Because the garden was enclosed, we were also protected from the winds. Yay good wedding karma!


The kiss.


Newly married!



 Post ceremony glamour shots. Sorry, I'm not trying to be vain, just showing off our photographer's talent:)


Reception: Grand Palace Seafood Restaurant

Making our entrance.

A good old fashioned 10 course Chinese wedding banquet - remember to save room for dessert!

Although it looks like a huge amount of food (and it was), a Chinese banquet was by far the best value for our dinner dollar - the cost per head was still quite a bit lower than any other Western-style catered dinner at a hotel we found. My parents and several of their friends, all Hong Kong expats, declared the quality of the food excellent, so I was happy.

Wedding programs and stationery: Pink Lily Press

Pink Lily did a great job with our invites, programs, menus, and other stationery. I just loved that font she used for our names!


Chinese dress: custom made in Hong Kong

A traditional Chinese cheongsam or qipao. I had it modeled after a gorgeous wedding qipao from Shanghai Tang that was uh, way out of my budget. Here we are making the rounds of all the tables and doing a celebratory toast at each one. A good idea is to only take sips from your glass so you don't end up as drunk bride by the end.


Wedding cake: Shannie Cakes

Since I was not bold or crazy enough to make my own wedding cake, I turned to Shannie, a dear friend and master wedding cake maker. Everyone said it was the tastiest wedding cake they had ever had.


Dessert table: Petit fours by Gerhard Michler

I knew I had to have a dessert table at my wedding. Gerhard Michler obliged with a stunning selection of petit fours. These were also our wedding favors - we handed our boxes and guests could take the pastries home. Apparently there was a quite a rush on the dessert table - no one turns down free dessert!


Macarons: Paulette Macarons

The macarons were so popular the photographer barely managed to get a picture of them!! People went nuts over them!


Evening dress: Notte by Marchesa 

Red is the traditional color for Chinese weddings, so I had to have at least one red dress. It's also traditional for brides to have several outfit changes, so this was the dress I wore in the "goodbye line" to say thank you and good night to departing guests.

It was a beautiful wedding and I had a great time. Thanks for sharing in my special day!

Read more →