Author Archives for Josh Cobler

About Josh Cobler

I'm Josh, a Filipino-American student from Dallas exploring the world and all it has to offer one picture and one post at a time.

Moo Shu Tofu

Ever since I was little, Mulan has always been my hero. She was one of my favorite Disney characters, only behind Lilo and Stitch. I always admired her bravery and courage, and like most children, I completely ignored the idea that she’s a fictional character. To make matters slightly more confusing, I’d met her and her guardian dragon Mushu at Disney World in Orlando, Florida! How could she possibly be fake?

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The reason I bring this up is because my younger brother Jude watched Mulan and Mulan II for the very first time last month. When he heard my mom and I were trying to make Moo Shu Tofu, he freaked out. “NO!” he screamed. “I refuse to let you make anything with Mushu in it!”

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Right now I’m in Fort Myers, Florida. This time, the whole family is united for a week-long vacation, and Disney World is one of our stops. The Epcot park in Disney World is one of my favorite places, mostly because it represents multiple countries from around the world, and if you know me, I have a very global worldview.

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I definitely expect to go head to the China pavilion at Epcot. Why? So I can meet Mulan and Mushu, of course! And then maybe Jude will realize that my mom and I didn’t actually cook Mushu. (Besides, I think “dragons” would be considered an animal and off-limits to vegetarians. Right? Right?)

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After the hustle-and-bustle of New York City, I can’t wait to have some time to just rest and relax on the beaches of Florida. If you want to keep up with my adventures in Florida (which will mostly include Orlando) or read about my trip to New York City, you can check it out on my personal blog, Kuya’s Notebook. I’ll be posting more about both trips over the course of the next few weeks so check back if you’re interested!

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And without further ado, here’s the Moo Shu Tofu recipe! Don’t worry, not a single Mushu was harmed in the making of this recipe.

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Moo Shu Tofu

Makes 12 servings.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 4 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 block organic, extra-firm tofu, cut into small cubes (about 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon hoisin sauce*
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar*
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 6–8 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 bag (14-ounces) coleslaw mix — to make from scratch, see our Asian Coleslaw recipe
  • 12 Bibb or romaine lettuce leaves

* Some items are repeated because they are used for multiple steps.

Directions

  1. Combine the hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper, and tofu slices in a ziplock bag. Marinate at least 2–3 hours, preferably overnight.
  2. Prepare the dipping sauce by combining the sesame oil, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and mustard powder. Set aside.
  3. Heat about 1–2 tablespoons of oil in a wok or pan. Add diced tofu to the wok, reserving the marinade, and stir-fry until browned on most sides, which should take about 15 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel.
  4. Add remaining oil to the wok while still hot, and add the mushrooms. Stir-fry for about 2 minutes. Add the bag of coleslaw mix and cook until wilted. Add the tofu and the reserved marinade until well combined.
  5. Serve on lettuce leaves with the dipping sauce.

 

Vegetarian Flatbread with Sun-Dried Tomato & Kalamata Olive Spread

Hello from New York City!

I just arrived in the Big Apple yesterday evening. Within just the first few hours of getting into New York, I met with some of my relatives and had dinner and dessert overlooking Times Square. The bright, flashy lights of Times Square were completely breathtaking. I’ll have a post filled with photos on Kuya’s Notebook either later today or early tomorrow.

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So what else is on the agenda this week? Tomorrow, I’m heading off to Columbia University and going to Hangawi, a vegetarian Korean restaurant, to celebrate Meatless Monday (do click the link, you never know what surprise you’ll find, wink wink)! Later this week, it’ll be pizza time—and I’ll get to eat delicious New York pizza! Yummy! All I have to do now is fold my pizza like a New Yorker, and I’ll be all set.

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The quest for the perfect pizza began in Italy, about four years ago. We were on a vacation to Sorrento, and I, as a picky eater, wanted to find the perfect pizza. The pizza I’d had from here in the United States included the usual variety: cheese, pepperoni, that weird one filled with vegetables that I wouldn’t even touch, the meat-lovers, Hawaiian, etc.

Personally, I found cheese and pepperoni to be my personal favorites (read: only ones I’d eat). The vegetable one was just plain strange and disgusting (I still feel that way about some of the veggie-lovers pizzas), and the meat-lovers pizza was just plain gross. Hawaiian pizza was my mom’s favorite—and eventually mine too before I stopped eating Canadian bacon—but that one was best left to mom.

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In Italy, my first instinct was to ask for a pepperoni pizza. Guess what kind of pizza doesn’t exist in Sorrento? (That’s right, pepperoni.) I realized the closest thing to what I was used to was margherita pizza. And that was my first experience of margherita pizza. There was another pizza I tried that even had french fries on top! How awesome is that? (Okay, maybe it’s not that cool, but I think most eleven-year-olds would have the same reaction as I did.)

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I may not have gone to Naples, a place famous for its pizza, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the pizza there in Sorrento. The best pizza I’ve had is definitely from Italy—there’s just something about it that just feels so… authentic! Although, New York may attempt to compete for that coveted “best pizza” spot… who knows?

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When we decided to share this recipe, my mom jumped at the opportunity to use some of the basil we’ve grown in our backyard. She was so excited, I just had to snap a picture of her running out of the kitchen, to our backyard, and picking it.

My mom would always make this vegan flatbread with Italian-inspired ingredients. I would always be so excited when I’d hear her say she was going to make it for dinner. When I first got my braces on, I wanted to cry because it meant I couldn’t eat it easily. (To the ire of my orthodontist, I did it anyway.) But now that my braces are off, I don’t need to worry about it anymore!

So forget what I said earlier. I think I already found the best pizza in the world.

It’s the one my mom makes.

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Vegetarian Flatbread with Sun-Dried Tomato & Kalamata Olive Spread

Good for 3 people.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
  • 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
  • 1 eggplant, cut in rounds
  • 1 can artichoke slices
  • 1 small tomato
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 flatbread (can be substituted with pita or naan bread)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400° F.
  2. In a food processor, combine the sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, and olive oil. Process until puréed.
  3. Wash and cut the eggplant and cut it in 1/4 inch round slices
  4. Place the eggplants in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let it stand for about 15 minutes to rid of excess water and for a less bitter taste.
  5. Drain the artichokes from the can and set aside. Slice the tomato thinly.
  6. Brush the bread with olive oil and spread the kalamata mixture.
  7. Layer the bread with eggplants, artichokes, and tomato. Brush with olive oil if desired.
  8. Place the pizza in the oven and cook for about 12 minutes or until the vegetables are roasted and the bread is crispy.

Sun-Dried Tomato & Kalamata Olive Dip

We’re in the final stretch of July, the last ten days before we flip the page in our calendars and face August. So while we have this last week and a half, let’s enjoy it and collectively have our tastes of summer. What do you think of as “summer food”? Personally, I’d have to say olives and sun-dried tomatoes.

This Sun-Dried Tomato & Kalamata Olive Dip is a perfect way to have a quick and easy start to a summer meal, especially with crunchy breads or pita chips!

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I’ll be completely honest. This is actually a precursor to tomorrow’s recipe, which will be a full meal with an Italian-influence—perfect timing for my upcoming trip to New York City!

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Sun-Dried Tomato & Kalamata Olive Spread

  • 1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (plus a little extra for drizzling)

Combine the sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and the extra virgin olive oil in a food processor. Process until finely puréed. Place the mixture on a plate and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Stir well until mixture is no longer paste-like. Combine well with the oil. Serve with pita, crackers, or bread. (We highly recommend parmesan-crusted crisps!)

Waldorf Grape Salad

It’s been a few years since I last stepped foot in the Waldorf Astoria New York. It was my first trip to the Big Apple, a city I had always dreamed of seeing, even in my young, fresh-out-of-fourth-grade body. To make it even better, I was staying in the Waldorf Astoria New York, a luxury hotel in Park Avenue. It was as if I was a part of the rich and famous.

It was the luckiest trip I’ve ever been on—we were upgraded to a suite and given free breakfast for our entire stay since the hotel gave away the room we booked (we were late because of a bizarre plane delay). One night of fitting a family of four into a two-person room was heavily rewarded! And when the second part of our vacation—a flight to Florida—was abruptly cancelled because of an impending hurricane, we were able to stay in the suite AND get more free breakfasts.

As cool as seeing rooms of where Brad and Angelina slept (as well as foreign dignitaries) and sitting in John F. Kennedy’s rocking chair, my absolute favorite place in the whole city was definitely the Nintendo World Store in Rockefeller Plaza. I had my Nintendo DS with me—as always—and I was so excited to meet Mario! I’d love to say it was dumb luck that allowed my brother and me meet the red-hatted mascot of Nintendo, but the truth was, I had planned to go on a very specific day and hour to maximize my time with him.

Five years later, I haven’t been back to the Waldorf Astoria New York ever since. It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience—we don’t have as many Hilton points after my dad began traveling less for work, and we definitely can’t afford another suite at a luxury hotel.

But to celebrate its memory, here’s a Waldorf grape salad made with walnuts and blue cheese.

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If you didn’t know, a Waldorf salad is made of fresh apples, celery, and walnuts, plus mayonnaise and lettuce. It got its name because it was first created in the late 19th century at the Waldorf Hotel—this was before it became the Waldorf-Astoria, which is now the Waldorf Astoria New York.

But, we decided to experiment a little and make it with grapes instead. Because why not? Pretty soon, the “Big Apple” will be known as the “Big Grape,” just because of this recipe! (Okay, maybe not.)

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Actually, I’d like to include a little travel announcement in this post…

I’m going to New York City next week!

My mom and I are both heading out to NYC next week for four days, and I can’t wait to hit some fun restaurants and places! My most recent visit was last summer (around this time) for only about a day and a half, and we squeezed out every last minute. Definitely look forward to some new restaurant reviews next week, as well as more about my trip to the city on my personal blog, Kuya’s Notebook.

One of the things I really wanted to do with this blog was include restaurant reviews from my travels. While I don’t travel as much as I would like—which would really be traveling at least every season (I enjoy traveling, if you can’t tell)—I definitely want to share the trips I do go on when I go on them!

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Be sure to stick around! We leave for Manhattan on Sunday, but don’t worry! We won’t leave you hungry—not even for a second! And you can keep updated with our travels on my personal Twitter @kuya_joshua or on Kuya’s Notebook! (Plus, our Facebook page will stay updated during our travels!)

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Waldorf Grape Salad

  • 2 pounds (about 7 cups) organic grapes (red or green… or both! Your choice!)
  • 2 tablespoons organic canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
  • ¾ cup blue cheese (add more if desired)

Wash the grapes and pat dry. In a large bowl, combine the grapes, canola oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, kosher salt, walnuts, and blue cheese. Chill until ready to serve.

Mango Sticky Rice

In Dallas, there’s a modern Thai-Vietnamese restaurant called Malai Kitchen that has one of my—and my family’s—absolute favorite desserts: mango sticky rice. It’s to die for! I don’t even need to eat there for a meal… all I need is dessert!

This modern mango sticky rice has four basic parts: sticky rice, crisped rice treat, mango, and sweet coconut custard.

I think part of the reason I love this dessert so much is because of the mangoes. I love the vibrant, orange hue of mangoes in the Philippines. Whenever I see those nice colors, I always have flashbacks to the summers I’d spend in Manila as a young child, eating diced mangoes in the kitchen of my grandparents’ condo.

Cut Mangoes

The sweet, succulent taste of mangoes goes well in nearly everything, dessert included. And while authentic Thai mango sticky rice doesn’t have the crisped rice, I still feel like it’s a fun, Western addition to an Eastern food.

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The best way to eat this is to just take your spoon and cut off a part of the side, making sure to get all four parts: rice, crisped rice, mango, and custard. It’s a perfect afternoon pick-me-up, as well as great for guests. Because let’s be serious… who doesn’t love dessert?

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Mango Sticky Rice

  • Servings: 1-2 people
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups glutinous rice or Thai sweet rice
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 14 oz. can light coconut milk (we used Trader Joe’s brand)
  • ½ cup organic sugar
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 crisped rice treat (you can use a store-bought one or make your own; Malai Kitchen’s recipe is below)
  • 1 ripe mango, sliced and cubed

Directions:

  1. Soak the 2 cups of rice for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight. The longer it’s soaked, the stickier it will be.
  2. Add 2 ½ cups of water before cooking. You can use either a steamer or a rice cooker. (We used a rice cooker.)
  3. While the rice is cooking, begin preparing the custard. In a small pot, combine the light coconut milk, organic sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Simmer on low heat. Let it cool and chill.
  4. Slice the crisped rice treat in about ¾ inch thickness, then cut with a round cutter (depending on the size you want).
  5. When the sticky rice is cooked, let it cool before making a small patty the same size as the crisped rice treat. Lay the crisped rice on top of the sticky rice, then add the cubed mangoes on top of the crisped rice. Pour the custard on the bottom of the plate. (The leftover rice can be stored in the refrigerator for 2–3 days.)

Want to make your own crisped rice treat for this mango sticky rice? Here’s a recipe adapted from Chef Keith Cedotal of Malai Kitchen:

Rice Crispy Treat

  • 1 bag marshmallows
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 8 cups rice cereal

Melt marshmallows and butter. Add rice until coated. Spray sheet tray, and spread mixture evenly.

Quinoa Cereal (with Pecans)

Happy Monday! (I honestly never thought I’d say those words… ever!) They always say you should start your day off with breakfast since it’s the most important meal of the day and all that other stuff. But, what do you do if you (gasp!) don’t like breakfast? You look for a better, more exciting breakfast food! Take this quinoa cereal, for example—it uses one of my favorite grains!

Back when I was originally trying to go weekday vegetarian in the winter, I began frantically searching for vegetarian/vegan recipes that could sustain me from Monday through Friday (and possibly even on the weekends). I ended up finding an incredibly interesting concept—quinoa cereal! It was originally a vegetarian recipe being reposted on a vegan challenge (advising to just substitute cow’s milk for soy milk).

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At the time, I really wanted to try quinoa. (Turns out, of course, that I’ve had it many times before, but I never knew.) I ran to my mom, demanding that we try this recipe… especially since my mom and I both hate breakfast (wonder what I got that from…?). The only difference was that we used raspberries way back in December instead of blueberries now.

That ended up being my first food picture using the camera I still use today. I still look back at it and feel proud, despite some of its flaws. My photography has definitely improved since then (no more reliance on auto “food” mode!) and I know how to better set up food pictures.

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This quinoa cereal is completely vegan, but if you’re not a fan of rice milk (or the alternate organic soy milk), you can use organic 1% milk. Personally, I’m still scarred from some of the vegan documentaries I watched (like Vegucated, which is amazing by the way) to NOT use a milk alternative, especially when there’s no real difference in taste. (That, and milk sometimes makes my stomach hurt…) Personally, I think rice milk has the best taste with this recipe, but soy milk is good in here too.

Also, you can switch out agave nectar for local honey. We didn’t have any agave nectar, so my mom’s local honey was all we had. (Local honey, especially in your tea, is a great alternative to sugar, plus it helps with seasonal allergies.) Of course, if you would prefer not to use honey, agave nectar is always a good alternative.

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Quinoa Cereal with Pecans

Adapted from 101 Cookbook’s Warm and Nutty Cinnamon Quinoa Recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup rice milk (or organic soy milk)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup organic quinoa (rinse first!)
  • 1 cup organic blueberries
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅓ cup chopped pecans, toasted
  • pomegranate seeds (optional)
  • drizzle of agave nectar or local honey

Directions:

  1. Combine milk, water, and rinsed quinoa in a saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil over low heat.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes (or until most of the liquid is absorbed).
  4. Turn off the heat, cover, then let stand for 5 minutes.
  5. Stir in the blueberries and cinnamon.
  6. Transfer to individual bowls and sprinkle pecans and possibly pomegranate seeds. End with a drizzle of agave nectar/honey on each bowl to taste.

Asian Coleslaw & Cilantro-Lime Brown Rice Sides

This Thursday, we here in America are going to be celebrating the Fourth of July, American Independence Day. A day filled with patriotism—and barbecue!—awaits! No Fourth of July celebration is complete without sides though, and as a country that values diversity and inclusion, here are some unique side dishes inspired by our friends to the east and the south!

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The Asian coleslaw is something my mom has made for a while now, a side to everything from Korean food to American food. I’ve always loved its vinegary taste; it leaves your mouth feeling pungent and tangy after every bite.

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The cilantro-lime brown rice is actually inspired by one of my favorite fast-food restaurants, Chipotle. The great thing about Chipotle is their commitment to hormone-free meats. Lately, a big “scandal” erupted when Chipotle labeled GMOs on their website, showing that much of their food is in fact genetically modified. Personally, I commend them for labeling GMOs, something food companies have fought against for years. (They have said that they’re working towards a completely GMO-free ingredient list, and I’m sure it’ll happen sooner or later!)

Both recipes aren’t complicated in the slightest, so you’ll be able to whip them up without stressing yourself out too much! Remember, they’re only sides, not entrees—you have more to focus on later!

The United States is a melting pot of many cultures and all walks of life. This is a country where diversity is accepted and cherished. So what’s stopping you from adding a little diversity to your Independence Day meal to remind everyone of the principles this country stands on?

Asian Coleslaw

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Ingredients

  • 1 bag prepared coleslaw mix (preferably tri-colored salad mix)*
  • julienned mangoes (optional)
  • julienned cucumber (optional)
  • slices of canned mandarin oranges (optional)
  • fried wonton strips (optional)
  • chopped nuts, preferably peanuts (optional)

Note: If you don’t have a bag of prepared coleslaw mix, you can use: ½ head of green cabbage (or Napa), shredded; 1 cup of matchstick/shredded carrots; and ¼ head of purple cabbage, finely shredded

For the dressing

  • ½ cup rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ½ tablespoon sugar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

May be doubled if needed.

Directions

  1. Mix the rice vinegar, sesame oil, kosher salt, sugar, and sesame seeds in a bowl to use as the dressing.
  2. If using the prepared coleslaw, mix the dressing with the coleslaw. If not using the prepared coleslaw, place the green cabbage and purple cabbage in a food processor one at a time until they are finely shredded. In a bowl, add the matchstick carrots. Mix well with the dressing.
  3. Add the mango, cucumber, mandarin oranges, fried wonton strips, and nuts if desired.
  4. Refrigerate until ready to eat.

Cilantro-Lime Brown Rice

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Ingredients

  • juice of two small limes (or 1 large lime) — add more according to taste
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • ¾ teaspoon sugar
  • 6 cups cooked jasmine brown rice

Directions

  1. Mix the lime juice, cilantro, olive oil, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Stir well.
  2. Toss the rice with the seasoning mixture. Mix well.