Monday
Jan052015

My Baking Achilles' Heel

I attempted to make French macarons for the first time and it just didn't work. The egg whites weren't stiff enough, the dough wasn't fluffy enough, the filling wasn't thick enough. All of this compounded into one poor, ugly, sad cookie. 

Could it have been a bad recipe? Perhaps. This is the first recipe I've made from What to Bake & How to Bake It by Jane Hornby. I received this cookbook for my birthday. It's absolutely beautiful. The photos are art. The recipes all sound and look amazing. I have high hopes for this book! 

I can't blame the cookbook. It wouldn't be fair... 

I don't usually post my cooking failures to the blog. Who goes around sharing their failures on the Internet, right? But this recipe highlighted my biggest weakness as a cook, something that I never do quite right: whip egg whites. 

If someone were to challenge me to cooking duel, egg white whipping would be my downfall. 

So yeah, these cookies were the first thing I baked in 2015. Not a great way to start the year, but now my 2015 cooking challenge is set: perfectly whipped egg whites. I will conquer them. Wish me luck! 

Wednesday
Dec312014

2014 Blog Archive

Friday
Aug222014

Freezer Cooking: Saag Paneer / Saag Tofu

The fall semester is upon us; a semester that promises to be my busiest yet. In addition to three courses, I'll be teaching three days per week, writing my master's project/thesis, as well as taking a Khmer course through the University of Hawaii. Oh, and on top of that we're planning a little thing called OUR WEDDING. Yeah, it's going to be busy.

This all means that for the next few months I won't have much time to spend in the kitchen. In the past, me not having time to cook = ordering take out or eating lots of pasta. Not the healthiest of diets. I want to change that. So, since getting back from Cambodia I've been cooking and freezing meals to help us save time and still eat healthy when grad school gets a little crazy. I've got a few weeks worth of dinners frozen already!

Today I'm going to share a vegan crock pot saag paneer recipe from Everyday Maven that freezes really well. It seriously might be the easiest thing you'll ever make - you basically just throw everything in a pot and wait. If you've got a rice cooker, fire up that baby too and you've got yourself a full meal! The original recipe is vegan with tofu, which is delicious. I've also made it with paneer (Indian cheese) when I can find it. Yum!  

Saag Paneer (or Tofu) 

Adapted from: Everyday Maven

Servings: 8-10

Ingredients
4 to 5 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons ginger root, finely chopped
1 15oz can of plain tomato sauce
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1½ teaspoons salt (separated into 1 tsp and ½ tsp)
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you're into spicy!)
1 15-ounce can light coconut milk
2 15-ounce bags frozen chopped spinach
1 6-ounce bag baby spinach leaves
1 package of paneer (Indian cheese) cut into cubes (sub extra firm tofu to make it vegan)
½ cup frozen peas
fresh cilantro, chopped for garnish (optional)
Directions
1. Add all ingredients EXCEPT for fresh spinach, paneer (tofu), peas and ½ teaspoon of salt to slow cooker.
2. Set to low and cook for 4 hours.
3. At about 3 hours and 30 minutes, add 1 tbsp of oil to a skillet. When hot, add the paneer (tofu) and cook until slightly brown. Transfer to a paper towel to soak up excess oil. 
4. While the paneer is cooking, add the fresh spinach to the crock pot and stir.
5. When fresh spinach is wilted, puree entire mixture with a hand-held immersion blender until creamy. You can also use a regular blender, just do it in batches and be careful not to burn yourself! 
6. Next, fold in paneer (tofu) cubes, frozen peas and remaining ½ teaspoon of salt.
7. Put lid back on slow cooker and let the peas warm up.
8. Serve with rice or naan bread (I keep some of the Trader Joe's stuff in the freezer for this) and chopped cilantro for garnish (optional).

 

One important thing that I've learned about freezing meals is that you should freeze in portions that are easy to defrost. For example, I froze this saag paneer two portions per freezer bag. So when I want to thaw it for dinner, I only have to grab one bag and thaw 2 portions for that night. Sounds simple, but saves tons of time. 

Other recipes I've been freezing include veggie pot pie and zucchini spinach soup with homemade rolls. I simply cannot wait to eat all of these delicious things a month from now!

Tuesday
Aug052014

រដូវក្តៅនៅក្នុងកម្ពុជា (Summer in Cambodia)

 

I just got back from nearly 2 months in Cambodia. I received a fellowship through the Center for Khmer Studies to study Khmer (Cambodian) language in Phnom Penh this summer. The 6-week intensive program is run in conjunction with the University of Hawaii and the Royal University of Phnom Penh. 

In addition to 4 hours of language instruction every day, I had 2-3 hours of homework every night too. It was seriously intensive! Most of my classmates were great, diligent students, so I had some awesome study buddies. We completed one year's worth of course work in only 6 weeks!

Of course we had a lot of assessments and ways to measure our progress, but the best measure for me was when I went back to my mom's village at the end of the program. My mom's good friend, Om Na, greeted me and we actually had a conversation! It was the first time my mom didn't have to translate for us. That was what I wanted most out of this program: to be able to converse with my mom's friends directly. Om Na was just as excited as I was about being able to talk to each other now! 

The program also included Khmer dancing and cooking classes, visits to the National Museum, Royal Palace, and some of the most famous sites in Cambodia, such as Angkor Wat and Koh Ker. They also introduced us to some important NGOs and the work they're doing to improve Khmer civil society and development.

I chose to do a homestay with a Khmer family, which I was very hesitant about before arriving. I wanted to have an immersive experience, but was worried about the language barrier and my vegetarian diet. Khmer food is not traditionally very veg friendly.

I seriously lucked out! My host grandma (she told me to call her yey, which means grandma in Khmer) was so lovely. She didn't speak any English, which forced me to practice speaking Khmer with her, and she forced me to eat fruit, which I know is good for me but don't really like. She was constantly worried about me because I don't eat meat, but she made me delicious vegetarian meals twice a day anyway! I ate lots of rice, eggs, pickled cabbage and radishes, stir-fried noodles, and lots vegetables. It was perfect.

In addition to studying, I of course got to spend some time with my sister, her fiance, my nephew, and my mom. I spent the whole final week at my mom's house knitting, reading, and enjoying the rain (it's monsoon season, ya know!) 

Now that I'm back, my hope is to sign up for online Khmer courses through the University of Hawaii. They have a really amazing South East Asia language program. It would be a shame to waste all the progress I've made this summer! 

The video at the beginning of this post was my attempt to do something a little different on this trip to Cambodia. I already have so many pictures from previous trips, so I thought it might be neat to take a short video everyday to try and capture my daily life, interactions, experiences, family and friends. I think it does a pretty good job of that :-) 

 

*A note on the usage of Khmer vs. Cambodian. These can be used pretty much interchangeably. Cambodia and Cambodian are the English words, coming from the French term Cambodge. Cambodians refer to themselves as Khmer (pronounced "Khmai," the -r is silent). The language of Cambodia can also be called Khmer, or you can say the Khmer language

Saturday
Jun212014

Vegetarian Eating in Cambodia (Part 2 of 2)

I previously gave ya'll a breakdown of my favorite vegetarian snacks and dishes in Cambodia. If you missed that post, check it out HERE! Today, we're talking about vegetarian and vegan friendly Khmer restaurants in Cambodia. 

Over the past few years, I've noticed that being a vegetarian tourist in Cambodia has gotten easier. In addition to the myriad of western food options, there are increasingly veggie friendly and even fully vegan restaurants serving Khmer food all over the country. Here are some of my favorite by city: 

Siem Reap has exploded with development over the past several years. In addition to every type of cuisine imaginable, the city now has a fully vegan Cambodian restaurant as well as many veggie options.

1. Chamkar - This restaurant is 100% vegetarian and serves modern Cambodian dishes. We attempted to go without a reservation on a weeknight and had to wait 20 minutes! A waitlist? In Cambodia? I was shocked. Our favorite dish was the stuffed tofu steaks with tamarind chutney (above left)!  

2. Cuisine Wat Damnak - Not an exclusvely veggie restaurant, but they offer 5 course tasting menus with vegetarian and vegan options for $25! As soon as I heard "tasting menu" I was sold! During the high season (December-January) this restaurant books up days in advance, so we had to make a reservation 2 days ahead of time. But it was totally worth it!

3. Sister Srei Cafe - Hayes and I love brunch, so we had to try this place. They offer tasty brunch with lots of veggie options. Their baked goods are really good too. I could hang out here all day with a good book. 

Sihanoukville - Many tourists bypass this beach town, but my sister lives here and it's a great place to relax and enjoy Cambodia's white sand and warm water. 

1. Nyam - My vegan dad said that this was his favorite food in all of Cambodia. Disclaimer: my sister's fiance owns this restaurant, so maybe we're not impartial judges... BUT I really do think they have great food. Nyam serves authentic Cambodian food and the staff is very amenable to vegetarian/vegan diets. The Morning Glory and Fried Tofu dishes are especially delicious. 

2. Sandan - This restaurant is run by an NGO and provides vocational training in the culinary and service sectors for Cambodian youth. Their vegetarian section of the menu is solid, especially the Tofu Amok. The only downside is that the service can be spotty and slow (they're learning!)

Phnom Penh - Simply because Phnom Penh is so much larger than the previous two cities, it can seem overwhelming trying to find veg options. Here are some of my go-tos.

1. K'nyay - Everything on the menu is by default vegan (meat options are available, though). They also offer vegan lunch boxes, which I think would be a great idea for day trips outside the city. 

2. Chay Vegetarian - This is a little hole in the wall on Monivong Boulevard. It's usually my first stop when I arrive in Phnom Penh. They make their own seitan and other meat substitutes, and offer traditional Khmer dishes, vegetarianized.

Writing this post is making me really hungry! Has anyone else eaten at these restaurants? Do you have any other suggestions for vegetarians and vegans in Cambodia looking for delicious Khmer food?