Saturday, March 17, 2012

Staff Class Cooking Day Part 1 - Western Food

Many of you know that I am an English teacher here in Vietnam. One thing my university has done occasionally is provide English classes for not only the students, but also the Vietnamese staff that work there. Most of them already speak very good English, but of course there is always room for improvement! 

I was assigned to teach one of these classes last September. It's difficult for the students to find the time to come, so there wasn't a huge turnout, but I ended up with a core group of 4-5 young women that showed up fairly regularly, and we began to have a lot of fun!

The class was held at the end of the day, so you can imagine that by the time it was over we were often feeling pretty tired and hungry. It was around that time that I started this blog, and one of my first posts was the Spooky Monster's Fingers that I made for Halloween. I took a few of these to class to share with the girls, and they were a big hit! This prompted a discussion about how much they would like to learn to bake delicious cakes and other western food, and about how much I would like to learn to cook Vietnamese food. Thus the idea was born: Staff Class Cooking Day!

After much discussion about the menu, ingredients, cooking equipment, and scheduling, delays due to holidays and family visits, plus one cancellation due to an ache in my tooth, we finally got to have our day! 

Tu, Xuan, and 3 Vans (from now on referred to as LSU Van, ELRC Van, and Van Comm) came over to my place at about 9am on a Saturday. I had already bought most of the things I needed for "my" dishes (the Western ones) but we still needed a lot of vegetables. Luckily there's a market RIGHT outside my door! I watched as they negotiated prices for various vegetables, bought more garlic than I would ever imagine we would use, and negotiated for tofu, chicken, beef, pork, and live shrimp. I never buy meat in the market. For some reason I'm much more comfortable buying it at a supermarket, but the girls were adamant that the quality of the meat in the market is much better!

 The first order of business was to make a Mango Mousse Cake. I'd never made such a thing before, but it was Xuan's birthday the day before, and this was the birthday cake she requested. I wouldn't normally teach people to make something I've never made before myself, but after perusing some recipes I came up with some ideas I could work with, and we decided to give it a try.

LSU Van beating eggs for the sponge cake base.

They were so excited, I couldn't even get in to supervise!

ELRC Van preparing mango to be pureed.

They learned the most important lesson of baking - always lick the beaters!

And they learned it from the master.

When the mango mousse cake was done, it went in the fridge for the rest of the day to set.

We spent most of the rest of the day whipping up some Vietnamese food....look for my next post for details about that!

The other Western style dish we made was lasagna. Again, it was Xuan's request, as she was the only one who'd ever had it before! It was a bit questionable at first as to whether I'd be able to find the ingredients (you can get things here, but you can't always count on being able to get what you want when you want it!) but at the last minute I was successful!

Cheesy lasagna!

Vietnamese people don't tend to eat a lot of cheese, so the amount of cheese that goes into my lasagna was a bit of a surprise to them! Especially to girls who have never seen a cheese grater before! ("Jenny, how do you do this without grating your fingers?")

Tu, Xuan, and LSU Van enjoying their first taste of lasagna!
Too bad we were SO full by this time we couldn't eat very much!
After the lasagna, it was finally time to take the cake out of the fridge. We all crossed our fingers that it would be set!

Birthday wishes
The moment of truth.
Is it set?
Yes! Perfect!
Stay tuned for Staff Class Cooking Day Part 2 - about the Vietnamese dishes we made!


  1. Reading through this post brought all the wonderful feelings I've had on the day! Thank you, Jenny! I'll practice on Banh Xeo again and promise to get a success next time :P

    1. I think the key is to use a TON of oil! The flavours were right, just the pancake part was not. It's ok, for now I can go out to eat it!

  2. :D licking fingers and tasting the cool sweet fat cream was the best part! We almost finished the cake cover by just doing so :D :D Hey Van Comm and ELRC Van do you remember how hard-working we were to 'process' the mangoes... Thanks master :)

    1. Van you're so cute! You all seemed so amazed at the idea of licking the beaters! That's something I've done since childhood.

      You guys did work hard that day! And we made a fantastic cake!


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