Princess Tofu is a phenomenal source of inspiration if you are looking for comforting food with an Asian and Parisian flare, that just so happens to be vegetarian. Her photography throughout the blog is warm and her words are inviting.
I am so happy to have Phi Tran from Princess Tofu here with me today.
On Her Blog:
I have always been a passionate eater and I’m almost always hungry of course, so I think it was a nice way to work on my writing skills but also have this creative outlet that I have full control over.
I spend a lot of hours thinking about food and I go to the market really often. So more often than not I’m making lists of things that I want to try and make or cook or experiment with, but I don’t necessary have the time to do all of them.
When I do have time, it takes a lot longer just to think about the visual presentation of the concept, because you can’t eat the pictures online.
On Where Her Inspiration Comes From:
I think it’s a crazy mixture of everything I come in contact with. I do go to the market really often. I think that’s a nice point to start, but I think it’s a limiting point and it’s not necessarily always a creative juncture that you think of in terms of like what’s the seed for creativity.
Naturally, like you go to the market, you may see something that inspires you to make a dish but at the same it’s not like you have everything at your disposal. So I like the limits that the market places upon my recipes, but I get a lot of inspiration from cookbooks of restaurants that I think do a really good job of experimenting with flavors and textures and ingredients. From there I work around my skills and also the types of ingredients I have available at hand, because they have resources that I don’t have, obviously.
I think it’s always good to have limitations when you are exposing yourself to anything creative because it places you into a corner and it’s a nice corner. It’s a unique way of looking at the world.
I have certain limitations, other people have certain limitations, and they are very different and that’s why we make very different things to eat and look at.
I usually start my week on Sunday trips to the market and then my evenings just reading cookbooks and that marriage of those two things generate the rest of the things that I’m working on.
On Her Love of Food:
I think a lot of people like to eat so I don’t find that to be very unique, but I definitely got a lot more interested after graduating undergrad.
I’ve been cooking even before high school, but in high school I actually started watching a lot of the Food Network and realized that you can do a lot more to dinner than just hamburger helper.
There is a lot more that you can put onto your stove and treat yourself.
I took it upon myself to make Thanksgiving turkey one year as a high schooler and that was fascinating.
I did this salting method, ever since then, and I still think salting is better than the liquid brining. So I did that, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I didn’t cover my hands and I was rubbing this on herb and butter salt mixture under the skin of the turkey and it just burned viciously, but the turkey came out spectacular.
My hands recovered eventually, but ever since then I was like, “I can probably just cook a lot more interesting things if I did the right research and just put enough effort into it,” but then school started and I really didn’t have the time or energy to spend hours and hours in the kitchen making dinner. So afterwards, when I started my vegetarian diet, it gave me the impetus to do a lot of research into different types of ingredients and how you can cook them for an alternative diet.
On Cooking as a Vegetarian:
I don’t think it was necessarily re-learning skills. I think a lot of the concepts in cooking, if you break it down to the basics, are applicable to all sorts of palettes and diets. So I don’t think of it as a technique dilemma, but it did introduce me to a lot different types of ingredients that I never would have learned about, so cooking with whole grains and also diving into cuisines in a way that I wouldn’t normally do, and also re-focusing the plates so that you don’t focus on having a meat as the centerpiece. In that sense I’m really fascinated by pastas and then I definitely got into Japanese cooking a lot more once I moved to California. So those things are very vegetarian-friendly, but you don’t necessarily think to look at that until you have to cook for yourself.
On Making Cooking More Fun:
I think you should do it with someone who loves to cook.
I like cooking with other people. The other day I was hosting an event and I’ve never had so many people watch me make scones before. It was like reality television…
It was intimidating, but at some point you have to talk about what you are doing as you are doing it and that’s something that I’m not used to. It’s fascinating.
I think if you cook with somebody who likes to share their food and also their skills, I think it will make it a lot more fun. So it’s nice to do it with someone else every once in a while.
On Messing Up in the Kitchen:
I have messed up spectacularly before just doing stupid stuff. Once I was having this dinner and I had made a pomegranate salad dressing, but I also made some sort of red fruited syrup and so they both looked quite similar. So I go to make the salad and I just grabbed one of the jars and then I sent it out. I didn’t think about it until a little bit later but then I realized I served the salad with a syrup. Nobody said a single thing. That’s the other thing. If you have a performance whether it’s food or music and you mess up, just keep on rolling.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
I used to watch a lot of Alton Brown.
What are some food blogs or websites that we have to know about?
I like Tasting Table. It gets pretty ridiculous over there, so you got to pay attention.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter that make you happy?
I haven’t been on them for a while. I follow a bunch of people on them, like thousands. You should just go and lose yourself.
What is something all home cooks should have in their pantry?
I love smoked paprika recently. That’s something that I’ve been using a lot and it’s really versatile and it just adds a little bit of flavor to everything.
Name one ingredient you cannot live without?
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
I have this vegetarian Japanese paperback book that I don’t even think is in print anymore. Manresa from last year was great. I’m still learning so much from that. I don’t necessarily use all the weirder ingredients that he uses but there is some really good information in there and beautiful photos. He also talks about menu writing and things like that and that’s really useful.
And then Denis Cotter. He’s a vegetarian chef in Ireland and if you are new to vegetarian that’s not where you should go, but maybe a year or two down the road, when you want to make a special dinner for someone who eats meat, I would say pick up one of his books and just go to town. It might take you hours and hours to execute something but it’s totally worth it and it’s all vegetarian, so you don’t have to like change anything. Just do it.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
I love cooking to music, so it depends on my mood, but there is this song by the Beach Boys called Vegetables that’s really cute.