Monday, October 17, 2011

Almost Thai Green Curry

I have no photo to share, and whenever I don't have a photo I assume that no one will read what goes along. Truth is, I'm probably right--not that my writing is something to slow down your day for. I haven't been snapping photos, but I have been cooking. A couple weeks ago I made a vegetable curry stew for friends. It was so good, I saved the leftovers and ate them all, which is something I never do. I don't ever eat leftovers, aside from soup. But this curry, this curry could not be thrown away. It came from Nigel Slater's Tender: Volume 1, a most beautiful tome that I haven't even read through despite the pictures, the useful information and the riveting prose (listen to this: "the dusty 'old as time itself' taste of ground turmeric" I could never come up with that). This curry was the closest I have ever come to replicating the green curry I would order almost nightly from Phee Lek, my Thai grandma. When I was teaching and eating in Thailand, she was the cook at the restaurant on the compound of my apartment complex. Was teeny tiny, not even five feet tall and a sweet sort of wily. She ran this tiny little restaurant that had five or six tables and a large television that played a lot of MTV, her daughter's favorite. She spoke hardly any English, which was perfect because I spoke hardly any Thai. We communicated with action and pointing. 

After getting sick of rice for every meal, I tried ordering vegetables without it. Complete with hand motions I said the English equivalent of "No want rice. Vegetables. Big big vegetables." With some trial and error, I received before me a platter of the sauteed tomatoes, baby corn, eggplant, onions, peppers and several kinds of mushrooms--it was a veritable cornucopia--all doused in delicious MSG. She also taught me how to properly pronounce green curry with chicken in Thai, quite a feat considering the intonation. I don't order it much any more--too much disappointment--but I have requested green curry at a restaurant downtown and the waiter was very impressed. The curry was my other standby in Thailand. Lek made it with Japanese eggplant and pumpkin, if they were available. I ordered the smokey curry with a spice level of one and slurped down the stew sweetened with coconut milk with only a little rice. 

This dish doesn't have the complications of making a curry paste beforehand out of God knows how many herbs, spices and aromatics, but it still has that depth that makes you wonder, what is in here? I went to the Asian Market, a relatively new store, to find real lemongrass, which made such a difference. I always want to substitute lemons for lemongrass but it's not quite right, not earthy enough or something. I didn't even realize how close I would come to Pee Lek's green curry, but with the inclusion of squash or pumpkin--it's nearly there.

Pumpkin-chickpea Curry: from Tender by Nigel Slater, serves 6
1 15-ounce can chickpeas or 1/2 cup dry chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 large onion, diced
1 teaspoon canola oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb-size piece ginger, minced
3 stalks lemongrass
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
dash of cayenne pepper (to taste)
1/2 small pumpkin (about 8 ounces), cubed
250 mL vegetable or chicken stock
400 mL coconut milk
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 cups rice, cooked

Mince the garlic and the ginger together. Saute the onion until it's translucent. Add the minced garlic and ginger. Stir in the spices. Add the pumpkin, chickpeas and vegetable stock as well as the lemongrass with its tough outer leaves removed. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until the pumpkin has softened a bit and the chickpeas have split. Thicken with cream, season to taste. In a separate pan, saute the mustard seeds until they spit, add to the curry. Serve over rice.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Hummingbird Cake

I know I swore I hated cakes, but I'm learning some aren't so bad. Every Thursday I go to my class devoted entirely to the subject. All I eat all day Thursdays is cakes. Everyone in the class makes a different cake, and I try them all. Sometimes I can't stop, especially on mousse day. I was dipping my fork in everything chocolate, caramel and fruit-flavored. This hummingbird cake, the one pictured above, was part of the classic American cakes day. It was so easy and such a showstopper. The Southern favorite reminded me of carrot cake, really moist and sweet. The batter has crushed pineapple, bananas and pecans in it.

Below is the Heaven and Hell cake, which apparently goes for like $100 at the Mansion, a fancy hotel-restaurant in Dallas. It's certainly a Texas-style cake: six layers with peanut-butter mouse in between each and covered with chocolate ganache. The cake cleverly features alternating layers of angel food and devil's food cake. Decadent and ridiculous--that's Texas for you. I much prefer the simpler, homier hummingbird.
Hummingbird Cake:
110 grams pecans, chopped and toasted
420 grams flour
400 grams sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 eggs, beaten
180 mL canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
227 grams crushed pineapple, undrained
2 cups mashed bananas (3 to 4 bananas)

Cream Cheese Frosting:
57 grams butter, room temperature
227 grams cream cheese, room temperature
454 grams powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
55 grams pecans, chopped and toasted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Makes two nine-inch rounds. Mix flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, oil, vanilla, pineapple, bananas and pecans. Combine ingredients being careful not to overmix. Divide the batter evenly and bake 25 to 30 minutes until a toothpick comes out of the cake cleanly. Let cool before frosting.

For the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese together until light and fluffy. Sift the powdered sugar and add to the butter gradually. Add the vanilla and beat until smooth. Stir in the pecans by hand. Ice the cake.