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Archive for December, 2011

Enjoy the Seasons

Lake Washington, Seattle

When I drove along Lake Washington toward Seward Park to my friend’s house the other day, the beauty of the drive blew me away. It was one of those rare random days of beautiful Seattle weather that exist just to tease you. I decided to stop and capture the pictures in front of me and ended up arriving fifteen minutes late at my friend’s. I asked her for forgiveness, showing her a dozen photos on my camera. She gave me a pardon. I hope you will enjoy the holiday seasons despite how busy your life is. Like the Thai say, “Sanuk.” It means to have fun.

Many Bowls of Soup

I am lucky that many friends have pampered me with many  hearty soups this winter. While savoring these soups, I came up with a plan to create delicious soups to share with you. By playing around with foods during the month of December, I rediscovered some connections among the different Asian cuisines. I enjoyed the process of how this soup came about. I hope you enjoy the story and the process of making Curried Sweet Potato with Curry Leaf Soup. I hope you will be courageous and look for curry leaves in an Asian market then have a successful adventure making this soup. Happy Holidays to you all!

Curry Leaves 

Curry Leaf – Murraya Koenigii -from my freezer

Curry leaf is used in Malaysian, Southern and West Coast Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. It tastes and smells like curry powder, though more delicate and aromatic. It is available fresh at many Asian markets in the Seattle area. Thai cuisine doesn’t usually incorporate curry leaves; Kaffir lime leaves are usually more dominant. In fact, it was only a few months ago that I actually saw curry leaves being used in cooking. The first time was when I was a guest at a Malaysian cooking lesson given by my girlfriend’s mother in-law. She demonstrated her family’s secret recipe for Malaysian Chicken Curry with Curry Leaf. Then in November I took an Indian cooking class from Raghavan Iyear, an IACP associate and the author of 660 Curries. During the class, Iyear said “Use curry leaf  in anything just like bay leaf, but do use a fresh one, otherwise don’t use it at all. There is nothing left in a dry curry leaf.” He then demonstrated using generous amounts of fresh curry leaves in the recipe Basmati Rice with Yogurt and Mustard Seeds from his cookbook.

Raghavan Iyer’s Basmati Rice with Yogurt and Mustard Seeds – plenty of curry leaves

After those two experiences I was crazy about the flavor of the aromatic curry leaf (Murraya Koenigii). Since then I have had a package of curry leaves in my freezer waiting for its moment. Freezing is another way to preserve the delicate essential oil in the leaf.

Sweet Potato

The other night, when I cooked yellow chicken curry for my family, instead of using a regular potato, I used a sweet potato. At home I often improvise, and this time I was glad I did. It turned out to be a delicious yellow chicken curry. When I was looking for frozen Kaffir lime leaves, I thought of the curry leaves. Though the Thai don’t use curry leaves,  Yellow Curry (or Gaeng Kari in Thai) is in fact a Thai version of Indian curry. Malaysian Chicken Curry also shows the strong influence of Indian Curry. Then I saw the whole connection: Malaysian Chicken Curry itself is similar to Thai yellow curry. Just before serving yellow curry to my family, I imitated my friend’s mother in-law and placed 6 curry leaves in my left palm. Then then with my right, I roughed them back and forth before dropping the leaves into a boiling curry that was about 5 minutes from being ready to serve. (The other way that Iyear incorporated the curry in the cooking class was by adding the leaves to hot oil along with other dry whole spices to intensify the flavor, then allowing the simmering process to extract the delicate perfume and flavor.)

Curried Sweet Potato Soup with Curry Leaf

Curried Sweet Potato Soup with Curry Leaf

Curried Sweet Potato Soup with Curry Leaf Recipe

ซุปแกงมันฝรั่งหวาน

When you have curry paste, curry powder and curry leaves as staple ingredients in your kitchen, this dish is so easy to prepare. A small amount of oil to fry the curry paste, curry powder and curry leaves helps the natural essential oil and the flavors to bloom. Pay attention and put patience to this step – allow the fragrance to develop and the oil to separate. Then the rest is easy. There is no need to use a large amount of coconut milk, use just enough to give a nice flavor to the curry. If the soup is a little too spicy, increase the coconut milk or next time you can reduce the amount of red curry paste. I use just a little coconut milk in this recipe, cutting back further on coconut milk may effect the flavor and the balance of this curry. I consider this a hearty winter soup with big flavor.

Serves: 6 (yields about 5 cups)

1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup coconut milk, divided
2 to 3 teaspoons red curry paste 
1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
12 curry leaves, divided
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 (32-ounce) box Pacific Natural Food Free Range Chicken Broth
1/4 teaspoon fish sauce

In a large pot, heat canola oil, 1/4 cup coconut milk, red curry paste, Madras curry powder and 6 curry leaves on medium-high heat; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in diced onions until they become translucent, about 3 minutes. Add sweet potato and chicken broth; bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium, and with the lid on, let it cook until the onion and sweet potato are softened, about 30 to 40 minutes. Stir in fish sauce and 1/4 cup coconut milk, stir for 30 seconds, then remove from the burner. Use an immersion blender or a tabletop blender to puree the soup. Serve in a soup bowl and garnish with curry leaves.

I Love Thai cooking
Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area.
Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com 

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Holiday Sweet with a Tropical Accent

Coconut Tea Cakes

Finally, this is the year that I have set aside the whole month of December to indulge myself with food and friends. I am a well-pampered cook.

This past week, my Italian culinary group, who traveled together to Italy in 2004, got together for a fun cookie exchange. I returned home with assorted cookies and sweet delights. My son, who appreciated them all, loved the Russian Tea Cakes, also called Butter Balls or Mexican Wedding Cakes. My friend bakes them every year from Betty Crocker’s Recipe.

I love the flavor and the texture of the Russian Tea Cakes and imagined that they would be good made with Bob’s Red Mill coconut flakes and almond meal/flour, both of which I have had in my freezer for a long time. So I started by following the recipe but played with the proportions of coconut flakes, almond meal and flour. I kept the amounts of butter and powder sugar from the Russian Tea Cakes recipe as a backbone structure and kept the preparation and cooking methods the same as well.

Several friends who love coconut loved the coconut tea cakes instantly. My son, however, still prefers the traditional Russian Tea Cakes!

Coconut Tea Cakes

Bake until slightly yellow-brown on the top and the bottom.

Coconut Tea Cakes

If you prefer, you can add coconut flakes to the powdered sugar to dust the baked cookies; it won’t stick, but it makes a great garnish just before serving.

Credit: Russian Tea Cake by Betty Crocker’s Recipe

Coconut Tea Cakes

I love coconut and incorporate it into recipes any time I can. While baking Russian Tea Cakes for my son, I played around with my concept of Coconut Tea Cakes and it worked on the first try. Coconut flakes are edible in all forms, toasted or not. Personally I love dried coconut flakes just the way they are. This recipe should also work with sweetened shredded coconut but the outcome will be different than my version which highlights the dry coconut against the buttery texture of the other ingredients. Anytime that the dough fails to form a ball, add a little more melted butter to hold it together.

Yield: 3 dozen
 
2 cups flour
¼ cup Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour
¼ teaspoon salt (omit if salted butter is used)
1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Unsweetened Medium Shredded Coconut
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup powdered sugar, plus ¼ cup for dusting 
1 teaspoon either coconut extract or almond extract
 

Preheat oven to 375°F. Prepare a wire rack for cooling the cookies.

Combine flour, almond meal/four, salt and medium shredded coconut and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter, ½ cup powder sugar and coconut or almond extract on medium speed until creamy. Using a spatula, fold in flour mixture slowly until it is well-combined and you have a  large ball of dough. Divide the dough into four balls. Roll each ball into a cylinder and cut into 9 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a perfect round ball and place onto a baking sheet. You should have about 3 dozen.

Place in the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes until a tiny hint of yellow-brown appears on the top and the bottom. Remove cookies to the wire rack.

Place ¼ cup powdered sugar in a small bowl, then drop in slightly cooled cookies one at a time, dusting them with powdered sugar before placing them back on the wire rack. Before packaging, storing or serving, dust the cookies once again with powdered sugar.

Photos: © 2011 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen

Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area.
Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com 

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A Divine Fruit, Persimmon ลูกพลับ 

Here in Seattle, I have been savoring persimmons during all of November and now into December. Persimmons reached their peak this last week. The abundance of this fruit at peak season provides a low price and high quality sweet fruits and this is when I am inspired to cook with persimmons. This year in my kitchen I found two delicious new ways to cook with them: persimmon-orange butter and persimmon upside-down cake. Today I will share with you my discoveries of this divine fruit which only appears once a year.

Fuyu Persimmon fruit – ลูกพลับ

The yellow-orange color of persimmon and its aromatic sweetness make this fruit special. In the U.S., the season for persimmons is in November and December, and they give us  a special way to celebrate the holiday seasons. Persimmons arrived in the U.S. and Europe over 200 years ago. There are two varieties in Seattle market: Hachiya and Fuyu. The former is recommended to eat when it is fully ripe. The latter, Fuyu, is my favorite and it is the variety most commonly available, so my focus today will be on the Fuyu persimmon.

Fuyu persimmons (Diospyros Kaki L) are native to Northern China. It is an ancient fruit—a fossilized persimmon was found in the tomb of the emperor of the Han Dynasty. Fuyu persimmons first traveled from China to Thailand in 1937, but they did not become widespread until the Royal Project Foundation under Kasetsart University  conducted a study in 1969 that grew various varieties of persimmons in Thailand and led to the successful establishment of persimmon farming in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Phetchabun. These are three persimmon varieties in Thailand: Xichu, Fuyu and Hyakume. (Source: 111 Thai Fruits by Nidda and Thaweethong Hongvivat published by Sangdad). The season for harvesting them is from July till September each year.  The nutritional benefits from persimmons are priceless. It is high in potassium, vitamin C, and much more.

Unripe Fuyu persimmon early in the season

When the hint of green disappears from the skin and is replaced by a yellow-orange color, one can snack on unripe Fuyu persimmon, though the ripe ones are the best. Persimmons can accompany an assorted cheese platter, much like pears or grapes, or combining green salad with bacon. For dessert, last year I found my pleasure by adding persimmons in coconut milk to my pearl tapioca pudding just before serving. This year, in the process of creating a dessert for 70 people, I found myself preparing persimmon-orange butter to serve over sweet sticky rice. Then came persimmon upside-down cake; this was magically created right after baking cranberry upside-down cake for my family. For an impromptu inspiration, all we need is to have plenty of persimmons around while they are in season.

Fuyu Persimmon

Persimmon-Orange Butter

Yield: 2 cups

You can use persimmon-orange butter on just about everything, or you can eat it plain like apple sauce. This is my favorite way:  served with sticky rice, on top of peanut butter and fruit butter for the sandwich.

6 fully ripened Fuyu persimmons, peeled and chopped
Zest of one orange
6 oranges, peeled and chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
3 tablespoons triple sec
3 tablespoons butter

Place persimmons, orange zest, orange, salt, sugar, cinnamon stick, triple sec and butter in a large saucepan. Let it cook on medium heat until softened and all juices from the fruit have evaporated, about 30 minutes. Stir often during the cooking. Remove cinnamon stick. Pour the mixture into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

The Making of Persimmon Upside-Down Cake

Sliced persimmon, brown sugar, star anise and triple sac

When I was looking for a spice to compliment the flavor of persimmon, I picked up my cinnamon powder from Vietnam and star anise powder from Thailand. After smelling the star anise, I decided it was a sure thing. At that moment my eye glanced over at the star-shaped center of the persimmon and I decided to place a star anise in between the slices of persimmon. The star anise mirrors the pattern of the star-shaped center of the persimmon. Perfect.

Right Side Up

I was also happy that I had some persimmon-orange butter that I had created on another day. This allowed me to add some persimmon flavor in the body of the cake.

Persimmon Upside-Down Cake

I used organic brown sugar, but any brown sugar would do the work.

A Perfect Persimmon-Star Anise Upside-Down Cake

The pretty star-shaped centers creates a perfect look for this upside-down cake.

Persimmon Upside-Down Cake

Burnt brown sugar with creamy  soft persimmons melt in your mouth, almost like a crème caramel.

Persimmon Upside-Down Cake

เค้กลูกพลับ

I baked Yankee Cranberry Upside-Down Cake many times last week, which is what led me to this project.  I played around with persimmons and spices I had in the kitchen, and by the time the cranberry upside-down cake was finished, my persimmon-star anise upside-down cake was ready to go in. It became totally a different cake with its own flavor profiles, but it was the Yankee Cranberry Upside-Down Cake that inspired me with confidence.

Baking time: 35 to 40 minutes

Serves: 8 to 12

6 tablespoons butter, melted
¼ cup brown sugar
1 ¼ teaspoons star anise powder, divided
1 tablespoon triple sec, divided
3 persimmons, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 6 pieces, each about 1/3 inch thick
5 star anises, whole
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons persimmon-orange butter, persimmon pulps or orange marmalade
 

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cover a 9-inch spring form pan with 2 tablespoons melted butter, then sprinkle with brown sugar, triple sec and ½ teaspoon star anise powder to cover entire surface. Arrange persimmon slices and star anise as shown in the photo above.

Combine flour, baking powder, remaining star anise powder and salt.

Beat the remaining 4 tablespoons butter and the sugar very hard by hand until they are well mixed. Then beat in eggs, one at a time, very hard by hand until the mixture is custardy. Whisk in ½ cup of the flour mixture, mix well, then whisk in ¼ cup buttermilk; continue this method of adding the flour and buttermilk until you finish with ¼ cup flour.  Pour the batter into the center of the springform pan, smoothing it with a spatula to make it evenly cover the persimmon.

Bake on a rack in the center of the oven until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Let it cool for 5 to 10 minutes. While the cake is still warm, invert the cake onto a serving platter.

credit: http://familyfun.go.com/recipes/yankee-cranberry-upside-down-cake-687053/

Photos: © 2011 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen

Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area.
Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com 
 

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