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My Candy

This is not a Halloween Pumpkin Candy, but it is the Thai kabocha candy I enjoyed when I was growing up in my village in Thailand. Kabocha pumpkin is a squash that Thais cook to make a variety of dishes, sweet or savory. It is my tradition for the blog to share a new kabocha recipe with you every year. (Past years’ recipes include Kabocha Pumpkin Soup, Thai Kabocha Pumpkin Custard, Spiced Rum Kabocha Pumpkin Mousse, Pumpkin Curry and my mom’s Stir-Fried Kabocha with Pork.) This year, many aspects led me to choose a recipe for Thai Kabocha Pumpkin Candy-น้ำเต้าเชื่อม–Namtao Chuam. It is easier than a pumpkin pie, with more pumpkin satisfaction as there are not many ingredients involved—just kabocha pumpkin and brown sugar. Thais are fond of cooking fruit or root vegetables such as bananas, kabocha, and sweet potatoes in brown sugar. The results comes out well-covered with caramelized sugar and taste like candy. This technique is called -Chuam – เชื่อม in Thai.

Thai Kabocha Pumpkin Candy

Another reason that I chose this recipe is that in Seattle, fall is the beginning of kabocha pumpkin season. My friend Pee Som Sawan brought Thai kabocha pumpkin candy to the potluck for the first time this year, as she has done every Sunday for the past 10 years. Then another day at a dinner party, I reconstructed my kabocha pumpkin custard with kabocha candy and the custard instead of following the regular recipe. This was because it can be hard to find the small kabocha pumpkin needed for that recipe and the timing was complicated. But most of all, I chose the Kabocha Pumplin Candy recipe for this year because it can be hard to compete with the many food bloggers out there to come with an exotic recipe and I thought what could be better than my Thai grandma’s recipe? So I hope you enjoy this old time, easy and simple recipe that you can prepare at home.

Kabocha Pumpkin Candy

I want to thank to my friend Pee Som Sawan who shared her easy tips for simplifying the cooking technique. She suggested that I cut and lay the kabocha pumpkin slices in a pan that has a glass lid, sprinkle them with brown sugar or any type of sugar, then add enough water to the bottom of the pan to create steam when they cook. My only tip to add is how to find the right kabocha pumpkin for the best results. (Please see Pranee’s tips on selecting a kabocha pumpkin.)

Kabocha Pumpkin Candy

Cover the pan with the glass lid and cook on medium heat until the kabocha is soft and tender when tested with a fork, but still holds its shape. Remove the lid. If there is too much water left, let it cook without the lid until the syrup has thickened. Serve for dessert or as a snack.

Thai Kabocha Pumpkin Candy

Namtao Chuam

น้ำเต้าเชื่อม

Serves: 4

The total time for this dish, including cutting and cleaning and cooking should be about 3o minutes. The cooking itself is about 20 minutes. It is delicious warm or cold, with whatever syrup is left behind in the pan or with salted coconut milk. It tastes so heavenly! Skin and flesh are all good together. It is like a cheesecake with a natural crust. This recipe has sugar to just the right amount. For a more decadent dessert, please add more sugar. Enjoy this any time of day!

3 to 4 wedges of Kabocha pumpkin (see instructions)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 pinches salt
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons coconut milk plus 2 pinches of salt, optional
 

Remove any bad skin from the kabocha squash but keep all of the green skin; wash and dry. Cut into wedges about 2 inches wide, then cut each wedge in half across the middle to get two pieces from each wedge. Lay the pumpkin in the bottom of the pan and add the water. Cover with a glass lid and cook on medium heat until the kabocha is soft and tender when tested with a fork, but still holds it shape—about 15 minutes. Remove the lid. If there is too much water left, let it cook some more until the syrup has thickened. Remove the kabocha pumpkin candy to a serving plate and pour the syrup on top. If desired, stir the salt into the coconut milk until combined, then pour it on the top of each kabocha candy as a garnish before serving.

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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Farm Dinner At Dog Mountain Farm

Dog Mountain Farm, located in Snoqualmie Vally near Carnation, Washington, offers summer farm dinner events that are a culinary delight. The dinners are prepared by a guest chef and served with wines from a local winery. I attended one of these dinners in  June 2010 and was blessed to experience a half day at the farm of sun-filled summer, a beautiful view of the Cascade mountains, and dining on white tablecloths surrounded by apple orchards. The farm offers various farm and culinary activities year round for all age groups.

View of the Cascade Mountain

September 2012 has provided the rare beauty of a long stretch of sunny days. Saturday, September 15th, the date that I cooked at the Dog Mountain Farm, was one of the most beautiful days among them.

The farm dinner guests arrived at 3pm. Farm owners Cindy and David welcomed everyone with champagne and an hors d’oeuvre, then took them on a farm tour.

Galloping Horse or Mar Hor with savory pork on plum brûlée

I was happy to have the hors d’oeuvre done just in time. The abundance of plums provided a good substitute for pineapple in the Thai hors d’oeuvre called Mar Hor or Galloping Horse, a savory pork mixture atop plum brûlée. I was pleased when I ate one to hear the excitement of taste from far away – like someone galloping a horse.

The Dog Mountain Farm raises French Grimaud Pekin and Muscovy ducks, Embden geese, French guinea fowl, and heritage turkeys.

While the guests toured the farm, I continued cooking—there were four more courses coming.

My Thai Farm dinner included wine pairings from the Wilridge Winery. The wines were served by the winery’s owner and winemaker, Paul Beveridge. Paul selected the wines exclusively for the menu above. They were Viognier Rosebud Vineyard ($11.89), Estate Nebbiolo Wilridge Vineyard ($210), Estate Sangiovese Wilridge Vineyard ($21), and Estate Mélange Noir Wilridge Vineyard ($21). The amazing wines, along with the details and personal stories that Paul shared, enriched the dinner experience.

Kabocha Pumpkin Soup with corn, kale, summer squash and lemon basil

The dinner was served around 4:30pm and I was able to pause at that point for just a minute to take in the sun rays that filled the farm kitchen. Then I ladled the Gaeng Leang – Thai country-style soup – into individual bowls. (Please click here for Gaeng Leang Recipe). Gaeng Leang is often served at Thai dinners to display local abundance. This one had a generous amount of lemon basil from the farm green house and was as authentic as my grandmother’s cooking 40 years ago!

Asian pear is crunchy, juicy, sweet and fragrant.

The third course was an Asian pear salad with mixed herbs and salad greens and a sweet chili vinaigrette. I didn’t have a chance to take a picture of the salad or write down the recipe, so I will have to recreate the recipe one day to share with you. This dish was totally impromptu. I adjusted my chili lime vinaigrette recipe by adding a few more ingredients to compliment the farm’s Asian pears and to echo the flavors of the overall dinner menu.

Braised Duck Curry

The fourth course was a traditional Thai duck curry, Gaeng Phed Ped Yang, made with Dog Mountain Farm’s French Grimaud Pekin. For more information and a recipe for curry dishes please check my future posts.

Thai Duck Egg Custard

Please click the picture above to see Pranee’s custard recipe

Coconut Duck Egg Custard Ice Cream

Please click photo above to see Pranee’s Coconut Duck Egg Custard recipe

Originally I had planned to make just one dessert: coconut duck egg custard ice cream with fried farm apples. But once I began cooking with the very fresh duck eggs, I could not help but make my mom’s Thai duck egg custard over black sticky rice, a traditional Thai dessert.

Once the five-course dinner was served I had a chance to relax, join in the conversation with the dinner guests, and take in the beauty of the double sunset—a beautiful sunset to the West and the reflected light on the Cascade Mountains to the East.

Where to find the Dog Mountain Farm Stand

For those of you who live in the Seattle area, Dog Mountain Farm has a stand at the Broadway Farmers Market on Sundays. Please check their website and then send them an e-mail to have them harvest fresh produce that you can pick up at the market on Sunday between 11am – 3pm.

Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen

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Are Winter Squash Leaves Edible?

I enjoyed the Seattle sun last Wednesday at the Columbia City Farmers Market along with the delicious food from the stalls. I purchased a few fresh vegetables from various farmers and, like always, a bunch of winter squash leaves from a Hmong farmer’s stall. This time the squash leaves prompted me to cook and share with you a recipe from my Thai kitchen: how to cook winter squash leaves –Yod Namtao – ยอดน้ำเต้า.

Winter squash leaves are edible. In fact, all parts of squash family plants are edible, from leaves to stems, flowers, fruit, skin and seeds. The young leaves and stems are shown in the photos above and below. These edible greens become available when a farmer cuts back the leaves on a plant in order to encourage it to produce fewer but larger fruits. Winter squash leaves are popular in rustic-style cooking in Southeast Asia and they are great sources of fiber and other nutritional benefits.

Winter Squash Leaves and Blossoms - my visit to Hoi An Market 2009

Though they may feel a little rough to the touch, the young leaves from winter squash have amazing flavors when cooked. They have a  spinach-like texture, but are richer and denser with a bite to it in flavor. Like any leafy green vegetable, you can stir-fry, steam or stew them. In my kitchen, I either blanch them in salted coconut milk or saute them with butter, then add water and chicken stock and cook them down until the leaves are softened but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Last year I made a winter melon leaves stew with dried fish and shallots using a Hmong farmer’s verbal recipe. It was similar to my Watermelon Rind Soup and made a delicious vegetable stew.           

Winter squash leaves are only available in the summer and only at the Hmong farmers’ stalls. Because of this limitation, I never fail to purchase a bunch of winter squash leaves each visit to the market. Supporting the Hmong farmers also helps me to ensure that there will be a continuing supply due to the demand. When you get a chance, please pick up some winter squash leaves at a Seattle Farmer Markets near you and give them a try.

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Winter Squash Leaves Boiled in Salted Coconut Milk

Yod Namtao Luak Kati

ยอดน้ำเต้าลวกกะทิ

Winter Squash Leaves in Salted Coconut Milk

One bunch of winter squash leaves weighs about a pound. After removing all of the twine holding them together and the hard stems, the soft edible part weighs about six ounces; the rest goes into a compost. If I have time, I use a peeler to remove the rough skin on the stems then cook the stems down until they are soft, about 8 minutes.

There are many ways to prepare winter squash leaves, but blanching or boiling them in salted coconut milk produces my favorite quick and easy side dish. This same method can also be used with many other leafy green vegetables, which can then be served with Thai Chili Dip. You will be surprised how the flavor of winter squash leaves and leafy green vegetables are complimented by just a little coconut milk and salt.

 
Serves: 4
Cooking Time: 5 minutes
 
6 ounces winter squash leaves (see preparation above)
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon plus 2 pinches salt

Bring coconut milk, water and salt to a boil on medium-high heat. Then add the squash leaves, using tongs to turn them around to make sure they are all cooked in the liquid—like blanching the leaves in a coconut broth. Cook from 3 to 5 minutes until the greens reach your desired degree of tenderness. Serve with the broth as a side dish, or with warm jasmine rice as a main dish.

© 2011 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen  
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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Drink Me

It has been exactly a week since I returned from Thailand and I am still trying to catch up with our Seattle summer. My friends have all assured me that I didn’t miss much during the past month as we are still having the same cold weather we had in June. This July, Seattle hit the record lowest temperature for summer, so all I really need to catch up on is eating the plentiful seasonal fruits and vegetables from the local farmers markets and nearby towns.  

Hami Melon

During my first grocery shopping back here in Seattle, my cart was full with all sorts of berries. And then my eye caught on a good-looking melon that I haven’t tried: Hami melon. It is grown in California and available from mid-May to July and from September to December. I let it ripen at home for a few days and its sweet aroma was inviting me to taste it. The sweet scent reminds me of the Thai long muskmelon that I used to grow a long time ago in my organic garden in Phuket—it grew abundantly despite my lack of knowledge and farming experience.

Hami Melon

Hami melon is a type of muskmelon, a Chinese melon variety. A good one can taste sweeter and have a higher sugar content than most other varieties of melon. I decided to make a smoothie with coconut milk to duplicate Taeng Thai Kati, a famous Thai muskmelon dessert made with coconut milk, but we will drink ours instead of eating it. I kept the flavor profile and the amounts of ingredients the same as in Taeng Thai Kati, but added a generous amount of crushed ice and simple syrup to turn it into a nice cold smoothie. I used only one-third cup coconut milk in my recipe, a perfect amount to make a smoothie, a healthy summer drink. But if you are looking for a nice milkshake-like drink and dessert combo, add a scoop or two of coconut ice cream; it would taste heavenly. When a sweet flavor is needed, honey or palm sugar simple syrup are good choices to add a dimension of sweetness and aroma.

Coconut Melon Smoothie

Stock up on a few cans of coconut milk, then anytime the sweet floral scents of melon invite you, all you have to do is prepare this recipe. Hami melon is hard to resist, especially when it is combined with alluring fresh coconut milk. Drink me.

Coconut Melon Smoothie

Nam Kati Taeng Thai Smoothie

น้ำกะทิแตงไทยสมูทตี้

Serves: 2 to 4

Yield: 3 cups

16 ounces (see note) diced Hami melon, seeded, peeled and diced, or substitute honey-dew melon
⅓ cup coconut milk or coconut ice cream, more as desired
1½ cups crushed ice
2 tablespoons palm sugar simple syrup, optional (see note)
pinch of salt

Place melon, coconut milk, ice, sugar and salt in the blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a tall glass and serve right away with a straw.

Pranee’s Note

A 4-pound Hami melon (medium size), seeded, peeled and diced will yield about 2 pounds of diced melon.
 
To make palm sugar simple syrup, place a disc of palm sugar (about 4 tablespoons) and about ¼ cup water in a saucepan.
Bring to a boil and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Cool and chill. Keeps in the refrigerator for up to a week.   Yield: ¼ cup.
 
© 2011 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen  
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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Chasing the Monkey Tails

Early Morning around Surathani Province

Coconut Trees along the Roads, Southern Thailand Scenery

Kadaejae Monkey School, Surathani

I have been home again on Phuket Island for a few days now but still haven’t gotten used to the weather yet. Not that I want to complain about 94°F weather that feels like 104° F because of the humidity. I always love my visits with family and the foods here are truly exquisite.

While allowing myself to acclimate to the weather by drinking cool coconut water, I pulled out a lot of my notes, pictures and videos from my previous trip to Surathani. I was searching for information about a monkey school in Southern Thailand where monkeys learn how to pick coconuts from the coconut trees. My video took place at the monkey school.

Before leaving Seattle, I had been enjoying cooking with all forms of coconut: spicy-lime coconut chips, green or red curry with coconut milk, cucumber salad with coconut water vinegar and stir-fried fresh grated coconut with Phuket curry paste. Perhaps today is an appropriate time to learn about coconuts. What is a coconut anyway?

Before I answer this question, I want to first share some of the highlights of my trip to Surathani, a province in Southern Thailand that is famous as the land of a million coconut trees. I was lucky to have my brother as my tour guide taking me to all the famous Thai food restaurants and important sites along the way. He is a professional tour guide  and an expert on the Southern region. Most importantly we had a good time visiting the monkey school. Everyone was so warm and agreed to give me information and be part of the video taping, which you will see below. Thank you for P’ Paew, the owner of Kadaejae Monkey School and brother Sumit for the insight and patience. I had so much fun “Sanuk.”

When you start Thai cooking at home, you will encounter a lot of terms and types of coconut, so I think it is a good idea to start at the beginning with what is a coconut? In short, it is a seed, a fruit and a nut (in the botanical sense) What part of the coconut is used in cooking? In my Thai kitchen I cook with palm sugar which is made from the sap of the coconut flower. I use the heart of a coconut palm, which is nice and crunchy, in Sour Curry with Fish, and the heart of coconut palm (Gaeng Som Pla khab Yod Maprow). I also use coconut water vinegar, coconut milk, coconut cream, young coconut with coconut water and grated fresh and dry coconut—to name a few.

So here is a quick lesson on a coconut: coconut cream, coconut milk and coconut water.

When you remove the coconut husk (mesocarp) from a whole coconut, you can see the coconut shell (endocarp). After cracking the coconut shell, you get to the natural water inside the nut and this is called coconut water. The white meaty part inside the shell is the coconut meat (endosperm). Grating a chunk of white of coconut meat with a coconut grater gives you fresh wet grated coconut. To extract coconut milk, add a cup of water to 2 cups fresh grated coconut, then squeeze out the white milky liquid; this is concentrated coconut milk. (Thai call this the “head” of coconut milk). Add 1/2 cup water to the used grated coconut to extract  a thin coconut milk (Thai call this the “tail” of coconut milk). Let the coconut milk sit, and a fat creamy layer will form on the top; this is the coconut cream.

Back to the coconut water. Coconut water occurs naturally and has nothing to do with the process of making coconut milk. Nature provides the coconut meat and water as nutrients for shoots to grow near the three germination pores, or “eyes,” on the coconut. This coconut water inside the coconut shell is very good for the coconut plant, but it is also very good for you. It is full of vitamins and minerals. It is especially high in potassium and electrolytes, and has a neutral ph level. I strongly recommend that tourists traveling to paradise island drink this natural drink to help with rehydration, and it has the added benefit of being a sterile juice inside the shell.

I have  over 20 recipes on this blog that use coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut water vinegar and palm (coconut) sugar.

I hope this is a good start and I hope that my next trip to Thailand I will bring more inspired recipes to share with you.

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Playing with Food: Cassava

Cassava-Sweet Potato Pancake, a delicious Thai Dessert

I noticed recently that I have told my students to play with food in almost every class. I hope they have. After learning all the essential tips and techniques, the way to become a good cook is by experiencing the ingredients and having fun.

On the weekends, I clean up the fridge and cook creatively.  This weekend I had fresh cassava and sweet potato leftover from my class. While I was holding them in my hand, I heard an echo of Rösti. Rösti is a fried, grated potato dish made in Switzerland. I made a quick decision and at almost the same time my hand reached to turn on the oven to 450°F. I will heat up my well-seasoned 8-inch cast iron pan and make this quick & easy Thai dessert, Rösti style.

Cooking with cassavas is not hard at all. After grating the cassava, Thai simply add enough sugar to sweeten to taste, and some salt to bridge the flavor; a bit of coconut milk can also be added to heighten the flavor. Then the mixture is steamed and grilled until it is cooked and translucent. But something new today that I haven’t tried before is adding grated sweet potato. Why not? It was perfect. I used about 2 parts cassava to 1 part sweet potato. The glutinous property of cassava helps the sweet potato hold up nicely, and the sweet potato gives a nice orange color and sweet compliment to the dish.

Learn something new while playing with food and discover a new excitement and a sweet reward to the lesson. Cassava-Sweet Potato Pancake makes a perfect snack or dessert with light herbal tea.

Cassava - Sweet Potato Pancake

Cassava – Sweet Potato Pancake

Khanom Man Sumpalang Oop

มันสำปะหลังมันเทศแพนเค้ก

Servings: 6-8

2 cups grated cassava, fresh or frozen (if fresh , use a 10-inch-long cassava and remove the skin before grating)
1 cup grated sweet potato, about 1 small or medium
1/2 cup palm sugar or brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons coconut milk
2 tablespoon rice flour, optional
1 tablespoon cooking oil
 
Preheat the oven to 450 F.
 
Combine grated cassava, sweet potato, sugar, salt, coconut milk and rice flour in a large bowl; stir until well mixed.
 
Heat 8-inch cast iron pan on medium heat and cover the entire surface with cooking oil. Pour cassava-sweet potato pancake mixture into the pan and spread out evenly. Place uncovered in the center of the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the bottom is crusty brown. Then turn the oven to broil and place the pan right underneath. The top of the pancake should be 6 inches below the heat source. Remove when the top is brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Keep an eye on it! A nice crusty brown is the most delicious part of the cake. Let the pancake rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm or cold.
Cassava (yuca) roots, the Taínos' main crop

Image via Wikipedia

Pranee’s Thai Kitchen note:

Cassava is a root from the Cassava or Tapioca Plant (Manihot esculenta Crantz). It is a bushy plant that grows to about 3 meters tall. It is an annual plant with underground food-storing root-tubers. The tuber is large and long with a dark brown skin and pink underneath to protect and keep the white flesh moist. In Thailand, cassava is usually boiled or roasted and serve with sugar. It also is made into various sweets combined with grated coconut and/or coconut milk and sugar. Raw cassava is poisonous, but when cooked it became a delicious dessert.  Pearl tapioca and tapioca starch and flour are all products of cassava roots.

© 2011 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen

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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Rubber tree plantation in Phuket, Thailand

Image via Wikipedia

My Love for Mushrooms

My love for mushrooms was born when I was in my teen years in my Thai village. The village is surrounded by mountains on one side and rice fields on the other. It was a perfect place for wild foods. I learned to gather wild vegetables such as bamboo shoots and green and ginger family rhizomes, and of course I picked some wild orchids for myself on the way home. There were also many rubber plantations. The dried falling branches from the rubber trees were a source of firewood and rubber tree mushrooms called Hed Kreng. They are a typical mushroom that grows only on the old rubber trees which cover most of the southern peninsula of Thailand.

In Seattle, I enjoy various mushrooms and we are in luck, there are plenty of fresh mushrooms from local mushroom growers.

If you are hesitant to cook this recipe for any reason, I want to reassure you that this dish is packed full with flavors and received a five star rating from an admirer on yelp.com.

Grilled Spicy Phuket Mushroom - Rubber Tree Mushroom

 

 

Grilled Brown Button Mushrooms with Thai Basil Leaf in Banana Leaf

HED MOK PHUKET

Servings: 4 (one parcel per person)

We used to gather Hed Kreng mushrooms from old rubber tree trunks and bring them home for my mom to make my childhood favorite, Hed Mok (Grilled Mushrooms). I recreated this recipe by using brown button mushrooms that have a flavor similar to Hed Kreng. While creating this recipe, I recalled my vivid memories of how my mom prepared them, and the taste and aroma that I used to savor. The intense flavors of basil, chili, and earthy mushrooms come alive. An important part of this recipe is to grill or bake the mushrooms over high heat to intensify the flavor. Also, use coconut cream rather than coconut milk so the mixture won’t get too wet.

1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon red curry paste
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup coconut cream
¼ cup shallots, sliced
1 pound brown button mushrooms, brushed and sliced
1 cup Thai purple basil leaf
4 Thai chilies, halved
4 parchment papers (12”X16”) or banana leaves

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a large bowl, mix fish sauce, red curry paste, salt and coconut cream together until blended. Stir in shallots, mushrooms, and basil until mixed.

Divide mixture into four batches, and place each batch in the center of a piece of parchment paper. Fold the parchment paper over to make a bag; try to make it as flat as you can so the heat will distribute equally. Lay the bags of mushrooms on the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Serve with warm steamed rice.

Pranee’s note: Oyster, button, or Portobello mushrooms would all be great for this recipe, or you can use a combination of them. Wrapping the mushroom mixture in banana leaves and then grilling them creates another depth of taste and aroma.

© 2011 Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen
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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