A Spoon Also Works

Last week I made a terrible curry. Well, maybe terrible is too strong a word, but not by much. Lately I’ve been testing out different slow cooker cookbooks that have made their way to my mailbox. With the full time job and two little girls, I’m trying to find just the right recipes for our weeknights, with the hope, of course, to share the really good ones with you.

Bea in a Bjorn

The big issue with this curry was the carrots. The recipe called for thin slices of the vegetable to be cooked for five or six hours on low, but they were still crunchy when it was time to have dinner. Rich had less of an issue with the recipe than I did and dutifully ate all the leftovers for the following week. Lilli, who I have taken to calling “Picky Picky”, ate the rice.

Still, the curry wasn’t a complete disaster because it meant I had a leftover cup of coconut milk in the fridge. I had bookmarked a recipe a year ago that called for a scant cup of coconut milk, which had I promptly forgot about until last week. So the recipe I have for you today is for coconut curd; yes, like lemon curd, but with coconut instead. And yes, it’s just as amazing as it sounds. I think when I licked the spoon while I was working on it I actually said out loud in my empty kitchen, “Oh dear God, this might be one of the best tasting things I’ve ever made.”

It’s from Artisan Preserving, a really beautiful cookbook I was sent last year. It’s full of really incredible sounding preserves and jams and curds, like black pepper and cumin jelly, gingered plum chutney, and, irony of ironies, Thai curry paste. Apparently coconut curd, also known as Kaya, or Coconut Egg Jam, is a popular preserve in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. The authentic version calls for screwpine, or pandan, leaves which apparently have a pine and citrus taste. I am including it here, just in case you happen to have a screwpine tree growing in your backyard. If you do have a screwpine tree growing in your backyard, can I come over in say, mid-February? Coconut curd is served on toast, although I think a spoon also works.

robot

The recipe calls for a balloon whisk, but I just fudged it with the whisk I had in my kitchen. I’ve always fudged on sterilizing, but Ms. Macdonald made it sound so simple that I went and did it, and it was! She offers several ways to sterilize a jar, and I am only including the version I chose as it was the easiest. My sister Amanda gave me these bright green rubbery heat resistant oven gloves for my birthday, which were absolutely perfect for handling the hot metal lids and glass jars.

As for other ingredients, I still had palm sugar in the house from when I made this secret eggplant salad. I found the bag in the food section of Home Goods, a wonderful aisle full of goodies like fresh vanilla beans and pink peppercorns. Please don’t let not having palm sugar stop you from making this; I think brown sugar will make a fine substitute.

Coconut Curd from Artisan Preserving by Emma Macdonald

Ingredients

Scant 1 cup coconut milk

¼ cup palm sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

4 fresh screwpine (pandine) leaves (optional)

4 large eggs

Makes about 10 ounces (1 cup). Preparation time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 25 minutes

Sterilize enough small jars in the oven so that they are ready to use (directions to follow)

Put the coconut milk, palm and granulated sugars, and screwpine leaves, if using, in the top of a double boil set over gently simmering water. Stir the mixture until the sugar has dissolved.

Break the eggs into a bowl and, using a balloon whisk, beat together well. Whisk the eggs into the coconut mixture.

Heat gently and cook about 20 minutes, whisking frequently, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Do not let the mixture boil or it will curdle. If the curd does start to split, remove from the heat and whisk vigorously until smooth.

Remove the screwpine leaves, if you have used them.

Pour the curd into the warmed, sterilized jars. Cover immediately with sterilized lids. Let cool completely before storing in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks. Once opened, eat within 3 days.

Sterilizing Bottles & Jars

The importance of sterilizing cannot be emphasized enough; it is essential so that your preserves do not deteriorate during storage. Always sterilize an extra bottle or jar in case it is needed. Remove any labels if you are reusing bottles or jars, and wash all in very hot, soapy water.

Do not dry the washed bottles or jars but put them upright on a baking sheet, about 2 inches apart, and put in the oven. Turn on the heat to 350F and once the oven has reached this temperature, leave the bottles or jars in the oven 20 minutes to ensure they are completely sterilized. Most preserves will be hot when they’re canned so it makes sense to keep the bottles or jars in the oven until needed; reduce the temperature slightly. Wear protective oven mitts when handling the hot bottles and jars.

Sterilizing lids: Put the lids in a pot of water, bring to a boil and boil 10 minutes. Make sure they are dry before using to avoid condensation forming. An alternative method is to fill the hot sterilized bottles or jars with the hot preserve, screw on the lids and then turn the bottles or jars upside down 1 minute. Wear protective oven mitts or cover the bottle or jar with a kitchen towel when you do this to avoid burning yourself. This effectively sterilizes the insides of the lids.

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I Didn’t Share

Of all the things I gained during my pregnancy – I mean besides 65 lbs. – the strangest of all was an appreciation for Thai food. Most people like Thai food, at least in my circles, but I have never cared for it. I tried to like it, really I did, but the flavors never meshed for me. Something about the sweet and salty, and the spice – especially the spice – didn’t work for me. Love Vietnamese food, but Thai food, not so much. But then I became pregnant, and it was as if a switch was flipped.

Chopsticks

My enjoyment of Thai food became so strong that this year I used a birthday Barnes and Noble gift card to buy Pok Pok by Andy Ricker. Ricker spent years in Thailand learning the cuisine and now has a burgeoning Thai restaurant empire in Portland, Oregon, and New York. He won the James Beard Award Best Chef in the Northwest in 2011. This guy knows his Thai.

So when a handful of kind-of-sad-looking Japanese eggplant came in the CSA a few weeks back, I grabbed Ricker’s cookbook and set out to make grilled eggplant salad. Although the recipe strongly suggested a charcoal grill, I used my oven’s broiler to blacken them. As I assembled the salad, I remembered that my friend Caitlyn, also living in Portland, also a Thai-o-phile, taught me all about this salad when she visited last summer. She even went so far as to find a video of some famous Thai chef making this recipe. “Just skip the step with the shrimp,” she said to me. So I did. And so can you.

A few things about this recipe: Apparently there are dozens of types of eggplants out there, and Caitlyn taught me that small green eggplants are traditionally used in this recipe. That wasn’t an option in my CSA, but the recipe turned out fine. I skipped the fried garlic, only because it called for using thirty cloves and, well, I didn’t have that many in my kitchen. I used the option of red onions rather than shallots because that, along with the chiles and cilantro, came in the CSA. I’m still a wimp about a ton of spice, so even though the recipe calls for 2 chiles, I think I used half of one. I had palm sugar in the house because I found a bag of it in the Gourmet Foods section at TJ Maxx, or maybe it was Home Goods. (One of those two; definitely check out that section if you have the chance. That’s where I’ve found whole vanilla beans for a buck or two.) If you don’t have palm sugar in the house, I think brown sugar will be a decent substitute. I broiled the eggplant one day but only had a chance to make the rest of the salad the following day. I simply heated the pieces of eggplant in a skillet on the stovetop.

I loved this salad. Not sure how many it is supposed to serve, but it served me, and me alone. Rich didn’t even know this salad existed until he edited this post.

Yam Makheua Yao (Grilled Eggplant Salad) from Pok Pok by Andy Ricker

Ingredients

12 ounces long Asian eggplants (2 or 3), preferably green

1 egg, at room temperature

1 ½ Tablespoons lime juice

1 ½ Tablespoons Naam Cheuam Naam Taan Piip (Palm sugar simple syrup – recipe to follow)

1 Tablespoon Thai fish sauce

2 grams fresh Thai chiles, preferably green, thinly sliced (or to taste)

14 grams peeled small shallots, preferably Asian, or very small red onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced with the grain (about 2 Tablespoons)

2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro (thin stems and leaves), lightly packed

Directions

Clean, peel and cut the eggplants

Cook the eggplants either on the grill (highly recommended) or in the oven.

  • On the grill: Prepare a charcoal grill and ignite the coals. Once the coals have begun to turn gray but are still flaming, grill the eggplants directly on the coals, turning frequently, until the skin has almost completely blackened and the flesh is very soft (it should meet with almost no resistance when you poke it with a sharp knife), about 4 minutes. The goal is to fully char the skin before the flesh gets mushy.
  • In the Oven: Preheat the boiler to high and position a rack as close as you can to the heat source. Put the eggplants on a baking tray lined with aluminum foil (or, even better, on a wire rack on the baking tray) and broil, turning them over once, until the skin has blistered and mostly blackened and the flesh is very soft (it should meet with almost no resistance when you poke it with a sharp knife) but not mushy, about 6 to 12 minutes total, depending on the size of the eggplants and the distance from the heat source.

Let the eggplants cool for 10 minutes or so. This will make them easier to peel and allow the flesh to firm up slightly. Use your fingers to peel off the skin (don’t go crazy removing every last bit), trying your best to keep the flesh intact. Do not run the eggplant under water. Cut the eggplant crosswise (on the diagonal, if you’re feeling fancy) into 2-inch slices and arrange them on a serving plate.

Cook the Egg: Prepare a bowl of ice water. Bring a small pot of water to a full boil, gently add the whole egg, and cook for 10 minutes. Your goal is a fully cooked egg whose yolk hasn’t become dry and powdery. Transfer the egg to the ice water and once the egg is cool to the touch, peel and coarsely chop the white and yolk into small pieces.

Assemble the Salad: Combine the lime juice, simple syrup, fish sauce, and chiles in a small saucepan or wok, set it over medium heat, and heat the mixture just until it’s warm to the touch, 15 seconds or so. Pour the warm mixture over the eggplant. Sprinkle on the egg, shallot, and finally, cilantro.

Naam Cheuam Naam Taan Piip – Palm Sugar Simple Syrup

Ingredients

2 ½ ounces palm sugar, coarsely chopped

¼ cup plus 1 Tablespoon water

Directions

Combine the sugar and the water in a very small pot or pan. Set it over medium heat and cook, stirring and breaking up the sugar as it softens, just until the sugar has completely dissolved. If the water begins to bubble before the sugar has completely dissolved, turn off the heat and let it finish dissolving in the hot liquid.

Let it cool before storing. The syrup keeps in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.