Thursday, April 22, 2010

tom yum pak

Tom yum pak. It sounds like a greeting: Come, have soup with me.

It’s not a direct translation from the Thai, but tom yum pak means something like this: fragrant hot and sour vegetable soup.

You might have met its cousins, tom yum goong (prawn soup) and tom yum gai (chicken soup), which seem to be more popular in Thai restaurants.

Indeed, I haven’t been able to find tom yum pak in Victoria, so I conjured this up. It’s based on my memory of tom yum pak from the delicious Siam Bistro in Ottawa.

This is not a creamy, coconut milk Thai soup. It’s clear and full of lemongrass and sour lime and hot pepper. The vegetables are fresh and cooked until they are just crisp.

We made a Saturday night dinner of it with chicken satay and peanut sauce. I’ll post those recipes one day when I remember to take a picture of them.

In the meantime, tom yum pak.

tom yum pak

makes 5 to 6 bowls

6 c. chicken stock
2 tbsp. butter
6 kaffir lime leaves
3 garlic cloves, sliced
2 – 3 tbsp. ginger, sliced
1 small onion, chopped
4 stalks lemongrass, peeled and chopped
1 – 2 red chili peppers, roughly chopped
2 tsp. sugar
1 large tomato, chopped
1/3 head of cauliflower, broken into small, bite-sized trees
2 large carrots, chopped on a diagonal angle (to look pretty)
1/3 c. lime juice (about 1.5 limes)
1/2 tsp. lime rind, grated
1/2 c. cilantro, chopped
4 green onions or an equivalent amount of chives, finely sliced
1 – 2 tsp. Thai fish sauce
salt and pepper to taste

In a big pot, bring 2 cups water, chicken stock, butter, lime leaves, garlic, ginger, onion, lemongrass, chili pepper and sugar to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Place a big bowl under a fine colander. Strain the soup, keeping the liquid. Fish out the lime leaves, and put them back in the liquid.

Pour the strained liquid back into the pot, and return to heat.

Add the tomato, cauliflower, carrots and lime juice. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook until the cauliflower and carrot are tender-crisp – about 10 minutes. Take out the lime leaves.

Stir in the lime rind, cilantro and green onions.

Add fish sauce, salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

chocolate cheesecake

I am a picky cheesecake eater.

I prefer baked German cheesecake made with a fresh cheese called quark. I have never liked a New York style cheesecake, with a graham cracker crust and strawberry sauce on top. (Possibly because I don’t believe in graham cracker crusts and am allergic to strawberries.)

But it’s not just the crust and strawberry sauce that are the problem with a New York style cheesecake. It’s the way the white innards are too whipped and bland – a good cheesecake shouldn’t need a sickly sweet sauce on top. It should stand up on its own.

My mother’s chocolate cheesecake does.

It has a simple almond crust. (And by simple, I mean: just almonds.) She drizzles a bit of chocolate on top for looks, but it doesn’t need that extra chocolate. This last time she also sprinkled more almonds on top, just because she had extra.

It has a lovely chocolate-y tang. It’s firm but not dense. And the almonds – which soften slightly below the cake – provide the perfect foil of nutty crunch.

It’s rich, so you can feed a lot of people with this cake or even – sacrilege! – freeze extra pieces for later. My mother loves freezing things. This cake actually works after she freezes it, unlike other experiments I have tasted that do not thaw as well.

chocolate cheesecake

makes 10 to 12 slices

1/3 c. almonds, chopped and toasted
1. lbs (500 g.) cream cheese (not low-fat)
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, melted
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. cold water
1 envelope (1/2 oz. or 7 g.) unflavoured gelatin
1 c. whipping cream, whipped
1/4 c. strong coffee

Grease an 8 or 9 inch (20 to 23 cm) springform pan and cover the bottom with parchment paper.

Sprinkle the nuts evenly over the covered bottom. (This will be the crust, so to speak.)

Beat the cream cheese at the lowest speed until it’s smooth. Blend in the melted chocolate and sugar and mix well.

Take out a small saucepan, but do not heat it up. Pour the cold water in. Sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let it stand 5 minutes to soften.

Once the 5 minutes have passed, stir over low heat until the gelatin is dissolved.
Stir the warm gelatin mixture into the cheese mixture.

Fold the whipped cream in. Fold the strong coffee in. Pour into prepared pan.

Chill at least 3 hours. Drizzle with melted chocolate and possibly extra almonds.

Leftover cake may be frozen. Separate the pieces with parchment paper or wax paper to freeze. A piece will thaw out in less than an hour at room temperature.

Monday, April 5, 2010

butterscotch pudding

When I was about 10, individual servings of pudding hit the big time. And by big time, I mean my lunch.

These puddings were the highlight of my lunch, which otherwise consisted of rye bread and some kind of meat or cheese from the German delicatessen. (Not exactly easy to trade.)

Even then, I was quite discriminating in my pudding tastes. No low-brow Jell-O or no-name brands for me. I insisted on Laura Secord chocolate or butterscotch puddings.

But one day, it hit me. I could make my own pudding.

I don’t know where I got this butterscotch pudding recipe from, but my handwriting tells me I was probably in Grade 5. (When it was still cool to make little circles over certain letters.)

I just came across this old recipe card and thought I should try it again. I mean, how could I resist a recipe where I wrote at the end, “Then eat your heart out on that butterscotch pudding”?

I made it and I did eat my heart out.

This pudding tastes homemade, without even a hint of processed butterscotch flavour. Brown sugar and butter make the butterscotch and that’s really all you need.

I did add some Frangelico because I love the little hazelnut monk. I bet you could add any nice liqueur you’d like, or just more vanilla.

Then eat your heart out on that butterscotch pudding.

butterscotch pudding

makes 2 bowls

2 c. + 1/4 c. milk
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 c. brown sugar
pinch of salt
2 tsp. Frangelico
2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat 2 cups of milk over medium-low heat.

While it’s heating, mix the cornstarch and 1/4 cup of milk in a separate bowl till it’s smooth.

Once the hot milk has just started boiling, whisk in the butter, brown sugar, salt and milk-cornstarch mixture. Keep whisking until it’s fully incorporated.

Stirring often, bring to a low boil for 10 minutes.

Remove from heat. Stir in the Frangelico and vanilla. (It will seem a bit thin at this point. Don’t worry – it will thicken in the fridge.)

Scrape into pretty bowls.

Refrigerate until it has thickened – about 3 hours.