Thai me up! Thai me down!

I had the good fortune of being invited to a pumpkin potluck party.  I found out about it via the almost foodies group on google groups.  Plus, I know the hostess from my days (nights, rather) at the Lally School at RPI.  Cati and I knew we didn’t want to bring a dessert or a bisque because we thought they would likely be the most common dishes.  I found a recipe for Thai Pumpkin Curry here.  I’ve never cooked Thai food, but I sure have eaten more than my fair share.  I’ve had some great Thai food (practically everyday while in grad-school), and some not-so-good.  I read in the recipe that although canned coconut milk is acceptable, there is nothing like fresh coconut milk. 

The gear.  Notice the wrong coconut on the left and the back-up can of coconut milk just in case.  Also, I wound up not using the ginger. 

I, never one to back down from a culinary challenge or learning experince (FYI: it’s called a “learning experience” when it doesn’t turn out so good), bought a coconut to make the milk myself.  Just to clarify, coconut milk is not the liquid inside of a coconut.  That’d be coconut water or coconut juice (more here).  Coconut milk is made from extracting/squeezing the “milk” from the coconut meat.  I bought the coconut from Hannaford, used a drill to put a drain hole and vent hole into it to pour out the juice.  I also used a hammer to crack it in half along the score-line.  I guess they put the score on it in the Dominican Republic, where the coconut came from, before it was exported. 

I drained it, split the shell, and extracted the meat, in chunks, from the shell halves.  I then had to peel the thin dark-brown skin off the coconut chunks with a small knife (a vegetable peeler would work fine too), put them in a blender, cover with water, and blend on “HI.”  With very clean hands, I scooped out the gritty pulp from the puree and squeezed it dry a handful at a time.  Then for the last little bit, I poured the milk through a fine mesh strainer.  The coconut yielded ~2 cups coconut milk, and I threw away the gritty white grounds. 

Draining the juice.

Cracked up.

Halfway to the bikini-top for Cati…

Better living through technology.  I had no intention of grating by hand as advised in the recipe.

The puree.

I squeezed the milk out of handfuls of the pulp, and set them aside to be thrown out.

I improvised and used the metal strainer that came with our coffee maker.  We use paper filters for our coffee so there was no risk of coffee contamination.

From there, I just followed the recipe.  I bought many of the ingredients from the Asian market on Colvin Ave.  They had the lemongrass, shrimp paste, and fish sauce.  They also sold young coconuts; these are used for drinking the coconut water, but cannot be used to make coconut milk.  I had no idea what I was doing, so I bought a young coconut and a can of coconut milk as insurance.  I found out after opening and looking inside the young coconut that only mature coconuts can be used for making coconut milk (there’s one of those “learning experiences”). 

The heart of the recipe was the pumpkin.

Boiling the pumpkin to soften it up a bit.  I boiled the pumpkin chunks for about 5 min and then set aside for later.

I seared the porkrib before slicing it into 1/8″ slices.  I didn’t want to run the risk of under-cooking.

I used a little food processor to thoroughly chop the lemongrass and mix it into the shrimp paste, garlic, and pepper flake.

I brought the coconut milk to a boil, added the curry paste I had just made in the food processor, and then the pumpkin and seared porkrib slices.

The finished product!

At any rate, we were running late for the potluck, and I was cooking frantically.  Cati was rushing me (which isn’t like her)and I was feeling a bit stressed-out.  The doorbell rang and since I was busy, I asked her to answer it.  She was acting all weird about answering the door, and I was getting annoyed, so I said, “Fine, I’ll answer the door too!”  I opened the door to find a mob of my closest friends yelling “SURPRISE!” and throwing confetti. 

SURPRISE!!! 

I never saw it coming.  I now understand why our friend Gabe was white-knuckle clutching the beer-growler he was sent to refill when we ambushed him for his 30th at The Olde Saratoga Brewing Co.*  They all yelled “surprise,” and I was trying to figure out how I was going to get to the potluck on time AND hang out with them here at the house.  Cati explained that she had contacted the organizers of the potluck and told them we weren’t coming.  Cati is a lousy liar (or at least she used to be).  She kept the party small to keep her scheming and sneaking-around to a minimum while still surprising the bajeezus out of me. 

We all had a great time and everyone who had a helping of my super-hot Thai food probably made a little wish for thorough digestion (ha).  I may have added a bit too much pepper flake to the dish.  It was quite spicy, but considering all the overly-mild offerings of most Thai restaurants in the area, I was glad for it. 

All the food that night was incredible.  Esti made this smoked cheese and squash lasagna that defies description (or at least my ability to describe it; maybe Thoreau could describe it).  She also brought some delicious baked eggplant.  Jen’s squash soup was rich, a little sweet, and even a bit spicy at the end of each spoonful.  Sarah made her habit-forming artichoke dip.  It’s the kind of dip you have to tell yourself to stop eating and walk away from (otherwise you’ll finish it).  Anne made her soon-to-be-world-famous chocolate cake too.  I’ve mentioned it here before.  Lori made a cole slaw that lived up to her mad-salad-making-skillz reputation.  All the food was great.  Someone who shall remain nameless (hint: his name rhymes with “cryin’ car.”) put a pizza box in the oven and forgot it.  Smoke began billowing out of the oven soon after, and thanks to Sarah’s keen eye, and Eric’s quick thinking, disaster was averted and the pizza was saved ;).   

The spread- PI

The spread. PII

Also, the girls got lucky and won at Trivial Pursuit, but whatever, no one cares about that anyway.  It means nothing.

The luckiest women alive  :p 

*Our friend Gabe’s reality was turned upside-down when we surprised him for his 30th (in a good way).  His growler handle was his only grasp on the reality he knew before we all jumped out.  Jen actually had to pry it from him as if to say, “Everything is fine.  Your plans have just changed.  Time to have fun.”  Getting surprised like that, when you are focused and rushing to accomplish something else, takes a little while to process. 

7 Responses to “Thai me up! Thai me down!”

  1. Albany Jane says:

    Awesome! I think my eyes welled up just looking at that curry. And how wonderful is Cati?

  2. Damn! You really have a great (and great looking) group of friends! :)

    It was fun to be on the other end of the surprise this time… I think I still have a growler indentation on my hand from my party.

  3. renee says:

    we missed you that night, but looks like you had an awesome time with your other crew!

    i must say that the desserts were not common at the foodies potluck that night. one gal made a tasty vegan cheesecake and i brought a dairy filled pumpkin cake with a ginger drizzle. yumville usa.

    i am now inspired to buy some coconuts and get my milk on!

  4. celinabean says:

    Wow, sounds like a great time.

  5. Lydia says:

    Wish I had been there for your surprise party. Would have brought your favorite meal. Turkey meatloaf patties smothered in mushroon gravy with a touch of pumpkin relish.

  6. alex|dimitri says:

    Lydia,
    That’s why you weren’t invited. Blechh! :p

  7. norris hall says:

    Hi. I notice you are interested in Thai cooking.
    Try this website.
    http://www.thaifoodtonight.com
    It’s got about 30 recipes each one with a cooking video to go along
    It’s like an online Thai cooking school