Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Thai Steamed Banana Cake

Finished Product- Steamed Banana Cake
Cooking School In Chiang Mai- Part I

Hello everybody,
With my instructor, Pon.  He was very patient with me as I tapped away on my blackberry for notes and sipped coffee while I cooked.  Oh how I wish I could cook in a tropical outdoor kitchen everyday.
Last week I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I had a wonderful experience learning how to cook authentic Thai food at the Chiang Mai Cookery School.  In this three part blog series, I am going to show you the pictures of the food I cooked and the recipes and techniques I learned during the cooking demonstrations.

In the first of this three part blog series, I am going to show you how to make a delicious steamed banana cake, or Khanom Kluay in Thai.  This recipe is easy but the end result is an exotic, sophisticated and flavorful dessert that, I must say, is pretty hard to beat.  Serve it up at your next party or bring it to your summer potluck for the extra feel of the tropics.

10 small bananas (or 5 large bananas)- Mashed with a potato masher. 
1 cup rice flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup thick coconut milk
3 cups grated fresh coconut.  (This can be substituted with dried dessicated coconut if fresh coconut is not available.  When using dessicated coconut, rehydrate in water for 10 mins prior to using.)

Put the mashed bananas into a bowl along with the rice flour, tapioca flour, sugar, salt and coconut milk with 3/4 of the grated fresh coconut pulp.

Mix well until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined. 
In class, we mixed the ingredients together using our gloved hands. 
Put the mixture into the pre-made banana leaf boats or use a small baking mold if you cannot find banana leaves in the frozen section of your supermarket.  The banana leaf adds another layer of complexity to the flavor.

Sprinkle the rest of the coconut mixture on the top.

Steam for 30 minutes.  If you do not have a large enough steamer, you can bake the cakes in the oven at 360 F for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, check of done-ness and remove if the cake feels firm.  If not, continue steaming for another 5-10 minutes.  Serve warm!

*For a sweeter cake, use over-ripened bananas.  They contain more glucose sugar.

In the meantime, here are some beautiful images I took from my travels to Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Enjoy!
North of Chiang Mai. 
A watermill on a farm.

Sunset, on the grounds of the Mandarin Oriental, Dhara Dhevi.
Beautiful garden lanterns, or khom fai, line the perimeter of this outdoor garden.  On the grounds of the manificent Mandarin Oriental, Dhara Dhevi.
Chiang Mai Cookery School:

Small Cake Molds (Used in lieu of banana leaf boats)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Make pie crust- Even if you don't have a real food processor

Hello everybody,

Today I am going to share with you how to make a flaky pie crust, even if you don't have or don't want to invest $200+ dollars to get a food processor. 
I have never owned a full sized food processor. I chop ingredients quickly and uniformly using a kitchen knife, and I know how to make a delicious, flaky pie crust (100% success rate) without using one. 

In my opinion, food processors are expensive, heavy, hard to clean and take up too much room in a kitchen.  Without a food processor, we are left with two choices when it comes to pie crust dough:  1) Buy the ready made crusts from the store, which is filled with shortening and artificial flavorings.  The texture is also poor. Or 2) Resort to using traditional methods like using a pastry cutter (or the two-knives crisscross method) to cut the butter into the flour.  It is labor intensive, and you have to have a lot of experience in order to work quickly or the results are simply too variable and unreliable for a home cook. 

Cuisinart Elite Collection Food Processor- List Price is $299.
The Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus Processor- List Price $39.99
Are there other options?  Yes.  From the pictures above, you can see that a Cuisinart food processor can cost up to $299.  However, it's lesser known cousin, the Mini-Prep Plus Processor only costs $39.99.

And here is the secret-  you can make a flaky and delicious a pie crust with the MUCH cheaper, Mini-Prep Processor.  Here is how you tweak ANY pie crust or short crust pastry recipe when using the mini-prep processor:

Most pie crust recipes are written for two x 9 inch pie crusts, one crust lines the pie plate, the other one tops and seals the pie.   You process all the ingredients together in a large bowl of a normal food processor, and at the end of the recipe, the final step involves dividing the dough in half and shaping into two balls and flattening into two disks.  The two disks gets chilled before they get rolled out.  All you have to do to tweak any pie crust recipe is to divide the ingredients prior to processing and process it in two batches in a Mini prep processor.

Let me give you an example of the pie crust recipe I use most often and how I have modified it.  The original recipe is in written in black text and the modifications for processing with the mini prep processor are written in red.  Obsolete steps are struck out.


Pie Crust (Can be store bought or use the recipe below)

2 ½ cups all purpose flour (1 and 1/4 cup)
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces (1 stick or 1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon salt (1/2 teaspoon salt)
¼ cup ice water, plus more if needed. (1/2 of 1/4 cup or about 2 tablespoons of water)

(Put only the amount highlighted in red)
In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and salt, and pulse to combine.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs.  There will be some larger pieces remaining, and that is ok.  Pulse for about 10 seconds. 
With the machine running, add the ice water through the feed tube in a slow, (You can open up the mini prep bowl (after the blade has stopped moving!) and add water 1 tsp at a time, the dough is not all that finicky), pulse for 3 seconds, add another 1 tsp until all the water has been used up steady stream.  The dough should hold together without being wet or sticky.  Do not over-process, this process should take no longer than 30 seconds. 
The dough should be a perfect balance of not being too wet or crumbly.  You can adjust a wet dough by adding a little flour, and a crumbly dough by adding just a little water.
Turn out the dough onto a clean work surface. Press into a disk and refrigerate.  Divide in half, and place each half on a piece of plastic wrap. 

Repeat again with the rest of the ingredients for a second time.

There you have it.  A new way of making delicious pie crust, without having to fork out $200 dollars for a food processor.  Try it and remember, pie crusts are not finicky or hard to make.  Follow these instructions and you are well on your way to achieving the perfect pie crust everytime!

Thanks for reading!
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