IMG_2341With the June Cookbook Challenge chugging along, we’ve been turning our attention to some of the impulse buys in our collection.  One of these, simply titled “Thai,” indicates on its cover that it comes from “The Essentials Collection.”  Inside, we’ve found some easily followed recipes that cover a wide range of recognizable Thai dishes from spring rolls to green curry. 

Essential?  Maybe not.  But definitely helpful.

For the challenge, we decided to tackle two dishes from this cookbook simultaneously: a Thai fish curry and a pineapple and cucumber salad.  We figured the sweet, refreshing salad would offset the heat of the curry.  As it turns out, the salad features chili sauce prominently and the curry wasn’t all that hot to begin with, but we were still happy to have the combination side by side on our plates.

To make the salad, we peeled and quartered one cucumber, then scooped out the seeds and chopped the quarters into 1/2-inch pieces.  We then proceeded to cheat a bit, going for a can of cut pineapple in lieu of the small fresh pineapple that the recipe called for.  Combining the cucumber and the pineapple, we added one thinly sliced red onion and one bunch of chopped arugula leaves.

Cucumber and Pineapple SaladThe dressing for the salad combined some classic Thai flavors: three tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, one teaspoon of sugar, one teaspoon of sambal oelek (chili sauce) and two tablespoons of chopped fresh mint (more of those living organic herbs from Shenandoah Growers).  We whisked the all together and tossed them with the salad for a flavor that was at once salty, sweet, spicy and soothing.

The fish curry was a bit more complicated, beginning with the shopping for the recipe.  The ingredient list calls for 1 3/4 cups of coconut cream, so I found myself torn between coconut milk (a pretty standard ingredient in Thai curries) and Coco Lopez-brand coconut cream (for making pina coladas).  I bought one of each to be safe, only to find that the directions for the recipe refer to the ingredient in question as coconut cream and coconut milk interchangeably.  Frustrated, I set aside the sugary drink mixer and broke out the coconut milk.

We coarsely chopped four shallots and threw them in a blender with two inches’ worth of finely sliced fresh ginger, two inches’ worth of chopped lemongrass, three seeded and chopped red Thai chiles, one tablespoon ground almonds, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Adding six tablespoons of the coconut milk, we blended the mixture until it made a slightly lumpy paste.

Thai Fish CurryAfter bringing the mixture to a boil in a large saucepan and cooking it thoroughly for four minutes, we added the remaining coconut milk and brought everything back up to a boil.  We laid in four orange roughy filets and allowed them to simmer for roughly 8-10 minutes, flipping them halfway through the cooking.  At that point it was just a matter of plating and serving the fish and the salad side by side.

Despite the coconut milk hiccup, we definitely found the recipes in this book to easily followed and tasty.  Considering how many of our cookbooks focus on aspects of Asian cooking, it’s a safe bet we’ll be doing away with a few of them.  This one might just make the cut.

Salad and FishYeah, that’s right.  Three.  Here it is the end of May – the fifth month of the year – and we’re not exactly keeping pace with my foodie New Year’s Resolution to attempt a restaurant-quality meal each month.  Sure, we started off strong with two recipes from Jose Andres…but that didn’t happen until February.  March came and went without a follow-up, but then we came back with some killer seasonal recipes from Tom Colicchio for Barry Koslow’s ‘Favorite Five’ ingredient list.

Now it’s May, and I’m proud to say that we’re back with a third attempt.  This month, in honor of the soon-to-open Blue Ridge, I took a crack at a pair of seafood dishes from Chef Barton Seaver.  Taking the recipes from a feature in the June 2008 issue of O, the Oprah magazine, I went shopping for the ingredients required for grilled calamari with minted red pepper and prosciutto-and-herb-wrapped halibut with blackberry salad.

The recipes seemed straightforward but high-end, exactly the kind of meal I had in mind when I made my resolution.

Cooking steps, photos…and an unexpected result…after the jump. (more…)