On the pounding of curry paste
I know the thought of pounding your own curry paste could be quite intimidating, however, there is no need for alarm. There is definitely an order to this seeming chaos. First, you will need an appropriate tool. For this I suggest a good quality Thai mortar and pestle (Krok and Saak). I hope you know what I am talking about. Otherwise watch Jamie Oliver, his Krok is a constant presence on the countertop.
You will need to "mise en place" all your ingredients. If your recipe calls for some ingredients to be roasted, do so. You can use your toaster oven or just dry roast in a pan. You should, however, roast the shrimp paste regardless of what the recipe says. Wrap it loosely in foil and roast in the toaster oven for about 5 minutes at 450F.
Dried chillies are a main staple for all curry paste. Soak them in warm water for at least 15 minutes or until soft. Seed and chop them finely. While waiting for the chillies to soften, turn your attention to the other ingredients. Chop them as finely as you can. You can use your old workhorse Cuisinart for this, but don't chop all the ingredients together, do each separately.
When the ingredients are prepared and ready, start your pounding.
The first ingredients into your Krok are chillies and salt. Pound them until very fine, then add the harder stuff such as kaffir lime zest, cilantro roots, galangal, lemongrass, turmeric, or others. Pound them until fine, it will help if you do one at a time. Then add your garlic, again pound finely. The next ingredient is the shallots. After you're done pounding the shallot to a fine paste, the mixture in your Krok will be quite moist. This is the time to add powdered spices were they called for in the recipe. The last to go in should be the shrimp paste, since it is, as the name implies, already in paste form.
Remember not to stare too closely while admiring the progress in your Krok, lest your eyes burn with excruciating pain from flying bits of the paste. If you are new at this, take a piece of paper or foil,cut a circle slightly larger than the diameter of your Krok, position the circle over your Saak or pestle and push gently downward. Your Saak should now be dressed with a homely little skirt. This will save your eyes from flying ingredients.
After all the pounding, you should end up with a very lovely fine paste in your Krok ready to be turned into your own glorious curries.