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Saeng’s Orient Review. June 29, 2008

Posted by schizodigestive in New Mexico, restaurants, reviews, Thai.

Kip and I have an announcement to make: There is water in the desert. And by “water,” we mean “good Thai food.” It’s hard to find decent Asian food of any variety ’round these parts (these parts being the Land of Enchantment, er, Enchiladas) — Adri had been telling me about Saeng’s Orient  for three years, but I never got around to going. This weekend being what it was — Adri, Kip, and I sitting around thinking of things to eat — the topic of Saeng’s came up again. The difference was, this time we actually went.

Saeng’s Orient is the kind of restaurant that doesn’t exist on the plains. It’s a bright blue, hand-painted metal structure that may have originally been a trailer. It’s on a classic two-lane blacktop road, halfway between civilization and an Air Force base. You would have to see the “neon” “sign” to believe it; the thing is nothing more than several strings of Christmas lights tortured and twisted into letters that spell out “Saeng’s Orient” in four different, jarring colors.

The dining room is more reassuring — but not by much — than the exterior, with sturdy wooden tables that seat four, nondescript carpeting, and bright calendars and posters of Thailand. We were encouraged to choose our own table, and it’s a good thing we liked it, because we ordered and then waited a while. (A good while, as it turned out — as the waitress told us after twenty minutes, “Saeng likes to make this stuff fresh, you know.” To which we said, “Okay.” Who’s gonna argue with totally fresh Thai?)

The menu, with about twenty-five Thai dishes and fifteen Chinese dishes, also does some tongue-in-cheek borrowing from Japan (chuka soba) and the Philippines (pansit), and includes several dishes that might baffle even an aficionado of big-city Asian cuisine. Any dish can be ordered at one of six (!) levels of spiciness, ranging from “no hot,” which actually isn’t, to “X-hot,” which is recommended only for those with seriously armored mouths. (Or for those upon whom you wish unending suffering, according to Adri.) “Medium” is a good compromise, which allows for all the flavor but won’t leave you with nagging blisters.

We started with fried gilozi and pork satay with peanut sauce. You might think that gilozi are like Japanese gyoza, but they’re not — the skins are thicker, the ends are tucked, and the filling is more finely ground. (Sara called them “a demon cross between an egg roll and a wonton” at the time, and she’s not wrong.) The crimson, translucent Thai sweet & sour sauce served with them involves pineapple juice, coconut milk, tamarind juice, red curry paste, and several other ingredients — this is not shopping-mall sweet & sour sauce. The satay, meanwhile, were adorned with grill stripes, gloriously chewy, and thickly coated with homemade peanut sauce comprising impossible amounts of garlic. (Sara interjects here to say NOM NOM NOM.)

The first entrée, Michael’s basil-and-beef stir-fry in brown sauce, proves that “no hot” emphatically doesn’t mean “not spicy.” The flavorful deep-brown sauce contained galanga, turmeric, and other ingredients that complemented the basil perfectly — but, unusually for a Thai dish, no chili pepper, which made the interplay of flavors very gentle. Although the dish was definitively “no hot,” the most amusing moment of the dinner came when Michael was about twelve bites in: we all looked over to see him, bright red and terribly sweaty, with his eyes bulging from his head and a terribly distraught look on his face. “It’s good,” he said, “but it TASTES like something.” The “something” was, in fact, nothing more sinister than basil.

Kip had the pad prik khing, rich with chunks of marinated pork and fresh green beans, but prepared “medium,” meaning with enough chili pepper to cause total surrender of his sinuses. The same chili was the armature of Adri’s delightful red chicken curry, the light coconut-based sauce of which was speckled with scarlet grains that really packed a wallop. Unusually, the only vegetable included was bamboo shoots, but the straightforward quality of the ingredients gave the sauce the priority it deserved. Sara’s pad thai was absolutely fantastic, and absolutely huge. The testament to its greatness came when writing this entry: there was plenty of the basil and beef left over for reference purposes, but absolutely none of the pad thai. Served mild, it was absolutely perfect — the curry had a nice sharp bite, but didn’t overpower the onion, peanut, and yellow sauce. The noodles, too often a sticky afterthought in this dish, were firm, translucent, and obviously delicious on their own. (NOM.)

We would write about dessert, but we left right after the meal, stuffed to capacity and dizzy with food shock. We’ll take it on faith that Saeng’s Orient offers some of the finest Asian food in New Mexico.


Dinner Party Menu: Pesto chicken, lemon basil farfalle and… The Simpsons? June 23, 2008

Posted by Alicia in entertaining, guests, menu.

Good morning everyone!  Do you know what it’s time for?  It’s time for a post that is NOT written by Kip (as much as I adore his cooking and posts)! 

Last night I had a dinner party that I threw together at the very last moment.  Now here’s the deal; I’d known I would be having guests for over a week.  My excuse is that I found out at the last minute that one of the guests did not care for a main ingredient in my chosen menu (fish — I’d been planning on pomegranate-orange glazed salmon, a bulgar salad wih cranberries and orange zest and a tossed salad).  Anyway, far from being irritated, I was thrilled.  Planning, cooking for and hosting dinner parties in one of my great passions in life (I blame it on being Italian).  I like nothing better than having people over for food, wine, good music and conversation.  Several of my favourite childhood memories revolve around the dinner parties my parents used to have — helping my mother clean the house (my favourite job was wiping down the glass coffee table with Windex until it gleamed), watching my parents cook together and getting to try new dishes that were just a bit too complicated for family dinner during the week.  Then there were the guests, elegantly dressed and full of witty conversation, the clink of wine glasses and silverware against plates and music (usually jazz) in the background.  Dinner parties were always a source of wonder for me and all I really wanted to grow up to do was be the perfect hostess at my own. 

The guestlist last night included my boyfriend (Jesse) and I, his brother (Mike), his mother (Jan) and his uncle and aunt (Jim and Rhonda).  Jan, Jim and Rhonda had been in town over the weekend and we thought it would be nice to have a small gathering to catch up with them.  All in all, I think it turned out quite nicely.  Sure, it wasn’t quite the glamorous affair that I remembered but I keep reminding myself that we’re young, still practicing, and entertaining in a very different way.  We’ll get there eventually. 

Please excuse the not-so-fabulous pictures.  I still need to get a new, better camera, should work on my presentation skills and have to remember to take pictures BEFORE people have started eating, not after.  I’m new to this — it’ll get easier. 

We started off the evening with bruschetta (I didn’t actually serve that piece to our guests as I felt it was too burned — it was delicious though), sundried tomato hummus and Italian-style guacamole (with lemon juice, garlic, oregano and fresh basil). There were tortilla chips and whole wheat pita for dipping as well. At this point The Simpsons was still being watched in the living room so I didn’t get my dream of fabulous conversation over Beethoven. C’est la vie!

We took a bit of a break at this point so I could finish off dinner and everyone else could work up a bit of an appetite. Jesse was his usual helpful self and kept the dishes from piling up — nothing’s worse than ending an evening with three sink’s worth of dishes.

After about 20 minutes, dinner was ready. The first picture showed what everyone except I had. There was a spinach and arugula salad with chopped tomatoes and my Dijon balsamic vinaigrette (no, I can’t give you the recipe because I don’t know how I make it — my father taught me to eyeball it and at this point I could do it in my sleep but not explain it), chicken breasts baked with pesto and fresh mozzarella and farfalle with a lemon basil sauce. The lemon basil farfalle was something I’ve been dreaming about for a while: citrusy, slightly tart and green with plenty of freshly ground pepper. I actually managed to find a recipe online which gave me basic proportions but I still played around with it. It took about 2/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil, 2/3 cup of shaved parmesan, 1/2 cup of lemon juice and 1/3 cup of fresh chopped basil. Once the farfalle is cooked (I like to keep my pasta more than slightly al dente but cooked it a bit longer for our guests last night), toss it with abovementioned mixture and garnish with about a tablespoon of lemon zest, more fresh basil and black pepper. I, of course, skipped the chicken and went for a larger salad with chopped bell pepper along with my pasta.

All in all, this was a lovely, simple meal for a summer dinner party. The hummus and guacamole can be prepared far in advance, the bruschetta only take about five minutes in the oven at 450 degrees and the chicken only needs to bake for about 40 minutes. If you’re feeling lazy (like I was) you can use storebought pesto and bruschetta topping — mine came from Trader Joe’s. Top it all off with a light Viognier to drink and you’ve got yourself a party.

Who wants to come over for dinner? Also, tell me your favourite dinner party recipes! Tell me about one that you’ve thrown that worked well and one that was a disaster. Do you hate hostessing and entertaing? Why? What’s the largest number of guests you’ve cooked for?

As promised — Turkish food! June 20, 2008

Posted by schizodigestive in guests, restaurants, Turkish.
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This one comes from Kip, too — it’s sort of a follow-up to the eggplant post, albeit only loosely connected. After this, he’ll be guest-posting on some sort of regular schedule, but it won’t quite be three times a week. Let’s give him a nice big hand now, shall we?

I will never understand why Americans aren’t BATS about Turkish food. It is da bomb.

I mean, in Turkey, 72 million Turks eat the stuff every day and fervently — or let’s say fiercely — recommend it to guests. So it must have something to recommend it. And does it ever!!

Turkey’s culinary prowess arises partly from its location amid not only Greece, whose cuisine is justly renowned, and Iran whose food is flat-out great, but lesser lights like Azerbaijan. Not only that, but Turkey spent centuries as the crossroads of the Mediterranean world, so in Turkish cooking you get hints of Sicily, Morocco and even — thanks to the habits of the Turkish moneyed classes — France.

What you end up with, if you’re lucky, is something like the dinner I had in New York last night:

Fried calamari in tender alabaster-white rings with a golden coating of impossibly fine breadcrumbs, like panko. Actually, a lot like Japanese fried calamari, just cheaper.

Chunks of roasted eggplant mixed with tart Turkish plain yogurt and covered with a roasted red bell pepper.

Feta cheese mashed with parsley, rolled in a tube of filo pastry and deep-fried.

A bed of roasted eggplant mixed with butter and grated cheese, topped with slices of grilled marinated lamb, topped again with a thin tomato sauce flavored with cumin.

White beans (cannellini), black olives, chopped ripe tomatoes, red onion, cucumber and lots of parsley, in a red wine vinaigrette.

Dried apricots simmered in sweet white wine, stuffed with a creamed blanched almond, and dusted with ground pistachios. (If you’re not in the mood for fruit, there are great Med-conventional desserts like baklava, semolina cake or fried custard.)

And… Turkish coffee. I mean, srsly.

Ok, I’m sorry, but if your mouth isn’t watering by now your tongue is made of STONE. And yet in all the places I go put together, I can only find three Turkish restaurants! Why is this?! Next time you get a chance to go out for Turkish food, don’t pass it up!

My favorite restaurant in New York, bar none, is the Turkish place I went to last night. I’m not going to plug it here, but if you want the address, email me at panterazeroATgmailDOTcom.

Mmm, now I’m hungry. The steak-and-potatoes post is coming, guys; things have been crazy around here and I ended up making a pizza instead — and then eating leftover pizza instead. See you on Monday!

Eggplant has more than a baffling name. June 17, 2008

Posted by schizodigestive in guests, vegetarian.
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I feel like there should be a buffer between this post and the last one, preferably something actually written by Alicia or me, but we work with what we’ve got. Today, that happens to be a simple eggplant roasting technique, once again courtesy of Kip. On Thursday I’ll put up his amusing Turkish-food screed, but I thought this should come first — eggplant is, after all, kind of a Turkish staple. (Do I even know what I’m talking about? Survey says: no.)

The good news is that I did a major grocery shop yesterday, and I plan to start cooking tonight. I’m thinking ribeye steak in a lime-and-cilantro marinade, with honey-and-lemon butternut squash (or perhaps butternut squash soup? butternut squash risotto? the jury is still out) and rosemary-roasted red potatoes. If that actually happens, rest assured that you’ll hear about it tomorrow. Now, on with the show:

For years I’ve had trouble with the standard method of roasting eggplant for baba ghanouj or — well, anything that needs a roasted eggplant. The usual recommendation is to cook it in a hot oven until the skin is black and crisp, and then remove the skin. The problems here are that by then your eggplant is flat as a pancake, which is probably not the ingredient volume you wanted out of your relatively expensive vegetable; and, when you peel off the skin, most of the best-tasting flesh comes with it and has to be scraped off with a spoon, a tedious task because the skin is very easy to tear.

Friends, there is another way!

Take a nice big fresh eggplant and trim the leaves back — don’t top it, just get the biggest leaves out of the way. Then roast the eggplant over the flame of a stove burner, JUST LIKE A BELL PEPPER. Turn the eggplant frequently and make sure that the flame hits all the skin; I find that this takes about 10 minutes, but that will vary according to your eggplant and your gas flame. The whole skin will blacken, but it’s done when it starts to crack in several places.

Put the eggplant on a cutting board and let it cool undisturbed for another 10 minutes, while it cooks all the way to the center. Then pull the skin off in flakes and strips — the skin will have pulled away and left the flesh in one gorgeously rust-streaked piece. When you’ve removed all the skin, top the eggplant and slice or dice it according to your recipe. You’ll find that the flesh is much firmer than the flesh of any oven-roasted eggplant, there’s a lot more of it, and because the skin actually did burn, the profound smoky flavor is unrivaled. I don’t think I’ll ever roast an eggplant in an oven again.

(c) June 2008 /KC

Doesn’t that sound good? I may have to reconsider tonight’s menu — eggplant is sensationally cheap and gorgeous right now, and a mid-week trip to the store wouldn’t be that much of a hardship. Enjoy!

Gazpacho, perfected. June 12, 2008

Posted by schizodigestive in guests, vegetarian.
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Today’s post comes courtesy of Kip, who emailed it to us this afternoon. Gazpacho is one of those great summer foods — delicious, light, refreshing, and endlessly variable. This particular variation sounds like a real winner, and it’s surprisingly simple to make. Here’s the recipe and what Kip had to say about it.]

Been making it for years and, last night, finally got it right. I swear the trick here, more than anything else, is the sequence and processing of the ingredients. This needs a blender or food processor.

one medium onion, Vidalia or Maui if you can get it
one medium cucumber
four cloves garlic
one-quarter cup really good olive oil
one-quarter cup Sherry vinegar
28-ounce can peeled plum tomatoes
one large bottle (46 ounces) V-8 juice, regular or low-salt
black pepper to taste
chopped basil, optional
one tablespoon sriracha (Thai red chili sauce)
one teaspoon pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika)

Peel and dice onion and cucumber and put them in the bottom of a large serving bowl. Chill.
Put the tomatoes into a strainer and let the juice drain into another bowl. Press each tomato with your fingers to get the rest of the juice out.

Grind garlic in food processor. Add the oil all at once, keep grinding while you drizzle in the vinegar. You’ll end up with a cream-colored emulsion that won’t separate. Add the drained tomatoes to this and grind everything to a purée. Pour this over the diced vegetables in the serving bowl.

Put the liquid from the tomatoes in the food processor and spin it to rinse out the tank. Add this liquid to the serving bowl, together with the V-8 juice, the sriracha, the black pepper, and the chopped basil if you’re using it. Stir well and chill for at least two hours. Top each serving with the paprika.

(c) June 2008 /KC

Strange confluence. June 6, 2008

Posted by schizodigestive in Uncategorized.

I got an invitation to join the Cooking Club of America today. I can’t find a really good web presence for them (seems all they have up is a “visitors only” page), but it sounds like an okay deal — I pay $12/year, they send me a cooking magazine and cooking products to try out every now and then. Opinions on the Internet range from “this is a scam, they just want to sell you stuff” to “sure, but you can ignore the sale offers and just check out the goodies,” so we’ll see how it goes. Looks like this place might just have some product reviews along with all the NOM NOM NOM jabber.

What else would you like to see? We have a request for good vegetarian stuff already, but there’s a whole world of food out there. Baking? Potluck and party food? Tapas? Should I occasionally branch out (HAH! geddit?) into discussion of food gardening? Let’s get the ball rolling (and ignore my lack of work on a header; I think I need to take a couple of good food pictures).

— Sara

Placeholder. June 4, 2008

Posted by schizodigestive in Uncategorized.
1 comment so far

Eventually, this will be a food blog co-authored by Sara of Misfit In Any Space and Alicia of Daintier, Smarter, Better Dressed.  Until the end of the week and whenever we both get less busy, enjoy our placeholder, feel free to link to us (because you know it’s going to be awesome) and visit us at our current homes! 

(And let us know what you’d like to see here!  This isn’t a democracy but we’re open to suggestions anyway.)