Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Strip Mall Thai Excellence!

Several months ago, friends were in Las Vegas for a conference and being that LV is a lot closer to Desertville than Indiana is, we drove in to see them. We had some good dim sum, a nice visit, and got a recommendation from them for somewhere to eat. The night before, they had gone with a local colleague to a Thai restaurant that was delicious, most of all, but also had walls plastered with accolades from every possible source.

We tried going there a couple months ago, but we couldn't get through on the phone to make a reservation and when we got there without one, it was a 45 minute wait and Little Girl wasn't going to last that long. From that experience, however, we learned that the restaurant, Lotus of Siam, is in that strangest strip mall ever, along with a pool hall, a Korean church, several other restaurants, a few Asian groceries, and LV's LGBT center. Trust me on this one -- this is a weird, weird place.

Yesterday, we had to go to LV for some business-y sort of stuff. It's always a big deal to go because we get groceries, try to get some playground time for Little Girl, run errands, etc. One thing about living in the middle of nowhere is that every time you get somewhere, you have to take advantage of it. Because we're about to leave this part of the world, we decided to take advantage of being in LV and try Lotus of Siam. We made reservations the day before, so we were good.

The restaurant is nothing fancy. The decor could use some updating, the ceiling tiles are disgustingly dirty in many places, and there's a big, banged-up buffet station right in the middle of the whole thing (for lunch buffets during the week). But how could several years of Gourmet magazine, Zagat's, LA Times food section, the Rosengarten Report and everyone else who raves about this place be wrong? Lotus of Siam has been called the best Thai restaurant in the United States, it's made lists of the top fifty restaurants in the country -- this is big praise!

And all deserved. We had some some quibbles over service (no drink refills were ever offered for example), but the food was fantastic. We ordered pad Thai for Little Girl (and for ourselves as a standard test case). It was very good, although I like different noodles than they used. I know that this is an incredibly picky detail, but I just loved the way they cut their green onions, and the fact that they used small ones so the bites of green onion weren't bites of green onion.

I had a coconut milk based red curry with tofu. I meant to order the sticky rice (which costs $2 extra than the steamed rice it came with), but forgot. I love sticky rice. The curry had loads of fresh Thai basil and bamboo shoots and the fragrance was amazing. The flavor was excellent, too, and it was all gone before we left.

Husband, I think, ordered the winning dish last night -- thank goodness we had agreed to exchange part of our dishes before they actually came to the table. He ordered the pad sw-ew (how it appeared on the menu; I've usually seen it pad see ew) and it was to die for. Perfectly cooked Chinese broccoli and tofu squares among big broad noodles sauced to perfection. If we hadn't already been eating Little Girl's pad Thai, I'd would have seriously considered getting a second order of these noodles. They were just so good.

Unfortunately, their northern menu, which they are especially famous for, was pretty meat heavy. We considered ordering the spicy mushroom dip, but held off in part because Little Girl loves mushrooms and might not be thrilled about a mushroom dish that was too spicy for her to eat. We might try to get back there again before the move, but I don't think I'll hold my breath. We've already got a dinner date in LV coming up (and it includes a baby sitter!), and I can't imagine we're going to get there many more times before we leave.

Watch this space, though, for the next restaurant review, because Friday night, we're eating tapas!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Daring Cooks Go To India (And Become Vegan!)

And here it is ... the vegan, Indian food. Wait. No. Not vegan. Not Indian. Not made by me. That's the pizza back-up meal for Small Girl and Husband, who has been making faces all month every time I mention that the Daring Cooks challenge for September was an Indian recipe. Husband is not fond of Indian food. One big reason is the texture; he has a strong dislike for anything mushy. He also doesn't like cumin which can play a big role in the spice mixtures of some Indian dishes. So all the lovely Indian vegetarian things that I love (mattar paneer, saag paneer, aloo gobi, etc.) are just not Husband's cup of tea. So I bought a take-and-bake pizza for him. Small Girl was a mystery to me in terms of liking the dosa and as it happens, she ate as much dosa pancake and tofu as she did pizza. We'll get to Husband's reaction later.

But first: Thanks go to Debyi from The Healthy Vegan Kitchen for choosing the dosa recipe for this month's challenge. She challenged us all to make Indian Dosas from the refresh cookbook by Ruth Tal. Part of the challenge was to make all three elements of the dish (pancakes, sauce, filling) vegan. Here's what it really looks like (not pizza):

And here's how I got to that plated product: As mentioned above, there are three elements to the dish. We had some leeway on the filling and I knew that Husband was not even going to try a mashed chickpea filling, so I changed that. The first element is a coconut curry sauce and I also changed that a bit, hoping that a very mild sauce might be approved by Small Girl. It was an experimental sort of sauce and it taught me a few things.

This is what I learned: If you're using powdered coconut milk, you should probably NOT reconstitute it in a blender to make sure there are no lumps. No. You should probably stir it into warm water on the stove -- as the pictograph instructions on the otherwise-all-in-Thai packaging shows -- or you will end up with froth. Froth that after simmering for an hour with onion, garlic, and ginger is still froth. I also learned that no matter how many times I tasted the sauce, if you don't add Thai red chile paste to it (because you're not cooking Thai food), it will never taste like a Thai red curry sauce. Sigh. In the end, the sauce just didn't do it for me on its own. It did add something nice to the finished dish, though, so all my stirring and adding of this and that and the other did pay off in the end.

I agonized over my filling for pretty much the whole month (did I already mention that I'm writing this an hour after eating it and this post has to be revealed first thing tomorrow morning?). I knew it couldn't be mushy. I wanted it to be flavorful without needing a lot of spice-as-in-heat (or curry) so that the other members of my family might eat it. I finally decided on a potato and tofu filling very reminiscent of the potato-based filling often found in samosas. Lots of onion and garlic and a great big handful of cilantro added at the end made for a very tasty filling.

Next up, the dosa themselves. Dosa are pancakes made with a wide variety of different flours or mashed lentils. I used half wheat flour and half chickpea flour. The batter came together very, very easily. The cooking was not quite as struggle-free. You know how the first crepe is for the chef? Or the dog, depending on whether you have a dog and how bad your day is going? Well, the first dosa came out quite well. The next three were for someone or something other than tonight's diners. Just a mess, mess, mess! I finally added some extra water and got into the groove of things.

My sauce just was not pretty, so I decided to plate that on the bottom instead of the top and started rolling dosas around the filling as they came out of the pan. Between the three burners I had going and the oven blasting to cook the pizza, the stove top was plenty hot to keep everything warm as I worked.

When I had four rolled (it seemed like plenty, given that I was the only guaranteed consumer), I topped them off with some of the extra filling and some cilantro. After they posed for their pictures, it was time to eat! I loved them. The pancakes were tasty thanks to the curry powder and chickpea flour. The filling was delicious, because how could it not be with all that cilantro?? And the sauce ended up providing just the right amount of extra moisture, salt, and fat needed to make the completed dish a success. I never get to go to Indian restaurants, so it was a real treat to have an Indian meal -- thanks, Debyi!

And Husband? He took half a filled dosa. To try. And then ate the other half. And then asked if he could take the uneaten one to work for lunch tomorrow with some of the extra filling. Apparently, his new take on Indian food is that IF I make it AND he knows what's in it AND it's not mushy AND he knows how it was made? He just might like it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I'd Lichen To Say Thank You! (Feel Free To Groan)

It might not be the traditional thank-you image, but I was looking through my collection for a good wildflower photo and this caught my eye. Lichen! I have a small fascination with it and I think it's gorgeous, even in understated greys. The range of colors on the rocks around Desolationville and Desertville is stunning.

Without further commentary on the algae/fungus symbiotic beauty, I am sending a big THANK YOU to Kris from Bake in Paris and the She-Who-Chooses-Not-To-Be-Named at Kitchenlander for presenting me with two blogging awards! Kris added Isolated Foodie to his list of Lovely Blogs and Kitchenlander picked Isolated Foodie as a Kreativ Blogger. Thank you both again!

Both awards come with a task. I now have to list 13 blogs that I think are One Lovely Blog and seven Kreativ Bloggers. No small task, when there are so many of both! But I think I am up to it.

The Kreativ Blogger Award comes with a second task: I have to list seven interesting things about me (difficult because how do I know what you would find interesting?). I'm going to get that one out of the way, because I have some serious thinking to do for the lists.

1. I have lived in or traveled to five of the seven continents.
2. I lived on a kibbutz for about eight months (and loved it!).
3. My daughter is named for a character in one of my most-favorite books, Pride and Prejudice.
4. My feet like to be bare (Kitchenlander, you're not alone in your shoe non-fetish).
5. I haven't eaten red meat or poultry since 1985 and avoided fish for many years as well.
6. Addiction would be a good way to describe my relationship with chocolate, but I managed to give it up for Lent this year despite having no Catholic connections.
7. I love the gathering part of "hunting and gathering". I am a proud forager of wild foods.

Now, for the lists. My list of Kreativ Bloggers is a little easier than the Lovely Blogs, in part because I only have to list seven, but mostly because I have a theme. In my three or four months as a Daring Baker, I have been very impressed with the creativity of the vegan and gluten-free bakers in the group. I've done quite a few vegan-conversions for desserts (many years ago), but they were much simpler recipes most of the time. Making something that is packed full of wheat, butter, and eggs into a gluten or egg and dairy free treat is one thing; making it into something beautiful and incredibly delicious is quite another, and the bloggers behind the following blogs do it month after month in the Daring Bakery.

1. Celiac Teen
2. Hey, That Tastes Good!
3. Gluten Free Goodness
4. Dog Hill Kitchen
5. Vegan Food And Fitness
6. The Peaceable Kingdom
7. Gluten Free Sox Fan (this one is for Husband, the Sox fan, and for a great blog)

It turns out that even with a theme, it's hard to pick and choose and decide. I'm saving the next list for tomorrow so I can ponder this overnight. In the meantime, I highly recommend checking out these blogs. They are well-worth reading even if you are a devoted carnivore-and-wheat-bread kind of person.

(Ooops! I almost forgot that I need to post rules for the Kreativ Blogger awards, so I'm editing to say: These are the rules:

1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.
4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers.
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.)