I should qualify that a little bit. This is our new favorite local Chinese restaurant, i.e. one that’ll deliver to our place if we so desire. I probably need to clarify that even more. I’m talking about Americanized Chinese restaurants and cuisine. Granted, this is what you find by default, but with a little effort, you can find places that serve authentic Chinese fare. But that’s neither here nor there at the moment.
New Fresh Wok is located on Larpenteur Ave, just off of Snelling in St. Paul. They opened up sometime last fall and it took us a bit of time before we actually went and ate there, even though it’s less than two miles from our apartment. The reason for the delay is that we were hitting a long string of mediocre Chinese restaurants in the area and we were not all that excited about trying another place just to be let down. The other restaurants weren’t bad, but Lindz and I are used to being spoiled. When we were living in Decorah, IA, we would frequent two really kicking Chinese places in town (yup, two great Chinese restaurants in a town with a population of just over 8000). Of course, there is our hands down favorite Chinese place of all time, China Star, in Rochester (located a disturbingly convenient half mile from our future home and 2.5 miles from Lindz’s folks place). That’s enough of the past.
This post/review is a compilation of a couple of visits, both eating in and getting take-out.
First up, we have the Thai Styled Mango Chicken. This was an okay dish. It had an adequate level of heat to it, but for some reason the flavor was two dimensional. The veggies were good but the chicken was mushy. It reminded me of the chicken breasts that I accidentally bought one time that were injected with a saline solution to make them more tender. It worked, but it felt like I was eating a sponge that kinda sorta tasted like chicken. Even though the flavors weren’t there, I do really like the concept of this dish.
One of Lindz’s requirements for a good Chinese place is good Crab Rangoons. But since they are hard to find, she is willing to settle for Cream Cheese Wontons. This is one of those tricky things to cook, with it comprising of only a few ingredients, you have to nail it every time. New Fresh Wok passes with flying colors.
Outside of Decorah, I haven’t been able to find a place that does a Mongolian Beef to my liking. Much to my surprise and even more to my delight, New Fresh Wok offers up a really good version. I like Mongolian Beef best with just beef, onions, and sauce. They throw in a few more veggies than I would prefer, but it doesn’t detract from the dish. It’s a nice dish with a salty, earthy base highlighted with onions, garlic, ginger, and, of course, the beef.
My true test of a Chinese restaurant is a dish that is not even Chinese. I am obviously talking about General Tso’s Chicken. This is a dish that needs a teeth shattering batter, tender chicken, and a sauce that will make you thankful for the rice because it cuts the heat. New Fresh Wok delivers on all of these accounts. This is the fundamental reason why New Fresh Wok surged to the top of our favorites list.
OK, I didn’t have the Orange Chicken, but Sheryl really seemed to like it. Even though she thought it was light on the veggies.
Naturally, we had to try out a selection from their sushi bar. And, naturally, we went with the Dragon Roll that has eel and cucumber in the center and topped off with avocado and roe. Not the greatest roll I’ve ever eaten, but for the price, it was worth it. Hmm, apparently somewhere along the way I’ve become a total sushi snob.
What would a Chinese meal be without some tea? New Fresh Wok served the standard Chinese restaurant tea. I’m not a huge tea drinker, so that’s all the info you’ll get out of me. But I really like the tea pot.
If you find yourself in the Roseville area and are hankering for some good Chinese, drop in at New Fresh Wok. You won’t be disappointed.
I had forgotten about a particular tradition until Lindz visited one of her professors before Christmas. Her professor receives a box of citrus from one of his former students every year during Advent. When Lindz showed up to visit, he had just gotten his yearly present and he realized that he couldn’t eat it all before it went bad. So, Lindz ended up with a box of fruit.
The tradition that I forgot about was the giving of a certain bag of “goodies” at Christmas time. This bag consists of an orange (maybe an apple too), nuts in the shell (usually peanuts), and some form of candy (candy canes, old fashioned ribbon candy, chocolate coins, etc). With a bit of research on the good ol’ internet, I found that a lot of people used to get these in their stocking from their parents. Personally, I received it from our priest every year as a youngster. I’ve heard of this custom off and on over the years, but never knew the origin. I’ve always assumed that it was a “healthy” and/or “inexpensive” gift. But the more that I heard about it, it slowly dawned on me that this wasn’t just a local Catholic thing, it was far more widespread phenomenon. This year I finally took the time to do the research. It turns out that the actual origins are pretty murky. Frustrating, but not surprising. On the web, a lot of people remember this as a kid, and many continue it with their own children. Most people are comfortable with the answer of “I don’t know. It was just something that grandma (or whomever) always did.” They assume that it either came from the old country, (Italy, Poland, England, etc) or it dates back to the time when oranges were a rarity and hence an actual treat, or some combination of these two factors. While I can see these two reasons being factors, it just didn’t feel right for how widespread and long lasting this experience is.
Wiki to the rescue!
In his (St. Nicholas) most famous exploit, a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes . Hearing of the poor man’s plight, Nicholas decided to help him . . . and drops the third bag down the chimney (where) the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.
Ok, but how do we get from a bag of gold to an orange? Here is where symbolism comes into effect. The best explanation is that an orange is a similar color to gold and that oranges are similar in shape to bags of the shiny stuff. Also, in some European countries, oranges have symbolized Jesus’ love for the world. I’ve listed a bunch of the more interesting links that I’ve found at the end of this post.
Now that the history lesson is over, on to the food!
We weren’t eating the box of oranges as fast as we should have and they were in real danger of going bad. So I had to come up with something to use a whole bunch of oranges at once. I’ve had a venison loin sitting in the freezer since last fall and it seemed like it would be a perfect pairing for an orange pan sauce that I had in mind.
Since the sauce was going to be the star of the show, I simply cut the loin into medallions and pan fried them in a bit of oil.
As a side, I went with roasted potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic all mashed up together.
Once the venison was fried off and resting, I made the pan sauce. The recipe that I borrowed quite heavily from is the Orange Pan Sauce with Middle Eastern Spices from the Cook’s Illustrated cookbook. I really wanted the sauce to be a “Friday-night-drunken-barroom-brawl” explosion in your mouth, so I went very heavy on the OJ and zest.
- 2 Shallots, minced
- 2 tsp Sugar
- 1 tsp Ground Cumin
- 1/4 tsp Pepper
- 1/4 tsp Ground Cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp Ground Cardamom
- 1/8 tsp Cayenne Pepper
- 1/4 C Orange Zest
- 3 Tbs Red Wine Vinegar
- 2 C Orange Juice
Pour off all but 1 1/2 Tbs fat from the skillet (of whatever meat you are making). Place skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until softened, about 1 minute. Stir in sugar, cumin, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and cayenne; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in vinegar, scraping bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to loosen the fond. Add the orange juice, increase heat to medium-high and simmer until reduced to about 3/4 C, about 10 to 15 minutes. Off heat, season with salt to taste. Spoon over meat and serve.
I managed to create the citrus barrage that I was intending. Plus, the other spices weren’t lost in all of the citric acid. They were a nice background note in the sauce. What is even better, is that the sauce worked equally well on both the meat and the roasted veggie mash. All in all, I was quite pleased with this meal. In fact, I am hoping the bag of lemons that we have in the fridge right now linger around a bit so I have an excuse to try this with a different citrus.
p.s. Sorry if there is less snark in this post than usual. Lindz has been hoarding our household’s share of it lately.
An informative page, with emphasis on the Canadian Prairies.
A well-researched page (much more effort than I put into mine) that is a nice narrative.
This page looks at this Christmas tradition with regard to its English origin.
A sugar- and food-centric page that emphasizes the sweet and preservative aspect of fruit.
An interesting audio story from Minnesota Public Radio about the impact of a couple from Minnesota and their influence on the Christmas orange tradition here.
A not very helpful page with regards to Christmas oranges, but a still very interesting read.
A wonderful page full of Polish Christmas time traditions.
One night, I decided that I was going to make a curry. I didn’t feel like looking up any kind of recipe for a starting point because curries vary so much and I didn’t want to sift through hundreds of potential recipes to find one that sounded good. So I decided just to wing-it. It didn’t turn out too bad all things considered.
Like with my stir-fries, I just grabbed a bunch of veggies that looked good together and chopped up what looked like a decent quantity. In this iteration there were: carrots, broccoli, leeks, peppers, and red onions.
In several small batches, I did a quick sear on them, i.e. stir-fried them. Once they were all done, I put everything back into the pan and started to build up my curry sauce.
For the amount of veggies that I had, I needed two cans of coconut milk to get enough of a sauce base going. I didn’t want to thin it down with water. I then added the whole jar of red curry paste, but that didn’t seem to do a whole lot. Especially after I added a bit of lime juice to it. I finally started to add the garam masala. That was the magic I was looking for. Next time I do this, I’m just going to avoid the curry paste and straight to the good stuff. I did throw in a bit of salt because it tasted like it needed some. When I was finally happy with the flavors, I let it simmer for a couple of extra minutes just to make sure that everything was still working. I wasn’t 100% happy with the flavor, but for a blind first attempt it was good. Of course, I served it with rice.
While I was working and living in Decorah, Iowa, a couple of my friends and I would always be on the look out for new and interesting places to eat. One place we found in a neighboring town was a Mexican grocery/restaurant called Sabor Latino, which translates as Latin Flavor. Within a year after we had first visited this place they opened a restaurant in Decorah. The new place was such a regular stop that the whole staff knew our names, our order, and what was going on in our life. Plus, they would throw in some freebies on a regular basis. Which, of course, just encouraged us to come back all the more often. They closed their doors shortly after we stopped making it a regular stop. Possibly a coincidence, possibly not. The reason why we stopped going was that one our trio graduated from college and stopped coming into town on a regular basis. Of course, the fact that they got raided for having illegal immigrants working there may have been a factor. (Just for the record, we did not know that some of the workers were here illegally).
There were several things that I learned from our frequent visits. I fell in love with their pico de gallo (fresh, uncooked salsa) as well as relished their guacamole. In fact, when I make either of these items at home, it is their recipes that I try to emulate. We also discovered a drink called horchata. Horchata is a rice milk beverage made with cinnamon, sugar, and sometimes with almonds or vanilla. It is a cool and very refreshing drink that I have surprisingly not attempted to make. I’ll have to put that on my list to try. I’m not sure if it’s the same one as in his cookbook that I have or if it’s a different recipe, but here is a link to Aarón Sanchez’s horchata recipe (Right now I’m too lazy to get up off the couch and look). But, the most relevant thing to this post is that I discovered the method how Mexicans prepare their tacos. Forget about what you normally see in the U.S., i.e. covered in lettuce, tomato, and all sorts of a salad, the way we were shown was to just put some diced onions and some cilantro on top of the meat. I’m not sure what it is about that combination, but it helps to liven up the meat flavor as well as add its own dimension to each bite. I much prefer “Mexican style,” as the boys at Sabor liked to say, as opposed to what normally passes in the U.S.
While flipping through the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated, I was very pleasantly surprised to find a Tacos al Pastor (shepherd’s style taco) recipe. I was even more surprised when they just called for cilantro and onions for a topping. Given this gift of a recipe and the memories that I have connected with eating this dish, I couldn’t wait to cook it. At this point in time, we had already made plans to go down and visit one of the people that I had spent so much time with at Sabor Latino. It seemed almost sacrilegious not to cook it for him. It was even more fitting in my brain to cook this for Narren because he has cooked for me countless times in the past. Granted, it was often payment for helping him with something (hence him dubbing me a food-whore). But the occasional payback is nice too.
I did end up making several modifications to the recipe because I wasn’t cooking in my own kitchen. As usual, I’ll put my notes in parenthesis.
- 10 large dried guajillo chiles, wiped clean; can substitute New Mexican chiles (I used a Tbs of Crushed Red Peppers)
- 1 1/2 C Water
- 1 1/4 lbs plum tomatoes, cored and quartered
- 8 Garlic Cloves (I used 1 1/2 small bulbs)
- 4 Bay Leaves
- Salt and Pepper
- 3/4 tsp Sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground Cumin
- 1/8 tsp ground Cloves
- 3 lbs boneless Pork Butt Roast (the one I got weighed 3.5 lbs and had a bone, but it dressed out to 3 lbs)
- 1 Lime, cut into 8 wedges (I used 2)
- 1/2 Pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2″ thick rings (did not use at all)
- Veggie Oil
- 18 Corn or Flour Tortillas, about 6″, warmed
- 1 small Onion, chopped fine
- 1/2 C fresh Cilantro, coarsely chopped
Toast guajillos in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until softened and fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to large plate and when cool enough to handle, remove stems. (Obviously, I completely skipped this step.) Bring toasted guajillos, water, tomatoes, garlic, bay leaves, 2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, sugar, cumin, and cloves to simmer in now-empty Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occassionally, until guajillos are softened and tomatoes mash easily, about 20 minutes (I only cooked it about 12 minutes).
While the sauce simmers, trim excess fat from exterior of pork, leaving 1/4″ thick fat cap. Slice pork against grain into 1/2″ thick slabs.
Transfer the pepper-tomato mixture to blender and process until smooth, about 1 minute (I pulled out the bay leaves). Strain puree through fine-mesh strainer, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Return puree to pot, submerge pork slices in liquid, and bring to simmer over medium heat. Partially cover, reduce heat, and gently simmer until pork is tender but still holds together, 90 to 105 minutes, flipping and rearranging pork halfway through cooking. Transfer pork to large plate, season both sides with salt, and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Whisk sauce to combine. Transfer 1/2 cup to bowl for grilling. Save another 1/2 cup for use later. Squeeze 2 lime wedges into sauce in bowl and add spent wedges; season with salt to taste. (This is where I stopped with the recipe, I just used the bit of sauce to keep the pork moist for serving it.)
Heat grill until hot. Clean and oil cooking grate. Brush one side of pork with 1/4 cup reserved sauce. Place pork on one side of grill, sauce side down, and cook until well browned and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Brush pork with remaining 1/4 cup of sauce, flip and continue to cook until the second side is well browned and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes longer. Transfer to cutting board. Meanwhile, brush both sides of pineapple rings with vegetable oil and season with salt to taste. Place on other half of grill and cook until pineapple is softened and caramelized, 5 to 7 minutes per side. Transfer to cutting board. Coarsely chop pineapple and transfer to serving bowl. Using tongs to steady the pork, slice each piece crosswise into 1/8th inch pieces. Bring remaining sauce to simmer, add sliced pork, remove pot from heat, and toss to coat pork well. Season with salt to taste. Spoon small amount of pork into each warm tortilla and serve, passing chopped pineapple, remaining 6 lime wedges, onion and cilantro separately.
Normally, I try and stick pretty close to the recipe the first time I follow it. I make notes and change it on the subsequent tries. The reason I deviated so much on this one is because I was cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen (Narren’s) and using a grocery store that I was unfamiliar with, i.e. I would have picked up the peppers somewhere else had I known I couldn’t get anything close to them. I’m going to go one of two ways the next time I do this recipe. Either I will follow the recipe as intended and grill the meat and pineapple, or, more likely, I will do a slow roast in the oven instead of the stove top treatment. Really the only critique that I had with the way I did it was that the meat ended up a bit tough. But through some creative slicing, I was able to minimize it. Which is why I’m thinking of doing a slow roast, and almost going for a pulled pork sort of effect. Although I do like the idea of crisping up the pork. Well, we’ll see where my whims take me.