The $10 Challenge: Thai Noodles

This is the dish that inspired me to get back on my $10 Challenge game.
This is the dish that inspired me to get back on my $10 Challenge game.

This year, I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut.

I’ve become a creature of habit when it comes to eating out at Louisville-area restaurants. Part of this stagnation is because of (shameless plug alert) my book, Louisville DinersI was doing nothing but eating at new-to-me restaurants ALL THE TIME while I wrote it last year. When I finally turned in that manuscript at the end of 2014, I happily settled into a restaurant rotation that I haven’t strayed from in what feels like forever.

I also blame my own laziness for my lack of restaurant exploration (and, consequently, a lack of $10 Challenge posts). With grad school and a new job at CNET and a husband and a Roscoe, it’s just easier to pick a restaurant that doesn’t require much planning and anticipation. I think a lot about a restaurant before my first visit, and I’ve just let my daily life tire me out so much that I haven’t had much mental energy to devote to finding new eating places. Is their menu online? How big are their entrees? Is it worth the trip? It takes a lot of work to love food as much as I do.

I know, I know, excuses that I’ve made before. But my new role at CNET has given me a perk I didn’t anticipate: a new work location with new neighborhood restaurants to try. My awesome co-workers have introduced me to some great restaurants in the area, and Thai Noodles on Preston Highway has quickly become one of my favorites.

Not much of a view, but just wait until you try the food.
Not much of a view, but just wait until you try the food.

The family-owned restaurant provides quick service, hearty portions and vibrant flavors at low prices. Thai Noodles is in the space that once housed Thai Smile 5, according to the Courier-Journal. The building isn’t much to look at — just a little red building across the street from a shopping complex. Don’t let the modest accommodations fool you because there’s a lot to love once you get inside. The dining room is a nice open space with booths and tables around the perimeter and more tables in the middle. Despite the open floor plan (I’ve been watching too much HGTV), the dining area is calm and quiet because of the muted lighting and soft music piping through the speakers. I want to talk softly while I’m eating my meal just to match the atmosphere.

The menu offers a nice variety of Thai food. There are plenty of five types of curries, four types of fried rice and more than a dozen noodle dishes. I’ve only visited Thai Noodles during lunch time, and the midday menu is a bounty. Each of the 26 entrees range in cost from $6.95 to $10.95 depending on your choice of meat. The meal also comes with a bowl of soup. Customers can also add a spring roll, steamed dumpling, fried wonton or gyoza for an extra $1.50. It’s almost too easy to keep a big lunch under $10.

A cup of soup comes with every meal at Thai Noodles. I'm down for that.
A cup of soup comes with every meal at Thai Noodles. I’m down for that.

The broth-based soup has some tiny pieces of chicken, white rice and scallions and serves as a nice introduction to your meal. It doesn’t hurt that the server brings the soup shortly after you receive your beverage. (And speaking of beverages, save a couple of bucks for the Thai iced tea/lemonade combo. It’s refreshing and creamy with a little citrus kick.)

The dish that made me want to be a regular Thai Noodles patron was the first one I tried: L3, the Pad Kee Mao. This is a stir-fried rice noodle entree with egg, basil, broccoli, carrot, tomato, onions and bamboo shoots in a basil sauce. I chose shrimp to go with my noodles, an option that only cost $7.95. I also sprung for an order of dumplings for $1.50 since the lunch special was such a great deal. With every entree, you pick the level of heat you’d like on a scale of one red pepper (low) to five red peppers (Thai Hot). I picked one pepper because I wanted to be able to live with myself for the next 24 hours.

The steamed dumpling appetizer from Thai Noodles. You could pop these like Tic Tacs, or be polite and take tiny bites. Guess which option I chose.
The steamed dumpling appetizer from Thai Noodles. You could pop these like Tic Tacs, or be polite and take tiny bites. Guess which option I chose.

Just a few minutes after I had slurped up my soup, the waitress brought the steamed dumplings. They were filled with balls of ground chicken that poked out from the open dumpling exterior. The two dumplings were the perfect size for an appetizer in that they aren’t super huge and won’t fill you up too much before your meal. They had a subtle salty, savory flavor, but nothing too bold.

The Pad Kee Mao with shrimp at Thai Noodles.
The Pad Kee Mao with shrimp at Thai Noodles.

The Pad Kee Mao was a big plate full of vegetables, flat noodles and several plump shrimp. The basil sauce was pretty sneaky because it starts off as sweet, then hits you with some spiciness on the back end of the bite. However, my one-pepper heat level was the right choice for me — just enough spiciness to perk me up, but not enough to prevent me from truly enjoying this delicious meal.

I’ve been happy with my lunches at Thai Noodles, so happy that I’m back here writing a $10 Challenge. It just took a work location change and a tasty plate of noodles to get my groove back.


The Stats
  • L3 Pad Kee Mao with shrimp: $7.95
  • Steamed dumplings: $1.50
  • Total (excluding tax and tip): $9.45

Mission: Accomplished

When a new job gives you biscuits, make a breakfast casserole

Just one of many loads of biscuits CNET Appliances bakes to test ovens.
Just one of many loads of biscuits CNET Appliances bakes to test ovens.

A dream job seemed like a fantasy. For the past few years, I’ve assumed that a job was something I had to tolerate for eight hours a day so I would have enough money to pursue the activities about which I was really passionate. I was lucky enough to land somewhere that wasn’t too bad. My co-workers were fun. The work was new. I gave up the idea of earning a paycheck from doing what I love and loving what I do (a first-world mantra that glosses over things like taxes, rent and savings accounts) and settled into a content cubicle life.

Then my dream job showed up, slapped me in the face and reminded me that you can do what you love and get paid for it.

Last week, I began working at the technology and review website CNET as a senior associate editor. I test and review ovens for a living. Seriously. I can’t make this up. A food writer landed in a job that requires boiling water, broiling burgers and baking biscuits in order to recommend which ranges are a good fit in consumers’ homes.

Y’all, I’m living the dream. Let’s pause for a praise break.

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So anyway, back to these biscuits.

We take appliance testing seriously at CNET, so seriously that we go through cans and cans of refrigerated biscuits to test how evenly ovens will bake them. I hate seeing food go to waste, especially when it can be repurposed into something even better than the original. So I grabbed a bag full of biscuits and made a strata, which is French for “breakfast casserole made out of leftovers.”

Biscuit strata.
Biscuit strata. Don’t mind the “cajun” edges.

This recipe is versatile enough to work with all sorts of leftover bread. For example, I adapted this recipe from one in the Kentucky Fresh Cookbook that calls for cornbread. Using stale bread for strata is approximately 100 times better than just throwing it away or tossing pieces into the grass for birds (spoiler alert: my dog Roscoe is eating your bread scraps). You can also through in whatever meat, vegetables and cheese you have on hand. This is a great clean-out-the-fridge dish.

Cut the biscuits into cubes for the recipe.
Cut the biscuits into cubes for the recipe.

I hope you enjoy the first fruits of my new job. I’m still learning how everything works, so it might be a little bit before my first review is up. In the meantime, find yourself some biscuits and enjoy.


Biscuit Strata

Adapted from the Kentucky Fresh Cookbook by Maggie Green

Ingredients

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

1/2 pound bulk sausage (pork or turkey)

3 cups milk

6 large eggs

1 teaspoon dry mustard

8 cups biscuit cubes (any thick, stale bread will also do)

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

  1. Spray a 13x9x2-inch baking dish with nonstick spray. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook for five minute until the onions are softened.
  2. Stir in the sausage until it is cooked through, and drain off any excess fat.
  3. While the onions and sausage cook, whisk together the milk, eggs and dry mustard in a medium bowl.
  4. Assemble the strata: Put half the cornbread cubes into the baking dish. Cover the cubes with the sausage mixture and 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Pour half of the milk mixture as evenly as you can over everything in the dish. Cover with the rest of the bread cubes, the remaining milk mixture and the last cup of cheese.
  5. Cover and refrigerate the dish for 2 hour or overnight.
  6. When you’re ready to bake the strata, preheat the oven to 350. Bake the strata for about 50 minutes or until the cubes on top are golden brown.
  7. Let the strata stand for 10 minutes before you serve it.
  8. DEMOLISH THE STRATA