A tasty vegan salad that will please a crowd and is great for any party or picnic.
Chinese Noodle Salad with Asparagus
I have made this salad for many years and on many occasions but never for 50 people. The recipe comes from one of my old well-loved cook books, The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison and Ed Brown. Deborah Madison was Greens' founding chef. Ed Brown is well known for his Tassajara Bread Book and so many other inspiring books on the Zen of cooking. I adore his books. If you are in San Fransisco, this well-loved vegetarian restaurant in Ford Mason has been an icon of gourmet vegetarian food for many years. It is a real San Francisco experience.
At this time last year, I was in Marrakech for a week with a group of wonderful people including a very dear friend of mine. We had a great time exploring the sights and Moroccan culture. Since I was with a group of Germans and Swiss, everybody assumed that I also was German. Who am I? German, American, or am I the sum of both? Here in the States, people ask me where I am from. I look at them and say Santa Cruz, especially when I am at home in Santa Cruz. You see, after all these years, I still have a slight accent. When I am in Germany, people can't figure out where I'm from. I don't have an accent when I speak German, but I am different in the way I behave and dress. I don't fit the mold. I don't belong anymore. These are subtle things. I love my German family and friends and I know that I am one of them, but my home is in Santa Cruz and that's where I am fortunate enough to live. I do miss going back to my mother and my childhood home. My mom is gone now and there isn't a day when I don't miss her—and the home and the love she gave me. My brother and his family are still at the farm, but I'm not ready to go back quite yet because it will not be the same.
Life continues, it goes on and it is beautiful. I have so many things to be thankful for. I am thankful for my dear friends, Diane and George, and their beautiful serene mountain retreat. It is a dream, even when it rains on the day of a big party. We were celebrating a birthday and a soon-to-be-married beautiful granddaughter. It was the only rain we had in months here in California, so nobody was complaining. An old spinnaker sail was hoisted over the picnic tables and it kept out most of the precious rain drops. There was a big, beautiful, smoked ham from the Corralitos Meat Market local butcher, and much more delicious food.
I volunteered to make my Chinese noodle salad for 50 people. My big turkey fryer was the only container large enough to transport this humongous salad.
It was a lot of work, a labor of love.
Chinese Noodle Salad with Asparagus Recipe
This is an excellent salad to bring to parties and picnics. You can double, triple or quadruple this recipe. The original recipe called for eggplant, but I have almost always used fresh asparagus. For this salad, I also added pistachio nuts and radishes. The marinade can be made a couple of days ahead and can be used for a week. The flavors improve overnight. I cooked the noodles a day ahead and mixed them with some of the dressing. I made sure that the noodles were well-coated with the dressing so that they did not stick together. I used my hands. The flavors will develop as the noodles sit. I blanched all the vegetables on the day of the event. Make sure all the veggies are still crisp and not overcooked. Less is more.
Lemon Almond Cake
It will be Easter in a couple of days. To me, Easter is my favorite holiday. It means that spring is just around the corner, as the days get longer with so many signs of new beginnings. And it means that the days of darkness are in the past.
It is also the time when I usually travel to Germany. I always looked forward to seeing my German family and celebrate Easter with them. My little village has traditions that get repeated every year. One of my favorite ones is the bonfire on the night of Easter Sunday. It is an old pagan ritual meant to chase away winter and its evil spirits and welcome spring. Today, it is mainly a social gathering to drink beer and eat sausages and apples. The belief is that the apples ensure good health for the coming year, but what about the sausage and the beer?
There is also a tradition of having a big Easter dinner on Sunday or Monday. Easter lamb, chicken or eggs are typical meals. My family always has a brunch after the kids finished their Easter egg hunt. Many houses and town squares are decorated nicely with bunnies and eggs. This year I’m not going to Germany. I will stay at home here in Santa Cruz and go to an annual Easter party on the mountain with my girlfriend and her family. We will also celebrate an upcoming marriage and a birthday. There will always be new beginnings.
This cake has a distinct lemony taste because whole lemons are being used. The almonds add crunch and one can taste a hint of candied ginger, a delight for the senses.
Years ago, a genius cook made up this recipe using whole lemons and Sunset magazine printed it. It is a nutty, chewy, not-too-sweet cake with the flavor of whole lemons including the rind. If you want sweet lemon bars, you picked the wrong recipe. This cake is not sweet and does not taste like a regular lemon desert. Since this recipe uses the whole lemon, you get a very lemony somewhat bitter flavor. To mellow out the flavor, the lemons are cooked and then used in the recipe. I have made this cake many times and most of my family and friends like it, but not everybody likes the distinct bitter lemon flavor. So you wonder, “Why is she posting it?” The answer is because I love the flavor and texture of this cake, so it has a worthy place in my cooking repertoire.
The cake lasts for several days and tastes even better the next day. The almonds add a crunchy, chewy quality to the cake that I love. How will you know if you like it or not? If you like orange or lemon marmalade, you will probably like this desert.
If you want another choice for a lemon dessert, try my lemon bread. It is a more traditional recipe since it uses only the juice of the lemon. I would be very interested what you think about my choices. By the way, my niece, who was visiting me from Germany requested lemon bars, the sweeter the better. I made most of her favorite food while she was here, like butternut squash lasagne with hazelnuts, which I will post soon.
Why Do We Cook?
Why do we cook? We have to eat of course, but we don’t necessarily have to cook to do so. Today, we have many options including eating out at restaurants or bringing prepared food home. One of the questions I often ask people is, “Do you cook?” Many times, the answer is,”not really!” I ask that question because I love to talk about food and cooking. It’s almost an obsession. I ask questions, I snoop around cooking blogs, I go directly to the food section in magazines and so on. I relish food with my senses by smelling it and enjoying the different flavors. I know I’ve come across something special when the flavors explode in my mouth and create a sensation of pure pleasure. That is what happened several weeks ago at my little cabin in the woods.
My sister-in-law and her family came over for dinner. My husband grilled a beautiful rack of lamb and some small white creamer potatoes on the side. He does this to perfection and everybody loves it. He slices the rack into paired ribs and generously coats them with pepper and garlic salt. He puts them on a gas grill on medium heat and pays attention so they do not burn. He serves them medium rare. Sometimes, depending on the ribs, he trims the excess fat. He precooks his potatoes in the microwave for about 2-3 minutes depending on the number of potatoes. The potatoes go in a bowl with olive oil and garlic salt. You want to have a good coating of olive oil on all the potatoes. Then he puts them on the upper grill and cooks them with the meat until they are soft. He coats the potatoes during the grilling with leftover olive oil. He sits outdoors next to his barbecue, enjoying a scotch, watching his food cook as I busy myself in the kitchen.
On this particular night, I roasted some fresh asparagus coated with walnut oil sprinkled with sea salt in a preheated oven at 375˙degrees for about 8 minutes. The cabin is at a 6000-foot elevation, so the cooking time increases. I made my citrus vinaigrette for my green salad and pulled out my sauces and condiments that everybody loves with the lamb. Mint jelly is a must, however, my mountain fridge had some wonderful treasures—like the cranberry ketchup I made for our Christmas dinner and never used, and my green sauce that I made a couple of days before to go with salmon cakes. This green sauce had more garlic than normal and was mostly yogurt with some chives. We had a great dinner, and the wine and conversation was flowing. Everybody seemed to enjoy the food. I covered my little creamy potatoes and pieces of lamb with the different sauces—and it was divine. Some of the little lentils from my lentil salad were swimming in the sauce–and oh what flavor! Every bite brought more joy.
Earlier that day, I made a lentil salad to go along with the feast. I have made lentil salad many times and it never turns out the same. There is a wonderful recipe from Regina Schrambling on the Wednesdaychef blog that I sometimes make. It uses leeks, hazelnuts and duck confit. Most of the time, I just make a simple vinaigrette that I pour over the warm lentils for a delicious salad that I can eat for days to come. This time, I cooked some carrots with my lentils and added some celery and to the finished salad. When I eat the salad by itself I like to add either goat or feta cheese.
I used walnut oil in this recipe, but a good olive oil will do. Walnut oil gives the salad a wonderful nutty flavor. Walnut oil is sold in small bottles because it doesn’t last long.
WELCOME TO SUNNY COVE CHEF
Thank you for visiting my blog. My two passions are cooking and traveling. Traveling exposes me to a wide variety of food and experiences. I walk around cities looking for markets, restaurants, bakeries, shops, you name it, and if it is related to food you will find me there, tasting, smelling, talking to vendors, and having a great time.