September 02, 2010

Chinese dinner | Spinach and tofu soup | Cold Chinese Noodles | Blurb

We spent about five weeks in July and August visiting our "real" home in Madison, Wisconsin, and my posts from July and August about traveling, doing upkeep on our house and garden, and spending time catching up with friends — usually while enjoying food — are continuing into September. I still have some territory to cover, but got sidetracked by an unexpected, all-consuming project that I'll mention later. Anyway, no diary about our summer would be complete without a story about the special dinner cooked for us by one of my husband's graduate students. To be accurate, I'd have to say, "former graduate student," because Katrina successfully defended her dissertation this week and is now a PhD.

To call the meal a "dinner," is like calling a Bengal tiger a "kitty." It was more like a banquet. Every dish was gorgeous and delicious. Katrina is an accomplished cook and gracious hostess. I had forgotten my camera, but we live only a few minutes from Katrina, and my husband went home to get it. I'm so glad he did.

Here she is preparing the spinach soup with tofu. Like all good cooks, she carefully tastes and seasons her creations. She spooned some soup into a bowl and tasted it before deciding it was perfect.

Below, you can see the amazing, colorful variety of dishes Katrina prepared.


Zucchini with peppers

Broiled tofu

Noodles with garlic and nori


Asparagus and peppers

Fruit platter

Our hostess and one of her happy guests.

I'm including recipes for two of the dishes. One has appeared on the blog before, but it's such a favorite of ours I've decided to reprise it here. The other recipe is for the soup. It is a very light and simple soup, but very delicious — perfect as the first course of a complex meal. It only takes minutes to prepare.

Katrina's cold Chinese noodles
  • 8 ounces spaghetti (I used Ancient Harvest quinoa pasta but Katrina used whole wheat spaghetti.)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar (or brown rice vinegar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili sauce (sambal oelek)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 inch fresh ginger root, cut fine (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced very fine
  • few grinds black pepper
  • 1 sheet seasoned or plain toasted nori, cut with scissors into small rectangles
  • chopped cilantro, optional
  1. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions al dente. When cooked, drain and rinse under cold running water to cool quickly. Drain noodles again and place in a bowl.
  2. Add the oil and toss to coat the noodles.
  3. Add vinegar, tamari, chili, garlic, ginger, sugar and pepper, and mix well.
  4. Just before serving, add the nori. Mix some in and transfer the noodles to a serving bowl. Arrange the remaining nori over the top of the noodles.
  5. Optional: Sprinkle with chopped cilantro.
Makes four servings as a side dish.

Spinach soup with ginger and tofu
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced or grated fresh ginger
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons oil, as you prefer
  • 6 cups water
  • 12 to 14 ounces soft tofu, cubed
  • 2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 5 ounces fresh baby spinach, washed
  • salt and fresh ground pepper
  1. Sauté the ginger in the oil for a minute or two in a four quart pot. I grated my ginger on a microplane grater so it was very fine.
  2. Add the water and the tofu and bring to a boil. Boil the tofu for several minutes.
  3. Turn the heat to simmer and add the tamari.
  4. Stir in the spinach to wilt.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. I ground both pink salt and mixed peppercorns. A few grinds was all it took to bring out the flavor.
Some variations:
Sauté minced garlic with the ginger.
Add grated or match stick carrots with the tofu.
Add sliced scallions just before serving.
Use low-sodium vegetable stock instead of water.
Make miso broth to use instead of water.


I mentioned an intense project I worked on this past week that kept me from blogging or even reading blogs. Actually it kept me from sleeping and eating regularly, too. My son attended a conference this summer that was partially sponsored by Blurb, an online Web site where you can make your own photo books. They gave each participant coupons worth a substantial amount of money to put toward making a personal book, and to give away, and my son gave one to me. He pulled his baby blog into a fantastic photo album chronicling the first two years of his daughter's life, and suggested I use my blog to make a cookbook. Well, that was in July, and we were in Wisconsin enjoying the summer. Plus, I didn't have my computer with my photo-editing software, or my original photos. The photos on the blog have all been made too small to print well. So, I just blew off the coupon. Then, four days before the coupon expired, I suddenly realized I wanted to make the book, and went slightly berserk, laying it out and finding and processing the photos. I was up until 2 a.m. several nights in a row, trying to complete a task that seemed impossible. I thought the deadline, September 1, was Tuesday, and having finished the book by 8 p.m., I frantically tried to send in my book before midnight, but the upload kept getting interrupted. I tried everything I could think of, to no avail. Then I learned that September 1 was actually Wednesday, and I went to bed, exhausted. The next day, the actual September 1, after fruitless exchanges with the Blurb tech people, at my son's suggestion I re-installed the Blurb software and the book finally went through. Now I'm waiting to see what it looks like, and how many typos didn't get caught! I've already revised it in case I want to order a few for gifts. If it looks good, I may add a few more recipes that I didn't have time to add before, or which need new photos. Most of my older photos are pretty embarrassing.


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  1. Mmmmm the food looks great. What a fabulous banquet! I can't wait to try the recipes--thanks for sharing! :)

    Good to know about the So Delicious-Farm Sanctuary project; I'll have to remember it next time I'm out shopping.

  2. Everything looks so fantastic! What a great cook Katrina is. Thank you guys so much for sharing the noodle recipe.

  3. I've been lurking in the background enjoying your blog for a while, but never commented before. I just had to say that the food looks so delicious! Thank you for sharing the noodle recipe; I'm definitely going to try it out. :)

    I also love the idea of supporting the animal welfare organization while buying dairy free milk. I wish they came up with something like that here, too!

  4. This post was OVER THE TOP delicious. Seriously, how do I get invited to dinner? I have been craving some delicious, authentic Chinese food lately...and this...this fits the bill perfectly. Everything looks absolutely amazing!

  5. Tiffany,
    Not only did Katrina prepare beautiful food, she has a skylight above the dining table, making her residence a great place to take photos!

    We eat the noodles often — they go really well with seitan. :D

    Thanks for reading and commenting. I love to hear from my blog readers. Hope you like the noodles.

    I'm sure I could get you an invitation to dinner, but you'd have to fly very far in a plane. Ahem. I know you don't like to fly, but it might be worth it. :D

  6. Katrina must be a fabulous cook! I am impressed by the spread of food she made. Thanks for letting us know about the So Delicious Coconut Milk. I will be glad to buy some to help Farm Sanctuary!

  7. I am sure your book will be perfect--and your photos are always lovely, so no worries about that :-) Congrats on getting it done! That is very exciting.


  8. amazing banquet! and i noticed the wonderful lighting, especially in the four photos of katrina, i was wondering how you pulled that off. i need to get myself a place with a skylight...

    is this cookbook something that's going to be for sale online or is it just for your personal use/to give out as a gift? either way, exciting!

  9. Kiersten,
    Katrina IS a fabulous cook.

    We'll see how it turns out. I've already started revising it ...

    Katrina wasn't actually under the skylight — she was in the kitchen just off the skylit room, and I was shooting through a pass-through. There were mixed light sources. I'm not a professional like you are so I don't know what I'm doing. :D

    The cookbook is personal. I think it might be too expensive for someone to want to buy.

  10. Thank you Andrea for writing about the dinner! It's a great pleasure to have you try my food! Aha, I look almost professional with the apron on me. ^__^ The pictures look great and thanks for sharing the recipe with your blog friends!

    To Andrea's blog friends: I'd be happy to cook for you if any of you happen to visit Madison. :-)

  11. To Andrea: your blog looks great and the pictures are very beautiful too. I'm sure your book is going to be great!

  12. I remember I over broiled the asparagus so that they looked dull. They should look brighter green and the red pepper brighter red. I'll keep closer watch when I cook this dish next time.

  13. How lucky you are to have genuine Chinese meals prepared for you, unAmericanized! We had a Japanese exchange student stay with us for a time a while back, vegetarian no less, and she made us a thank-you meal. It was fantastic!

    And here I thought your time-consuming project was ME! What a surprise! Are we going to be able to see your new cookbook?

  14. Katrina,
    Thank you for COOKING the dinner! You should teach cooking classes. I don't remember the asparagus and peppers looking dull — they tasted great. Maybe my photo made them look less bright than they should be.

    Yes, we were lucky.

    After I see the book, and then do a revised version, I might let you see it. :D Right now it's private.

  15. what a feast! it all looks so delicious!

  16. What a beautiful cook! I'm glad your husband was able to get the camera so you could share this awesome feast with us! Thank you for the recipes! :)

    Your Blurb experience sounds so frustrating! I'm sure your book will be gorgeous and it will be worth all that hassle.

  17. SAra,
    Thanks for commenting! I wish you could have tasted the lovely food.

    The minute I saw the food I knew I had to have the camera.

    Rushing to do the Blurb book on such a short deadline was stressful, and then having the upload repeatedly fail over 24 hours was exasperating. I don't have the highest hopes for the first book. I'm re-doing it, and hoping the second edition will be much better.

  18. I am drooling over those noodles. The entire spread looks amazing! I can only imagine how stressed you must've been with the book. Yikes!

  19. I don't know how she managed to cook all those foods in one day. It was like a potluck only it was all cooked by the same person. I wish I could do that.

  20. Andrea, I didn't spend much time cooking that day, especially broiling is very easy. I love this way of cooking - make the sauce and mix them with the vegetables and tofu, and then put into the oven. :-)

  21. Katrina,
    It's hard for me to imagine that it didn't take you very long. Maybe I need a cooking lesson!


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