Every December, about the time our local elementary school teachers are preparing to hibernate for their long and well deserved winter's nap (aka Winter Break), the PTO circles it's wagons and pulls an impressive collection of crock pots together to provide a thank-you lunch for the school staff.
This was my second year of enthusiastic participation in the slow-cookery event.
Last year, however I found myself in the unenviable position of being a day late and a crock pot short. Seems that mere hours before I was to be called upon to chip in with my chipped beef recipe, my slow cooker did the unthinkable and committed suicide while attempting to provide my family unit with an 8-hour yankee pot roast -- complete with baby carrots, migi-red potatoes, diced celery and pearl white onions.
I was not to be denied of a catering opportunity for such a good cause as feeding the hungry educators and schoolyard careerist of my daughter's school, so out came my big gun, my secret weapon, my sure-fire, guaranteed to be eaten first and enjoyed the most recipe -- my Mom's Chinese Chicken Salad.
For those of you who've ever eaten and enjoyed Chinese Chicken Salad, this is better.
For those of you who think P.F. Chang's CCS is a delectable and delicious blend of fresh produce, asian oils, spices, nuts and onion, you're correct..but this is better.
For those of you who swear the Diane Salad at Pasadena's Green Street Restaurant is the best version of this venerable Asian lettuce concoction..., this is better still.
The ingredient list is not overly exotic..if you know where to look in your friendly neighborhood oriental foods market.
There is a fair share of chopping, dicing, slicing, toasting, measuring, mixing, and frying to be done in the preparation of the dish, making the anticipation level of the first bite all that more heightened.
This salad, along with a large, thin crust sausage-anchovy-red onion-garlic Ameci's pizza and an ice cold Arnold Palmer would be my Green Mile meal.
It's good enough to cause the selfish and greedy streak in my inner chef to guard the recipe and preparation procedures of this very special salad as I would the keys to the lock on the very last lifeboat on the Titanic, or the blue star feedback level on my eBay account (267 positives, no negatives).
So you can imagine the hearty laughter of disdain and disbelief booming forth from my being when I was asked to provide the recipe for my Mom's Chinese Chicken Salad that was quickly disappearing from the bowl at the end of the third 6-foot table in the Teacher's lounge.
A quick scan of the other dishes laid out (none of which were salads and all of which were contained in slow-cooking crockery) revealed that indeed, recipe cards containing the preparation secrets of the thickly ladled contents within were shamefully displayed before each and every bubbling concoction.
With a final toss of my salad and a quick flick of the tongs, I make a hasty retreat from the inner sanctum of the Teacher's lounge, not wanting to face the torch wielding mobs I knew would soon be gathering around the soon-to-be-emptied cut glass bowl that had once contained my Mom's ambrosiastic salad to the stars.
Later, when I figured the coast was clear and the angry mobs of salad recipe denied school staff had made their final appearance at the PTO supplied buffet line, I snuck back in to retrieve my bowl and tongs. So confident was I that the bowl would not only be empty, but literally licked clean, I brought not a sheet of saran wrap nor a singleTupperware container for the leftovers.
My confidence was rewarded with the sight of a few drops of dressing resembling a primordial salad ooze, dozing and glistening at the bottom of the bowl.
As I lifted the bowl I found a note, written in threatening black Sharpie on a 3x5 card. On it were the five words every cook longs to hear, but in this particular instance, will never be fulfilled....
"We need this recipe."
Perhaps next year I'll replace my dead Crock Pot.