My good friend Toni Canada and I christened her new pied-a-terre (hereafter dubbed Canada House) and ushered in the new year (the Chinese one that is) with a fabulous dinner party in her stylish new Gold Coast home. The setting – her over-sized dining room which was transported to the far east with a table filled with potted orchids (tagged as gifts for departing guests), vintage silver chop sticks and antique blue and white porcelain (collected by Toni and her sister), rolled lunar calendars with favor boxes at each place (I learned I was born in the year of the dog), and dramatic white paper lanterns hung in each of the three gigantic windows (a dramatic contrast against the illuminated city scape beyond).
The ten guests began their evening in the living room with 5-Spice Pear Cocktails created by dinner guest/mixologist Amanda Puck (a signature drink she created for the Evening). Dinner started with a velvety smooth hot and sour soup made from scratch by Toni (see recipe at the end of this post) and homemade pot stickers which we pan seared. We divided and conquered on the 4 entrees, each created from scratch, and all served family style. There was Rainbow Chow Fun (wok fried noodles with lobster, chicken and filet), a classic General Tso’s Chicken (lightened up a bit with crispy white meat), Fiery Garlic Shrimp (spicy Schewaun flavors were a common across all dishes) and Dry Woked Green Beans with Mushrooms. And for dessert a deliciously light 20 Layer Crepe Cake ordered from Lady M’s in New York (served with fortune cookies of course).
The evening was a huge hit. Our main takeaways: authentic woks make the cooking process loads easier (I loved the Joyce Chen Carbon Wok I bought for us at Sur Le Table), the organized and pre-prepped mise an place made cooking à la minute possible (there was grated ginger and garlic for days), the steamed white rice we picked up from a Chinese take-out place next door was a super smart call (it easily reheated in the microwave and saved us that step while we were simultaneously woking the 4 entrees), surprisingly all of our ingredients could be found at Whole Foods (however using authentic Asian brands made the difference flavor wise) and I personally couldn’t have made my portion of the menu without the wisdom of blogger Diana Kuan (her book The Chinese Takeout Cookbook is now stocked at our store). And finally we both gained a heightened appreciation for ordering Chinese in. In fact we considered finishing the night by going next door to the aforementioned Chinese restaurant to buy the kitchen staff a closing round. But instead I somehow ended up toasting our success around the corner with a last call martini at Gibson’s.
Canada House Hot and Sour Soup
serves 6 to 8 as a starter
2 tablespoons fresh whole cilantro leaves
Toss pork with 2 tablespoons of dark soy sauce in a bowl until pork is well coated (cover and refrigerate, marinate overnight of possible).
Soak black and tree ear mushrooms in 3 cups boiling-hot water in a separate bowl (water should cover mushrooms), turning over occasionally, until softened, about 30 minutes. (Tree ears will expand significantly.)
Cut out and discard stems from black mushrooms. Squeeze excess liquid from caps back into bowl and thinly slice. Remove tree ears from bowl, reserving liquid, and trim any hard nubs. If necessary, cut tree ears into bite-size pieces. Stir together 1/4 cup mushroom-soaking liquid (discard remainder) with cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside.
Soak lily buds in about 1 cup warm water until softened, about 20 minutes and then drain. Trim tough tips off lily buds. Cut in half lengthwise into 2 or 3 shreds per bud.
Cover bamboo shoots with cold water by 2 inches in a small saucepan, then bring just to a boil (to remove bitterness) and drain in a sieve.
Heat a wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Pour peanut oil down side of wok, then swirl oil, tilting wok to coat sides. Add pork and stir-fry until meat just changes color, about 1 minute, then add black mushrooms, tree ears, lily buds, and bamboo shoots and stir-fry 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a large stock pot.
Add broth, bring to a boil, then add tofu. Return to a boil and add vinegar mixture. Dish maybe be made a few hours ahead up until this point – with soup left warm on stove or refrigerated and reheated.
Stir cornstarch mixture in bowl to recombine. Add it to broth and return to a boil, stirring constantly. (Liquid will thicken.) Reduce heat to moderate and simmer 1 minute.