Last month, my friend Irene Emory, owner of Crossroads Cafe in Sewanee Tennessee, was planning a Chinese New Year Celebration Dinner in 8 courses, to be served Friday and Saturday evening. She needed some more hands in the kitchen. We talked, and I decided I could–for the weekend–come out of catering retirement. I packed up my favorite knives and motored south to Monteagle Mountain.
She had designed an ambitious menu: a vegetarian Eight Treasures Soup; steamed Shrimp dumplings–beguiling in their shiny almost translucent wraps; tender Pork Dumplings; Fish steamed in ginger, scallions and mirin; the ever-favorite vegetable stir-fry, Buddha’s Delight; Longevity Noodles topped with exotic mushroom-bok choy; Garlic Chive-Ginger Shrimp; Roast Duck in hoisin plum sauce, and finally, pineapple tarts with fresh fruit salad.
Irene has a fabulous gas wok stove. We could stand, side by side, each with our own huge wok to prepare our dishes. While I stir-fried vegetables, Irene simmered pork dumplings. We both prepared batches of garlic chive shrimp. The kitchen filled with heady aromatics. More wok-work: Irene made luscious bok choy. I tended to the soba noodles, in this case a quick boil then plunge into ice water: the trick to keep them from getting sticky.
There’s faucet connected to the stove. The long spigot can swing across the top, which makes refilling vessels a breeze, as water boils and evaporates. Adding a splash of water to the stir-fry created a beneficial sizzle and steam. When the cooking was complete, we could dump the water right onto the rangetop, which was at a slight angle. All the liquid disappeared down a drain. So cool!
It was fun to cook on that stove–a new experience for me. But what impressed me more was Irene’s cooking: her use of fresh garlic and ginger. Several stir-fries began with a squirt of oil and generous dollops of each ingredient, finely minced. Together, the two pungent tastes imparted this marvelous depth of flavor.
G&G, I thought. I’d put that to use.
Weather that weekend was berserk. The day was overcast, for my Friday morning drive, and a moderate 40 degrees. Most of the ice and snow from the storm earlier in the week had vanished. Things shifted later in the day. Right before our first dinner service, fat snowflakes began to cloak the mountain in white–3 inches! Late into the night, the snow turned into freezing rain.
By morning, everything was covered in a deceptive icy glaze. I hadn’t seen this since I was a child in New York—it stirred a memory of my siblings and I lacing up our ice skates, and gliding from neighboring yard to yard over ice-glazed snow.
Despite the wintery precip, both dinners proceeded as planned, with surprisingly few cancellations. Guests enjoyed all of the courses, and appreciated Irene’s gifts of mandarins and gold coins for abundance and good luck in the new year.
After a weekend of so much cooking, it was time to drive back home. On Sunday morning, the temperature had warmed again. The treacherous ice-glazed snow had melted. It was replaced by a blanket of fog, so thick I could barely see a few feet of the road in front of me. It was spooky. I drove onto the wrong highway ramp. After a panicked moment, I turned around, and got behind a big truck. I used him as my guide to descend the mountain.
Soon, the fog was above me. The world cleared. I’d be home soon, armed with new cooking inspiration.
GARLIC-GINGER PORK TENDERLOIN adapted from Cooking Light
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
2 pounds pork tenderloin
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup plum preserves
Place all of the ingredients, except for the pork, into a bowl. Whisk together. Place the pork into the mixture and rotate it so that the marinade coats the meat on all sides. Place the pork into a zip lock bag. Seal and refrigerate, allowing the meat to marinate for 2-4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the pork pieces from the marinade and place them onto a baking pan.
Roast for approximately 20-25 minutes. The meat will be slightly pink–do not overcook; the meat will get dry. Remove and let the meat rest 10 minutes while you prepare the glaze.
Place the hoisin and plum preserves into a small pot. Stir together for 5 minutes over medium heat.
Spoon the glaze over the cooling pork before slicing.
Makes 8 servings.
CONFETTI CASHEW RICE
2 tablespoons peanut oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1 leek, washed and chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 cup red cabbage, cut into shreds
1 pound sugar snap peas, cut on the diagonal
2 cups cooked and cooled jasmine rice
1/2 cup chopped cashews
Using a wok or deep skillet:
Place on medium high heat. Add peanut oil, then the garlic and ginger. With a wooden spoon, vigorously stir the two together for 30 seconds. Add the chopped leeks and red bell peppers. Stir fry for about two minutes. Add the red onion. Continue to stir fry, pushing the cooked leeks and peppers to the side of the wok or skillet. Add the red cabbage–cook for another minute. Finally add the sugar snap peas. It’s okay to add a splash of water to the mixture.
Reduce the heat.
Fold in the rice, a cup at a time. When it is well-incorporated, remove from heat.
Fold in the chopped cashews and serve.