Somewhat recently a new fishmonger opened shop near our apartment, and when we popped by most recently, they had delicious looking, shelled lobster. I also happened to have a hankering for fra diavolo and so we decided to get the lobster and the lobster stock they had on hand.
There are quite a few recipes out there for fra diavolo, and most were either for a generic seafood medley (which we felt wouldn’t highlight flavors from the lobster) or just in photos looked totally different from what we’ve always seen when we (rarely) ordered lobster fra diavolo in restaurants. It was also surprising how many recipes for specifically “lobster” fra diavolo called for Cognac or some variation of brandy. When we asked our friendly local fishmonger about this, he mentioned that apparently lobster and brandy are considered a classic taste pairing. He also noted that he had tried lobster fra diavolo both with and without the brandy and didn’t seem to know the difference.
The recipe that we finally decided appeared to be the closest to the fra diavolos of memory was this one from Saveur. Given the cost of the lobster and the stock, we figured we would go all in and made the recipe with some Armagnac, and we would argue that you really could taste it in the sauce. It turned out fantastic, and if you can moderate the amount of chili pepper flakes for the “spicy” levels.
1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb pre-cooked lobster meat (if you can find it, otherwise the Saveur recipe has some very detailed instructions on how to cook your own lobster)
1⁄2 cup flour
2 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
1 tsp. dried oregano
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1⁄2 cup cognac or brandy
1 cup seafood or fish stock (I used lobster stock)
1 (28-oz.) box whole peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lb. fettuccine pasta, cooked
1 tbsp. chopped parsley
Heat oil in an 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chile flakes, oregano, and garlic to pot; cook until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes.
Add tomato paste; cook until lightly caramelized, about 2 minutes.
Add cognac; cook until almost evaporated, about 2 minutes.
Add stock, tomatoes, and bay leaf; boil.
Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, partially covered, until thickened, about 30 minutes.
Add lobster to pot; cook until cooked through, about 10 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper. Add pasta; toss with sauce.
Transfer to a large serving platter; sprinkle with parsley.
I’ve heard of the wonders of spaghetti squash for some time, but was always convinced that it wouldn’t be filling enough and that the effort to payoff ratio would never be worth it. I was proved very, very wrong last week when I really, really wanted to make a tomato and shrimp pasta sauce but wasn’t particularly keen on making pasta noodles.
Turned out to be very easy to just roast the spaghetti squash, and then using a fork, just scraped it out of its skin. I then added the sauce and bam! Very easy to make, delicious, filling, and wonderful that I found a new vehicle for the tomato pasta sauces that I looooove eating.
1, ~2 lb. spaghetti squash
1 bunch of arugula
1, 28 oz. box Pomi tomatoes
1 lb. peeled and deveined shrimp
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 chopped medium white onion
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp red chili pepper flakes
Pre-heat your oven to about 400 degrees. Cut spaghetti squash in half, scrape out the seeds, and then drizzle with olive oil and place on a baking sheet covered in foil. Bake squash for about 30 minutes.
While the squash is roasting, take a large skillet and put it over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and after it has heated up, saute garlic and red chili pepper flakes. Add the onion and cook until translucent.
Add in the tomatoes, red wine vinegar and honey and bring to a boil, and then stir in the arugula, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.
In a separate skillet, heat up some olive oil with the pan on medium-high heat and saute the shrimp until opaque – about 3 minutes – just be sure to not overcook the shrimp!
After the tomato sauce is ready, add the shrimp and mix through and turn the heat off.
When the spaghetti squash is done cooking, take it out of the oven and let it cool, and then scrape out the insides using a fork. You’ll find that it will come right out, and really look like angel hair pasta.
Scoop some squash into bowls and add sauce. Sprinkle salt and pepper and serve immediately.
I had two favorite cookies growing up – the famous “Black and White” Cookies and the linzer torte cookie, sometimes referred to as “Lunettes.” I still haven’t replicated the Black and White cookies and many that you can buy today are sickeningly sweet, but I have developed my version of a Linzer Torte. Because making cookies can be tedious, I prefer to make this as an actual torte. The only part that I make from scratch is the rich pastry dough, so the quality of the remaining ingredients that you purchase is everything. If you prefer to make a cookie, you can still use this dough recipe. I made this for my pre-Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends and it was a big hit. It also is great since it can be made a day ahead and any leftovers will keep for several days. The crust may soften a bit, but the taste is uncompromised.
Lisa’s Linzer Torte
Yield: One 9-inch Torte
For Rich Pastry Dough (Makes enough dough for two 9-inch pastry shells)
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup frozen butter, cut into 1 Tablespoon-size pieces
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
3 hard-cooked large egg yolks
1 large egg
Zest of 1 large lemon
3 Tablespoons cold water
For the filling
1o ounces of Raspberry Curd (If you want to make your own, more power to you. I buy a good commercial brand. Since what is available can vary so much, just look for what is available and check the ingredients. The main ingredients should be fruit, eggs, butter and sugar.)
10 ounces of Raspberry Jam (Again, there are so many fine commercial or artisanal jams out there, that this is not something I personally would spend time on making. Whether you choose with seeds or without is purely personal taste. With seeds is more traditional, but it is your choice.)
7 ounces almond paste (I used Odense brand. I like the quality and it rolls out well which is what you need for this recipe.
1 egg yolk plus 1 teaspoon milk or cream
Casting Sugar or Confectioner’s Sugar (Optional)
For the pastry dough
I like to make this in a food processor, but you could make this by hand.
Using the metal blade, add the flour, butter, sugar, egg, egg yolks, lemon zest, salt and water to the bowl of a food processor.
Pulse for 15 seconds and then turn on, processing just until a ball of dough starts to form on the blades. Since all flour is different, if you must add a bit more water for this to come together, add a 1/2 Tablespoon at a time and use as little as you can get away with.
Divide into two dough disks and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Assembling the Torte
Roll out one dough disk to fit a 9-inch fluted flan pan with a removable bottom. (If you don’t own one of these, you can use a 9-inch pie plate, but I highly encourage you to purchase this pan.) Leave a 1-inch overhang and trim off any excess dough. Fold the overhand under and smooth the top.
Roll out the almond paste to fit the inside of the pan, not quite coming to the top of the sides. You might need to trim this a bit. Fit the rolled out almond paste into the ie shell. Ideally you will refrigerate the pie shell at this point, but when I made it, I had neither the time nor the space in my fridge to do this step and it was fine.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
When you are ready to bake the torte, fill the shell first with the raspberry curd and then cover that with the jam. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect and there is some mixing going on of curd and jam.
Roll out the second disk of pastry into a rectangle and trim it so the ends are straight and even. Using a pastry wheel (straight or fluted) or a knife, cut 1/2 inch strips of dough. You will probably need 8 to 10 strips. Any leftover dough can be made into a simple but delicious cookie.
Weave the strips into a lattice pattern (YouTube it) on top of a piece of cardboard. Once you have the pattern, you will carefully slide it onto the top of the torte. You can also weave it directly on the torte, but it is difficult to not get jam all over the dough that way. (I am admittedly still working on perfecting my weaving technique which is why I am advising you to YouTube it.) Carefully tuck the ends of the strips, trimming where necessary, under the edges of the bottom crust. Mine isn’t perfect but it was still wonderful so don’t be intimidated! Pinch the two doughs together and smooth it with your fingers.
Whisk the egg yolk with the cream or milk and carefully brush the strips and outer rim of the torte with the mixture. You probably won’t use it all on this recipe. If you are using casting or sanding sugar, sprinkle it over the strips. Don’t be too anal about this. And if you prefer you can sprinkle confectioner’s sugar on top just before serving, which is a bit more traditional.
Bake for 23 minutes and then turn the torte. Continue baking until the pastry is golden brown. The jams will be a bit liquidy at this point but will thicken as the torte cools. This took about another 22 minutes in my oven, but ovens vary. Allow to cool completely and then remove from the flan ring and using a thin spatula, carefully remove the bottom. It should slide right off, so don’t use any big or abrupt moves or you will see your torte go flying!
Sunday was the unveiling of my mother’s gravestone and since family was in for the ceremony, we decided to host a pre-thanksgiving dinner. I took advantage of the opportunity to make some things that were not my traditional thanksgiving fare. I found this recipe for carrots that sounded incredibly easy and were also attractive. While I won’t be making them this thanksgiving, you easily could.
It’s not my name – okay?! This recipe also comes from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. This is perfect baking weather – not too hot or too cold and not damp. We plowed through the Anadama bread that I made last week. It was wonderful for sandwiches but was particularly scrumptious, toasted and spread with unsalted butter and drizzled with honey. I will definitely be making that again, but I wanted to try something different that I could still use for sandwiches and looked no further than this multi-grain loaf.
Years ago I had bought old-fashioned rolled steel bread pans and that’s what I used for this bread. It makes a wonderful crust and this time served to very briefly make me forget that it was 2016. It’s going to take an awful lot of bread baking to help me survive the next 4 years…
3 Tablespoons coarse cornmeal or polenta (you could substitute millet, quinoa or amaranth)
3 Tablespoons old-fashioned rolled oats
2 Tablespoons wheat bran
1/4 cup water, at room temperature
For the Dough
3 cups bread flour plus up to one cup more to add when kneading
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1.5 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 Tablespoon instant dried yeast
3 Tablespoons cooked brown rice (I cooked up some brown rice, served some with dinner and froze 3 Tablespoon packets for future baking)
1.5 Tablespoons honey (or substitute Agave or other vegan sweetener, if so desired)
1/4 cup buttermilk (you can use any kind of “milk” and if you add 1 teaspoon of distilled vinegar to it and allow it to sit for at least 15 minutes, you will have a buttermilk substitute)
3/4 cup water, at room temperature
About 1 Tablespoon poppy seeds for topping (optional)
Just before going to sleep the night before you bake the bread, prepare the soaker. Combine all of the soaker ingredients in a small bowl. The water will barely hydrate the grain. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature to initiate the enzyme action.
The next day, stir together the flour, brown sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer, using the paddle attachment. Add the soaker, rice, honey, buttermilk and water. Stir until the ingredients start to form a ball. If using a mixer, do this on a low speed. If there is some flour remaining, add a few drops of water.
Either knead with the dough hook for 8 to 10 minutes, adding flour in small amounts until the dough is pliable but not sticky or knead by hand on a floured counter. I used my mixer but then still had to knead by hand, adding about 1/2 to 3/4 cup additional flour to get the dough the right consistency. The dough should be smooth and slightly shiny when it is ready. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it all around in the oil. Cover the bowl and allow it to ferment for 90 minutes or until doubled. Mine took exactly 90 minutes.
Remove the dough from the bowl and press it by hand into a rectangle that is about 6 inches wide and 8 to 10 inches long. Fold it into thirds and pinch together the seams and fold under the ends. Place this packet into your oiled 9 x 5 inch bread pan. Brush with tap water, sprinkle on your poppy seeds, if using, and then spray lightly with oil (or a spray like PAM). Lightly cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for up to 90 minutes or until the dough crests fully above the lip of the pan, doming about 1 inch above at the center. Don’t get hung up on the timing. Mine took just one hour to get there. Start heating your oven to 350 degrees F. after 30 minutes so it will be nice and hot by the time the dough was ready.
I baked mine for a total of 58 minutes, but every oven is different. I baked it for 25 minutes and then turned it. After 50 minutes, it looked like it wasn’t quite brown enough for me so I turned it again and gave it 8 more minutes. When I rapped on the top of the bread and it sounded hollow, I knew it was done. Turn it out immediately onto a cooling rack and allow to cool for at least 2 hours before slicing. When it is totally cool, you can wrap it tightly in foil. The bread should also freeze well should you be making a bigger batch.
Okay, so the name of this dish doesn’t exactly roll off of the tongue and, yes, there are a lot of elements going on here. But no single part is that difficult, most can be made in advance and the individual pieces can be used in other combinations. In fact, this recipe is something that I took bits and pieces from one recipe that was somewhat underwhelming as a whole but had a few nice elements. The spiced pumpkin seeds are so addictive that I advise you to double the recipe and set some aside for nibbling or you won’t have any when it comes time to serve! They are marvelous as a nosh with a drink. And if you want to keep this vegetarian, lose the merguez sausage and cook up some brown rice, wheat berries or farro to add to the lentils.
1 medium butternut squash, skin on, halved, seeded and sliced into 1/3 inch slices. Bigger pieces can be halved again.
1 medium delicata squash, skin on, halved, seeded (I like to use a melon baller for removing the seeds) and sliced into 1/3 inch slices
2 Tablespoons EVOO
Kosher or sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
For the lentils
2 cups of green lentils or lentils du puy
2 Tablespoons chopped red onion or shallot
a large handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
Kosher salt and Aleppo or fresh cracked black pepper to taste.
For the dressing
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 Tablespoons Apple Cider or white wine vinegar
scant 1/2 cup EVOO
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon Aleppo or fresh cracked black pepper
Generous 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon sugar, preferably raw or Demerara
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 inch strip of anchovy paste, optional
Crumbled feta or goat cheese (or if you are being a bit decadent, a round of marinated Cabecou such as one by Laura Chenel)
Mix all of the ingredients for the dressing and set aside in a glass bottle or covered measuring cup. I like for the flavors to meld.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. and line a baking pan with parchment paper. Mix the pumpkin seeds with the lime juice, cayenne pepper and salt and spread on the parchment. Toast for 12 minutes. Stir the seeds and continue toasting for 12 minutes more. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Any left-over seeds will keep up to 3 weeks in an airtight container in the fridge or up to a week in a cool room. I dare you to have any last that long!
Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F. Line 2 rimmed baking pans with parchment and in a single layer, place the delicata squash on one pan and the butternut squash on the other. Sprinkle on the salt, pepper and EVOO and toss. Roast for 30 minutes and then flip the squash pieces and rotate the pans. Roast until brown, about another 10 minutes more for the delicata squash and up to 20 minutes more for the butternut squash.
Rinse and drain your lentils. Bring them to a boil in water to cover by 2 inches, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for 23 minutes. The cooking time will depend on the type of lentil you are using. I am using a de puy lentil because it keeps it shape well when cooked and is wonderfully aromatic. You want the lentil to be tender, but still holding its shape. Drain them and toss while warm with about 6 tablespoons of the dressing. You want it well-dressed, but not drowned. Add 2 Tablespoons finely chopped red onion or shallot and a large handful of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley. Even though the dressing has salt and pepper, I always add a bit more to the lentils directly.
Slice the merguez (or other sausage) on the diagonal and brown, cooking through in a frying pan. I then add the sausage to the lentils and mix through, but you can keep them separate if you prefer. I’m not big on dictates.
I like to serve the lentils and merguez slightly warm and everything else at room temperature. This can be assembled over a bed of arugula that has been tossed with some of the dressing. I would layer the dressed arugula first, then add the lentil/merguez mixture, some of the roasted squashes, a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds and crumbled goat cheese. I plan on serving this with a nice Truett Hurst Red Field Blend red wine and some crusty bread. Any leftovers (other than arugula with dressing) can be used on their own or in combination. I have been known to put roasted squash into sandwiches and over pasta and the lentils and sausage would be wonderful with eggs.
The weather this week has mostly been incredible – sunny, breezy and highs in the low 60s. It’s November – and this is Chicago! My husband and I took a 9 mile walk along the lakefront yesterday and ran into the New Zealand All Blacks and the Irish rugby team fans heading for a championship game at Soldier Field. Ireland won. Rugby. Who knew?
Today is another gorgeous day and I don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking, but I do want something to top off an incredible week. After a stunning win by the Cubs and an all-out citywide party something bland just wasn’t going to cut it. I decided to make a chicken tortilla soup. I had made one last week for the first time and while it showed promise, it just was lacking. So what follows is my version.
Chicken Tortilla Soup
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
2 Tablespoons neutral vegetable oil like a Canola oil
2 small or 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped into a small dice
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
2 large jalapenos (about 2 Tablespoons) , finely chopped
6 cups of chicken stock
14.5 ounce can of fire roasted diced tomatoes
26.5 ounce (or two 14.5 ounce cans) black beans, drained and rinsed well
15.5 ounce can corn kernels, preferably fire roasted or about 2 cups (you can use frozen or fresh corn if you prefer)
1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (3 medium size breasts)
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 teaspoons chili powder (I like the one from Rancho Gordo)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano leaves
Juice of 2 fresh limes
1 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
1 cup Pepper Jack cheese, shredded
2 flour tortillas (I used whole wheat) cut into thin strips and fried in 2 Tablespoons of oil (I used Grapeseed oil because of its neutral taste and high burning point)
Lime wedges for garnish
Jalapeno slices from a jar or can (optional)
Heat the vegetable oil in a medium stockpot. Add the onions and cook until softened and just beginning to brown at the edges.
Add the garlic and jalapenos and cook for another minute
Add the tomatoes, spices and salt and stir through. Then add the beans and the stock.
Bring to a boil and add the chicken. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for 25 minutes. Once the chicken is cooked, carefully remove it from the pot. Shred it using 2 forks to pull the meat apart. This is much easier to do if the meat is hot. Once the chicken cools, it becomes more firm and shredding is more difficult.
Add the lime juice and corn to the pot and add back the chicken. The soup can be prepared ahead up to this point. When ready to serve, heat everything all the way through. Garnish with the avocado, cilantro, cheese, tortilla strips and lime wedges. If you want a bit more heat, you can add some sliced jalapenos from a jar or can.
After a simply gorgeous November day yesterday that seemed more like June, today is rainy and blah. I have no place I have to be having voted early and needing a distraction from tonight’s last game of the World Series. Go Cubs! So I decided to bake some bread, especially since I make sandwiches for my husband most days and because I am an unrepentant bread lover. I could fairly easily give up meat if I had to, but I would be desolate if I had to give up bread.
One year for my birthday, my husband bought me the award-winning book, the Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. It’s a beautiful book and wonderful to read but somehow I hadn’t gotten around to making anything from it. I decided it was time to remedy that. I was looking for a good sandwich/toast bread and settled on that old New England favorite – Anadama Bread, which has a corn meal and molasses base. I’d read other recipes for it but none that used both a “soaker” and a “sponge.” I was immediately intrigued and knew that this is what I would be trying. By making a soaker, the corn meal has an opportunity to develop a depth of flavor that it would otherwise lack. There was nothing terribly complicated in either the ingredients or the method so don’t be put off by the length of the directions. I ended up with 2 lovely, brown, fragrant loaves that we will be enjoying over the next week.
Yield: Two 1.5 pound loaves
For the Soaker
1 cup stone ground yellow corn meal or polenta
1 cup tap water at room temperature
For the Dough
Approx. 4.5 cups of unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons instant dried yeast
1 cup lukewarm water (90 to 100 degrees F, although I just do it by touch…)
1.5 teaspoons Kosher salt
6 Tablespoons molasses (it suggested Brer Rabbit Golden Molasses, rather than a full-flavored molasses)
2 Tablespoons solid shortening at room temperature
Canola Oil for the bowl
Cornmeal for dusting
The day before making the bread (I did this before going to sleep), make the soaker by mixing the cornmeal with the water in a small bowl. Cover the bowl or container and allow it to sit at room temperature overnight.
The next day, stir together 2 cups of the flour, the yeast, soaker and cup of water in a mixing bowl and cover it with a towel or plastic wrap. Allow this to ferment for one hour or until the sponge is poofy.
Once the sponge is ready, add the remaining 2.5 cups of flour, the salt, molasses and shortening and stir this well until the mixture begins to form a ball. This can be done in a standing mixer on a low speed with the paddle attachment. The result should be a slightly sticky mass.
Sprinkle some additional flour on the counter and turn the dough out and begin kneading it, sprinkling in more flour as needed to make a tacky but not sticky dough that is supple and pliable. This should take about 10 minutes of kneading. You can also make this using the dough hook of a standing mixer. The kneading would take 6 to 8 minutes, checking if more flour is needed.
Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to ferment (rise) at room temperature for about 90 minutes or until doubled in size.
Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 2 equal pieces, which should each weigh about 24 ounces assuming you are into weighing things – which I am not. Shape the dough into loaves and place them into 9 by 5-inch bread pans that have been lightly oiled or sprayed with something like PAM. Lightly spray or brush the tops with the oil and loosely cover with plastic wrap.
Allow to rise at room temperature for between 60 to 90 minutes or until the loaves crest fully above the tops of the pans. (Mine were ready in 58 minutes)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with the oven rack in the middle position. Place the pans on a sheet pan and remove the plastic wrap. Mist or brush the tops with water and dust with cornmeal.
Place the sheet pan in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan for even baking and continue baking for another 20 to 30 minutes or until the loaves are a nice golden brown. The loaves should make a hollow sound when rapped with your knuckles or a wooden spoon. I like well-done loaves so might keep them in a few minutes longer.
When the loaves are brown all over, immediately remove them from the pans and cool on a rack for at least one hour before slicing. I made sure that I had some softened butter on hand!
This is the time of year when the question isn’t “should we have soup” but which soup should we have? I realized that I hadn’t made hot and sour soup in quite some time and since it has always been a favorite of ours, I was determined to remedy that asap. This recipe is from a very early Joyce Chen cookbook. Joyce Chen had a restaurant in Cambridge, MA back in the ’70s and she was an early example of introducing Americans to Chinese food that went beyond egg foo yung and chicken chow mein. There are a couple of ingredients that you would have to get that would not be in your standard non-Asian pantry, but they won’t break the bank and because they are dried, they will last quite some time. They really make or break the dish, in my opinion, so they are worth seeking out if you want hot and sour soup. Everything is available in a good Asian market or online. This can be thrown together pretty quickly and frankly, I have never had one from a restaurant that I have enjoyed more. The seasonings I have given below are for a well-balanced hot and sour soup. I don’t like food that set my hair on fire when I eat them. If you want it hotter, you can increase the amount of white pepper and you can use a “hot” sesame oil; however, you need to keep the balance of white pepper and cider vinegar pretty much the same so you don’t end up with a “hot” but not sour soup. Alot of this can be prepped ahead of time and the actual cooking takes only minutes.
1/4 cup pork loin, thinly sliced and cut into strips
1 teaspoon dry sherry
3 Tablespoons corn starch
4 cups salted chicken stock (I used a lower sodium version)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 Tablespoon lower sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup dried wood ears (black fungus)
1/4 cup dried golden needles (lily buds)
1/2 cup firm tofu, shredded
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon white ground pepper
Toasted sesame oil (hot or regular) for serving
6 scallions, minced for serving
Mix the shredded pork with the sherry and 1 teaspoon of the corn starch and set aside.
Snap off any woody pieces from the wood ears and hard stems from the golden needles – better quality wood ears and golden needles won’t have this problem generally. Soak the wood ears and golden needles in separate bowls of boiling water, covered for at least 15 minutes and up to 30 minutes. Rinse, drain and squeeze out excess water. Cut golden needles in half and cut the wood ears into smaller pieces. (This can be done ahead, drained and kept aside.)
Mix the remaining corn starch (2 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) with 1/2 cup of cold water. If this sits, the corn starch will harden and you will need to whisk it well just when you are ready to use it.
Bring to a boil the chicken broth , salt and soy sauce. Add in the pork mixture and boil for 1 minute.
Add the drained wood ears and golden needles and boil for another minute. Then add the tofu. As soon as the soup returns to a boil, whisk in the well-stirred corn starch mixture until the soup thickens, which happens pretty quickly. It will continue to thicken so as soon as it starts, whisk in the beaten egg and remove from the heat. The egg will form egg shreds, which is what you want. Stir in the white pepper and vinegar. Garnish with the scallions and sesame oil. Serve hot. This is best eaten fresh.