Minestrone Soup

After an incredibly busy couple weeks, swamped with both work and actually making an effort to be social and leave my house in the evenings and weekends, I came down with a shitty cold. Lost my voice at work, went home to sleep it off, woke up with a horrible sore throat, headache, cough, etc. I tried to spend the day in bed with a pitcher of tea and my computer to get work done. I’m so jealous of people who get to work from home. I was so productive–I cleaned my house and made a whole bunch of food around work. A fresh batch of English muffins to make breakfast sandwiches, boneless chicken thighs to put in the English muffins, pumpkin puree to make granola bars or ravioli at a later date, fruit popsicles…

And then I went a little OCD and labeled my fridge and freezer with a chalkboard pen to cut down on food waste–I hate finding half of a vegetable or container of something that I forgot about moldering in the back. What I discovered was a whole bunch of stuff that needed to be used up.

Well, so despite the nasty weather outside (mid nineties, smog, humid, pollution, pretty much unbearable) my new AC has been keeping my room blissfully cold. And feeling a little sick, obviously, soup was called for. A big pot of minestrone soup used up plenty of the vegetable odds and ends.

First:

Small carrot, diced
Half a zucchini, diced
Clove garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2-3 small tomatoes, chopped up
1/2 onion, diced
Half a can of kidney beans, half a can of white beans, drained (or one can of one kind of bean)
Italian herbs, bay leaves, salt, pepper, half a cup of elbow macaroni, 3-4 cups of vegetable stock plus a cup of water

Heat up some olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot. Saute the onions. Once translucent, add in the garlic, then the bay leaves and tomatoes.
Once the tomatoes have cooked down for a few minutes, add in the zucchini, carrot and celery, the beans, the pepper, sprinkle of Italian seasoning, and the vegetable stock and water.
Bring the stock to a boil, then simmer for five minutes. bring it back to a boil and add the pasta. About ten minutes for the pasta to cook through. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add extra stock or water if the ratio of broth to pasta is too low.

Serve with crusty bread and maybe a little sprinkle of grated parmesan. This was really tasty, and I had enough to last me for dinner, lunch the next day, and two servings in the freezer for a rainy day. Next time, I’d add chick peas and thick cut bacon, or maybe some crumbled Italian sausage, but the vegetarian version was pretty satisfying.

Fourth of Juluau Rooftop Barbecue

A month afterwards isn’t too late to post something about July 4th, is it? A friend recently moved into a new apartment which, gloriously, has window access to a giant roof, complete with a charcoal grill! We decided his housewarming would coincide nicely with a  July Fourth celebration. Another friend and I even went in on an inflatable pool–great decision. For about $30, we purchased an 8 1/2 foor long inflatable pool that sort of fit like, 6 people in it. And the weather ended up being perfect.

I wanted to incorporate as much American backyard barbecue food as possible. I always get a little homesick around the major holidays. Putting together a feast of homestyle food for my friends here seems to help with that.

First things first: shopping at Metro, with Bambi and Ginny to help me carry things.

At Metro, we were able to find boneless chicken thighs, hamburger patties, veggie burgers, hot dogs, and even Italian-style sausages in the frozen section. However, they did not have hotdog rolls and only two small bags of hamburger buns. Apparently, you can ask the bakery section of WuMart to make these for you, but we made do with some English-muffin-esque rolls and sliced Italian bread from April Gourmet.

Bulk purchases of pasta, vegetables, disposable cups and plates, and disposable aluminum trays also found at Metro (basically, the Costco of Beijing).

The hotdogs and hamburgers are pretty self explanatory. Do you really need me to explain? Place on grill, flip once, don’t screw it up.

I marinated the boneless chicken thighs as they thawed in the fridge overnight in ziplock bags of soy sauce, honey, oyster sauce, fish sauce, cooking wine and Maggi seasoning (the ratio is, mostly soy sauce and honey, and a little bit of everything else). They should be seared over the high heat area of the grill on both sides, then moved to low heat until the meat reaches an internal temp of 165F.

I sliced green bell peppers and onion and tossed them into an aluminum tray with two tall cans of Asahi. This was filled with the sausages and placed on the back of the grill. It should take about 20-30 minutes to poach the sausages to an internal temp of 140F, then they can be seared on the high heat area for a nice char, then served.

Sweet potatoes, oyster mushrooms, egg plant, cauliflower, zucchini and carrots were cut into 1/2 inch thick slices, tossed with olive oil salt and pepper, then grilled. The sweet potato and eggplant in particular complemented the grilled chicken in sandwich form. Eggplant should be brushed with oil just before grilling, as it soaks it up.

Served cold, I made a huge batch of vegetarian pasta salad. Cherry tomatoes, sliced sugar snap pear, green bell pepper, crumbled feta and chopped mozzarella tossed together with bow tie pasta and olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and grated parmesan. Other additions like chopped up pepperoni or salami or artichoke herts would work really well. There was of course, chips and salsa and two jars of bacon jam with crackers, requested by several friends and it served to win over the last few hold outs not convinced that such a concept could be tasty.

Dessert: the most important part. My contributions were banana cupcakes with red, white and blue cream cheese frosting stars and mini-peanut-butter cup cookies. Another friend brought carrot cake, lemonade popsicles and watermelon shots.

I also brought sweet tea and homemade lemonade in big Watson’s water jugs specifically so I could make myself Arnold Palmers. I borrowed some American flags leftover from my company’s July 4 celebrations and stuck them all around the roof, and someone managed to procure some cases of PBR. The only thing really missing? Fireworks and sparklers. But it wasn’t a half bad celebration if I do say so myself. We found an extension cord so we could inflate the pool, and managed to jury rig a system to fill the pool using a faucet inside with pool noodles hooked up going out the window, and we managed to get quite a few people into the pool at one point.