Orange Chicken

The worst part about vacation is going back to work. This whole being a responsible adult thing? I cannot emphasize how overrated it is. Honestly.

Short work week, but I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. About 200 emails to go through, and the mad scramble of everyone getting back to the office and trying to get things done. It’s only been a few days, but I already miss the ability to stay in bed until noon (or later), and not worry about putting pants or shoes on or wearing makeup or sitting at a desk all day.

A long day at the office, a sneaky hate spiral of petty annoyances accumulating–the last straw being told, for fifteen minutes, that I should smile more, which only had the result of making me want to stab things.

I got home to find my ayi had visited like a lovely house-cleaning-fairy, and everything was sparkling. I have no idea how I’m going to survive without her when I go back to America. I barely had any energy to think, much less put together something resembling a good dinner, but a recipe for orange chicken had floated across my internet browsing, and I had some defrosted chicken that needed to be used up.

This isn’t the quickest or most simple meal, but it’s not bad as a replacement for junky American Chinese takeout, and the recipe can be tinkered with.

Sauce:
1 cup chicken broth, 2/3 cup sugar, 1/2 cup orange juice, 1/4 cup rice wine or vinegar, 1/4 cup soy sauce, orange zest, mined ginger and garlic, optional Sriracha, salt and pepper, 2 Tbs of cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbs water.

Stir everything together in pot besides the cornstarch. Take 2/3 cup of this and marinate 2-4 chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, in a plastic bag. keep in fridge until ready.
Heat the sauce, bring it to a boil, then stir in the cornstarch. Turn the heat to low, and simmer until thick. You can set aside, but before using, quickly reheat and stir.

Prepare a wok or deep pan with oil. Prepare two shallow bowls or breading pans, one with two eggs, beaten well, the other with about 1 cup of cornstarch (I mixed mine with some rice flour). Drain the chicken from the marinade. Dip in the egg, shake off excess, dredge in the cornstarch until evenly coated, shake off excess, and pop into the hot oil in batches (don’t over fill the pan). Remove from the oil into paper towel lined bowl. One all the chicken has been fried, toss in the sauce. Serve over rice with a garnish of sesame seeds.

Orange Chicken

Orange Chicken

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Field Trip to Longqing Gorge

National Week holiday was great. I did nothing. It was fabulous.

Well, ok, so I had a nice little dinner party, and then the next night a friend had another nice little dinner party–hotpot at home, I very much recommend it!–and on the one nice clear blue sky day, I took a day trip with some people out to Longqing Gorge.

It took us a while to get there. There’s a two hour train, but it sold out before we even got to the station. We took Line 13 to Xi’erqi, transferred to a grey line, out to Changping. Got off there and haggled with some black cab drivers–RMB 400 for the drive out there and back. We got into the van and drove for a while, maybe an hour and a half, two hours.

Blue, blue skies and steep cliffs.

Blue, blue skies and steep cliffs.

Surprisingly pretty. A lot of people, but still, really nice. Big wide river, scenic mountains. A dragon escalator to the top of the dammed river. A boat ride down the river with a lady on a  megaphone pointing out caves and animal shaped rocks (an elephant, a crocodile, a dragon, etc). Very pretty, and the sun and the blue, blue sky. We watched some crazy people bungee jump, had a mini picnic with instant noodles, rented rowboats. Having been taught the rudimentary bits of crew by my dad back in high school, after sitting around for a while letting my companions struggle with the really terrible paddles (uneven planks of wood poorly nailed to mismatched poles) and painting a watercolor of the scenery instead, I finally got fed up and took over.

Obviously, the shitty paddles and the wooden tubs are nothing like the precise racing shells and oars I learned on, but I still managed to propel the boat more efficiently and with more speed than anyone else on the water. People in other boats actually started trying to copy me. That entertained me.

We then directed our driver to take us to Liugou, a little village known for feeding people. It’s just rows and rows of little farmhouse restaurants. For a set price of RMB 26 a person, we were delivered a huge many course meal. The town is known for its country style tofu, and many of the dishes revolved around it. We had a couple cold dishes, spicy trips of tofu skin, cold noodles, peanuts, hard boiled quail eggs. There was a coal brazier in the middle of the table, and a heavy clay pot sat on top with a tasty pork belly and tofu and vegetable stew. Fish, fried pancakes, fried bread, red bean stuff dough balls, soft tofu, corn and grain soup, braised pork, steamed sweet potatoes, fried tofu in sauce, the dishes were endless. We all ate entirely too much, and then embarked home.

A satisfying little trip outside the city, it was my only adventure, because then the pollution went up and stayed up and the rest of the week looked dismal. I ventured out from my apartment only a few times–reading and studying and staying in bed half the day was entirely more appealing.

Grilled Polenta

So I burned the shit out of my leg on a motorcycle and it was excruciatingly painful and then  I got a cold and then some  great-big-gangly-motherfucker-has-no-concept-of-other-people’s-personal-space accidentally kicked the healing burn on my leg and destroyed me so for basically two weeks I mostly went home after work, drank copious amounts of ginger tea, took painkillers and ate soup in bed. Life can be difficult sometimes. My leg is still healing but I am at least hobbling around and I no longer need heavy duty medicine, which is nice, because percocet makes me nauseous.

I can now stand up long enough to enjoy cooking. I invited some friends over to celebrate National Week Holiday and the stupid as all get out Chinese schedule of one day of work  Monday, vacation starting Tuesday, and the next Monday off. Ridiculous, really.

I even wrote up the menu on a little chalkboard. It was all fancy and everything.

First, the polenta.

1 cup cornmeal
4 cups water, stock
1/2 cup milk, cream
1 cup grated cheddar and parmesan
Salt, pepper, butter, minced garlic to taste.
Melt the butter and heat with a glug of olive oil with the garlic. Add in the stock and water mix, and bring to a boil. Whisk the cornmeal in small amounts at a time to prevent clumping (no one wants lumpy polenta). Stir, stir, stir. Add in the milk and cream. Let it simmer for 30ish minutes, stirring every so often, and adding more water or milk if it gets to thick. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the cheese. You can serve it all gruel-y and thickly pudding-esque, or, do what I did, and pour it into a baking pan lined with tin foil and oiled, and refrigerate at least 1 hour until set firm.  The tin foil makes it easier to remove from the baking dish.

Cut it into strips, or get all fancy pants and use cookie cutter to cut out shapes. The scraps from shapes can be pressed together again to re-chill, or heated up with liquid.

LIne up on oiled foil  and either bake at 350F for about 30 minutes or until golden toasty brown, or place on a grill over the medium heat area, let cook about 20 minutes per side (again, watch carefully for it to turn toasty golden.

I topped this with chopped up cheddar bratwurst tossed with garlic-sauteed kale. It made a lovely starter to share between four people, but with a lightly poached egg on top, would make a great dinner for one.

The rest of the sausage I tossed with ricotta and butternut squash ravioli in a white wine and brown butter sauce, accompanied by oxtail and enoki soup (the same recipe as the GoT dinner…really, its a keeper. I have bags of the soup in my freezer for after work dinners) and sliced duck breast (marinated in hoisin, soy sauce, rice wine, honey and ginger).

Dessert: raspberries, squares of dark chocolate, and a really dense, heavy pear and almond cake.