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

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.

Cucumber-Lime Rickey

I’ve been going on different beverage kicks this summer. I’ve cut soda pretty much entirely out except when I’m feeling sick or there’s no other good alternative.  I’ve been trying to drink that recommended amount of water every day, but sometimes, well, a body craves something else.  My fall back beverage, and laziest, is just to pick up a carton of juice from the store and dilute at about a 3:7 ratio with bubbly water. It’s like making my own Izze sodas.  I made batches of lemonade for a while during July, and moved on to pitchers of sweet tea. I made a batch of cherry shrub that lasted a couple weeks, and then ginger syrup for homemade ginger ale. I had a little bottle left of ginger syrup when I was invited out to KTV. Not content to attend and drink either the stomach-clenching-fake alcohol that would be available or the plentiful but cheap, warm, and generally displeasing Snow beer, I decided to bring my own cocktail.

I muddled the ginger syrup with mint, lime juice, and cut up cucumber, added ice, a generous amount of Hendrick’s gin, and filled up the rest of the bottle with soda water. Cucumber Ginger-Lime Rickey: slightly more complex than your run of the mill Lime Rickey, bright and entirely refreshing.

The pleased reactions of those who shared a few sips of the cocktail inspired me to also start making this non-alcoholic for after work. I precut cucumber slices and lime wedges on Monday and popped in the fridge. After work, no hard task to chuck that with a few leaves from the mint plant I’ve been coaxing along, a dash of syrup, and to add ice and bubbly water to the pitcher. It’s a nice alternative to iced tea in the evenings, while still a little bit of flavor.

 

Curry Chicken Sandwich with Eggplant Chutney

I’ve been remiss. I’ve written about 7 posts and haven’t finished any of them. But I’ve been cooking up a storm.

It was an interesting weekend. Ended a very stressful Friday with happy hour wine at Enoterra with a few friends on their patio. It was lovely, except for the part where my boss called me at 7 and I had to pull out my computer and try to do work for twenty minutes. I had to work Saturday, as well, and I didn’t exactly wake up early as I had planned to be as productive as I would have liked.

So Sunday I went to April Gourmet and Sanyuanli and bought several bike-baskets-full of food. ALSO, most importantly, I discovered Tavalin Bagels and Andy’s Craft Sausage, which both deliver. Delivery orders of actually authentic, tasty, delicious bagels with surprisingly affordable tubs of flavored cream cheese. Delivery orders of small-batch, expertly made sausages, bacon, and other cured meats. I’m…so happy. I ordered 3 kilos of sausage (Italian, Bratwurst, and Maple) but due to some timing conflicts, they couldn’t deliver when I was home. So I picked them up from Tavalin, just on the northwest side of Yashou, and led me to discover their tasty, tasty bagels. I bought three to try with a tub of salmon cream cheese, and..I admit this with a bit of shame, ate them all Sunday. And then ordered another half dozen on their website…I may have a problem.

But now, my freezer is gloriously full of things. I used one pack of sausage to make lasagna and stuff shells. I spent about seven hours cooking Sunday evening. I made a big vat of tomato sauce, a tub of ricotta cheese, three kinds of empanada fillings, empanadas, ravioli, and eggplant chutney.

One of the empanada fillings was curry-spiced chicken with potato. I was going to make the chicken based on a skewer sandwich recipe I came across, and decided to expand and make three chicken breasts worth of the marinade to give some variety to the empanadas (honeyed chicken with cranberries, and beef, pepper and onions with mozzarella). It’s not precisely curry, but a middle Eastern flavor profile. Also, very garlicky. But, if you don’t like garlic, we probably shouldn’t ever talk to each other. Stop reading this site.

Marinade Ingredients:
Olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic put through a press
Salt, pepper, lemon juice, lemon zest
Turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, paprika, in equal amounts, about 1/2 tsp each. Sprinkle of chili powder, dependent on your spice tolerance.

2-3 chicken breasts cut into 1 inch chunks.

Mix the marinade together and toss the chicken around. Let it sit for at least half an hour.
In the meantime, in some olive oil, saute 1/2 onion, sliced, with a  pinch of salt, until translucent. Add a dash more oil, and add in 2-3 baby eggplant, skinned and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Add 2 crushed cloves garlic. After about 5-6 minutes, add in 2 plum tomatoes cut into pieces. Let it cook down on low until its all sort of squishy and caramelized and delicious. Add a squeeze of lemon juice at the end. Set aside.

Heat vegetable oil in a pan on medium. Place chicken chunks in the oil and let sear–don’t crowd the pan. Give each side about 4 minutes until the chicken is just cooked through–not much more than that, or you get dry, unfortunate chicken. Which is just the worst, really, I can’t stand dry meat. Remove from the pan.

Assembly time! Get yourself some pita bread, or flat bread or whatever carbohydrate vehicle pleases your taste buds. If you’re well prepared, you’ll have hummus and or yogurt or maybe even some tzaziki on hand. But, if you don’t, don’t fret. Open a can of chickpeas. Drain. Pour about half a cup of chickpeas into a bowl with a pinch of salt, garlic powder, cumin, paprika and black pepper with a little bit of oil. Lightly smash with the back of a fork, and mix the seasonings up well. Spread this on the pit, then stuff the pita with a mix of the chicken and eggplant. Maybe some cut up cucumber and dollop of yogurt would really bring this to higher planes, but it’s pretty good on its own. And very simple to assemble–I brought in two small tupperware containers holding the chicken and eggplant chutney and chickpea smash, and bought the pita at lunch, and assembled in the office kitchen, then popped in the microwave.

IMG_0480A really tasty, healthy filling lunch.

And since I made so much: I kept one portion aside, shredded into smaller bits and mixed with cubed roasted potatoes as empanada filling. I put the rest into a tupperware container. It was about four sandwiches worth, so I separated the servings into layers with wax paper for easy removal later on. Also, threw in a tub of eggplant chutney in the freezer, and will be able to pull these out any day, bring to work, and thaw in the microwave.

 

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.

 

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