Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A belated Christmas dinner - 3 course menu cook off

      This is a belated blog post about a belated Christmas dinner that we had at the beginning of the year. A belated Christmas/New Year's dinner I guess you could call it.

     You may recall in my recap of 2011, that Ryan had dusted off his saxophone for a couple of special occasions (A combined 50th birthday/25th wedding anniversary and a wedding of a close family friend/ex band member). Well, this involved many months of Saturday afternoon practices at the home of the Pascual family, who are good friends with Ryan's family through their involvement in the Filipino band back in the day. We'd occasionally stay for dinner afterwards and I also started baking them some treats as well as helping Tita (means aunty in Filipino though she's not really his aunty) Jeanne with her little baking projects here and there. During this time we bonded with them and shared our love for food and cooking.

      Jokingly Tita Jeanne and their youngest daughter Jessica suggested that we do a bit of a cook off 3 course dinner where Tita Jeanne cooks the entrée, Ryan the main, and I the dessert (dessert kind of got handed to me automatically because I do desserts and sweets so well and I guess it is my forte and Ryan seems to be the better cook than me under pressure). After the wedding I kept in touch with Tita Jeanne through facebook (to discuss the details of the graduation cake I was making for their eldest daughter Celine) and she bought up the dinner idea again because she really liked it so we put the ball in motion and set a date.

      So the 7th of January sneaked upon us and it was only a few days before that Ryan and I got around to finalising our menu items. We arrived at the Pascual residence to find the tables had all been set up nice and fancy and that they even printed up proper menus too. No wonder Ryan was being interrogated on the phone the night before about what his dish was going to be. He hadn't even really thought about what the final finished product was going to be, just that it was going to be roast pork and included apples. Reading 'apple sauce' on the menu came as a bit of a surprise but we managed to work with it.

Chef Ryan at work. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I LOVE watching him cook :)

Pastry Chef Angie at work :)

Assembling my dessert which I had already baked and prepped at home.


     The thee Chefs, bit blurry but this is what happens when you hand your camera to someone else on manual settings.

Tita Jeanne hard at work prepping for her entrée.

We even had some time to play a round of Taboo while waiting for the pork to cook.

Ryan's roast pork loin ready to rest.

Some bread and olive oil and balsamic vinegar to nibble on while we wait for the food to cook.

All hands on deck to help out with dinner, lot's to do!

      It's time to serve up the entree. I don't have a photo but the small counter was chock full of plates, we had 12 diners in total so it was a big task to plate up each course with all hands on deck helping.

      First course is served: Prawn Mango Fettucine.

      We've had mango with savoury food once or twice before but not with pasta so Ryan and I were a little apprehensive about this dish but were pleasantly suprised at how well it worked. Great job Tita Jean :). Apparantly it's become one of her specialty dishes. We may have underestimated how filling the serving size was and our tummies are already filling up but we must soldier on.

Once we're done with entrée it's time to clear the tables and prepare the second course.

      Roasted carrots, being a little anxious these may have been pulled out of the oven a little prematurely as they still had more bite to them than I preferred. Ryan was focused on the pork so the carrots landed on my to do list. I had the oven up a little too high (to make up for loss of cooking time in the beginning) and the apples I chucked on top of the carrots burst and dripped all over the carrots. This was a happy accident though as they carrots soaked up the flavours from the apple and took on a whole different flavour profile. The girls loved them!

      The baked apples. I also suggested that we keep a few to add to Ryan's gravy for the pork since the menu does say 'apple sauce'. Ryan made a gravy from the pan juices and I diced up a couple of apples which were added to the sauce in the last few minutes to cook. Ryan wanted them to retain a bit of bite so we took the sauce off the heat and let the apples slowly cook with the residue heat.

      Being the big sucker for mash I thought it was a safe pairing for the pork and was easy to make in bulk. Ryan also added a bit of truffle oil to the mash to make it a little bit more decadent.

      Second course is served: Roast Pork Loin with roasted carrots, baked apple, truffle mash and 'apple sauce'. 

       Being his first time, Ryan managed to nail the pork roast. The skin was crispy and the meat was well cooked, slightly pink and juicy. He did however pan fry some slices a bit further for the parents because they like their pork very well done. Pork and apple, can't go wrong with that combination. He has also managed to convert two non pork eaters too. The girls have had Filipino style pork before and weren't very fond of it so chose not to eat pork from that bad experience so Ryan cooked up a couple of chicken breasts. Watching Ryan cook the pork and the smells that were coming from the kitchen may have got them curious to try it and once they tasted it they agreed that they would try and eat pork again - as long as it's cooked in the 'Western' way though.

Third course is served: Coconut, Lime and Mango Vacherin.

      We're all very full but there will always be room for dessert. My dessert is a coconut meringue layered with a marscarpone and whipped cream mixture flavoured with lime juice and zest and slices of fresh mango. I am glad I didn't choose a rich heavy dessert. It was a perfect end to the meal and was quite light and refreshing so everyone was able to finish off their portion and some even went back for seconds! ;) The great thing about this recipe is that it looks deceivingly fancy but is so easy to make!

      Innards shot of my Vacherin. The girls were very happy to know I decided to leave the leftover dessert behind. I also heard that they loved this dessert so much that they went and made their own the next day (after demolishing the leftovers I'm assuming). The recipe is actually off the Taste website which can be found here.

Ryan and I received some belated Christmas gifts from the family which came as a suprise.

Ryan and I received matching oven gloves and apron sets.

      The dinner was such a success that everyone thought that it should become a regular thing throughout the year and that we should do it at least bi-monthly so that we can catch up with each other more often. It was agreed that we would rotate hosts and cooks so that the load is shared around and no one has to cook or host twice in a row - and everyone gets a chance to cook too. We left that night with March 17th marked in our diaries, and that's not far away at all now!
      Thank you again to the Pascual family, Tita Jeanne and Tito Rommel for hosting dinner and letting Ryan and I come and make a mess of your kitchen. And thanks to Celine and Jessica for helping us out with the cooking and cleaning up.
I look forward to the next dinner where all I have to do is show up and eat ;)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

[Angie Travels] - Journey from Egypt to Israel, towns of Nazereth and Galilee.

      2012 has started off with a bang! Have been so extremely busy that I've barely had time/energy to write up blog posts and read other blogs on top of all the cooking and eating I've been doing :( I've also spent alot of my time online doing some research for an upcoming little holiday that Ryan and I will be heading off to in a couple of weeks - totes excited about that! :) Anyway, I thought I should continue on with another blog post of my amazing trip last August so here goes...
      We've barely recovered from our big climb up Mt Sinai the day before but are packing up our bags and on the move again. We say goodbye to our little resort by the Red Sea and grab some breakfast before we board our bus to continue our journey into Israel. The food (buffet) here at the resort was a-ok but my golly gosh, they made the best omelettes ever which caught us by suprise. No one else seemed to want to go for the cereal or whatever else they were serving, we all had eyes for the omelette station. The long wait was worth it though. I'm not sure how an omelette made of eggs could melt in your mouth, but these omelettes did. Ryan even endured the line to go for seconds.

(Top: Egyptian coast, Bottom: Israeli beach, )
      With our tummies full of food we're on our way to the Egyptian-Israeli border. We pass by many many resorts along the coast but many of them are unoccupied as the summer heat is too harsh. We're told by our guide that people tend to come here for holidays when it's a little cooler.
      It's another long drive and we finally reach the border. We all have to get off the bus, collect our luggage and walk to the exit check point and walk across to the Israeli side. I don't think I've ever had to walk across a borderline before, there's a first for everything I suppose. The exit point (which I also thought was the entry point at the time) was a fairly simple procedure. Our luggage was scanned, the officers checked our passports and then out we walked. We were warned of being asked lots of questions so I thought it was a little strange that it all seemed too easy.

      We dragged our luggage down a path past some official looking buildings and then we got to another gate and had to queue up again. This was now the entry point into Israel. And this is where the interrogation starts. The first encounter is when your passport is checked. An observation most of us make is that a lot of the officers are female, and pretty good looking ones too. But you knew not to mess with them, unless you wanted your ass kicked.
     The second point is where your luggage is scanned. Some of us received a nice little sticker on our passport, which meant that our luggage would actually be opened up and examined. Luckily I escaped the examination, and then moved onto the third check point where they asked you a few questions while checking your credentials - Why are you in Israel? Who are you with? How long are you staying here? Etc etc. It was a sigh of relief walking out the gate with the all clear. Then I had a brief moment of panic when I realised that my travel wallet was still stuck where my luggage had been scanned. Luckily Ryan came to the rescue and was able to retrieve it for me.

      A new country meant a new bus fleet (3) and new tour guides for our group. It was sweet that they tried to personalise the bus with some Aussie memorabilia, just to remind us of home.

      When I learnt that I was going to be travelling to Israel, I really didn't know what to expect. It wasn't a country that I thought I would ever visit despite that fact that it is so important to Christianity and so many people go on a pilgrimage to this place. This part of Israel that we travel through is quite beautiful, just vast desert with the occasional crop of date palms (and Israel has the best tasting dates!).
      We have a bit of a pitt stop for some lunch and snacks and then it's another long drive by the time we reach the Dead Sea. Our guide also points out the area where the cave was, where they discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls.

      We visit the Masada National Park, which is an ancient site sitting on top of a great cliff overlooking the Dead Sea and the Judean Dessert. It's also the place where King Herod set up fort. Some parts of the ruins have been recreated to depict what the buildings would have looked like, most of the bases are original stones.

      You can see right across the Dead Sea into Jordan. The uninterupted views on top of Masada were quite spectacular.

      We could not drive past the Dead Sea and not have a float in it. As we were running behind schedule we couldn't go to the original patrolled 'beach' that the guides had planned to take us to. Apparantly it was a bit nicer than where we ended up which was quite gravelly. Signs around the place cearly instructed you not to splash the water and not to try and swim.
      The water in the Dead Sea is just so full of salt and minerals that it becomes extremely dense. Drowning in the water was pretty much impossible, though I always have a fear of drowning when my feet can't touch the bottom of the water which didn't help the experience. An amazing moment was when some of the carers of the disabled youth who were travelling with us carried one of the guys who was wheel chair bound down to the water. It must have been so cool for him to see himself floating on water when he could not walk on his own legs.

      It was a cool but also weird experience for me and I don't think I'd do it again if I were given the chance. The bottom of the sea was quite slimy and combined with the density of the water it was difficult to walk without feeling like you were being pushed off your feet. I tried to just lie on my back and float but I kept feeling myself being pushed up by the water that it started to get a little uncomfortable, in addition to my eyes stinging because some of the water had been splashed into them.
      Excuse the photo above but it's the only one I could find of us taken by other people, our cameras were left on the bus. Some of the guys (and girls too) decided to smear some Dead Sea sludge all over their bodies as the minerals in the mud are quite good for your skin. The smell was enough to turn you off doing the same thing though.

      Our last stop for the day before heading to our accomodation was Jericho. We were meant to get there much earlier and in time to attend Mass however as we were way behind schedule we missed it but the Friars of the church were kind enough to let us hold our own Mass. It was dark by the time we arrived, and the only time we spent off the bus was to attend Mass so unfortunately there arn't any photos to show our time there except for this one that I managed to snap of a cross atop a church.
    I was however suffering from some digestive problems and spent most of my time downstairs in the residence of the Friars waiting to see a doctor so Ryan and I missed out on Mass. I was fed some figs, chocolate and apricot jam which was supposed to help.

     I finally get to see the doctor who gives me a script for some medicines and am then taken for a walk down the main street of Jericho with some of the others who were also unwell to a chemist. That was one experience I won't ever forget. Walking down a dimly lit street, obvious that you're the only few foreigners in this town and looking at what seemed like a community dominated by men. The stares that we got were so piercing that I felt so self concious. It felt like the longest time ever before we boarded the bus again, with a whole bag of drugs which were suppose to make me feel better.
      By the time we reach our accomodation it's quite late and after such a long day we're all eager to freshen up and get a good night's rest ready for our jam packed itinerary in Israel. Tomorrow is a new day.

City of Nazareth.

      We stop by a place called Yardent, which is a baptismal site on the Jordan river set up by the Protestant church in Israel. The site where Jesus was baptised is actually on the other side of the river in Jordan. 

      'Nazareth Village' is a replica site of how things were back in the first century during the time of Jesus. We are split into two groups with two different guides and then taken through some rooms with photos, artefacts, diagrams etc and the guide tells us what to expect when we go outside into the 'village'.

Some of the 'villagers' demonstrating some carpentry and wool spinning.

      Our tummy's are grumbling telling us that it's lunch time and we are treated to a 'first century meal'. I think most of us remember this part of the visit the most. It felt like you had just been invited to a great feast in their home, the hospitality was just so warm and the head chef was like one of your friend's grandmother constantly filling the table with food making sure that you were well fed.

      Clockwise from top left: a dip made from ground sesame and olive oil, marinated olives, baba ganoush (I think?), cabbage salad.

Clockwise from top left: lentil soup, hummous, freshly fired flat bread, grilled chicken breast.

      Happy to see his favourite fruit and it was safe to eat too, something we had been deprived of ever since we left home.

      After lunch we head to the Basilica of the Annunciation where we also have Mass. The church is built over a cave where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary with the news that she was going to be with child.

      After mass we head upstairs. The basilica actually has two levels with some amazing stained glass window artworks. On the same block is also the Church of St Joseph, Mary's Well.
      This concludes our second day in Israel. We head back to our accomodation to spend the rest of the afternoon at leisure. Sorry no photos of the meals here but we were lodging at a youth hostel so it was a lot of mass produced buffet style food, lots and lots of salads, breads and dips, meats, roast vegies etc. It wasn't bad but nothing worthy to write home about. I definately enjoyed our meals on the road more.

      It's another early start to the day and our first stop is the ruins of Korazin (passing by Bethsaida on the way), a once flourishing Jewish town in the region of Galilee where Jesus spent alot of his time teaching. There are a few residential buildings, a synagogue, a bath and an olive press that remains on this site.

      After that we head to Capernaum which is another ancient town where Jesus spent his time teaching and was the home to his disciples and may have also been the home of Jesus. 

There is a church that is said to be built above the remains of St Peter's house.

      It's now time to head out onto the water, on the Sea of Galilee. There are 3 large old fishing boats which are aligned side by side and tied together so that we can have Mass in the middle of the sea.

      This is definately one of the moments I'll cherish from our pilgrimage through Israel. The boats were switched off and it was just so quite and peaceful. Mass was opened with the theme song of World Youth Day 2008 and the moment those first few lines were sung I don't think there was a dry eye in sight. There was definately a greater presence with us there on the boats and I am sure everyone felt it.
      After Mass, the boat operators put on some music and it transformed into a little bit of a party afterwards which was just so unexpected but the atmosphere was just awesome and it was great to see everyone smiling and laughing and dancing to the music.

      After Mass was lunch. The theme of the lunch was 'St Peter's Fish' however there was the option of 'St Peter's Chicken Schnitzel' if anyone didn't want to eat fish. Ryan opted for the fish and I for the schnitzel. When we saw a whole fish come out, I immediately swapped mine over as I knew how much Ryan disliked eating fish off the bone.
      The fish was actually quite pleasant to eat as the flesh was quite firm which is always a sign of freshness though it lacked a bit of seasoning. The wedge of lemon came in handy. The schnitzel was just another schnitzel to me really.

      There were also alot of sides on the table (not all photographed), including some pretty awesome hummous.

Some beets and red cabbage salad.

      After lunch is some more church hopping. We head to Tabgha visit the church of  the Primacy of St Peter, and also nearby is the church of the Multiplication. Mensa Christi - Latin for Table of Christ. 

      Our last stop for the day is also in Tabgha, at the Church of the Loaves and Fishes. I think by now I am pretty exhausted as I don't remember much and it even shows in my lack of photos of this place.
       It's back to our hostel for some rest and relaxation before another big day.