A whole year has gone by fast and with it came the success of NGNO, which saw the light in March of this year. This was the year I decided that it was time to share my travel and culinary journey with friends and other people who have the same passion as I do. But what I haven't expected was the level of success which NGNO enjoyed in such a short period of time. NGNO became the talk of the town among people in the hospitality business. I have received emails and calls from well known people in this industry... which were also unexpected. I learned a lot through out the year from your comments and suggestions. This is why I would like to take the opportunity here to thank you all for making this journey more fun, more informative and special.
This year was fruitful and ambitious. Although I have gained kilos from the rich and diversified food I have tried and experienced, I enjoyed it all... I tried over two hundred new restaurants, traveled to more than four different new countries, discovered ten additional cities and stayed at dozens of renowned hotels. More than 200,000 miles of traveling and discovering and sharing my experiences with every one. It has been a great year that prepares me further for 2013.
To end all the amazing meals I have tried throughout the year, last night must have been the best. Christmas dinner at my in-laws. Christmas Eve is the most important and sumptuous dinner celebration which people from all over the world wait for. Families gather around one of the richest, heaviest and most expensive tables to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Dishes include Turkey, Foie Gras, salmon, variety of cheese, pâté, Buche de Noel and so much more - the possibilities and different tradition out there are endless. In Lebanon, a réveillon is a long dinner held on the evenings preceding Christmas Day and New Year's Day. The name of this dinner is derived from the word réveil (meaning "waking"), because the tradition involves staying up until after midnight. For the first time - although I am asked to do it every time I'm invited to have dinner- I decided to review a home feast.
Not any feast but "The Feast": My mother-in-law's super Christmas dinner.
We arrived at eight o'clock to discover the amazing red and gold decoration that follows you all around the place starting at the entrance, to the living room, dining room... The dinning table was mastered to perfection with details that will awaken all your senses to enjoy the best dinner of the year - silver cutlery, porcelain plates, soft table napkins, thin crystal wine glasses in a mix of red, green and gold colors and much much more... The perfect Christmas set up was accompanied with musical tunes filled with the season's spirit.
On the menu:
- Smoked Salmon: A fillet, cured and hot smoked and served in two different ways: Thin slices and other Balik style. A thick non oily, high-end fish imported from Scotland. Lemon slices and capers are enough to accompany this fine dish.
- Pâté Campagnard: a mixture of cooked ground meat and fat minced into a spreadable paste.
- Mousse de Canard (Duck mousse)
- Mousse au Poivre
- Pâté au Champagne
- Terrine de Foie Gras: A French force-meat loaf similar to a pâté, made with more coarsely chopped ingredients.
- Green salad including endives, avocado, iceberg, cucumber and beetroot next to the signature homemade sauce I call "The yellow sauce"; Simply mustard, mayonnaise, lemon and oil with their seasoning yet unique.
- Delicatessen cold cuts: Different kinds of salami and smoked ham
- Warm crunchy bread provided by Sophie de France.
- Six kinds of rustic French cheese: Brie, Roquefort, old Amsterdam, goat cheese, Istara, Gruyere fruitee
- The famous oven-roasted turkey: Prepared like no one else on earth stuffed with Chestnuts and Apples (Sorry guys this is the maximum I can tell you about the inner filling, as the recipe is a well kept secret by the family: I couldn't get more information even though I know it is filled with four other premium things.)
Preparing the Turkey is not as easy as you may think:
- Defrosting in the fridge needs 3 days
- Clean it afterwards is a delicate process
- Stuffing with Chestnuts, Apples and the other secrets
- Preparing for roasting, pan and foil
- Roasting for 9 very long hours. Yes nine very long hours in the oven
- Resting for 30 minutes
- Prepare for serving
My father-in-law is, in my opinion, one of the best wine connoisseurs around with whom I had the chance to discover a large choice of bottles from the four corners of the world. He made sure to pair this dinner with two great wines which everybody loved.
- Rioja, Cosme Palacio, Cosecha 2007, Spain
- Chateau Pontet Barrail, Medoc, 2009, Bordeaux
Every single preparation was sumptuous especially the roasted turkey: It is something really unique, something I have never had the chance to taste before in my life. I don't know if I can describe the sensation well - but you enjoy soft and tender pieces of turkey covered with thick shields of fat, outstandingly tasty and crunchy skin - without feeling the pronounced taste of "turkey". It doesn't chew, it's not thick, it's not dry, it's not white but mixes a blend of aromas and colors making you close your eyes after every bite. I had a piece from different parts of the turkey. A key to heaven!
I begged my mother-in-law to open a cooking school... I believe she will shine at it if she does.
Dinner was not over yet as four different homemade Bûche de Noël (Yule Logs) were served. We were full but couldn't resist the mouthwatering pleasures of this yearly anticipated cake. Bûche de Noël is a traditional dessert served near Christmas in France and several other francophone countries and former French colonies. It's a type of sweet roulade. The traditional bûche is made from a Génoise or other sponge cake, generally baked in a large, shallow Swiss roll pan, frosted, rolled to form a cylinder, and frosted again on the outside. The most common combination is a basic yellow sponge cake, frosted and filled with chocolate butter-cream; however, many variations on the traditional recipe exist, possibly including chocolate cakes, ganache and espresso or otherwise-flavored frosting and fillings.
My mother-in-law Bûches are different and unique:
- Bûche aux Marrons (Chestnut Christmas cake)
- Bûche aux Marrons et au Chocolat
- Bûche au Chocolat et a L'orange
- Buche au Chocolat et aux Amandes
Should I give you more mouthwatering details of perfection, decoration and taste? Anything I would write wouldn't be enough to describe the simple yet extravagant pieces of cake and their royal fillings. Not only that, but also on the menu were fruit salad and Sfouf that is Lebanese almond-semolina cake. It is made from semolina flour flavored with turmeric, sugar, and pine nuts: The family's Sfouf need an article by themselves.
The night was extravagant and I enjoyed it to the maximum, accompanied with my favorite cigar brand: Quai D'Orsay, a few know about and not available in Lebanon:
The Quai d'Orsay brand was created by Cubatabaco in 1973 for the French state tobacco monopoly, SEITA, and was blended with French tastes in mind, being a milder brand. There are a few competing stories as to what the marque's name refers to: one is that it is referring simply to the famous Paris avenue, another is that it refers to the French Foreign Ministry that is located on it, and another is that it is referring to the headquarters of SEITA which is also on the same avenue.
I hope you all spent memorable moments and had the chance to fill your tummies with breathtaking preparations like the ones I had... Take a break this week as New Year's eve is coming with bigger expectations.