Thursday, January 30, 2014

Australia part I and homemade orange chicken

To make the task of capturing the essence of our Australia trip a bit more manageable, I figured I would break up the trip into "chapters," and start including some photos every time I blogged a recipe.

But first up, a preview to the recipe of the day: orange chicken!


It's just like the stuff you get at the restaurants, but with much more flavorful than the typical 2-dimensional dish. It's still sweet, but not cloyingly so, with a hint of vinegar and ginger and spice to give your tastebuds a real kick. And fun fact: it's gluten free. Yup--no flour in this batter! It's egg whites + cornstarch that give you the lightest, most insanely crispy crust. Check out the recipe, plus a few more photos of the dish, at the end of this blog post.

But before the recipe, how about...

Australia Chapter 1: Our first 2 days in Australia

After almost 24 hours of traveling, we arrived to find that my suitcase had NOT made the 17-hour journey from LA to Melbourne. It was a frustrating way to begin the trip, but luckily my hairdresser had (just a few days earlier) told me to make sure that I packed an outfit in my carry on... just in case. Even though I blame American Airlines for the oversight, Qantas was kind enough to provide me a little "sorry-we-lost-your-bag-while-you're-on-vacation-half-way-around-the-world" care package, which included deodorant, a toothbrush, a razor, and pajamas. Thank you?

First thing we did after checking into the apartment we'd be staying at for the week (yea for airbnb!) was put on our walking shoes to explore the city. More photos of Melbourne will come in subsequent posts, but we basically spent the day on foot seeing as much as we could.

A snapshot of our first day exploring Melbourne

That evening we went to my friend's place (her wedding was the impetus for our entire trip) and had a relaxing evening with friends. Which is exactly what we needed in preparation for the jam-packed extravaganza my friend planned for all of us the next day on Phillip Island. I can't even tell you what the highlight of Phillip Island was. The Wildlife Park where we got to feed a variety of exotic animals was insanely fun. The home and private beach owned by friends of my friend was gorgeous, and the penguin parade at dusk made my ovaries scream out with the cuteness I was surrounded by!

Part 1: Phillip Island Wildlife Park

I took a ton of photos during our time at the Wildlife Park, and while I cut down the majority, there are still dozens more I wanted to share. And although I'd say I'm sorry for the slew of photos I'm about to throw down, it's my blog so (as honeybadger would say) I do what I want!
Which way to go first?
How about hand feeling the super cute wallabies?

Crazy grip to make sure you would feed them every last pellet you had
We couldn't feed the wombats by hand, but they were so adorable! Like a cross between a marsupial and a bear.


Next up were the cassowaries--a rare and giant bird, which also happen to be my friend's favorite.


They were a bit aggressive when they ate, but it wasn't quite as terrifying as it looks.


Plus, the colors on the bird are spectacular. And I was lucky enough to capture some great "action shots" of the bird pecking away, and using its head to fling back pellets that it would then catch in its mouth to eat. Check out how the eyeball rolls back into its head in the second photo. So weird!!


It was so much fun seeing all these unique and beautiful creatures.
Shifty-eyed koala
No hand feeding these guys!
The boy's favorite animal
Cape Barron geese: check out their unique beaks and legs
Blue-winged kookaburras
Finally, a splash of color!!!
Up until now the Wildlife Park felt like a regular open-air zoo, with both large cages/enclosures (for birds, dingos, lizards, etc) and animals free to walk around for you to feed. But then, we approached the most incredible view:


And there, behind those trees, is where the kangaroos were! So off we went, to a place that felt like we were being transported back in time to the early days on earth...


... all to meet the beloved Australian creature: the kangaroo!


It's hard to describe just how slobbery these animals were when they ate
This mama let Laura feed her--check out the little joey in her pouch!!
This guy managed to grab the bag of food from a friend's hands and just shoved his face right in!
I made a GIF of the hilariousness!

Alas, it was time to leave the prehistoric section of the park and make our way to another open field. But don't worry, there's a few more kangaroo pictures to come!


But before we had the chance to feed more kangaroos, we had to contest with the emus. 

Perhaps this is not true for all emus, but I can say that (based upon what I saw) emus are assholes. Bona fide aggressive, persistent, and generally terrifying assholes.

When we first entered the enclosure, one emu almost immediately started chasing and pecking at another, presumably so that the dominant animal could get all of our tasty treats. They're quite large animals, so needless to say, it wasn't the best way to make a positive impression on all us Americans.


Then, the emus would start following you the moment they heard the rustling of your paper bag (containing those delicious pellets they so desired). This one was stalking the boy, and then when I started taking photos of it, it started following me, heading straight for my (very expensive) camera lens. 

Luckily I was saved by the boy when he threw some pellets on the ground to distract it from the stalking! That trick also gave us just enough time to feed the cute kangaroos that were hanging out in this part of the park.


The kangaroos would harass you too, but they were just so damn cute!
Part II: Phillip Island beaches--beware the beauty

After hours in the sweltering heat outdoors it was time for lunch, and then relaxation at a private beach-side house owned by the godparents of my friend's fiance. It was insanely bright and hot outside, but the cold water was just what we needed for a natural cool down. 


The water was a bit too cold for me to enter past my knees--which ended up being a huge blessing in disguise since those who entered the water that day got caught in a powerful rip current! Luckily everyone escaped relatively unscathed, other than some swallowed salt water and exhausted bodies.


Public service announcement time: if you're ever planning on entering the ocean, please remember how to stay safe: swim PARALLEL to the beach when getting pulled out by a rip; once you've passed the area of the current you can swim back in to shore.


View of the beach from the house
Part III: Phillip Island penguin parade

Did you guys know that mini penguins live in Australia?! And that every evening at sunset they waddle back to shore on Phillip Island? It's called the penguin parade and its absolutely adorable! 

They were very strict on no photography, but here a few photos I found on the interwebs of the cute little buggers.
 
Image courtesy of www.visitphillipisland.com
The experience as a whole was a lot more commercial and crowded than I imagined, so it was difficult to see much when they first landed on shore. But then we started walking around the raised platforms (to not disturb the penguins' natural habitat) were able to observe them up close and personal, waddling around on their way to their burrows. We were also extremely lucky enough to witness a mama feeding her very fat and furry baby. It was quite the sight to behold!
 
Baby penguin! Photo courtesy of M Kuhn (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mkuhn/72723888/)
It was a perfect way to end our very long day at Phillip Island, and a perfect way to begin to our very long trip traveling Australia. Can't wait to share more photos and stories with you in the upcoming weeks. Oh, and more food recipes as well! Like this crispy and citrusy orange chicken.

The key to this recipe was using cornstarch instead of flour to batter the chicken. It was lighter and crispier than any breading could ever be.


And lets not forget the delicious homemade orange sauce!


Together they elevated this dish to utter deliciousness!


Yours in hoping to get through all her Australia photos before going on another vacation,
Jacqueline

Orange Chicken, from Annie's Eats

Ingredients

For the marinade and sauce
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
¾ cup orange juice, freshly squeezed if possible
1½ tsp. finely grated orange zest
6 tbsp. white vinegar
¼ cup soy sauce
½ cup brown sugar (dark or light)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
1½ lbs. boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. cold water
8 thin strips orange peel (optional)

For the coating and frying
3 large egg whites
1 cup cornstarch
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
3 cups peanut or canola oil

Directions
  1. To make the marinade and sauce, combine the chicken broth, orange juice, orange zest, vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper in a large saucepan; whisk to blend well. Measure out ¾ cup of the mixture and transfer it to a large zipper lock plastic bag. Add the chicken pieces to the bag, pressing out the excess air and sealing well. Refrigerate and let marinate 30-60 minutes, but no longer. Place the saucepan with the remaining mixture on the stove and heat over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water until smooth. Add the mixture to the saucepan with the sauce. Continue simmering until the sauce is thick and translucent, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the strips of orange peel, if using.

  2. To prepare the coating, place the egg whites in a pie plate and whisk until frothy. In a second pie plate combine the cornstarch, baking soda and cayenne pepper; whisk to blend. Drain the chicken of the marinade in a colander or large strainer; pat dry with paper towels. Place half of the chicken pieces in the egg whites and turn to coat. Transfer the pieces to the cornstarch mixture and coat thoroughly, shaking off the excess. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.

  3. To fry the chicken, heat the oil in a 11- or 12-inch round Dutch oven or straight-sided sauté pan until the oil reaches 350˚ F. Carefully place half of the chicken pieces in the oil and fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes, turning the pieces halfway through cooking. Remove from the oil with a skimmer or slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Return the oil to 350˚ F and repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.

  4. Reheat the sauce if necessary and toss with the cooked chicken pieces. Serve over rice, if desired.

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