Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech

Sheep’s head, anise flavoured snails and cinnamon are three things that immediately flood my memory when I think about Djemaa el Fna and Marrakech.

Djemaa el Fna is the main square in Marrakech’s medina quarter. Bustling and filled with merchants and performers all day and night, this area inspired the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity UNESCO project, where they identify cultural history such as music and performances, rather than physical buildings and places.

Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

During the day, stalls sell orange juice, dates and nuts. Performers wander around with poor Barbary apes on chains and snake charmers try to lure in tourists.

another shot of Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

another shot of Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

There are a number of cafés facing the square.

doughnut seller and cafe

doughnut seller and cafe

merchants

merchants

snake charmers

snake charmers

And then, before sunset, the snakes move out and the food carts start moving in.

food carts

food carts

To me, this is when Djemaa el Fna really comes alive. At night the square is filled with food stalls, hungry people, singers, drummers, dancers, storytellers, women doing tattoos with some dubious henna and people selling traditional medicines.

nuts and dried fruits

nuts and dried fruits

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Mascarpone Stuffed Dates

This is an easy and tasty recipe for entertaining and potlucks. The sweetness of the dish makes it a great finger food dessert, or a sweet appetizer. Key to this recipe is the use of Medjool dates, which are plump and meaty. I experimented with mixing the cinnamon into the mascarpone, but the cinnamon flavour wouldn’t come through unless I placed it on top of each date.

Mascarpone stuffed dates

Mascarpone stuffed dates

Mascarpone Stuffed Dates

Ingredients
Medjool dates
mascarpone cheese
pecans or walnuts
cinnamon

Directions
With a sharp knife, make a small slit lengthwise across the top of each Medjool date. Do not cut all the way through the date! Carefully pull out the seed.

Take a small spoon (or use a filled piping bag) and place a small dollop of mascarpone inside the opening of each date.

Push a nut into the mascarpone. I used pecans but you can easily use walnuts. Dust a sprinkle of cinnamon over each filled date.

Sugar and Spice Drops

Unlike last year, when I went on a Christmas baking frenzy, I’m only doing a handful of things this year. I’ve already made a batch of crack (a.k.a sugar coated pecans), and I’m planning on making at least one batch of those cranberry-apricot chocolate chews that I keep talking about.

I am making one new kind of cookie this year though. After making those chews last year, I got really interested in the book that it came from, King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking. It got great reviews so I took a risk and bought a copy online, which is rather unusual for me because  I generally prefer to flip through a hard copy of a cookbook before making a purchase.

I love gingerbread cookies, but sometimes you want something that’s a little more simple to make and is lighter in flavour. And so, when I saw this Sugar and Spice Drops recipe I knew I had to try it out. They have a light gingerbread-style flavour – just enough to give you some spice but not enough to overwhelm. They are more crispy and the flavour is lighter than the ginger cookies I made last year.

Sugar and Spice Drops
Sugar and Spice Drops
Adapted from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking: Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains by King Arthur Flour
Makes approximately 4 1/2 dozen cookies.

Ingredients
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup fancy molasses
1 large egg
2 cups traditional whole wheat flour

Directions
Cream together the butter, sugar, baking soda, salt and spices in a bowl until smooth. Beat in the molasses, and then the egg, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the flour and beat until all the ingredients are incorporated. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes. (The original recipe said it could also be refrigerated overnight, but when I did that for a second batch of cookies I found that the dough dried out a bit and was harder to work with, so I personally wouldn’t recommend leaving it for that long.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease 2 baking sheets or line them with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and use a teaspoon to scoop out a piece. Lightly roll it in your hands to make a small ball, and drop it onto the prepared baking sheets.

Bake the cookies until they’ve flattened out and started to brown slightly, about 10-12 minutes depending on your oven. Be careful of overcooking them as you could potentially burn the bottom of the cookies without realizing it. Remove them from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Don’t worry if the cookies seem a bit soft or uncooked inside – they’ll finish cooking off as they cool down.

Once cool, the cookies will be crispy on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside.

Sweet tooth in Vegas

Many years ago, someone gave me a piece of Ferrara Pan‘s Atomic FireBall candy. They’re blazing hot cinnamon jawbreakers, and they’re incredibly hard to find here (and if you do they’re not cheap).

The first full day in Vegas, we took a quick trip to a Smart & Final store, a warehouse Costco-style store that doesn’t require a membership. Along with drinks and a giant box of granola bars, I excitedly grabbed a giant 200 count countain of Atomic FireBalls for about $13 US. It took up a huge chunk of space in my suitcase, but the case is going to last me forever.

Atomic FireBalls

Atomic FireBalls

They also had jars of Lemonheads, but I didn’t want to buy quite that much of a candy that I hadn’t tried before. Instead, at a candy store in the airport, I picked up a few different candies to nibble on while waiting for my flight home.

Vegas candy

Vegas candy

(Sorry about the dry hands! )

The Lemonhead was definitely sour, but I think I prefer the Japanese Nobel Super Lemon candy as that one is much more mouth puckering. Atkinson’s Peanut Butter Bar was like sucking on a piece of peanut butter if it came in a hard form. The Bit-O-Honey is a honey flavoured taffy that has teeny tiny bits of almond embedded in it. It was okay but not as good as the other two candies.

It was interesting to try some new candy (well, new to me at any rate), but I’m more than satisfied with my giant jar of Atomic FireBalls and do not regret refraining from buying large quantities of any other candy.

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Las Vegas

When I decided to go on a trip to Las Vegas, I knew I wanted at least one fancy pants meal. After doing some reading about the various places in Las Vegas, I settled on L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon as the place where we’d have our most expensive meal, to be eaten on the Saturday before we went to a showing of KÀ.

LAtelier de Joël Robuchon

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

I’ve actually had my eye on this upscale chain of restaurants for a while now. I had planned on going there while in Hong Kong last year, but on the only day I had free I wasn’t feeling hungry at all and ended up going to sleep early instead of trying to find my way there. Because of this, L’Atelier was high on my Vegas to-do list.

This location of L’Atelier is located right next to the casino floor and they had the doors propped open, which meant that some of the casino sounds filtered into the restaurant. Part way through my meal they closed one of the doors and most of the sounds went away, so at some point I actually forgot we were right next to the casino. Next to the restaurant is Robuchon’s other restaurant at the MGM Grand, Joël Robuchon at The Mansion (which I considered for my list but crossed off due to the price). And next to that fantastic entrance (look at the chandelier in the foyer!) was the KÀ Theatre.

Joël Robuchon at the Mansion and KÀ Theatre

Joël Robuchon at the Mansion and KÀ Theatre

In Las Vegas, L’Atelier is a one-star Michelin French restaurant. A majority of the restaurant’s seating is at a bar surrounding and facing the open kitchen, similar to a sushi bar. An important part of the dining experience here is watching the kitchen staff make your food. It is for this reason that Robuchon calls this series of restaurants “the workshop,” or L’Atelier.

bar seating at LAtelier de Joël Robuchon with the casino viewable through the window

bar seating at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon with the casino viewable through the window

The decor was very modern with lots of reds and blacks. The kitchen was decorated by large vases of fruits, eggs, and vegetables floating in water, as well as giant fake apples and round hanging greenery.
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Cranberry Apple Bran Muffins

I felt like baking over the long weekend, so I whipped up some muffins to take for this week’s breakfast. They’re a great way to get some bran into your diet if you’re looking for more fibre.

Cranberry apple bran muffins

Cranberry apple bran muffins

Cranberry apple bran muffins
Adapted from a Kelloggs All-Bran recipe.
Makes 12 muffins.

Ingredients
1 cup/250 ml All-Bran Buds or Original cereal
1 cup/250 ml light plain soy milk or skim milk
1 egg
1/4 cup/50 ml vegetable oil
1 1/4 cup/300 ml whole wheat or all-purpose flour
2/3 cup/150 ml granulated sugar
2 1/2 tsp/12 ml baking powder
1/4 tsp/1 ml salt
5 ml/1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp/pinch of ground nutmeg
3/4 cup/175 ml chopped fresh or frozen cranberries, or dried cranberries
1/2 cup/125 ml peeled and diced apples

Optional topping:
1 tbsp/15 ml granulated sugar
1/4 tsp/1 ml ground cinnamon

Directions
Mix the cereal and milk together and let it sit for a few minutes until the cereal has absorbed as much liquid as possible. Beat the egg and add it and the oil to the mixture and stir.

In another bowl, take the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg and mix throughly. Add this to the cereal mixture and stir until combined. Add your cranberries and diced apples. (If you use fresh or frozen cranberries, your muffins will be moist. If you use dry cranberries the muffins won’t be dry, but you may want to eat them with a glass of milk to wash everything down.)

Preheat your oven to 400 °F (200 °C). Mix the sugar and cinnamon for the topping and temporarily set aside.

Grease or line your muffin pans and fill with the batter. Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar topping if desired.

Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes or until firm.

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup

Everyone I’ve ever told about this recipe have raved about its taste. It’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s easy to make, only uses one pot and it tastes damn good. I discovered it one day when watching Good Deal with Dave Lieberman on TV.

“Wow, that looks simple and delicious,” I thought. And so I immediately went looking for the recipe on the US Food Network website. I’ve made it enough times now that I’ve adjusted some ingredients to fit my own personal taste.

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup

Moroccan spiced chickpea soup
Adapted from Good Deal with Dave Lieberman
Makes approximately 4-6 large servings.

Ingredients
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 large onion, roughly diced
6 to 8 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (original recipe asks for just 1 tsp but I like the additional cinnamon taste)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (add more if you want heat)
1 heaping teaspoon sweet paprika
1 can chopped tomatoes (796 mL/28 oz, original recipe used half of this amount though)
2 cans chickpeas (540 mL/19 oz per can), rinsed and drained
1 carton (900 mL) reduced-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth… or use your own stock of course)
1 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pre-washed baby spinach

Directions
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until the onions begin to turn translucent (lower the heat if browning starts to occur). Add all your spices spices and sauté for a minute. Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, broth and sugar. Add a pinch of salt and approximately 10 grinds of fresh pepper.

Don’t forget to stir as you add each ingredient. The chickpeas should be just covered with liquid; if you don’t have enough liquid add some water.

Bring the soup to a simmer, then lower heat to low and gently simmer for approximately 45 minutes. Basically, you want the chickpeas to soften enough so that there is no bite.

Remove the soup from the heat and use a potato masher to mash up some of the chickpeas (but not all of them) right there in the pot. Spoon out your soup and add plenty of spinach to each bowl, stirring until the heat just starts to wilt the leaves. If you’re serving the entire pot, go ahead and add your spinach to the pot instead of into individual bowls. Add additional salt and pepper if necessary, and serve the soup lightly drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, if desired.