Riad Elizabeth, Marrakech

Goodbye London! After a cramped flight on a discount airline, we landed in Marrakech, Morocco. Our guide, Mark from Mad About Morocco, arranged for a driver to pick us up and deliver us to our first stop where we would spend the next two nights, the Riad Elizabeth.

Before I go on I should explain a couple of terms that you will see me use quite often in my Moroccan posts.

A medina is a section in North African cities that is sometimes referred to as “old town.” It is the oldest or older part of the city, and was built by the Arabs as a walled town with many narrow streets. The streets are so narrow that some, if not all, streets must be accessed on foot and by donkey. Cars usually cannot access these streets, and in some cases they also can be too narrow for carts, bicycles and motorcycles (not that this stops anyone from roaring their motorcycle down a narrow medina street). Medinas often are like mazes, with many twists and turns, and contain many places of historical interest like palaces, mosques and fountains. They usually have multiple gates, and sectioned off quarters. This is where all the tourists want to go, and where many Moroccans want to move out of, as the newer sections of the city are more modern and middle-class.

Marrakech medina, just outside of Riad Elizabeth

Marrakech medina, just outside of Riad Elizabeth

A riad is a traditional Moroccan home that has a central open-air courtyard and/or garden in the middle. The rooms of the house surround the courtyard, which is traditionally open to the outdoors, although many modern renovations now have retractable roofing to cover the opening. Many renovated riads now serve as hotels and restaurants.

Located in Marrakech’s medina, the Riad Elizabeth is unique in that it is relatively easily accessible by car (although you still have to walk for a minute or so).

Riad Elizabeth

Riad Elizabeth

One of the owners, an ex-pat Brit named John, greeted us and immediately sat us down for some lovely homemade cookies and mint tea. Hospitality is a very important part of Moroccan life; as soon as you enter someone’s home you are offered mint tea and some sort of snack.

cookies

cookies

Mint tea is a traditional drink in Morocco, and it is served in small glasses. It is made by brewing green tea (sometimes jasmine or gunpowder) and adding large amounts of fresh mint. And lots and lots of sugar. Moroccans love adding copious amounts of sugar into their tea.

tea set

tea set

In my small cup I added one sugar cube and it was plenty for me. John told us that Moroccans would probably have added 4 or more cubes of sugar.

my first taste of mint tea

my first taste of mint tea

The entire riad has been renovated, which made for a nice, easy transition into the culture and atmosphere of Morocco.

our room

our room

flower close up

flower close up

Wait, who's that in the mirror?

Wait, who's that in the mirror?

view of the courtyard from above

view of the courtyard from above

This riad can arrange for dinner, or can help you with taxis to restaurants. Every room comes complete with a full breakfast, served on the riad’s rooftop patio. Clockwise, starting at 12 o’clock, are toasted baguettes, Moroccan bread (named khobz and pronounced hobs in Arabic), fluffy Moroccan pancakes (named beghrir in Arabic), and thin Moroccan crepes (named msemen in Arabic). The crepes reminded me of Malaysian roti. The jam was delicious, and the orange juice was freshly squeezed and sweet. Oh and the oranges! I fell in love with Morocco’s oranges. Almost every orange I ate during the trip was sweeter and tastier than any orange I’ve had in North America. And these oranges were winter oranges; in the summer they are even sweeter!

breakfast, day 1

breakfast, day 1

The breakfast we had before we left Marrakech consisted of French toast made from baguettes (top), more khobz bread, and semolina bread (named harsha in Arabic). And more fruit. I gobbled the oranges.

breakfast, day 2

breakfast, day 2

John, his wife Elizabeth, the riad’s manager Kamal, and all their staff went out of their way to make our stay a pleasant one. It was an auspicious (and delicious) start to the Morocco leg of our trip.

Riad Elizabeth
Derb El Baroud, Hart Essoura
Marrakech Medina 40000
Morocco
www.riadelizabeth.com

St. Albert Farmers’ Market

I know I talk a lot about the downtown Edmonton City Market, but one of my other favourite local farmers’ markets is out in St. Albert. Open every Saturday until October 9, the city closes down a couple of streets to traffic so that the St. Albert Farmers’ Market can take over the space.

St. Albert Farmers' Market

St. Albert Farmers' Market

It’s so popular that they even have shuttle buses running to ferry people to the market.

crowds on a sunny day

crowds on a sunny day

more crowds

more crowds

There is a section for food like donuts, popcorn, hot dogs, lemonade, etc. set up right next to city hall.

concession stands

concession stands

While some of the stands are also present at the City Market or the Old Strathcona Market, the St. Albert one has quite a few booths that are unique. The Cinnamon Girl’s booth is always crowded and stock sells out quickly.

Cinnamon Girl

Cinnamon Girl

Fancy Shmancy sells delcious mini brownies of various flavours, as well as a great cookie. I can’t resist stopping here whenever I come to this market.

Fancy Shmancy

Fancy Shmancy

Fancy Shmancy's baked goods

Fancy Shmancy's baked goods

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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.

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Tambun biscuits (tau sah peah) – Him Heang, Malaysia

tambun biscuit (tau sah peah)

Tambun biscuits, or tau sah peah, are round little cookies stuffed with green beans (a.k.a. mung beans). Flaky, dry, a little salty and savoury, they are a popular snack and boxes are often given as gifts. The ingredients of tambun biscuits are actually quite simple: wheat flour, green beans, fried shallot, vegetable oil and salt.

My grandmother insisted that we had to stop at Him Heang, a local bakery famous for these cookies. The place was packed and boxes were flying off the shelves. I think we only managed to get some because my grandmother, this persistent (and stubborn) little old lady, shoved her way to the front counter and shouted her order to the staff there.

Frankly, I was disappointed once I bit into them. They were so dry that you had to eat them with a drink handy. Although they weren’t greasy, I did find there was a bit of a greasy aftertaste – perhaps from the vegetable oil used? Also, the beans didn’t taste very strong at all and made me wonder why they even bothered to add the beans.

I ended up lugging two boxes of these with me onto the next leg of my trip – Hong Kong – and gave them away to people there, because no one else in my family wanted to take them back to Canada.

inside view of a tambun biscuit (tau sah peah)

inside view of a tambun biscuit (tau sah peah)

Him Heang Sdn. Bhd.
162-A Jalan Burma,
10050 Penang,
Malaysia

Cranberry-Apricot Chocolate Chews

This is the very last cookie in my never-ending Christmas cookie adventure. Hooray!

I’ve saved the best one for last. After few successes and a whole bunch of failures, I decided to make this recipe. And oh boy do they taste fantastic! Designed to use whole wheat flour and chock full of dried fruits, nuts, and chocolate, this cookie disappeared quickly. I only managed to grab a small handful of them for one of the cookie tins. If I wasn’t on this strict diet I would make these ones again in a heartbeat.

Cranberry-Apricot Chocolate Chews

Cranberry-Apricot Chocolate Chews

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Two more low sugar and sugar-free cookies

Sugar-free Chocolate and Jam Cookies

Sugar-free Chocolate and Jam Cookies

This will be the 2nd last post about Christmas cookies. I’m so close to the end of them that I can almost taste it!

After the epic failure of the sugar-free shortbread, I tried a couple of other low sugar and sugar-free recipes.

The first one was sugar-free chocolate cookie recipe, made with jam. Unfortunately I had a hard time finding sugar-free jam for some strange reason, and ended up using a “no sugar added” jam instead. Not ideal, but not bad for a diabetic. Continue reading