more Marrakech food and sights

My last post on Marrakech. But more Morocco to come!

A man was selling mint from giant sack, right on the street.

mint for sale

mint for sale

Fried fish. Mark, our guide, said that it wasn’t worth eating seafood here and that it would be better on the coast. Also, notice the Activia sign. I had no idea that stuff was so far reaching!

fish and yogurt sign

fish and yogurt sign

Lots and lots and lots of colourful tagines for sale.

tagines

tagines

Mutton, anyone?

butcher

butcher

Garlic and spices for sale on the side of the street.

garlic and spices

garlic and spices

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

Pandan Agar Agar recipe

I am going to a potluck dinner today! (More on that another day.) I wanted to bring something a little different that some people may not have tried before. This is a South-East Asian vegetarian and dairy-free gelatin dessert that uses a couple of ingredients that may seem exotic to people unfamiliar with food from Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines or Malaysia.

Pandan Agar Agar

Pandan Agar Agar

Pandan leaves (also known as pandanus or screw pine leaves) are a plant that is often used in South-East Asian cooking and appears in desserts, flavoured rice, curries, etc. The taste and smell of pandan is uniquely floral and slightly grassy. It is often paired with coconut; in fact, if you buy something that is coconut flavoured and it is green coloured, it probably has some pandan in it as well. People sometimes say that pandan leaves are as important to South-East Asian cooking as vanilla is to Western cooking. In Edmonton, you can purchase pandan leaves frozen from Asian grocery stores like T&T Supermarket and 99 Supermarket. I picked up pandan extract at 99 Supermarket.

pandan extract

pandan extract

Agar agar is a derived from an algae and is often used as a substitute for gelatin. It is most commonly used in South-East Asian and Japanese desserts, but sometimes gets used as a general thickener for food. You can sometimes find them in Asian grocery stores as long, dried strips, flakes or as a powder.

I originally was going to use a recipe that I found on the Internet or from a cookbook, but all of the ones I found weren’t quite what I was looking for. I ended up doing a test run and finally settled on these measurements as my preferred recipe.

Pandan Agar Agar

Ingredients
1 1/2 cup water
400 ml (approx 2 cups) thick coconut milk (use a higher fat milk – the one I used had 17 g of fat per 1/2 cup)
2/3 cup sugar
3 tsp powdered agar agar
approx 1/2 tsp pandan (also known as screw pine) extract (also sometimes called essence or paste)

Directions
Place the water, coconut milk and sugar into a pot and bring to a low boil.

Sprinkle the agar agar powder into the pot slowly while continuously stirring the mixture. Be careful because the powder can easily clump in the liquid if you add it too quickly. If it does clump, then break it up as much as you can and keep slowly stirring until the lumps dissolve in the liquid.

Slowly add the pandan extract until the desired green colour is achieved. I added 1/2 tsp, but really the amount added depends on your preference.

Place the mixture into molds or a casserole dish and let cool. Agar agar will become solid at room temperature, but it will solidify faster in cold temperatures. I generally let the agar agar cool down a little bit, and then pop them into the fridge. I recommend making your layer about 1/2 inch tall or less; once you get much bigger than that the mixture will settle toward the bottom and the top part of the agar agar will become translucent. The flavour will fall to the bottom as well.

Once cool, unmold or cut the agar agar into squares, rectangles, parallelograms. I used a small cookie cutter to create fun shapes.

N.B. Alternatively you can use pandan leaves and make a pandan juice instead of using the extract. To create the juice you take about 8 long leaves and rinse them. Chiffonade the leaves if you can, or at least try to slice them into as small pieces as possible. Place them into a blender with 2/3 a cup of water and puree. Strain the mixture with a cheesecloth. If you substitute the juice for the pandan extract, remember to reduce the amount of the water in the above recipe to 1 cup.

This dessert can be made vegan if vegan sugar is used. It is Celiac-friendly as well, but you probably need to use the juice instead as I am not 100% sure the extract is gluten-free.

Bellagio Buffet and Wynn Buffet, Las Vegas

Love them or hate them, Las Vegas just isn’t the same without the buffets. On this trip I went to two – the Bellagio, which I ate at many years ago, and the Wynn, which was still being built when I was last in Vegas.

If you want to maximize your buffet dollars, the key is to show up about 30-45 minutes before the meal changes over and the prices go up. For instance, we arrived at the Bellagio at 10:20 a.m., waited 20 minutes in line, paid the breakfast price, and got to enjoy the tail end of breakfast as well as the beginning of the lunch service which started at 11 a.m. without having to pay the higher lunch fee. We used a similar strategy at the Wynn.

Also, I find that if you balance the amount you want to eat with the size of your stomach, you can comfortably eat enough to fill you up for the whole day and maybe add a snack later in the evening. Just be careful not to over do it.

I highly recommend you be careful of which buffet you choose, however. One couple missed a tour we were on because of food poisoning at a buffet. Just because there’s a deal, doesn’t mean the food is worth it. Generally, the higher quality buffets (which are also the more expensive ones) include the ones at the Bellagio, the Wynn, Planet Hollywood and Paris.

At buffets I tend to grab a tiny bit of items that catch my attention, and go back for seconds if I like them enough.

The Bellagio Buffet

The decor hasn’t changed and, while everything looks like it is in good shape, could probably use a bit of redecorating to freshen up the look. Service is still relatively consistent. Had some orange juice with this meal.

Plate 1:
Scottish smoked salmon, cocktail shrimp, African bluenose (a thick fish similar in texture to sea bass, tasted ok, covered with some sort of sweet sauce and slightly overcooked), curried duck with bamboo shoots, scrambled eggs, cheese blintz (soggy probably because it has sat out for a while), bok choy, cheese and walnuts, and miso mushroom soup (too salty, had this dish years ago and it was fantastic then).

Bellagio Buffet, plate 1

Bellagio Buffet, plate 1

Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

Raymond Blanc’s favourite recipe

Raymond Blanc demonstrates how to make his favourite recipe, a simple chocolate mousse that is low in sugar and contains very few ingredients. Mmmm yummy. He’s fun to watch too.

The recipe is also listed on that page, as well as a couple of variations that can be made – chocolate fondant and chocolate soup.

Chocolate and almond financiers

Before I met her, one of my friends was diagnosed with Celiac disease, which means she cannot eat anything with gluten (wheat, soy sauce, bread, etc.). Luckily, with the ability to share experiences and recipes over the Internet, there are many gluten-free recipes to be found.

My challenge with gluten-free baking though, is that most of it requires a mix of different kinds of flour (potato flour, arrowroot flour, rice flour, xanthan gum, etc.). Except for when I bake something for my friend, I will not usually use these multitudes of different flours and am reluctant to buy them only to have them sit in my pantry for long periods of time. So when I saw this simple David Lebovitz recipe for chocolate financiers on the Gluten-Free Girl’s blog, I couldn’t resist giving it a try.

Chocolate and almond financier

Chocolate and almond financier

This has become one of my go-to “let’s impress people” dishes because they’re so tiny and yet pack in so much chocolate and almond flavour. People love these things; it’s just a bonus that they’re gluten-free too. Continue reading