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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Chinese style scrambled eggs and tomato

This dish is great served with rice. If you want a lot of sauce to soak up in the rice, leave the seeds on your tomatoes. If you want a dish that is not as watery, then you should deseed your tomatoes before cooking. Some recipes also add ketchup to boost the tomato-y flavour – if you do that then I recommend you reduce the amount of sugar you add to the dish.

Chinese style scrambled eggs and tomato

Chinese style scrambled eggs and tomato

And why use white pepper instead of black? White peppercorns are fully matured peppercorns, while black peppercorns are green peppercorns that are dried until they become black. White pepper is usually used in Chinese and other Asian cooking. It has a slightly different flavour (more sharp) and cannot be seen once incorporated into food. You don’t usually see black flecks in Chinese food… unless the food is burnt. 😉 Use white pepper sparingly when adding it to food as it can be as hot as black pepper, although some people argue that it is milder or hotter than the black.

Chinese style scrambled eggs and tomato
Makes one shared entrée or 5-6 individual servings.

Ingredients
2 medium tomatoes or 3-4  “on the vine” tomatoes, roughly chopped
4-6 eggs (if you want you can use egg whites only, but I would recommend keeping at least one or two yolks for the flavour)
canola or sunflower oil
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste
white pepper to taste

Directions
Whisk your eggs and fry them in a non-stick pan or wok with the oil. Scramble your eggs until they are about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way cooked. Remove the eggs and place them on a plate to the side.

In your pan add all the chopped tomatoes to the pan, and stir-fry until soft.

Add all of the sugar, and salt and pepper to taste.

Add the eggs back into the pan and gently stir until the eggs and tomatoes are incorporated. The eggs should be in large chunks still. Cook for another minute or so until the eggs are done.

BLT Burger, Las Vegas

Later in the week we made a last minute decision to pick up some lunch at another “fancy” chef-owned burger place, BLT Burger located in the Mirage. This decision wasn’t fueled by a burger craving, but more as a way to erase (or at least make me feel better) about my not-so-hot experience over at the Burger Bar.

The “BLT” in the name stands for “Bistro Laurent Tourondel.” The atmosphere is modern and yet retro at the same time; each table had an old fashioned diner-style, and the servers were dressed in a casual uniform of BLT branded t-shirts with sayings on the back like “Tip waiters not cows.” Instead of hiding the cook-top, they treated the overhead vent as a display piece and have the cook-top surrounded by bar-style seating. (I didn’t take a photo but you can see the decor over here.)

We were seated right away because the restaurant, while busy, was quite large. They play their music very loud (probably to drown out the casino noises!), and our server was cheery and helpful.

BLT Burger placemat

BLT Burger placemat

This time, I was absolutely determined to have meat.

BLT’s burgers are a mix of Black Angus sirloin, short rib, chuck and brisket.They have a number of add-on toppings like portobello mushrooms, fried eggs, and homemade chili, as well as a number of alcoholic and non-alcoholic milkshakes.

I decided on the “Shaft’s Blue,” which was a grilled 7 oz patty served with Shaft’s Blue Vein Cheese, balsamic caramelized onion and mushrooms, with a big pickle on the side. And I ordered it cooked medium – which is something you can’t get at restaurants here.

Sweet potato fries and Shafts Blue burger

Sweet potato fried and Shaft's Blue burger

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Café Ba Ba Reeba, Las Vegas

I needed a good place on the strip for a (relatively inexpensive) group dinner. A buffet would have been the easy choice, but I wanted something different. Armed with recommendations (thanks H. Peter!) and with a pre-purchased gift certificate from Restaurant.com that I picked up at a high discount, I made a reservation for Café Ba Ba Reeba and got ready to enjoy some Spanish tapas.

Café Ba Ba Reeba

Café Ba Ba Reeba

The restaurant is located inside Fashion Show Mall but confusingly, you cannot enter the restaurant through the mall. Their entrance faces Las Vegas Boulevard, and has a relatively large patio. The inside is split between the bar and restaurant seating.

I was the first one to arrive and right away ordered a half pitcher of black raspberry sangria. It was served with a generous amount of diced apples as well as lemon and orange peel. It wasn’t too sweet and it wasn’t too dry, but I did feel there could have been a stronger berry taste, as the majority of it came from some Skyy infusion raspberry vodka. Some actual raspberry juice might have boosted the drink another level. They had interesting looking peach sangrias being served at the next table; if I ever go back to Vegas anytime soon I may have to give that one a try.

I was cautious about ordering too much because I wasn’t sure how many people would be drinking. In hind sight, I wish I had ordered a full pitcher because five of us ended up drinking my poor tiny half pitcher. I probably should have insisted that they order their own and leave my sangria alone!

Black raspberry sangria

Black raspberry sangria

To whet our appetites, we were served slices of fresh bread with olive oil. Some balsamic vinegar did show up a little later, but I had already eaten my share of bread. The bread itself was decent, but not extraordinary.

bread and olive oil, sans balsamic vinegar

bread and olive oil, sans balsamic vinegar

As a group we decided to order a number of tapas dishes and a few servings of paella to share. We ordered:

Spanish meatballs (beef) with tomato sauce – slightly spicy and big, couldn’t see what was really Spanish about it though
Crispy calamari with tomato salsa – not bad, but not memorable
Seared sea scallops with raisins, couscous and pine nuts – probably one of the best of the entire meal, warmed all the way through but seared so fast that the insides were on the cusp of being raw, not for those who dislike sushi, everyone except for one person loved it and we ended up ordering an additional plate
Serrano, salchichon & chorizo sliced meats with manchego cheese (a.k.a. The House Plate, although it didn’t say that on the menu we had) – came with teeny tiny olives and small triangles of bread, was tasty but the quantity served probably wasn’t worth the price charged
Bacon-wrapped dates with an apple vinaigrette – was the other star dish of the night, a warm dish that was soft and salty and sweet all rolled into one, wasn’t to everyone’s taste but those who enjoyed it really loved the flavour
Roasted salmon – can’t remember what was on it, and the online menus aren’t identical to what we saw in the restaurant, tasted fine but wasn’t memorable
Seafood paella with gulf shrimp, sea scallops & green beans – served with generous amounts of seafood, a tiny bit too salty for some people, while wasn’t soggy it was almost the texture of a risotto and had no crispy bits that you would expect from the bottom of the pan
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Sofra, Edmonton

A group of friends and I planned a night out at Sofra, a Turkish restaurant that none of us had tried before. The interior is small but interesting – lots of wood and a giant horse statue at the entrance. Each table has a charm embedded into the table surface – a glass eye as a charm against the evil eye. I did think about taking a photo of one, but I decided that it would probably give me bad luck or something and erred on the safe side.

To drink, I tried some Turk Cayi – Turkish tea. It arrived in a tiny cup with a spoon and a sugar cube. And it tasted like orange pekoe. Yeah, I felt a little ripped off.

Turk Cayi (Turkish tea)

Turk Cayi (Turkish tea)

Two people tried the pideler – traditional forno-baked pizzas.

The first was the Tavuklu Pide, a chicken, tomato, green pepper and cheese pizza.

Tavuklu Pide (chicken pizza)

Tavuklu Pide (chicken pizza)

The second was a Kiymali Pide, a ground beef pizza with with vegetables and cheese.

Kiymali Pide (ground beef pizza)

Kiymali Pide (ground beef pizza)

Both pizzas had plenty of cheese and the toppings tasted okay, but the pizzas didn’t wow anyone at the table except for the light, flaky crust. Continue reading

Culina Highlands, Edmonton

For Mother’s Day, I treated my mom to a brunch at Culina Highlands. I’ve been wanting to try this place for a while now, and unfortunately never did make it there when the location was a previous restaurant named Bacon. Having been to Culina Mill Creek before, however, I knew that I could expect some good quality food.

Like their sister Mill Creek location, Culina Highlands is a small venue. It’s quite warm and comfortable, and with the sun shining through the large windows the place was nicely lit up. Many people ate out back since it was such a nice day.

tea and water

tea and water

For drinks we were served water in a wine bottle, just like they do in Culina Mill Creek. I ordered a pineapple, coconut and rooibos tea from local store Cally’s Teas, and my mom was given a complimentary Prosecco mimosa. The mimosa was very tasty and had a good balance of wine and orange juice. The tea wasn’t bad; you could taste a hint of coconut and fruitiness but otherwise it didn’t stand out to me compared to other teas I’ve had in the past.

Prosecco mimosa

Prosecco mimosa

Mom had a very filling tofu scramble with spicy tomato sauce, mushrooms, quinoa, chickpeas and cashew cheese served with vegan toast. The quinoa gave the scramble a nice texture and the whole mix tasted vaguely of curry. The toast was slightly crisp and was very light.

tofu scramble

tofu scramble

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Eggplant curry (baingan bharta)

Eggplant curry (baingan bharta)

Eggplant curry (baingan bharta)

For dinner on Thursday night, and lunch leftovers on Friday, I cooked with eggplant for the very first time. This dish also gave me the opportunity to try out the new non-stick marble coated wok I picked up the last time I was at T&T.

For this dish I chose something relatively simple to make. Simplicity doesn’t necessarily mean simple flavours though; this dish had plenty of layers. I could definitely see myself doubling the recipe next time in order to have additional leftovers. Eaten with half a piece of Olafson’s flaxseed and multigrain breakfast pita (toasted in the already heated broiler), the meal was healthy, full of vegetables, spicy, hearty, satisfying and filling. My best reaction was a statement from one of the other people who ate the dish – “you’re allowed to make this one again.” Continue reading