Over the mountains we go – eating our way through the High Atlas in Morocco

Ha, I bet you thought I forgot about these posts. Never fear, I’m not stopping. I’m just slow!

We left Marrakech for a long trip through Morocco’s High Atlas mountains. After several hours driving on narrow, windy roads we stopped at a little town that I think was called Toufrine (I could be mistaken) for lunch.

Leaving Marrakech, Mark piled us into a car and we headed into the High Atlas Mountains. After windy roads and a long morning drive, we reached the small mountain town of Toufrine where we met our local guide, Mohamed.

Our gracious host and local guide was Mohamed, who started us off with a refreshing (and super sweet) cup of mint tea.

Mohamed pours mint tea

Mohamed pours mint tea

These almonds and pecans were from nearby trees. Don’t you wish we had this kind of local food in our backyards?

tea and snacks

tea and snacks

The main meal was a lamb tagine, with tender olives, tomatoes and potatoes piled high.

lamb tagine

lamb tagine

my plate

my plate

loaves of fresh khobz (bread)

loaves of fresh khobz (bread)

After stuffing ourselves, Mohamed took us to a nearby mountain town for some sightseeing. We were supposed to go to a town renowned for their waterfall, but the abnormal amount of rain in the area washed out the road and so instead we went to a totally different town called Tighfiste.

On our way there, after talking to someone on an old cell phone, he suddenly asked Mark, our regular guide, to stop the car and he climbed out. And then up. Straight up, in the pouring rain. Wearing only sandals. Trying to find him in the photo is like playing Where’s Waldo. Mohamed is the striped blur somewhere in the middle of the photo. I took this picture while sitting in the car and looking straight up.

Part mountain goat?

Part mountain goat?

He came back with reused water bottles and giant jugs of honey from someone who lives at the top of this cliff. And yes, he carried all of it down that same cliff.
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S&M Café, London

It’s not everyday that you get to eat at a place called S&M. And then you have to explain to people that it’s not as kinky as it sounds, as it actually stands for sausage and mash. S&M Café is a local chain in London that specializes in “great British grub,” and we were there specifically for one of their breakfasts. More specifically, a Full English Breakfast.

S&M Café

S&M Café

I’m told that you can usually get the full English breakfast experience at most pubs, but this restaurant was recommended to us by a friend and their Spitalfields location was near where we were staying, so it made a great spot for us to grab some food before heading off for sightseeing for the day. Customer service was fast and extremely friendly – our waiter joked around with us every time he came around to our table.

We were there in the morning so we only saw the breakfast menu, but a quick glance at their regular menu posted on their website shows that they have a number of other traditional British fare available, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free options.

The menu

The menu

Of course, the first thing that we ordered was the Great British All Day Breakfast for those in the group who were new to the experience. Toast, bacon, sausage, bubble and squeak, egg, baked beans, mushrooms, and tomatoes filled the plate to bursting.

Great British All Day Breakfast

Great British All Day Breakfast

Now, I have eaten full English breakfasts before (although then it was called full Scottish breakfast because it was in Edinburgh, and those ones had the option of adding haggis, vegetarian haggis, and/or black pudding), and I knew how greasy those plates can get, so I was more than happy to try something different. I opted for the Vegetarian All Day Breakfast, which included all the same items except that it replaced the bacon and sausage with Caerphilly cheese and leek sausages. (I think it was the cheese that convinced me that it was the right way to go.)

Vegetarian All Day Breakfast

Vegetarian All Day Breakfast

I have to say that although the regular sausages and the bacon were good, my Caerphilly cheese and leek sausages were spectacular. Crunchy on the outside, they had the texture of cornbread on the inside and great mix of leek and quite mild cheese flavours.

Caerphilly cheese and leek sausages

Caerphilly cheese and leek sausages

The bubble and squeak was a mixture of mashed potatoes and vegetables, including squash blossoms.

bubble and squeak

bubble and squeak

We stuffed ourselves silly, and rolled out of the restaurant while complaining that we were too full to walk.

condiments - mustards, ketchup and HP sauce

condiments - mustards, ketchup and HP sauce

S&M Café
various locations in London, England
www.sandmcafe.co.uk

S & M Café on Urbanspoon

Studio Café, Las Vegas

Las Vegas is a 24-hours kind of place, especially when you are on the Strip. And to meet those needs, it seems like every major hotel has at least one restaurant that is open 24-hours a day. For the MGM Grand, that place is the Studio Café.

We went here for breakfast one day and came away quite impressed. I was expecting the food to be more of the greasy spoon variety, but what we got was huge portions, tasty food and an interesting menu with a mix of basics and gourmet items.

The toast was admittedly nothing special, but I decided to take a photo of it because of the paper.

Studio Café, MGM Grand

Studio Café, MGM Grand

I was tempted to order one of the day’s specials – a lobster omelette – but instead chose one off their regular menu, the Ragin’ Cajun Omelette ($14.00 US). Filled with andouille sausage, green peppers, beans and a spicy shrimp gumbo, it started off my morning with a bit of a kick. On the side was a giant hash brown –  just thick enough to give a good balance between the crispy outside and the soft potato inside.

Ragin Cajun Omelette

Ragin' Cajun Omelette

Our other order was one of the day’s specials – a Greek Omelette ($13.00) served with tzatziki, feta cheese, pitted olives, tomatoes and a very mild amount of jalapeños. I hadn’t expected to like this omelette as much as I did because I was unsure about how the Greek flavours would taste with the eggs, but it was a rather refreshing dish with lots of vegetables. This dish also came with the same delicious hash browns. (Apologies for the crappy lighting of the photo.)

Greek Omelette

Greek Omelette

*Disclaimer: My meal here was discounted because of a comp. Saying that, the prices were relatively reasonable for a place on the Strip and I would have been happy to pay full price for this meal.

Studio Café
MGM Grand, Las Vegas
www.mgmgrand.com/restaurants/studio-cafe.aspx

Studio Cafe (MGM Grand) on Urbanspoon

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.

Salsa fresca with a twist

It was a beautiful day on Saturday; the sun was shining and the weather was crisp but not freezing. I even opened the windows for a short time to let in some fresh air. If I didn’t know better I would swear that it feels like spring weather is coming soon! (Hard to tell with weather here… a few days ago it snowed, and then promptly melted the next day.)

To go along with the nice weather I made some fresh salsa inspired by a recipe that I was told came straight from a cook in Mexico. I have a doubt about the authenticity of that recipe though, as it includes celery and I’ve never seen a salsa recipe that includes celery. The vegetable does give the salsa a nice crunch. The other thing about this recipe that struck me was the large amount of green in it, as opposed to other salsas which are more about the tomato than the other flavours. It gives the salsa a really fresh taste. For my version of this salsa, I ended up adjusting the quantities of some ingredients and adding seasoning.

Salsa fresca with a twist

Salsa fresca with a twist

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Cod and tomato chowder

Cod and tomato chowder

Cod and tomato chowder

I’m inherently lazy, and soups are just so easy to make that I can’t seem to stop.

This was dinner last night – hearty vegetables and a great flavoured soup made this a healthy and satisfying meal.

This recipe is from Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite cookbook. All the recipes in there look fantastic; my only criticism of it so far is the way the graphic designer laid out the recipes. Each paragraph starts off with a part of the sentence in bold, large and coloured font, and my eye kept skipping over it as if it was a sub-head. It’s easy to miss important instructions that way, like when to add the tomatoes. Took me three times to read the recipe before I realized my missing tomatoes was written in that fancy coloured text.
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Famoso, Edmonton

Famoso sign

Famoso sign

I have finally sampled pizza nirvana (or at least as close as you can come when you are in Edmonton).

A group of friends and I trekked over to the south-side Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria for a get together on Saturday. Greedily, we decided to order one different pizza each – that way we could try many kinds and share slices. It was a little bit too much pizza to eat (many of us took home leftovers), but we were happy to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of good eating. They were all excellent pizzas, but I admit I did have a couple of particular favourites.

Famoso’s pizza uses highly refined, low-gluten flour imported from Italy. This means a thin, crispy and light crust. No greasiness here – just the light taste of olive oil and fresh ingredients. Pizzas come with 2 sauces depending on which pizza you order; the pizza rossa (red), which consists of San Marzano tomato sauce made of crushed tomatoes and basil leaf, and the pizza bianca (white), made with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and oregano pizza sauce. Also, while many of the pizzas contained cheese, the amount of cheese on the pizza is a lot less than what you find on North American pizzas. I love cheese, and I was surprised at how little I missed having so much of it on a pizza slice.

Pizza #1 – Margherita – fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil, with added extra toppings of olives, onions and roasted mushrooms. Was yummy but had a few too many olives for my taste.

Margherita pizza

Margherita pizza

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