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Casablanca (and Moroccan food)

One of the things I love about traveling is getting to try all the authentic local cuisine. When we went on a cruise recently, and it went to Casablanca, we knew we needed to find a good local place to have delicious food. Some of my friends who had been on a trip to Morocco recently had mentioned that Moroccan food can be hit or miss depending on the restaurant, and since we only had one day, we knew we had to find a good place to go.

The restaurant we chose was Restaurant Imilchil. Apparently Imilchil is a small town in the center of Morocco, but for food purposes, I was more concerned about the taste experience. As we sat down in the restaurant (and we weren’t even sure it was open because it seemed empty and closed) we perused the menu, and it was all in French and Arabic (as you’d expect in Morocco). Unfortunately, we didn’t bring enough British Pounds to likely cover the meal, so Tom had to run off to a cash machine to get some local money. Apparently the restaurant owner followed him (either to make sure he found it or he was coming back, we really have no idea). It did give me a bit of time to get some shots of the beautiful dining area as well.

We weren’t too sure what to get, so the owner recommended the salad, a chicken tagine and some couscous to share. It sounded perfect, but I had eaten at Moroccan places in the States, and I had a delicious sweet and savory pie made out of chicken and fruit wrapped in pastry and covered with cinnamon and sugar so I definitely wanted one of those. I managed to explain somehow what I wanted, and he said “Pigeon pastilla”. Apparently pastilla is what I wanted and it’s made out of pigeon (instead of chicken) so I was even more excited by the thought.

The salads that we had were fantastic. I can even describe the flavors on my palate. Definitely Moroccan and delicious. (And unfortunately, I was so hungry I forgot to get a photo.) The pastilla was heavenly. The pigeon was well cooked and had that liver-like taste that I love about it, but mixed with almonds and Moroccan spices. The sugar and cinnamon on top just added to the sweet and savory combination that I’ve learned to love. The tagine was actually my least favorite part. It was nice, but it could have been better. There were bits of liver in it that were nice, but the sauce and overall flavor was a bit lacking. An American traveler also came into the restaurant, and he had the lamb and prune tagine which may have been better. The couscous was a bit wet for my taste, but the vegetables on top were fantastic. Plus under the vegetables was a nice braised piece of lamb that was quite delicious. So overall, the restaurant was well worth our research and planning, and I would recommend it to anyone who happened to find themselves in Casablanca. The owner also suggested some Moroccan wine. We were intrigued and love to try wines from different places, so we had a bottle, and we were pleasantly surprised at how good it was. We may have to try to find it in the UK!

Unfortunately, Casablanca itself wasn’t that nice. It’s a bit dirty, and definitely doesn’t have the romantic feel you’d expect (but most of that is because of the Hollywood movie). We walked around a bit, and came across the market, but most of the stalls were closed. (Possibly just while we were there, but who knows?) We ended up there on a Friday and since that is the day of worship in Islam, it could be the reason why it just wasn’t that exciting around town. I had already found out that the giant and beautiful mosque on the hill was closed to visitors on Friday (unless you got there really early, and that was unlikely for us to do) so there was a lot of stuff we just didn’t get the chance to see. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d go back to Casablanca, but I’m glad I went. I even picked up my own tagine to cook in at home, so I definitely need to have a Moroccan night. Including making that delicious pastilla!

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Posted by on September 25, 2013 in Travel

 

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Make-your-own Ramen Burger

Food trends are interesting. The major cities usually get them, and often the start of a food trend is NYC. One of the biggest food trends is the Cronut. According to the website the shop opens at 8:00 am and if you want a good chance to get a Cronut, you need to arrive by 6:00 am and wait in line for 2.5 hours. 2.5 hours? Are you kidding me? I hate to queue for an hour let alone that long. These Cronuts better be Manna from heaven given the way you have to wait to get them. Luckily, these food trends seem to spread, and since the word Cronut is trademarked, they just call them something different. In London, we’ve seen several different types of Cronuts (or Cro-doughs, or Dossants or whatever people want to call them) and luckily the queue for these don’t seem to be quite as bad. (At least at some places and for now.)

One of the newest NYC food trends is the Ramen burger. What is this you ask? Well it’s a burger sandwiched between a Ramen noodle “bun”. Sounds interesting, and when I pointed it out to some friends, we all wondered about how quickly something like this might take to come to London. Another friend pointed me toward a video that shows you how to make a Ramen bun, or there’s this recipe that shows how to make a Ramen burger as well. That’s the bun down, but I don’t know, the idea of just slapping any old burger and cheese on this burger seemed liked something that was added as an afterthought, so I decided to gourmet it up a bit and go full on Asian-style Ramen burger with a duck burger instead of your standard beef and American cheese. This included using Miso in the “bun” and making some crispy caramelized onions to go on it. I also opted for using Hoisin sauce as a condiment for the burger. I served it up with a salad with miso dressing (Sweet white miso, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil) and some oven baked chips (although if I was doing it for company, I’d probably do my own in my new deep fryer.).

I have to say it went extremely well! On some level, I miss having the bread encasing the burger to soak up the juices, so the Ramen burger gets a bit messy, but tasty. And it was my first attempt, and it did seem like a lot of work. When I mentioned to my Guinea Pig Tom (as a home chef, your partner is always your test subject for trying new things) that I wasn’t sure it was worth it, he commented that he really liked it, so maybe it was just me, or maybe I just need to find a way to kick it up a bit more on the Asian scale. The only complaint he had was that it was massive, so I definitely need to find a way to scale it down a bit.

Ingredients:

(For the bun)

  • Ramen noodles (I ended up using one package per “bun” so I used two packages in total)
  • Eggs (Again, I used about one egg per “bun”, but I didn’t use all of it at the end)
  • Sweet White Miso
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Buttered ramekins
  • Parchment paper

(For the burger)

  • Two duck breasts (skin off)
  • About 100g of streaky bacon
  • Powdered ginger
  • Salt and pepper to taste

(To assemble)

  • Emmental cheese
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Gem lettuce
  • Crispy fried onions

To make the bun:

  1. Cook Ramen noodles according to instructions on packet. Once cooked, refrigerate for approx. 15 minutes to cool noodles.
  2. Whisk eggs and miso (Sorry I don’t usually measure things so mix what you think is good).
  3. Add egg mix to cooled noodles. Once mixed, portion into buttered ramekins and press down. Place parchment over top of noodles and place smaller ramekins (or something equally as heavy as seen in the video: cans or whatever) on top of parchment to compress noodles. Refrigerate for approx. 15 minutes.
  4. Heat a mix of grapeseed and sesame oils in a pan on medium to medium-high heat. After noodles have been refrigerated, slowly invert the ramekins into the pan and shake slightly to remove the noodles. Let cook for about 5-6 minutes per side in order to get crisp. Once finished save the oil to fry the burgers in.

For the burgers:

I must warn you that I have a kitchen full of lovely kitchen gadgets. If this is too much work for you, or you don’t have the gadgets, feel free to prepare any sort of burger you choose to go with it. I really thought duck would be nice so I went for it, but a regular burger would probably be good as well.

  1. Cut up the duck breasts and bacon into chunks. (Since most of the fat is under the skin, using the bacon adds a bit more fat to hold the burgers together). Using a meat grinder on the largest grind, grind the chunks of duck breast and bacon. (If you don’t have a meat grinder, I’ve been told that you can use a food processor but you might not get quite as nice of a grind. Or you can be meticulous and chop up the meat by hand. Your choice.)
  2. Add salt and pepper (to taste) and powdered ginger and mix. Form into two patties (although you could probably get away with three or four smaller ones given how massive mine were).
  3. Cook them in your favorite way to cook burgers. Mine is to seal them into vacuum pouches and cook them in a water bath at 57 C for an hour. This ensures the duck is a perfect medium rare pink in the middle. I then sear them for about a minute on each side using a medium-high heat in order to get a nice charred brown outside. I like to cook them this way, as the hour cooking time for the burger gave me enough time to prepare the buns, and by time the buns were finished so were the burgers!

For the onions:

  1. Heat a pan on medium-low heat.
  2. Thinly slice an onion (I like to cut mine in half and then slice them into half moons).
  3. Add a generous amount of olive oil (or olive oil mixed with butter) to the pan and add the onions.
  4. Slow cook them for about an hour

To assemble:

  1. Start with a bottom “bun”
  2. Add some onions and lettuce
  3. Place a burger on top and some cheese.
  4. Add the hoisin sauce
  5. Place the top “bun”

Voila! You have a ramen burger. I actually put the cheese on the top bun in order to let it melt a bit since the bun was hot. I also might recommend putting the lettuce on top of the burger as it did make the burger slide around a bit, but really the ordering is up to you and what you like. And really, if making your own burger meat is too much work, just use whatever you like. I wanted to give it a bit of an Asian flare, but beef (or chicken) with a teriyaki sauce glaze would probably be equally as tasty on a Ramen bun. And any toppings you want would be nice as well. A fried duck egg on top would probably be delicious too! The nice thing about burgers is that they are customizable according to your tastes.

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Posted by on August 27, 2013 in Burger

 

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Borough Market, London

Living in London is an amazing experience. There is so much to see and to do. One of my favorite places to go is Borough Market. It’s a lovely market experience full of booths, stalls and shops selling all sorts of fresh and wholesome ingredients. They also have hot and cold food available to eat while you’re there, so you can have a delicious lunch there as well.

They even have a website (http://www.boroughmarket.org.uk/).

One downfall is that the full market is only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. While I have managed to play hooky from work and show up on a Thursday or Friday, Saturday is clearly the most convenient day to go. Because of that, Saturdays get packed. Like super-packed. I’m not the biggest fan of large groups of people winding their way through small areas, but I do manage to survive a few trips out there. Needless to say, the best time to go is in the morning before the crowds set in, but even showing up at 9:30 doesn’t mean there won’t already be a bunch of people milling about and shopping. The last time I went, I met up with a bunch of people to check things out and our ETA was set for 9:30 on a Saturday.

One of the most popular places in the area seems to be Monmouth coffee. We started here on our journey so we could get coffee. Unfortunately, even at 9:30 there is a queue. A long queue. And honestly, I don’t get it. The coffee is perfectly decent, but definitely not worth the wait. In fact, if you want a smaller queue at a place which also sells their coffee, head down the street to Rabot Estate. It’s primarily a chocolate store, but the coffee is pretty good as well. I’ve had quite a few delicious chocolates from here to take home (and it’s part of the Hotel Chocolat family).

I love wandering around the market to see all the lovely food and ingredients. One of my favorite places at the market is Tartufaia. They are the truffle sellers at the market. I’ve only bought real truffles from them once, and they were summer truffles (so much cheaper), but they also sell some amazingly decadent truffle oils and truffle honey. I often stop by to get white truffle honey to take home as it tastes amazing on cheeses.

Speaking of cheeses, there are quite a number of speciality cheeses around the area as well. We stopped by one place that had these interesting swiss cheeses. One of them was quite hard and was flavored with garlic and pepper. For me, it was a bit too garlicky and peppery, and it just didn’t taste enough like cheese. However, there were other cheeses in their stall that seemed amazing and worth trying. Another stall had four ages of Comte to try, one of which has been aged for 36 months (and it’s fantastic by the way). Yet a third stall is full of “drunken cheeses” which are cheeses that have been soaked in some sort of alcohol, and I have bought cheese from them on several occasions. If you’re into British cheeses, Neal’s Yard is nearby and they have some of the best Cheddar cheeses I’ve ever tasted. Want something melty and oozy? Kappacasein has a food cart in the area where they sell delicious grilled cheese sandwiches and Raclette.

Want some bread with your cheese? There are plenty of baked goods as well. There are pastry and bread stalls galore. I’ve had some amazingly thick and delicious English Muffins from here. I haven’t had a bad baked good from the Market to be honest. Or if you’re looking for some nice meats for a charcuterie platter to go with your cheese, there are plenty of hams, sausages and cured meats to be had.

There’s also a plethora of fruit and vegetable stalls around. I also always see a lot of delicious meat stalls. You can get offal, exotic animals, chicken, beef and practically anything you could want to cook! Of course, there are also full sit down restaurants in the area as well.

I have also bought plenty of desserts for either home or to eat there. Again the baked goods abound (I always love seeing all the brownies). But there’s a cheesecake place and ice cream. In fact, the last time I was there I tried some amazing goat’s cheese ice cream. Greedy Goat is my new find, and who knew goat’s cheese ice cream could be so good. I sample the raspberry and chili and it was phenomenal.

But a good meal wouldn’t be complete without good wine, and there is plenty to be found in the area. One of our favorite places to stop and get some amazing Sauternes is Borough Wines. But there are several places around that let you sample the amazing wine and bubbly that they have to offer. Another option is Vinopolis. They have a huge selection of wines and spirits. They had the kirsch I needed to make fondue which was hard to find in the regular shops.

Borough Market is definitely a place to check out if you’re visiting London. I often bring family and friends here, but it’s just an excuse to go. It’s a fantastic place with fantastic food, and I love to make the trip whenever I can.

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Posted by on June 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Hmmmm.

It’s been ages since I’ve posted anything.

I think I need to expand my blogging (blogness?) so I may start doing more than just baking. Although I still bake quite a bit, I just don’t seem to have the effort to blog about it.

 

We’ll see what the future brings…

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Muffins, of the English variety

One of the most interesting things about living in the UK is the use of language. In some cases, Americans and Brits use completely different words to mean the same thing, as in courgette and zucchini or aubergine and eggplant. That’s fairly easy to deal with, you just start learning the different names for things. So in my head I can do the translation. Easy peasy. Then you have words that are the same, but are pronounced differently. Like buoy or controversy or herb. Where the difficulty arises are those words which are the same, but have different meanings. For example pavement. Pavement in the US is what you put on the road, the asphalt. Pavement in the UK is what people in the US would refer to as the sidewalk. Someone tells you to walk on the pavement, and you think they’re trying to get you run over.

Enter muffins. In the US, we have two types of muffins: Muffins (those deliciously cupcake-like treats, but aren’t really cupcakes) and English Muffins (those bread-like round substances used often for Eggs Benedict). In the UK, they are both just called Muffins. They have both types, but it gets a bit confusing. Would you like a muffin? (MAYBE, what are you offering exactly). The younger people I’ve met seem to call them English Muffins, and thing of Muffins as what an American would, but some of the older ones still call English Muffins just plain old Muffins. It gets even more confusing when I attempt to explain the non-English Muffin as an American Muffin. Hijinks ensue.

Anyway, one of my friends, Ashley, who I met working at a coffee shop in college and who ran away to join the circus, has attended culinary school and has started her own web cooking show called Foodgasm. On this show she makes delicious looking treats for those with special dietary restrictions, from pescetarian to gluten-free to vegan and vegetarian. She once shared a link for an English Muffin recipe, and I decided that I should try it. Tom is always ordering muffins with breakfast everywhere we go, so I thought it would be a fun treat for him one morning at home. It was especially easy to do as I already bought a lot of yeast for my pizza making extravaganza, and a little yeast seems to go a long way.

As you may have seen, the recipe is incredibly simple. The first time I made them, I didn’t have the corn meal so I omitted that step. Since then, I’ve been dusting the pan with semolina flour instead. The cornmeal thing must be an American add-on because you don’t find it on any of the store-bought muffins in the UK. (Well at least the ones I’ve tried.) I’ve also switched to using bread flour instead of all purpose flour.

Interestingly, as I searched through more recipes for English Muffins, I noticed that this recipe is actually more similar to a crumpet recipe. The only difference is holes don’t seem to form on top of these, or I just don’t let them cook long enough for the holes to form, who knows? Crumpets though are another one of those amazing English inventions that have so many holes in them that you can probably put more butter in the crumpet than actual crumpet. One of our favorite brunch places in London actually sell “Crumpets with too much butter”, and the butter is oozing out of them onto the plate. Delicious. So are these English Muffins. They’re probably not as dense as ones you’re used to (if you are used to them at all), but they are tasty, delicious, and incredibly easy to make (as long as you remember you need to make the batter about two hours before you make the muffins). I do about 1/3 of a cup of batter for each muffin, but I’ve made them bigger. I also don’t have any sort of crumpet/muffin rings, so I go for free form style.

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Posted by on April 19, 2012 in Bread

 

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Knish me quick.

A few weeks ago darkcargo’s blog stated that it was National Knish Week. Interestingly, the week before smitten kitchen published her post about making knish. Due to this congruence of blog posts, I decided it was in my best interest to try my hand at this wonderful sounding dish.

Knish is originally an Eastern European food brought to the U.S. by Jewish immigrants. It consists of potato (yum) and caramelized onions (also yum) wrapped inside of pastry (everything is better with pastry). Clearly this is my kind of food, so I tried out the recipe on the smitten kitchen site. Basically it’s just boiled and mashed potatoes with the onions wrapped in the pastry. I decided to add a bit of mature English cheddar to the mix (although I think I could have used more) and bacon. I know that bacon is probably the worst decision to add to a traditionally Jewish dish, but for me, bacon is the perfect additive to a dish with potato and onion. So I did it. I went against tradition and religion and put some fried pancetta in with the mixture. I made up the pastry and the filling, rolled up the knish and put them in the oven. They turned out amazing looking. Perfectly golden brown.

Was it delicious? Yes. It probably needed more salt and more cheese. Like a lot more cheese. A knish reminds me of a dry cheese and onion pasty. Maybe a bit of fresh or dried thyme (or some other herb) would pep it up a bit too (either in the mix or the pastry). I decided to serve my knish with some out of season chestnut and mushroom soup. Living in the UK, you can get chestnuts year round in the freezer, and I’ve started to become very attached to the delicious roasted nuts. I’ve even been known to throw them in with my roast veg for a Sunday roast. (Just don’t over roast, they get really crunchy).

Basically the soup was just shitake and chestnut mushrooms that I sauted in a bit of butter and olive oil with sauted . I added some brandy after a bit, and let it boil off. I added in some roasted chestnuts and roasted shallots to the mix. I topped it up with about a liter of vegetable stock. I added a bouquet garni to the mix and a spoonful of truffle honey, and I let it simmer for about half an hour or so. Then I removed the bouquet and put it all in the blender. At this point I should have strained it through a sieve to get rid of the chunks, but I was being lazy. The soup was mostly smooth though, with only a few chunks left behind. I put it back in the pot and added a bit of cream to smooth it out and thin it out, and I was done. I served it with a knish, and it was done. (I’d put a real recipe down, but I usually cook by feel, unless I’m baking then I’m a bit more precise.)

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Posted by on April 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Pizza! Pizza!

On my trip to Italy in November, I found this cute pizza cookbook at the Colosseum gift shop. The book was round and each page contained either a recipe for a pizza or showed the pizza you were making. Lots of amazing images and delicious sounding pizzas. It was also in American measurements, so I picked up a copy (and two more for Christmas presents). There was also one showing tarts which looked amazing, but unfortunately, it was only in Italian, so wasn’t possible to pick up.

After Christmas I finally got the chance to try my hand at these delicious pizzas. There are four different pizza dough recipes, one thin, one thick, one whole wheat, and one gluten free. I’ve tried all but the gluten free at this point. All I can say is that making it at home is much more fun and tasty than most takeaways and restaurants in London. I’ve yet to find a great pizza place in London. The best pizza I’ve had to date is the one we had in Naples. Supposedly it’s the birthplace of the pizza, and some people claim it’s the water that makes the dough there taste so good.

Pizzas are great because while there are recipes, you can modify them, or even just do whatever you like. The pizzas I’ve tried from the cookbook so far are leek and pancetta; apple, onion and walnut; potato and mushroom; ground beef and onion; salami, mushrooms and fennel; tomato, garlic and sausage; and onion, cheese, and walnuts. (With leek and pancetta twice, because it’s awesome). I’m not going to include any recipes to make the actual pizza, but I will provide the thin crust pizza dough recipe. Interestingly, the dough makes two 12-inch pizzas. I think Little Caesar’s probably had it right with its PIzza! Pizza! promotions.

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  • 1/2 ounce or 1 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • About 1 cup warm water
  • 2 cups bread flour and extra for hands and surface
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
  1. Put fresh or active dry yeast in small bowl and add about 1/2 cup water (if you use rapid-rise yeast, it doesn’t need proofing, in fact I use active dry yeast and it still doesn’t need proofing)
  2. Stir gently until the yeast has dissolved and set aside until frothy about 10 minutes. (again skip this if you don’t need to proof the yeast)
  3. Combine flour and salt (and unproofed yeast if you don’t need proofing) to a medium bowl. Pour in the yeast mixture (or water), oil and enough of the rest of the water to obtain a sticky dough
  4. Dust a clean work surface with extra flour. Scrape the dough onto the work surface and form into a ball.
  5. Kneed the dough for about 8-10 minutes. When it is firm and no longer sticks life it up and bang it down a few times to develop the gluten.
  6. Place in a large, oiled bowl, and cover it with a cloth. Set aside for 1 hour.
  7. Stretch out the dough to fit the two 12-inch pans
  8. Add your toppings and bake at 500 degrees F for about 10-15 minutes
  9. Enjoy your delicious pizza!
 
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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Pizza

 

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