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Showing posts with label Morocco. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Morocco. Show all posts

Saturday, December 20, 2014

DIY Foodie Treats Make Great Last Minute Gifts: Hot Fudge Sauce and Moroccan Preserved Lemons

Receiving and giving gifts feels good. What doesn't feel so great is shopping during the last week before Christmas. Parking lots are full. People are distracted so their driving is dangerously erratic. A good alternative to shopping in this competitive environment is to stay home, have a cup of coffee, listen to a podcast and make gifts in your kitchen.
I have two favorite recipes I want to share that are easy-to-make gifts guaranteed to bring pleasure to your friends and loved ones: hot fudge sauce and Moroccan preserved lemons.
Hot fudge sauce for hot fudge sundaes is a most delicious treat with delicious contrasts of warm rich chocolate, icy cold vanilla ice cream and crunchy almond slivers. 

Moroccan preserved lemons are used to make tagines, the wonderful meat and vegetable dishes that are served in conical dishes. Tagines seem exotic but at their heart they are braises. What gives them their unique flavor is the addition of preserved lemons. During a cooking class on a press trip in Morocco, we were shown how to make vegetable pickles, tagines and preserved lemons. Ready to eat within two weeks, the longer they are kept in the jar, the more flavorful they become. 

Both recipes are simple and easy to prepare, using no additives or preservatives and filled with the wonderful flavor of natural ingredients.

Hot Fudge Sauce for Hot Fudge Sundaes

Read the labels of store-bought hot fudge and there will be ingredients you did not want to put on your sundae. The beauty of this recipe is it's simplicity. Cream and good quality chocolate are all you need.

Four ounce canning jars are good for gift-giving. Buy canning jars (Ball and Kerr) because they will not break when placed in a warm water bath to reheat the hot fudge. 

Use good quality chocolate with no preservatives. I like to use Belgium chocolate with 70% cacao. The quality of the cream is no less important. The only heavy cream without preservatives I have found is sold at Trader Joe's. 

Yield: 6 four-ounce canning jars

Ingredients

6 four-ounce canning jars

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

2 1/4 cups dark chocolate, cut into dime-sized pieces

Directions

Place the canning jars in a large pot. Fill with water to cover the jars. Place on a burner and bring the water to a boil. Keep the water boiling for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Drop the canning lids into the hot water. Set aside.
In a heavy-bottom saucepan, heat the cream until simmering. Remove from the flame.

Add the chocolate pieces.
Use a large wire whisk to mix the chocolate into the warm cream. Stir well until the chocolate is incorporated into the cream.
Remove the sterilized jars and lids from the water. Dry well. 

Fill each jar within 1/4" of the top. Seal with a lid.

Keep refrigerated.

Before serving, place a small saucepan on the stove on medium heat. Remove the lid and place the jar of hot fudge in the water. Simmer ten minutes or until the chocolate has heated. 

Drizzle onto scoops of ice cream. Top with caramelized nuts (see below recipe) and whipped cream (optional).

Caramelized Almond Slivers

Trader Joe's got me hooked on their blanched almond slivers. They are inexpensive and easy to use. The nuts can be used raw or lightly toasted. Caramelized, they are the perfect topping for a hot fudge sundae.

When I caramelize almonds, I make a lot because they are delicious as a sweet snack or used in cakes, cookies and muffins.
Serves: 20-25

Ingredients

8 ounces raw almond slivers

1/4 cup raw sugar

Directions

Place a large frying pan on a low flame. When warm, add the slivers and toss to lightly brown. 

Add the raw sugar. Mix well with the almonds. Use a non-stick silicone spatula to toss the sugar together with the almonds.

Continue tossing together until the sugar begins to melt. Be careful the sugar doesn't burn. 

Remove from the flame and allow to cool. Do not allow the slivers to form clumps.

When cooled keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator

Moroccan Preserved Lemons

The lemons will keep for many months in the refrigerator. The longer they cure, the more fragrant their flavor. Mixed into a sauce, they have a unique citrus-perfume.

Yield: 6 eight-ounce jars
Ingredients

6 eight ounce canning jars

25-30 lemons, medium sized, preferably Meyer lemons, unblemished

1 1/4 cups kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

18 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

Directions

Place the canning jars into a large pot. Fill with water so the jars are submerged. Place on a burner and bring the water to a boil for ten minutes to sterilize. Remove from the burner, drop in the lids and set aside.
Rinse and scrub well the lemons. Dry and set aside.

Remove the jars and lids from the water. Dry.
Set up the dry spices and jars on a counter so you can work assembly style.

Into each jar, place 3 bay leaves, a 1/4 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns and a pinch of hot pepper flakes.

Pick out 18 of the nicest formed lemons, with smooth skin and set aside. Juice the remaining lemons as each jar is filled. All the remaining lemons may not be needed, depending on how juicy they are.

Each of the whole lemons to be preserved will be cut into quarters but kept whole by cutting 2/3s of the way down the lemon. Rotate the lemon and make a similar cut so there are 4 sections of lemon still attached on the bottom.
Each jar will have three lemons. Place the first lemon cut side up in the jar. Spread the lemon open and sprinkle in 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Press down to release juice. Do the same with the next two lemons. Pour in lemon juice so the lemons are covered, just below the lip of the jar. Seal with the lid and place in the refrigerator.

Once a week, check the jars to see if more lemon juice should be added to keep the lemons covered. Periodically shake the jars for even distribution of the spices.

Refrigerate.

Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Cracked Olives

On our press trip we traveled around Morocco from Casablanca on the coast to Fez in the east and then into the center of the country with stops in Marrakech and the High Atlas Mountains where we had our cooking lessons. The tagine is a basic dish with an infinite number of variations which depend on the seasons, the region and the personal taste of the cook. 
If you do not have a clay tagine, a Chinese clay pot or a heavy bottom large sauce pan will work almost as well.

Serves: 4

Ingredients


1 whole chicken, washed thoroughly
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/3 bunch cilantro, stems and leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon of 1 package powdered saffron
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, peeled, stem removed, finely chopped
1 large carrot, washed, peeled, cut into rounds
2 celery stalks, ends trimmed, washed, sliced
2 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)

1 preserved lemon peel (per above recipe), white part or pith peeled off and discarded

1 cup cracked olives

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Directions
Cut the chicken into wings, legs, thighs and breasts. Place the chicken pieces into a container. Cover with water. Add kosher salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Put the bones into a pot, cover with water and simmer 60 minutes. Strain and discard the bones. Refrigerate the stock to use in the tagine. 
Remove the chicken from the brine. Wash and pat dry.
Skim off any fat from the stock.
Bend the cilantro in half to better control and finely cut. Place the garlic and cilantro pieces into a mortar and pestle or on a cutting board and mash together.
Place the chicken pieces in a tagine or in a pot with a cover. Add the garlic-cilantro paste, oils, spices and toss well to coat. Place on a medium flame. Cover.
Use tongs to turn frequently to brown.
Add chicken stock and stir well to create the sauce.
Add carrots, celery, chopped raw onions, finely chopped preserved lemon peel and cracked green olives. 
Simmer 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with sea salt or ground pepper.


Continue cooking until the chicken pieces are tender, place the covered tagine on the table and serve with steamed rice as a side dish. If a tagine is not available, transfer the chicken and sauce to a covered casserole dish.




Monday, June 3, 2013

Looking for Good Reasons to Travel, Visit Northern Spain and Morocco

Summer's almost here and it's time to think about planning vacation travel. Wanting to ease some of the difficulty traveling, I applied for and received a Global Entry pass so at many airports I breeze through domestic security (thank you TSA Pre) as well as international points of entry.

I would definitely recommend Global Entry to everyone who travels more than a few times a year. The cost is minimal ($100 for 5 years) and the online paper work isn't too time consuming. Email me and I will give you all the details.
Last fall I took a trip to Morocco on a press trip with half a dozen other journalists. We traveled from Fez in the east to Marrakech and the High Atlas Mountains in the west and then to Essaouira on the coast.
In the High Atlas Mountains, we arranged for a cooking lesson in the kitchen of a local cook. To get to her home on the grounds of a remote boutique hotel, we walked underneath walnut trees up a steep dirt switch-back trail we shared with men riding side-saddle on donkeys. "Shared" isn't accurate. If we hadn't jogged quickly to the muddy area to the side of the trail, the men on donkeys would certainly have bumped us out of their way.
The walk up that hill was a challenge. By the time we reached the hotel at the top, we were tired, thirsty and pretty dusty. At that moment the walk didn't seem worth the effort. Then we walked out onto the wide deck of the Kasbah Toubkal where we were greeted with hot mint tea, Moroccan style--sweet and heavily caffeinated.
In the crisp, clear air, we took in the breath-taking view of the surrounding mountains and the village of Imlil in the valley below.
A few clouds floated by like rafters on inner tubes leisurely drifting on a vast blue lake. We sat and drank our tea and never wanted to leave.

Sitting on squat stools in the concrete floored pantry, Haja Rkia ben Houari and Fatima gave us a cooking lesson. The two Berber woman generously showed our group of journalists how to prepare a chicken tagine, couscous with lamb and potatoes and bread cooked on an outdoor oven.

At another cooking class at the very elegant La Maison Arabe, an upscale inn next to Marrakech's souk or shopping bazar, Amaggie Waga and Dadas Ayada taught us about Moroccan spices and cooking traditions and how modern Moroccan cooking resulted from the many groups who came to call the area home--Berbers, Jewish spice merchants, invading Arab armies and French colonialists.
Besides the historical facts, taking a cooking workshop was a way to learn how to make Morocco's signature dishes, most importantly how to make preserved vegetable pickles, which now I serve at practically every meal, that's how much I think their briny-spicy crunch brightens almost any dish.
For the holidays last year, my present-of-choice was preserved lemons, another recipe learned at the Maison Arabe cooking school.
This year in the spring, another press trip took me to Northern Spain on a wonderfully comprehensive tour with Insight Vacations. From Madrid we headed due north to San Sebasti├ín and then rambled along the coast heading west. In the cathedral town of Burgos I enjoyed an hour's lunch in a small bar with half a dozen men watching soccer and eating tapas. We stopped in Bilbao to tour the Guggenheim and gaze up at Jeff Koons' "Puppy."
We traveled to a mountain top in the Picos de Europa mountains to visit the Cave of Covadonga the 8th century resting place of Spain's first Catholic king, Pelagius.
Our final stop was Santiago de Compostela, the end of the Pilgrims' trail and the Cathedral where it is said St. James' bones are buried. Inside the many rooms of the Cathedral there are statuary created over the centuries. The guide pointed out one that is very unusual--a very pregnant virgin Mary.
The trip mixed history, art and culinary traditions as we moved from tapas to pintxos, the Basque open faced sandwiches that I came to love. Whenever possible, Iberian ham, anchovies, sardines and octopus appeared on our plates along with delicious Galician beer, light and crisp.


From that trip I brought home ideas for appetizers, simply constructed with contrasting flavors and textures. Small plate tapas and grilled bread-pintxos now precede the soups, salads and entrees on our dinner party table. Easy-to-make, full of flavor, a delight to the eye, I took home from Northern Spain a great addition to our culinary vocabulary.
Both trips were for the Sunday print editions of New York Daily News and they showed me once again why it is great to get out town.

Former French Colony of Morocco Has Much to Recommend

Spain's Northern Coast, Far from Madrid, Barcelona and Bullfighting, Has Enticements of Its Own

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Morocco, Closer than Paris and a Lot More Exotic

To get a good photograph of Casablanca's Mosque Hassan II took a lot of backing up and avoiding the crowds of international tourists who had come to visit one of the world's largest mosques.
The building is not only about size, but details. The mosque invites visitors to appreciate the scale of nature and the intricacies of life as represented by the exquisite metal and tile work. As if it were the land's sentinel protecting man from the violence of the world, the Mosque stands on the edge of the North African continent, on the edge of a palisade overlooking the turbulent Atlantic Ocean.
A trip to Morocco often begins in Casablanca and frequently tour guides make the Mosque one of the first stops. After the majesty of the Mosque, we traveled north-east toward Fez, stopping in Mouly Idriss, a historically important hill city where we had lunch at Restaurant Alaambra with an open air-patio and grill.
The Mosque and Restaurant Alaambra were two good tent poles for our Moroccan trip. The spiritual and sublime mixed with the very human scale of every day life.

Visit a souk in Fez, Marrakech or seaside Essaouira and life tumbles out. Freshly butchered sheep, goats and cattle hang in the open air. Rabbits, pigeons and chickens sit quietly in wire cages waiting to be selected and turned into the family dinner. As a former French colony, bi-lingual Morocco has as many excellent bakeries selling croissants as Arabic bread.
A press trip to Morocco for New York Daily News circumnavigated the country, showing us the coastal cities of Casablanca and Essaouira, inland to traditional Fez, the Roman ruins of Volubilis, cosmopolitan Marrakech and relaxed Imlil in the High Atlas Mountains.

The article appeared Sunday in the print edtion and online: Former French colony of Morocco has much to recommend: stable government, good roads, beautiful architecture, exotic locales

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving


There was a chill in the air today even if last week it felt like summer. The grocery store ads are carrying discount coupons for turkeys. It's beginning to feel a lot like Thanksgiving.

At the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market, the once a year $5.00-for-all-the-pumpkins-you-can-carry event was held in the middle of the intersection of Second and Arizona. Three and four year old kids were encouraged to pick out pumpkins too heavy to carry and "roll them down the street."
Adults were more ambitious. For $5.00, one person was allowed one trip to carry off as many pumpkins as they could manage, as long as they carried them 24 feet away from the pumpkin pile. No bags allowed. No help from associates. This was an individual effort. Everyone with a strong back, grabbed two, three and as many as four pumpkins and crab walked away with their treasure.

I managed to carry away three large pumpkins to use as house decorations and, ultimately, to turn into pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving.

We're working on our Thanksgiving dinner plans. We've invited our guests. We're figuring out the menu.

Coming back from recent trips to Morocco and New Orleans I've been looking for new ideas to use at Thanksgiving. Is there a way to make sweet potatoes in a tagine? What about Creole seasoning on roast turkey?

This weekend we've been invited to Localicious, the food and wine tasting fundraiser for Family Farmed, an organization that promotes local farming.

There's a good sampling of local restaurants including Tavern, Church and State, Rustic Canyon, Public Kitchen, Tender Greens, Joe's, The Curious Palate and FIG.

The event's this Sunday, November 4th from 6:00pm-9:00pm at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica on PCH.
The chefs will be cooking with products supplied by farmers from the Santa Monica Farmers Market.

The Localicious web site has the full list of participants and details about tickets.

It's for a good cause. There will be food and wine. And I'm hoping to get some inspiration for Thanksgiving.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Morocco from Casablanca to Fez

From Casablanca on the coast to the inland city of Fez in the northern part of Morocco, the area looks very much like the American Southwest.

Looking out the window of the van, there's not much to see.

A well-paved highway cuts through the flat, dusty farmland, passing villages remarkable only for the number of flat roofed houses with satellite dishes and the occasional donkey cart.

I'm with a group of travel and food writers visiting Morocco. Some of us are here for the first time.

Before we leave Casablanca we stop at the Mosque Hassam II, the 3rd largest mosque in the world, the largest in Morocco. 
The scale of the doors makes visitors look very small. The detailing on tiles and metal work on the tall doorways is beautiful. The mosque overlooks the breakwater and harbor.
A few blocks away, restaurants and clubs share the same view. 
We grab a quick breakfast after our all-night flight before we climb in the van for a three hour drive.

Passing through villages along the way, small roadside cafes and stores selling drinks and snacks are the only commerce visible from the road. On the outskirts of Menekes we see something that makes us stop the van and get out for a look.

Open air meat markets.
When you see that, you know you aren't in Kansas anymore. The butchers are friendly. Sides of beef and sheep hang outside in front of the shops. Cuts of meat are laid out on the counters.
From that dusty scene we head on to Chateau Roslane, the largest winery in Morocco and worlds away from the butcher shops. A large, well-landscaped facility, we have a tasting of white, red and rose wines. All very good. Light and perfect for a summer meal.
For lunch we eat in the hill-top holy city of Moulyidriss. The buildings press against one another, moving like waves up the hills and down into the valley.
We want an authentic Moroccan meal. 

We have lunch on what our guide says is called "the Food Street," because there are small cafes mixed in with dry goods stores and stalls selling olives and bread.
Restaurant Alaambra is a hole in the wall. An open-air space with a dining area in front with a cash register on one side and a few plastic covered tables in the middle. 
The tables and chairs look like they came from someone's house. A larger dining room is in back. We sit out in front where we can watch the cook prepare the meal.
Wearing a bright red fez, Abdoul cooks outside in front of the restaurant. Opposite the cash register a row of clay tangines cook on a metal tray.
He checks the progress of the tangines and returns to his elevated kitchen on the other side of the outdoor area.
He smiles as he forms ground beef into thick dowels and places them into wire grilles with two sides. He flips one side on top of the other and places the meat on the gas powered grill next to ones filled with sliced tomatoes, onions and eggplant. 

He fills two more wire grilles with chicken and beef fillets and adds them to the others. Fat from the beef explodes into flames. Abdoul deftly controls the fire by flipping the grilles on top of one another. A spray of water beats back the flames.
At the table, the conical top of a tangine is removed as if it were a hat removed out of courtesy. Sliced carrots, zucchini, string beans and chunks of potato have cooked in a bubbling broth. The heat from the flames having created a thick sweetened crust on the bottom of the tangine that requires tugging to remove.
Baskets of soft white bread appear as well, along with small plates of stewed white beans, cooked potato cubes in tomato sauce, spicy herbed green and black olives, thick cut French fries and two wonderfully crisp potato croquettes that we share with great relish.
The fruit of Abdoul's fiery labors come to the table, a mix of charred meats, flavored by their own fat and the smoky flames, and the vegetable slices still mostly raw but singed and sweetened by caramelization.

Knives and forks give way to fingers tearing pieces of the soft white bread that are dipped into the tangine to soak up the delicious broth, then picking up pieces of onion, tomato and eggplant along with a choice of chicken and beef two ways.

Each mouthful benefits from a marriage of salt and fire sweetened fat. Here is umami, Arabic style. The whole much larger than the parts.

Against this marriage of flavors, the crispy croquette holds its own. The olives, French fries and white beans are in supporting roles. They might be overlooked entirely in the competition for attention but they also serve who stand and wait and in short order they too are consumed along with their more popular brethren.
Very full, we stagger back to the van, aware that we are only half-way through our first day and there is so much more to experience.  Still working in front of his fires, Abdoul gives us a big wave and a smile as we leave.