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Archive for November, 2011

You may recall at Maison MK we made Lamb Tajine, our guests Kevin and Barb with whom we are traveling down memory lane don’t care for Lamb; fortunately, the recipe deck from Maison MK included the same Tajine except using beef! Perfect. We decided to cook the dish the same way that we did at Maison MK, in a pressure cooker and only present in the Tajine.

Beef Tajine

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg stewing beef in large cubes
  • 50 g almonds with skins on.
  • 50 g prunes
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp 5 spices (a Moroccan blend our Chef gave us as a gift)
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 large pinch saffron
  • 1 tsp turmeric (for colour)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 tbsp oil
  • 2-4 cups of water

Directions:

  1. Add the pitted prunes to a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 8-10 minutes (this is to soften the prunes and not disintegrate them!)
  2. Strain the prunes and return to heat, add the honey and cook until the prunes are glazed and all of the water has evaporated. Set aside.
  3. Add the almonds to a small saucepan and cover with water. Boil for 3 minutes. Strain and cool immediately with cold water. Remove skins; the skins should come off very easily.  Our Chef deep fried the almonds but we roasted them in a 375°F oven for 5-10 minutes.
  4. In a very hot pressure cooker with a bit of oil, brown the meat on all sides, set aside.
  5. Add a bit more of the oil and cook the onions until a little brown. Turn down the heat and add the garlic and stir until you can smell it. Return the beef to the pan.
  6. Add the ginger, saffron and turmeric and 1 cup of water. Stir well. Put the pressure cooker lid on and cook on a medium level flame for 10 minutes.
  7. Give the meat a stir and add 1-2 cups of water and cook with the pressure cooker lid on for another 40 minutes. Check to see how the meat is, after about 40 minutes it should be tender enough that you don’t need a knife to cut it. There should be enough ‘gravy’ to serve with the meat.
  8. Add salt and cinnamon and stir well. Stir in the cilantro and parsley. Serve in a tajine with couscous.

The beef turned out incredibly well, falling apart, no need for a knife! How do you like the tip of the hat to the 1970’s propping? What is that in the background? A bedspread? or is it curtains? Not sure either — I was just having a little fun!

Beef Tajine with Prunes and Almonds

This is the tajine that Hayat gave us as a gift!

Our new tajine

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As the second course of our 4 course Moroccan meal this past weekend, I present the Trio of Moroccan Salads; these salads came out of our second cooking class at Maison MK. Our Chef, Omar El Ouahssoussi ran a very professional kitchen and both JT and I were equally impressed; colour coded cutting boards, one for meat and one for vegetables!

Chef Omar El Ouahssoussi

The class started out meeting the chef and the guide (not sure why, our chef spoke near perfect English) and we headed out to the souks to buy the food for our class. Our first stop was the vegetable vendor, where we bought onions, carrots, aubergine (egg plant) and courgette (zucchini). Then off to the spice vendor; I thought this was for our entertainment as the kitchen would be well stocked with the required spices, but the chef actually bought spices to give us as a gift! Then we stopped at the meat vendor where we bought our lamb and lastly the fresh herb vendor where we picked up some mint. But I digress, back to the salads.

Our shopping excursion

As our starter we have chosen to prepare the three salads that Chef Omar taught us to make, Aubergine, Courgette and Carrot Salads. We will serve them as close to the way Chef Omar served them to us. While preparing the salads, the one thing Chef Omar mentioned is that in Morocco, it is better to over cook than under cook, so the salads are all cooked vegetables richly flavoured with spices. I imagine this was originally done to rid the food of bacteria and if the food had spoiled a bit, the spices would make them palatable…but not in our case, the salads were unbelievably delicious! Over cooking reminded me of an article Greg sent over about a month or do ago from the New York Times. Click here for an interesting read.

Chef Omar generously gave us printouts of each of the recipes we cooked; sadly the translation is not as good, but I will fill in the gaps with my memory!

Trio of Cooked Moroccan Salads

Aubergine Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium aubergines, chopped evenly into 1 cm or 1/2 inch cubes with the skins on (recipe calls for 1kg, which is too much)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Salt and paper to taste
  • 1/4 cup each finely chopped fresh cilantro and flat leaf parsley.

Directions:

  1. In a large pot cover the chopped aubergine with water, add the lemon juice and stir well (the lemon prevents it from turning brown)
  2. Cook over a medium simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the aubergine is soft.
  3. Drain water well and return to hot pot and cook off as much liquid as possible.
  4. Add garlic, tomato paste and spices and simmer for another 10 minutes, mashing the soft aubergine with a fork. Mix in both oils.
  5. Salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Once cooled to room temperature, add the fresh cilantro and flat leaf parsley and mix in well. Serve cold or at room temperature, shaped into little molds garnished with arugula and spinach.

Courgette salad

Ingredients:

  • 3 smallish courgettes, coarsest grated it cut into small even cubes
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp white vinegar (to help maintain the bright green colour)
  • Salt and paper to taste
  • 1/4 cup each finely chopped fresh cilantro and flat leaf parsley.

Directions:

  1. Melt butter in a medium sized frying pan and stir fry the courgettes until soft.
  2. Add the vinegar, garlic and the spices.
  3. Mix in both oils and season with salt and paper to taste.
  4. Once cooled to room temperature, add the fresh cilantro and flat leaf parsley and mix in well.
  5. Serve cold or at room temperature, shaped into little molds garnished with arugula and spinach.

Carrot salad

Ingredients:

  • 3 large carrots cut into small even cubes
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt and paper to taste
  • 1/4 cup each finely chopped fresh cilantro and flat leaf parsley.

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, cover carrot cubes with water and simmer until they are soft.
  2. Strain water off and return to pan and cook the remaining moisture off.
  3. Add the lemon juice, garlic and the spices and cook for about 5 minutes longer (carrots should be cubes but soft enough to squash – but don’t squash them), remove from heat.
  4. Mix in both oils and season with salt and paper to taste. Once cooled to room temperature, add the fresh cilantro and flat leaf parsley and mix in well.
  5. Serve cold or at room temperature, shaped into little molds garnished with arugula and spinach.

Courgette is top left, carrot is top right and the aubergine is front and centre

And I’ve finally got all the photos up on Shutterfly, so if you’re interested (and I am beyond flattered if you are), you are welcome to view our humble vacation photos in this link.

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This past weekend we had our good friends Barb and Kevin over and we thought what better way to give them a taste of our Moroccan experience than to serve a variety of Moroccan delicacy’s that we learned how to make in our cooking classes. The hors d’œuvres for our Moroccan meal comes from our very first class in our Ryad Dar Les Cignones (The Storks – we had an old dilapidated palace across from the hotel where actual enormous storks made their nests!).

This is our lovely Chef at Dar Les Cignones

Our beautiful Chef (sadly, I cannot recall her name) at our Ryad showed us how to make these delicious pillows of Phyllo Pastry (which she actually made herself, although I won’t!) stuffed with a richly spiced shrimp mix. She did not give us a little printout like Maison MK did, so I had to go by memory and find a similar recipe on line and made some minor alterations. The photo below is the one taken with the iPhone4 with the flash at the Ryad. I tried to fix it a bit in Photoshop so it doesn’t look as cold and harsh. The funny story around the briouats is that the Chef specifically asked me if I wanted them deep fried or baked, and I opted for baked ‘pour la santé’ I said. And low and behold, we are served deep fried briouats! They were very tasty non-the-less!

Our baked Briouat with Dar Les Cignones Fried Briouat in the background

Baked Shrimp Briouats

Makes 26 5 cm (2 inch) triangles

Ingredients:

  • 300 g shrimp, peel on
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Large pinch of saffron threads, revived in a little water
  • 1/4 cup fresh panko (or bread crumbs, I had panko)
  • 5 sheets of phyllo dough
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Directions:

  1. Chop the shrimp into 1/2 cm bits, doesn’t have to be even or pretty.
  2. Heat a splash of oil in a pan and sauté the onions, add the shrimp and cook through.
  3. Add the garlic, tomato paste and spices and stir until you can smell the aroma.
  4. Remove from heat and add the panko, mix well.
  5. Allow to cool completely and add the fresh parsley and cilantro leaves. Mix well.
  6. Take 1 sheet of phyllo at a time, cut into 4-5cm strips. Drizzle with olive oil.
  7. Add about 1 tsp of the cooled filling to one end and fold tightly as shown in the diagram.
  8. Pre-heat oven to 350 ° F. Bake triangles for 12-15 minutes or until golden. Serve immediately or allow to cool and freeze.

Folding takes practice, make sure you have lots of phyllo on hand!

Baked Shrimp Briouat

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I thought my cold was over and done with…I was left with a few sniffles, but certainly not bad considering it started in Morocco. Sunday it returned with a vengeance! It is everything a head cold is supposed to be, annoying, noisy and gross! So here I am, week 2 since we’ve been back and I’m sick as a dog, AND I have to drag my sorry butt into work because we are so busy, I cannot let my friend (boss) and clients down. Fortunately I have a wonderful husband who has totally looked after me since the sniffles returned. It’s been strictly soup and JT makes enough for me to have a lunch the next day! Tonight’s dinner was Chanterelle Mushroom Soup, a variation from Epicurious (he has kindly made a healthier version for us!) and it was so delicious, I had to write about it. This soup is a light mushroomy broth and the chanterelles give it some sweetness. If you’re really hungry, you could add some dumplings, or even egg drop noodles.

Chanterelle Mushroom Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 3 cups Chanterelle mushrooms coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups button mushrooms coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1 tablespoons brandy
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable stock

Directions:

  1. Melt butter in large pot over medium-high heat, add onions and sauté until golden.
  2. Add all mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms begin to brown lightly.
  3. Stir in stock.
  4. Add brandy, stir 30 seconds and bring soup to boil.
  5. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with parsley.

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Today would have been my parents 51 Wedding Anniversary. Sadly they are both gone now, but I needed to remember.

Éva and Gustáv Hársfai, 1960

Autumn is definitely here and winter is following closely on her heels. Our grand old maple in the front yard finally released the last of her stubborn leaves this week and the temperatures have plummeted to the minus side most nights. We’re still very fortunate not to hit the minus (Celsius) temperatures during the day, yet. We’ve had wood fires burning every night this weekend to take the chill off; ok, I’m exaggerating, the house is toasty warm, and the fire is just for coziness and ambiance. 🙂
Work has been crazy busy since I’ve returned, but I’m not complaining – it’s better too busy than not enough. Even working late nights and on the weekend, which is why I have been unable to post and for that I do apologize, dear reader.
We’ve been cooking really healthy all week, no fat, small portions and low sodium trying to rid ourselves the few extra pounds the fine cooks and chefs in Morocco gifted us. But on Friday night we felt like a bit of a treat and decided on pizza! Pizza, of course is JTs domain; he makes his deliciously thin and crispy dough from Jim Lahey (of the New York Times). We cannot take credit for the toppings either! There is a very nice restaurant in BWV called Villa, and they serve this pizza (and it’s delicious, but of course, our’s is better!)

Rustic Fig, Goats Cheese & Prosciutto Pizza with Honey

Ingredients for the dough
Makes one very thin 12″-15″ inch pizza

  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface ( about 1/2 cup more!)
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 warm water
  • 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • Fine corn meal
  • Coarse salt
  • 4-5 dried figs (or if in season, please use fresh)
  • 100 grams goats cheese
  • 3 slices prosciutto, roughly torn into smaller pieces (remove excess fat)
  • 1-2 tbsp honey

Directions:

  1. Soak the figs in warm water for 2-3 hours; you just want to take the chewiness out of them, you don’t want them pulpy. When done, remove from water, dry and slice into bite-sized pieces.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, 1/8 teaspoon salt, yeast, and water, stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and rough. Let dough rest in a warm place (about 72 degrees) until doubled in volume, about 3 hours.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Let stand until doubled in size, 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. Place a pizza stone (we use our trusty Chicago-land cast iron pizza pan) on the lowest rack of oven and preheat to 550°F for 25 minutes (you want your stone really hot)
  5. Roll out the dough into a 12″-15″ round or to fit your particular pizza pan. We prefer our pizza crust to be wafer thin.
  6. Carefully transfer dough to hot pizza stone. Working quickly, top dough with Goats Cheese, Prosciutto, and Figs. Drizzle lightly with honey.
  7. Bake pizza until until dough is cooked through and golden brown, about 10 minutes.
  8. We topped our pizza with a little arugula and spinach because we just love the peppery taste – I didn’t shoot it because you would not have been able to see the gorgeous toppings!

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We’re back to the old grind as they say; 10 hours of laundry, and a little grocery shopping later I’m back in my kitchen ready to cook up a storm!
Both JT and I picked up head colds while we were away; you know, the nasty, sneezey, sniffley, coughy kind? Chicken soup to the rescue! Everyone has their cold-cure secret recipe handed down from generation to generation so I won’t blog about it now, but what I will blog about is the amazing olive bread I made to accompany the cold cure soup! WARNING: you have to really LOVE olives, it will be too olivey if you’re just so-so on them!
We had this particular olive bread several times (almost every time) during our trip, it’s addictive. You just can’t stop! Not sure if I mentioned this before, but Moroccan food is not well salted, which is good because most of the time I find restaurant food too salty. This bread, on the other hand, is on the salty side, which goes perfectly with Moroccan food, or cold cure chicken soup. I found the recipe at Cooking with Alia please recall I made her Sellou as one of my Trio of Moroccan desserts. Since it worked so well, I thought I’d try her Moroccan Olive Bread. We made a typical Moroccan Bread at Maison MK in Marrakech and I discovered that Moroccan bread tends to be ‘shaggier’ than Western bread (looser and sticky to start). Then, after a rising, you add flour little by little to pull in the dough until it is no longer sticky. I think I used an additional cup of flour for this step! Bottom line it worked like a charm! Light, fluffy very olive tasting bread. DELICIOUS!
Another thing I should mention is that I used real Moroccan olive oil and its taste is so unique and delicious, I don’t think normal olive oil will do. But if you can’t find the genuine Moroccan olive oil, be sure to use the darkest and richest olive oil you can find, it will make a difference. Also, I halved the recipe but left the olive oil as full quantity! The technique is what we learned in Maison MK.
Thanks Alia, this recipe will be definitely made again in our home.

Moroccan Olive Bread

Ingredients:

    • 1 1/2 cups of flour (keep extra flour on the side for kneading)
    • 3/4 cup of warm water
    • 3 oz of black olives cut into small pieces (I used 1/2 sun dried and 1/2 kalamata)
    • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
    • 1 tablespoons of thyme (I had only 1 tsp and it was fine)
    • 1/2 tablespoon of dry yeast
    • 1/2 teaspoon of sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon of salt

Directions:

  1. Activate the dry yeast (I used instant) with the sugar and warm water. Let the yeast mixture rest for 5 minutes. The yeast is active if the mixture expands and bubbles up.
  2. Add the olive oil, thyme, and salt to the yeast mixture.
  3. Gradually add the flour to the mixture until the flour is completely absorbed. You will end up with a very sticky/shaggy dough.
  4. Fold the olives into the dough.
  5. Cover the dough and let it rest in a warm place for 30 minutes.
  6. After 30 minutes, the dough doubles in volume. Sprinkle your workspace generously with flour and place the dough over it.
  7. Sprinkle the dough with flour and knead for the next 10 minutes using the palm of your hand. Add flour to the dough until you end up with a malleable non-sticky dough. It should just be non-sticky, not shiny like regular bread dough. You will know when the dough stops sticking to your hand.
  8. You can make round breads by flattening the ball of dough with the palm of your hand and then pinch the edges up and in to make a nice ball.
  9. Transfer the bread pinched side down onto a baking pan covered with parchment paper. Flatten a little with the palm of your hand.
  10. Cover the boule and let rest in a warm place for 30 minutes.
  11. Preheat your oven to 420° F degrees.
  12. Place your baking pan in the lower third of the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until done. I like a slightly crustier crumb, so next time I will brush with egg white, like you do with a French stick! Or you can also put a pan of water in the oven with the bread for the first 15 minutes.

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I cannot believe our vacation is over; it feels like it was yesterday that we started planning it.
Marrakech is an old city made beautiful by the kindhearted people who live there. Much of it (old and new) looks like it’s crumbling, and in significant decay, but it is not as dirty as one would expect. There is virtually no garbage on the streets! People seem to hose down their sidewalks every morning. I never saw cat or dog poo anywhere (they have poo bags for the horses and mules). We didn’t see roaches or rats during our entire stay (other than the occasional fly and wasp), and we walked through the oldest parts of town, back alleys and short cuts. I can honestly say I never smelled garbage or urine — you can’t say that about New York, Paris or even Toronto. Don’t get me wrong, the city is not clean (no major centre is) but it certainly did not have the dirtiness and litter I was expecting!
The weather was neither as warm or as cold as we were expecting. The first few days we were greeted by rain and chilling winds from the mountains, then the rains ended and the sky opened up to a gorgeous blue, without clouds to showcase the warm bright sun. Now those were the temperatures we expected. But the evenings grew chilly and we had our lovely wood burning fireplace on in our room a few times (no central heat).
The traffic is chaos but somehow everyone knows what to do, organized chaos. The Moroccans sure make good use if their horns, our 10 minute ride from the Casablanca Train Station, the cabby honked a minimum of 30 times, I stopped counting! Motorbikes don’t seem to have to obey the traffic lights; they can even ride on the sidewalks which shouldn’t surprise me as pedestrians walk all over the roads everywhere! Pedestrian cross walks mean nothing. You hold your breath and pray and as you walk with a purposeful stride across a busy city street you should be OK (kinda like walking across the Broadway Manhattan!). Strangely enough there were no issues. I wasn’t even nudged by a speeding vehicle once, but JT tells me he was nudged a couple of times! The trick is to keep moving at the same rate and not make quick changes, the drivers can then estimate where you will be when he reaches you!
The people of Morocco have the kindest hearts of any other people we’ve ever met. Strangers stopped us on the street to offer us directions, they helped us with our bags on and off the trains, with no expectations in return. They seem to genuinely want us to be happy. Sure, there are the desperate ones but few and far between. The markets are cut-throat and I have come to accept that the one’s in these souks are just desperate to make a living – aren’t we all? Some of us with more desperation than others.
The people of Morocco have an incredible pride in their country and their city and it shows when they talk about it. Even the cabbies in their old beat up Mercedes Benzes talk about their city as if they have been appointed the Royal Tour Guide, pointing out the highlights along our trek. In Toronto, you’d best know how to get to your destination because it’s unlikely the cabby will, let alone know what the highlights along the way are! In fact, in Toronto, you’re lucky if they speak English. In Morocco, they generally speak Arabic and French, sometimes English. They always try to communicate with you.
This vacation has really taught me the true kindness of strangers in a far away land. I’ve always appreciated what we have, but it’s all only stuff. The Moroccans seem to have this true kindness and peace within, that doesn’t rely on stuff. It’s really quite lovely.
This type of holiday is not for everyone with the noise and chaos of the streets, but it is a good eye opener for us Westerners.
Thank you for taking this journey with me, I hope that one day you will be able to travel to Morocco to enjoy their kindness and generosity first hand. Shokrohm (thank you in Arabic) ey Merci (in French).

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Casablanca

Today is our final full day in Morocco. I always find this juncture in our vacations a little bitter sweet; did we see EVERYTHING? DO EVERYTHING? EAT EVERYTHING? But then again, I find some relief that soon I will be sleeping in my own bed, cooking my own food, and for the first while to be able to enjoy the mundaneness of auto-pilot of my life. And then we start thinking of the next adventure.
Casablanca is a three hour train ride; this time we bought our first class tickets the day before (apparently you can do this up to 6 days before). First class is about $10 more. We plan to have lunch at the train station, but leaving our Ryad takes a bit longer than expected. Hayat wants to come to say goodbye, but she is the manager at the other Ryad across the medina. We wait for her. Meanwhile the wonderful staff we have come to know quite well come by to give us hugs and wish us well. The Chef gives us a beautiful silver cardboard box filled with Moroccan hand made sweets! Hayat arrives, goodbyes are said, hugs and kisses. I will make the effort to remain in contact with her, with email and Facebook, one has no excuses anymore.
The car they hired to take us to Marrakech Train Station is lovely, although no seat belts! It has all if the original instruments in the dash! And the luggage can fit INSIDE! The driver proudly talks about some of the landmarks as we speed by. The train station is new, built in the modern Moroccan style – I don’t have an iPhone pic, but here is a link
We get there early enough that we can have a little lunch at an Italian style cafe (or McDonalds!). We ate delicious Ham and cheese panini sandwiches.
The first class car is simply compartments of 6 seats. The seats are upholstered in rich fabric, there is a curtain on the window to shield the hot sun and there us A/C. A little A/C. We are the second to arrive. The seats are numbered – someone has to leave my seat. There is a young man across from me, he speaks English, French, Arabic and a little Spanish. He is going to Casa to see some cousins, then back to University to study tourism. We are constantly mistaken for British tourist (no British accent at all). My only guess us that they don’t get many Americans, process of elimination. The young man is ELATED that we are from Canada; his favorite artist Justin Bieber is Canadian! He spares us the question if we know him. Nice kid, he helps us understand the announcements which are as garbled as the subways in Manhattan!
We arrive in Casablanca and another young man helps us with our luggage off the train just out of kindness (who’s great idea was it to bring two weeks of clothes?) it’s getting heavier every time we move it; and I haven’t been able to help much because of my stupid shoulder.
We find a cab and he drives us rather efficiently to our hotel. He honks his horn a minimum of 30 times! For some bizarre reason he lets us off across the street from the hotel. It’s a major street, like Broadway in Manhattan – 4 lanes each direction. There are traffic lights and what seem to be pedestrian cross walks marked by lines on the road, but did I mention, no one cares? We wait for a local to cross and we hold our breath (say a little prayer) and run like mad across the busy intersection dragging two weeks worth of luggage behind us. The hotel front desk staff remembers us; how was Marrakech they ask. Our room is efficient, same floor only two rooms down. The Royal Mansour Meridien is supposed to be a five star hotel. The bathrooms desperately need a makeover. Two nights. We were going to go outside for dinner but JT did a little recon while I was dolling up and found nothing really good. At least we know the food and service are great at the Meridien. We have drinks in a lovely bar where they give us beautiful little hors d’œuvres, olives and nuts, then we have a lite supper in the lobby restaurant.

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This is the bar. Sadly they allow smoking everywhere!

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Little hors d’œuvres.
Our waiter is intrigued that we are from Canada and not Great Britain, he says “Canada is my dream“. I am so touched and I’m reminded to be grateful to have been born there. He asks a lot of questions, but then he surprises us both, he knows the name of our Prime Minister! (hmmmm, I may have to do little quiz about Canada with a prize, of course!)
As a special gift, he brings us tea, made exactly the same way he makes it at home. Syrupy sweet, but the Moroccans love sweet!
Our first full day in Casa, we want to see the Mosque Hassan II. It is relatively new (1986-1993). Immensely opulent. Hand carved, hand made. It is quite a contrast to the crumbling city.

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Its capacity is 105,000 of which 25,000 are indoors and additional 80,000 on the Mosque’s grounds.
It’s only one of two Mosques that non Muslims are allowed to visit. It’s designed by French architect Michel Pinseau. The Mosque is built on reclaimed land much of it over the Ocean.
King Hassan II declared “I want to build this mosque on the water, because God’s throne is on the water. Therefore, the faithful who go there to pray, to praise the Creator on firm soil, can contemplate God’s sky and ocean.”

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The inside we were allowed photo without flash, although the German Tour group we were following ignored it. The lighted spots on the floor (there is a guy cleaning on the right) are windows to the spaces below.

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The roof is supposed to open, although I’ve only read it in their pamphlet.
Our driver waited for us here too! Next stop, Casablanca Twin Tower Centre
It’s a relatively new shopping centre in the central business area. We bum around until we stumble into, another grocery store! Woohoo! I buy non-instant couscous, eucalyptus honey and cashews! We ponder some snacks as our flight leaves at 7:30 the next morning (5am wake up call:(!)
Next stop is Rick’s Café, yes, the one from the movie! We’ve read that it’s pretty good. We have a tasty lunch. Not terribly expensive and the food is surprisingly good.

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We both have the goats cheese and fig salad.
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I had the eggplant parmigiana and JT has beef stroganoff! The eggplant wasn’t fried! It was layers of baked eggplant and tomato, a little basil pesto, olive oils and a little baked cheese on top! Delicious!

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We return to the hotel to begin strategically repacking and getting psyched up for our 5am wake up call. Dinner was a glass of wine in the bar (some olives and nuts!)

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Marrakech’s Medina is a step back in time; traditionally dressed people, souks (markets), confusing little alleys in the souks, noise, sounds, sites and smells. The rush of the motor bikes speeding past you, the stink of the diesel and the cigaret smoking. And there are the cats! All over the place! They walk in everywhere. It’s really mayhem, mad, crazy.
Once outside the Medina you could be in Paris, or even Budapest (not quite North America as there aren’t the sky scrapers of the west). The roads are wider, there are motor cycle lanes (although I don’t know why, no one stays within the lines). We ventured out to the suburbs to a ‘mall’. I suspect only westerners or the wealthy shop here, Benneton, a few French shops and some I don’t recognize. Our cab said he would come back for us, what time? Mall, shopping, come on now, ladies? 2.5 hours including lunch? Ok, 2pm! I was done in half an hour! There are stores, yes, but the quality just was a miss. We stop at Virgin Cafe for lunch. The temperatures are finally in the realm of what we’ve been expecting (little too late, I am fighting a head cold!) and we eat outside.
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After lunch we notice another level to this mall; OMG, there is a grocery store (my weakness in a foreign country). We have just enough time to buy the olive oil I wanted (26,95 dirhams, which is about $3 for 500mL!) I am so excited. Sadly it is 2pm and we don’t want to be late for our driver. Our driver shows up and as expected it is the brother. We only paid the first guy 1/2 the agreed cost on the way here, so I am hoping the brother is expecting the other half and does not argue. I am already trying to figure out my French argument! My head hurts from trying to communicate (sadly most of the cabbies only speak French or Arabic and it’s very difficult to communicate a place name that is Arabic/French when I can barely speak French! We’ve tried to write it down – but have discovered most cannot read anything other than Arabic!). Our driver accepts the agreed fee. We go on our merry way.
We bump into our guide from Maison MK cooking class, he recognizes us, and is so HAPPY to meet again, shakes our hands, asks how we enjoyed the class. We ask him if he can make reservations for dinner tonight at Maison MK; he calls on his cell (they call the cell phone GSM) right away. Sadly they are full. We shake hands, he bids us farewell and off we go.
We now need to go to the train station to see if we can buy a first class ticket to Casablanca for tomorrow (1st class is about $10 more!). We bump into our first cabby from this morning and he recognizes us, he comes over and shakes our hand and he gives me his calling card. We take our on/off tour bus (for which we paid two days) to the train station – we should have taken the cab! We are now on Moroccan time (Caribbean time but slower!) getting the train ticket is easier than expected; the station is beautiful, it’s very new and apparently designed in contemporary Moroccan style – it is lovely!
We return to our Ryad, and we’re greeted by Hayat (our guide and translator for our first cooking class) she is SO HAPPY to see us! I asked her if would recommend a place to buy a tajine for me to take home, she asks what size and the next thing I know she’s come up to our room and she’s bought one for us as a gift!!! Have you ever heard of such a thing?
We are now off to Casablanca where we go not get free WIFI, so until next time…
My roast beef sandwich and JTs club did not disappoint.

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Today is our last day in Marrakech. At this time as in most holidays I have a slight feeling if panic – OMG, did we do everything, see everything, experience everything we possibly could have? We didn’t do this, or that, or even that! This holiday is no different. I have regret that we didn’t really step out of our very square box and go to the dessert, but having said that, I am very fatalistic, things happen for a reason, and I am in no position to turn my nose up at fate, and do the opposite! Our time in Marrakech has been enjoyable, and I shall have fond memories of her sites and sounds and the kindness of a few gentle souls.
OK, enough of the mush, back to reality. Yesterday we did a couple of bus tours to get a better lay of the land, I shall add my crappy iPhone shots below, the Canon will come in good time (patience, grasshopper!)
We began our day by walking to the spot where we can find the bus. We are greeted on the street by one of our Ryad servers; he is wearing his ‘celebration best’ and looks quite fetching. He is a man about my age, perhaps a few years younger, with a kind, soft, gentle face. He is SO HAPPY to see us! Have we seen where true Moroccan’s shop? Only the souks, we say. Bah, that’s for tourists, come, come, I’ll show you. We don’t feel threatened or taken. At one point I say to him “you are a great guide” and he responds, taking my hand “no, I am a friend” very touching, and sincerely delivered. He takes us to his favorite Épicier (spice vendor). It’s in the middle of the Jewish area with the synagogue across from it. The guy is young and kind, not pushy. I buy stuff, of course, and he gives us ‘gifts’ a little extra of this, a gift of that. I really enjoyed myself. He was not forceful. I ask us he has Moroccan olive oil, he does, but sadly it is not labelled (probably family made) and I am unsure whether customs would allow it. It has a rich olive taste, unlike any olive oil I’ve tried. It takes a bit to explain why I cannot take it, but he understands and is not insulted. I told him I would cry if customs took it away, which is likely true. We continued on a little tour with our new friend, and then he leaves us with a pleasant goodbye. We bump into him later in the day, meeting on the streets of the medina like old friends. THIS IS MY MOROCCO!
We continue to the bus tour and enjoy the scenes.
Modern Marrakech outside the Medina

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McDonalds is here too!

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The camels with the Date Palm gardens (did you know dates grew on Palm trees?)

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The tallest minaret at the Koutoubia Mosque

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Lunch in a contemporary French restaurant of Niçoisse Salad and Vino (come to momma!)

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