Thursday, 30 August 2012

Cornes des Gazelles

I can't wait to have the recipe for this one typed and finished and ready to share with you all. Cornes des Gazelles are a sweet pastry with an almond paste filling found all over Morocco. I've eaten them in every town and village we've been to but the ones Fusia prepared for us at Riad Kaiss have by far been the best, they just had something more rugged and homely about them, something special that separated them from the rest making them perfect for our book.

One tray is never enough.
Oh, and Riad Kaiss also has a pretty special courtyard.

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Monday, 27 August 2012

The Moroccan way or the highway

It's important to stay alert in Morocco, a lapse in concentration can have you backed into a tight corner at any moment. You never know when you are going to come across a police speed camera or check point, they love a good roadblock.

The same goes for any good Moroccan kitchen, beware the roadblock. You can sit for hours and talk about the cooking technique and ingredients of a single recipe until a point is reached where everyone is happy and in agreement. We have agreed on the origin of the recipe, where it has taken its influence from, how it should be cooked and exactly what ingredients and ratios are needed and that the traditional regional requirements have been fullfilled. 

"Excellent, seeing as we are all in concurrence, lets cook it!" 

Fusia begins to heat a pan of milk, the first step in the preparation of Mehelbiya, a classic Moroccan milk pudding. In goes a cup of corn flower, things are going smoothly so it's time for me to put my feet up for a few minutes until the next dish is ready to shoot. I haven't even reached the door before I hear a heated Arabic/French/English debate firing up in the kitchen between Fusia, Sophia and Jane, our food stylist. By the time I make it back the kitchen has descended into silence. Jane is still and looking confused, Sophia paces the room in frustration and Fusia stands victoriously in front of the simmering pot of milk slowly stirring in what looks to be a second cup of corn flower.

"I thought we'd agreed that one cup was the correct ratio for this recipe?" I asked.

"Yes, we did" Sophia blasted back at me. "Fusia said that was traditionally how it was done and that it should never be done any differently".

"What's the problem then?"

"Well apparently that's not the way Fusia does it".


Sophia gets blocked.

The girls celebrate their victory.

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Yotam's Army

It was never going to be a fair fight. Yotam Ottolenghi (the famous London based chef and restaurant owner) and his army had arrived in Marrakech to shoot part of his upcoming tv series that follows him across eastern countries as he experiences the local food and culture. Not only were they in Marrakech but they were staying right here with us a riad Dar Les Cigognes, a food media turf war was being waged under the one roof. 

Each morning two mini buses would come to pick up Yotam and his team while our little band of soldiers would struggle out the door ladened like donkeys as we all raced off to stake our rights on the nearby locations for the day.

We managed to capture this one image of Yotam (second from the left) and our team before Sophia and Jane turned on him like wild animals and ripped one of his arms off.

Apparently grey is a very cool colour.

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Friday, 17 August 2012

Bachelor's stew

We've spent a few days cooking and photographing recipes for our book at Riad Dar Les Cigognes in Marrakech with Fatna and her team so when we heard our next recipe, one of the great traditional Moroccan dishes called the tangia, was to be cooked down the road in the hammam (public bath house) we were intrigued. I could already visualise it. Soph, me.... and Fatna were going to nude up and explore the origins of traditional Moroccan cuisine.

Fatna sat at a low table with her tangia pot (the same word refers to the meat dish) which looked like a Grecian urn with a wide belly, narrow neck and handles on both sides, stuffing it full of a variety of cuts of lamb, casually sprinkling in a pinch of Saffron threads and two of cumin, some sea salt and pepper, a load of garlic, a few large swigs of olive oil and finally throwing in a whole preserved lemon. She wrapped the top of the pot in baking paper and announced in arabic that it was time to head off down the road. I grabbed my camera and my towel.

As I stood clutching my towel behind Steve and his video camera at what looked more like the back door of the hammam I was beginning to wonder how well this was all going to play out on film, I'd been struck by a moment of self-consciousness. Fatna knocked, the door was quickly opened by a slim, smiling man named Abdelhak who ushered us down some old crumbling stairs to a dark dirty room coated in charcoal, hmmmm not the hedonistic vision of endless food, splashing water and overflowing bath foam that I was imagining but then again we were in Morocco and not Ancient Greece I guess.

Abdelhak took the tangia from Fatna and buried it in a pile of hot ashes next to a fire that was burning in the corner of the room and told us to come back at the end of the day. What? That was it??

Walking back to our riad in a state of disappointment mixed with mild relief, Fatna explained to me that this was really one-pot cooking at its best. They called it 'bachelor's stew' as it was popular with single hard working men as they would go to the markets in the morning, have their tangia filled with the ingredients of their choice and drop it under the hammam where the hot fires heated the baths directly overhead. At the end of the day they would return to the hammam to wash and relax before picking up their perfectly cooked tangia and heading home for a delicious meal for one.

This story didn't end in the steamy way I had imagined but single guys if you cook this on your next date, I guarantee you won't be cooking for one for too much longer!

Fatna fills her pot.

Sophia, Abdelhak, random biker, Fatna and Steve. Clothes on.

Just add ashes.

A delicious meal for one, or two if you're lucky.

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Friday, 3 August 2012

2 important travel tips

Moroccan travel tip #1- Use taxis.
They are cheap and a they can advise you on all things Moroccan including important landmarks, culture and even cuisine.

Moroccan travel tip #2- Don't use taxis.
Every taxi ride will require intensive negotiation and because they know everything about Morocco they won't stop where you want them to, will lecture you on Moroccan politics and don't even get them started on traditional regional dishes!

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