Finding Genuine Saffron in the Mellah & Chermoula

7 December 2016
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Asked which experience is our favorite from Marrakech and my husband will quickly answer, “the Mellah.”  As the old Jewish quarter, it may seem obvious why he answers so. But what makes the Mellah of Marrakech enticing is not so simple.

Destination: Spice Souks

When we climbed into our taxi (after agreeing upon a price–taxis are not metered, and all prices are up for negotiation) and gave our desired destination, the cab driver responded with a confident, “spice souks,” our purpose presumed.  The driver blindly entered traffic, honked, and nearly white-lined us to the Mellah.  Upon stopping at the destination, he kindly shouted some directions (helpful, perhaps, if either one of us understood Arabic or French), and we stepped out.

A typical spice souk in the Mellah

A typical spice souk in the Mellah

Our journey begins in the square of the Mellah. Carts full of hides pulled by overworked mules struggle to pass us.  A man comes up behind us carrying about six live chickens by their feet, suspended upside down.  The chickens seem to have resigned to their fate.  They may flap their wings or squawk here or there, but for the most part, they’re silent as Moroccan women fondle them, testing for their meatiness. Continue Reading…

Preserved Lemons & The Magic of Morocco

29 November 2016
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This post will give you an introduction to our magical honeymoon to Morocco: a kingdom of opulence, beauty, and mystique.  I will also share a sous vide recipe for making homemade preserved lemons.  Read on to learn more.

When I first booked our honeymoon escape to Marrakech, Morocco, I started to announce our decision to friends, coworkers, and family.  Nestled among the ooh’s and aah’s of our decidedly exotic choice came questions. People questioned why we chose Morocco over, say, a European getaway or a relaxing week on a Hawaiian beach.  I answered these questions with a blasé tone, explaining that it was the food that drew me there or the favorable exchange rate.  Honestly these answers never quite explained why we had so solidly settled on the location.  I couldn’t articulate what allured me about Morocco, only that I had to go.  It was as if it had been calling me.

Shortly after arriving at our hotel, we set out for the square, Jaama el-Fna.  We ran into a guide who offered us a tour through the market for 100 Moroccan dirhams ($10 US dollars).  Four hours later, we said goodbye to our guide. We sat for a meal and tried to digest the experience.

Jaama el-Fna–the square and the souks

The square, as the sun begins to set

The square, as the sun begins to set with the Koutoubia Mosque in the distance.

In the old Medina of Marrakech, life moves to a different rhythm than that of the West.  The locals don’t walk, they glide and dance among the chaos of the old cobblestone streets together with mules, hurried taxis, clueless tourists, motor scooters darting in and out, and busy merchants hobbling to-and-fro.  This is navigated and taken in along with a cacophony noises: of the percussion of constant traffic, hustlers yelling at tourists, and the hum of various foreign languages.  With time, we started to mix into the chaos and pick up on the ancient rhythm through the jumble of the souks. Continue Reading…

New Beginnings & Slow Cooker Korean Chicken

28 October 2016
Korean Chicken-4
This fall season has been magical.  Everywhere I turn, it seems people are sharing beautiful news.  Engagements (I learned of two in the same week, both for darling couples!), pregnancies, graduate school admissions, new homes, and new jobs.  It is incredible to share our own happiness in our upcoming wedding with people who are similarly glowing with excitement.  How appropriate is it to have so many new beginnings happening around this season?

As exciting as it all is, we’ve been caught up in the frenzy without taking a break to just relax.  We’ve ate out more times than I’d like to admit. Finally, this week I decided I needed to make our family meals a priority again.  Luckily, this is where it helps to rely on tools to cut back on the time spent cooking and maximize the time spent enjoying a meal together.  Insert Slow Cooker Korean Chicken here.

Slow Cooker Korean Chicken

Slow Cooker Korean Chicken

Slow Cooker Korean Chicken

As you know, I’ve relied heavily on tools to help mitigate our busy schedules with my love of cooking.  The pressure cooker, the sous vide, and the slow cooker – all my faves when it comes to making amazing meals without much effort.  Originally, I  planned this recipe as part of my sous vide series, but we ended up liking it so much better as a slow cooker meal.

I love Korean food and have ever since I went to Korea Town in Los Angeles one labor day in 2011.  The balancing act of heat, sour, savory, and sweet, amazes me and I love the strong flavors of sesame.   And, while this recipe is not a traditional Korean recipe, I tried to capture all the flavors I love from Korean food.  Serve with rice, easy homemade kimchi, and a glass of soju. Continue Reading…

My Favorite Season & Pressure Cooker Pho Ga

14 October 2016
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Ask me what season of the year is my fave, and you’ll get an emphatic declaration of love for the season of fall.  Everything, from the weather and the foliage, the associated holidays (both Jewish and secular), the movies, and– of course–the food.  I fall prey even to the lure of the ever-so-divisive pumpkin spice err’thang of this time of year.  Most importantly, however, it is this season when the pangs of cravings for pho start to hit me ever so fierce.  But, try as I may I could never seem to get a homemade bowl of pho to turn out quite right.  That is, however, until I tried to make it using the pressure cooker.  It turns out pressure cooker pho would be my savior for the fall season.

Fall

Taken with a crappy iPhone camera three years ago on a trip to Park City, Utah, even bad photography can’t hide the beauty of the rainfall on this beautiful fall afternoon.

The Secret to the Perfect Pressure Cooker Pho

In my search for pho spices, I found the star ingredient (no pun intended) difficult to find.  Star anise, native to Southern China and North Vietnam, and common in Chinese Five Spice powder, is a beautiful seed pod found from an evergreen.  It’s characteristic star shape gives it its name as well as a novel addition to a spice display.  It is, however, quite difficult to find especially in smaller markets such as mine.  We actually found it sold in bags among the Mexican spices. Continue Reading…

Wedding Plans and Baked Matzo Chicken Nuggets

10 October 2016
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As our wedding date gets closer, we are working out the tiny details.  Today we ordered a coordinating tie and cuff links for the fiancé.  We initially had problems with finding a caterer to deliver to our small group up in the mountains, but we finally found a Thai restaurant willing to prepare kosher style food and deliver to us without a huge surcharge.  So, things are falling into place.

Wedding Themes

We chose a more casual theme for the wedding.  The fiancé is wearing a nice French cuff shirt and silk tie with dressy jeans, and I will be wearing leather booties with my just-below-knee length dress.  We are including both aspects of Judaism and of my fiancé’s Chinese heritage.

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My bouquet is made of recycled materials, including real book pages by EcoFlower.  As a bibliophile with slight hippy leanings, this bouquet immediately caught my attention.  I chose the “Jane Austen” with golds, teals, and rose colors.  I love the rustic look.  They give you the option of having the flowers scented–I chose Japanese Cherry Blossom.  The scent is light and a nice subtle touch.

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My booties are a pair of Steve Madden Freebirds in a wine color.  I have no idea the name of the style but chose them to tie in the autumn season.  I’m breaking them in now to soften the leather soles and give them a more worn-in look.  Our venue is very contemporary and modern/minimalist, which I think will make a beautiful contrast with our more rustic clothing.

shoes

We’ve limited our ceremony to just our closest friends and family: only 30 people.  All of the people invited have been important to us at some point in our lives, and people who we felt very strongly about inviting to our special day.  I love big, fancy weddings but they’re not for me.  I prefer that we share a moment as special as this privately and intimately with people who have seen us through our worst–and best–days.

For our centerpieces, we are going to buy some vintage cameras and old books from thrift stores to reflect our hobbies.  We may also include a small vase with a flower for each table.

camera

The Honeymoon: Morocco

We’ve planned a honeymoon to one of my dream locations: Morocco.  We are planning camel back rides, tagine cooking classes, shopping in the souks, and a spa day.  The food has me the most excited.  Moroccan food has been one of my obsessions for a long time.  The fiancé is more enthusiastic for the architecture, another feature I’m excited about (though it comes second to food).  Together we’re excited to learn about the history of the area.

morocco

We’re so excited for the next chapter of our life together.  Sometimes it still doesn’t feel real.  I never thought that I’d find someone so well-suited for me.

Now on to the recipe!

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Baked Matzo-Breaded Chicken Nuggets

Continue Reading…

How to Apologize This Yom Kippur & Challah Rolls

6 October 2016
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You tell me that you’re sorry / Didn’t think I’d turn around, and say / That it’s too late to apologize / It’s too late

One Republic

It’s now the high holidays, and observant Jews are busy reflecting on their past year and apologizing to anyone to whom they may have done wrong.  Although most of us are conditioned early on to apologize when we hurt others, it still seems to be a difficult task for most people.  Even well into adulthood.  Here are my tips for how to apologize.  All of these show sincerity and maturity to the individual you have wronged.

How to apologize for your misdoings this Yom Kippur (and any other time)

  1. When telling your friend you’re sorry, try to avoid giving an excuse.  The word “but” should not even slip from your tongue.  You can offer an explanation for your bad behavior, but be sure that the other person knows that whatever the explanation is, it doesn’t excuse your bad behavior: “I was tired from staying up all night doing a test and completely blew you off–that was wrong, and I’m sorry.”
  2. When you apologize, be sure to use active voice.  It’s “I’m sorry I hurt you,” and not “I’m sorry you felt hurt when I…”  They do not own the responsibility for their hurt feelings for your bad behavior–you do.
  3. Acknowledge the magnitude of your actions.  It is okay to admit that you were a butthead if you were.  We’ve all done terrible things before; we’ve all been cowards, liars, rude, and inconsiderate at some point in our lives.
  4. If the individual you are apologizing to has trouble accepting your apology or wants to discuss the issue, avoid coming off as defensive.  You came into this with your tail rightfully tucked between your legs.  It’s entirely possible they may want to tell you just how much hurt you’ve caused.  While you don’t need to take verbal abuse, you should hear any reasoned argument out.
  5. Humor is not an excuse.  If you told a joke that offended, don’t hide behind the joke and don’t offer that as a pretext.  It doesn’t matter if you or anyone else thought a hurtful comment at the expense of your friend was funny, the important thing is that your friend does not agree.
  6. When it’s appropriate, offer retribution.  If you took credit for the work of a colleague, for example, offer to make it right by attributing credit where credit is due.
  7. You should ask for–but don’t expect–forgiveness.  Ask the person directly if they can forgive you.  You must accept it if they need time, they’re still hurt, or–worst yet–they simply can’t forgive you.  You can’t get upset at another for not forgiving your mistake.  This is where it may be helpful to refer to #6.  If the friendship or relationship is really valuable to you, tell them they are valuable to you.
  8. Finally, and this should go without saying…be sure you apologize directly to them.  You may–halakhically–apologize via a mass email, group text, or a Facebook post. However, it isn’t nearly as sincere or received as well as a heartfelt apology which enumerates exactly what you did wrong.  If you’re not sure if you hurt someone or what you did exactly that hurt someone, but feel as though you may have, then say that.  Whatever you do, cowardice is not appropriate.

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Challah Rolls with Lox and Cream Cheese

Continue Reading…

Pressure Cooker Brisket for Rosh Hashanah

4 October 2016
My stomach is growling reflecting on the deliciousness of this pressure cooker brisket

Shanah Tova! Wishing you all a great year full of joy and delicious food.  Today we share our pressure cooker brisket we enjoyed for Rosh Hashana.

With the wedding, now a little over a month away, the rapidly approaching finals week of my accelerated college courses, increasing responsibilities at work, and involvement in my student association, finding time to reflect for Rosh Hashanah may seem difficult.  Finding time for anything has been difficult.  Luckily, we found help from our pressure cooker.  The pressure cooker brisket shared below is done in just an hour of cooking vs. the 6-8 of a traditional oven braise.

As I took the days preceding Rosh Hashanah to reflect on the past year to account for my mistakes, I also couldn’t help but feel grateful for the wonderful events of the previous year.  Notably, the joy of planning a wedding with and to a partner who helps me aspire to be a better person each day. A partner who encourages me to reach for my dreams.  A partner who takes the effort to understand my feelings, no matter where they come from.  This kind of reflection isn’t what Rosh Hashanah is about, a holiday where we are to account for our wrongdoings to others and ask for forgiveness, to ensure a favorable judgement in the book of life.  However, ignoring my good fortune wouldn’t make for a total reflection.  Also, I feel the need to repent for taking these things for granted at times.

Dipping apples into honey for a sweet New Year

Dipping apples in honey for a sweet New Year

Pressure Cooker Brisket

I told my fiancé that I intended to use a pressure cooker for this recipe and his eyes grew large with terror. “Are you sure?” he asked. “Those things are dangerous,” he added.  Understandably, he feared the pressure cookers of our childhood and tales of explosions due to mishandling.  Pressure cookers cook using the power of pressure and steam.  They simulate the effects of a long braise in considerably less time.  Old pressure cookers did not have the safety mechanisms of modern styles, such as venting, and were known to explode due to too much pressure being built up.

Mine is considered an "old style" modern pressure cooker, with a safety valve but only one pressure setting.

Mine is considered an “old style” modern pressure cooker, with a safety valve but only one pressure setting.

They come in many different styles, including electric models and stove-top models such as mine.  I bought mine for cheap, at less than $50.  I’ve linked a similar model below:

The major selling point of using the pressure cooker for brisket is time.  Since brisket call for long braising or smoking times to yield a tender result, it can make it a difficult event to plan.  Sure, I could pop the brisket into a slow cooker or even sous vide, but that would need long-term timing.  I would need to at least get it started in the morning and, as a decidedly un-morning person, that is not ideal.  The pressure cooker had it done in just an hour with perfectly tender results.

about those results…it was incredible

Within minutes of starting my pressure cooker–an old tool I picked up at least five years ago–the pot came to pressure.  I started the timer and watched Eye in the Sky in preparation for an essay on drone warfare for my ethics in international relations class.  The condo started to smell delicious.  By the time the cooking was done and the pressure released, we were salivating.  With a smoky barbeque marinade, our house smelled like we’d been smoking the brisket for hours.  With my fiancé as a witness, this pressure cooker brisket also tastes just like it had been smoked for hours.

My stomach is growling reflecting on the deliciousness of this pressure cooker brisket

My stomach is growling reflecting on the deliciousness of this pressure cooker brisket

Continue Reading…

Corned Beef from Scratch (Slow Cooker Instructions)

20 September 2016
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On my food bucket list has been a want to make corned beef from scratch.  Wandering the aisles of grocery stores in the months preceding St. Patrick’s day, the pink briskets soaking quietly in their own juice hugging a small packet of pickling spices in Cyrovac pouches mystified me. I wondered how they were made, if I could do it myself, and if I could somehow improve upon their flavor. The answers: patiently, absolutely, and yes!

Corned beef : A Jewish Meat?

I begin with a little history on corned beef and why I argue it’s not strange for me to make it in September.  The corned beef that Americans typically associate with Irish cuisine is actually Jewish.  Yes, that’s right!  While “corned beef” is a dish in the UK, it is not the pink brisket marketed with green beer of St. Paddy’s day tradition.  It’s a salted beef with a gray color out there.  American-style corned beef can be found in Ireland, but it’s marketed toward tourists looking for their familiar idea of “Irish.”

How did the Jewish corned beef get associated with the Irish?    The Irish immigrants were faced with prejudice (much like many ethnic immigrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries).  They settled into urban areas like New York City nearby other the other immigrants faced with many of the same challenges: the Jews. Being both Jewish and of Irish descent, I love this!

Traditionally, the Irish of that time had eaten a lot of pork.  However, upon arrival in New York City and settlement near the Jews, the Irish began to buy their meats almost exclusively from kosher butchers.  Clearly their preference for pork was problematic so the Irish began to eat more beef.  The Jewish answer to ham, Corned Beef, was flavorful and made for a great treat for the Irish-American’s celebratory meal on St. Paddy’s day. Back in Ireland, the Irish feast on St. Paddy’s has a religious connotation, together with a meal of lamb or bacon.  In America, the Irish celebrate the day as an honor to their heritage.  Their feast is crowned with their new splurge, Corned Beef, together with their culinary symbol–the potato.

Now to share the process of how beef becomes “corned!”

Corned beef from scratch, sliced thinly Continue Reading…

Focus! When OCD mimics ADD…& Black Rice Sushi

30 August 2016
Focus Sushi
I zoned out in a meeting today.  It’s a common experience, I’m aware.  As was my being hopelessly unsure of what topic I was asked to opine.  However, it is one that happens more often to me than I care to admit.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get myself to focus on the topic I should focus on.  Focus isn’t the issue; it’s the object of that focus that is questionable.  Indeed, I can focus just fine.  In fact, I can concentrate for hours on a single and incredibly narrow topic.  I have obsessive-compulsive disorder (known as OCD), but doctors misdiagnosed me for years as having ADD.

The media doesn’t portray OCD fairly.  Thus, there are a lot of misconceptions about the disorder.  When they hear “OCD” most people envision someone being perhaps a bit cleaner than the average person, or maybe lining up pencils just so on their desk.  Maybe they think of someone who must lock the door three times before leaving for work in the morning.  While these examples are accurate for some people with OCD, these by no means represent the whole of the population experiencing this disorder.

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 How OCD can affect focus

While the “compulsive” part of this disorder gets the majority of the attention, it’s the “obsessive” part which drives this disorder.  The compulsions come about as a way to prevent something bad from happening, dictated by an obsessive thought.  It’s usually a result of some superstition or “magical thinking;” without this, it’s not OCD.  A clean person without these ideas isn’t OCD; they’re just particular.

Physical rituals are not my problem, but mental ones.  I don’t clean compulsively (although, I am neat) and I don’t complete observable rituals.  However, I have intrusive thoughts. Those obsessions don’t always come at desirable times.

The Desirable Problem

Well-meaning people like to tell me that OCD is a good mental illness to have.  Or that, “at least it isn’t something bad!”  Or that they’re “OCD” about something, too (sorry folks, OCD is a noun, not an adjective).  I let them.  I play along.  But it’s not true–OCD is debilitating and affects relationships with others.  It causes anxiety and paranoia.  I sometimes think in unusual ways.  It diverts my attention from things that are important to others as well as myself.

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Black Rice Sushi

Black rice sushi was my fixation during the meeting.  Specifically, I had become curious about the origins of black rice.  This later became a fascination about the history of sushi.  The meeting had no hope of saving me from zoning out.  It was no competition.

You might remember awhile back I shared my discovery of black rice.  Recently, I wondered how it would do in sushi.  It turns out that it’s just absolutely gorgeous.  It’s easy, too: just cook it in on the stove top or in your rice cooker the same as you would brown rice.  Here we just rolled it up with some sushi-grade salmon, cucumber, and avocado.  I mixed up a little sriracha with mayo for a few of the rolls to make a spicy option as well.

You don’t need any special equipment (i.e., a sushi-rolling mat) to make sushi at home.  We just used a hand towel with a layer of plastic wrap to make a makeshift mat.  No need for extra kitchen clutter. Continue Reading…

10 Days of Sous Vide: Reflections and Sous Vide Crème Brûlée (Final Day!)

28 August 2016
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This is the final post of the series!  In our last post, we shared sous vide chicken breast.  Today’s dish is an appropriate last course: Sous Vide Crème Brûlée.  Find all about cute little mason jars, using sous vide for custards, and my thoughts on my project by reading on!

I started this 10 days of Sous Vide project a little over two months ago when, passing by a meat sale in my grocery store, I thought it would be fun to try cooking meats at different temperatures and different seasonings.  There were some failures, redundancies, and a few dishes got scrapped, never making it to the series.  Later, I decided the series needed some variety to be interesting so I added some vegetables, sauces, and finally–this sous vide crème brûlée.  Crème brûlée has always been a favorite dessert of mine.  A few years back, a friend taught me how to cook it at home.  She gave me one caveat, however, before she started the lesson: I was never to reveal how easy it actually is to prepare.  However, in retrospect, I realize that I cannot ethically keep this to myself.  It’s even easier when prepared via sous vide.

Reflecting on the series

This was a challenging project.  The commitment of 10 posts on sous vide, all of which I had promised an alternative cooking instruction, meant a lot of planning and cooking.  I was certainly more ambitious than was realistic.  Thus, the written content of the posts got shorter and shorter.  In our personal lives, we suffered a loss of a family member and my work schedule blew up.  School ended up also becoming a burden.  The project kept getting delayed while we dealt with our personal responsibilities.  I finally told the fiancé that it was time to start posting and got to it.  As I mentioned before, a few of the planned posts got scrapped because I couldn’t find a good alternative cooking method, the protein was redundant, or they simply weren’t good.

Our first post, chicken char sui, proved to be the hardest to photograph next to our hollandaise post.  The chicken char sui just didn’t want to plate the way I envisioned, while the hollandaise proved too difficult for our camera to focus on the light-colored sauce.  These posts stretched my limited camera skills to the limit and so I ended up calling upon the fiancé to help.  I think our food photography grew from this challenge and I’m really pleased with the results.  The carrots and short ribs were by far my favorites, aesthetics-wise.

Learning how to accept mistakes

Making mistakes is natural and human.  One of the problems with passion is that there is a very fine line between passion and obsession.  I cross that line all the way to obsession.  In fact, I can’t see the line anymore from where I stand.  This kind of emphasis often causes me to get so obsessed over details that I completely fail to accept any mistakes at all.  Oftentimes, that means I fail to complete (or start) a project.  I’ve had to learn to change that lately so that I can realize my passions more fully.  I had hoped to post an incredible series, with step-by-step photos and detailed science.  I envisioned inspiring quotes and really pushing my writing skills to the limit.  I fell short of that expectation, but I did accomplish a good, healthy time management schedule.

Most importantly, I’ve learned not to aim my blowtorch too close to my chilled new crème brûlée jars or else they will burst.  All over.  With shards of glass all over my friends’ porch, causing anxiety as we try to clean it so that it’s safe for little, kid feet.  We learned a lesson.

This is way too close. The jar burst--LOUDLY--seconds later.

This is way too close. The jar burst–LOUDLY–seconds later.

Ideal distance for blowtorching

Ideal distance for blow-torching

 

Sous Vide Crème Brûlée

Crème brûlée is such a simple dessert involving few ingredients.  It begs for experimentation–add vanilla, bourbon, coffee, or chocolate–so it’s never dull.  Like all French dishes, however, it requires that you obey certain rules about technique.  Why would you cook it sous vide?  No, it’s not just to show off, but sous vide actually helps ensure that you don’t curdle your perfect crème brûlée.  It does require that you use a mason jar as your vacuum.  If you try to attempt this with a plastic bag, the crème brûlée just won’t set.  I added lavender and omitted vanilla extract in this recipe, which made for a unique flavor.  You can certainly add the extract to the recipe if you prefer.  I’ve seen some interesting crème brûlée recipes with other extracts, as well.  Orange extract infused crème brûlée, anyone?

Creme Brulee-10

Continue Reading…