Review: All Under Heaven & Cumin Lamb Burgers

11 January 2017
Carolyn Phillips (also known as Madame Huang), the accomplished food scholar and author of All Under Heaven, happens to be in a relationship which bears resemblance to mine: she’s white and her husband is Chinese.  She’s lived 8 years in Taiwan and is well-traveled and known throughout China, where she’s had the opportunity to learn from local chefs.  She’s even resorted to begging for old family recipes.  I like her already!

All Under Heaven: The many cuisines of China

I bought this book after searching for a resource for Northeastern Chinese cuisine.  In a country as large as China with climates that vary wildly, the cuisine of the Chinese is far from homogenous.  All Under Heaven is the only cookbook I found which included this oft-overlooked region of Chinese cuisine.  In fact, it purports to have recipes from all 35 cuisines of China.  Obviously, this is an ambitious project and I am not qualified to speak to how close she comes to properly addressing these cuisines.  However, I can say that the husband and my in-laws agree it’s probably the best they’ve seen.

Going through the recipes, my husband repeatedly would stop me, excited to see some dish he remembers (names of the dishes are in both English and Mandarin).

All Under Heaven: Russian Soup

Harbin, where my husband spent a chunk of his childhood, is nearly on the border of Russia and was once owned by the Russians. The architecture and cuisine both reflect this. Phillips shows this with the inclusion of one of my husband’s childhood dishes.

All Under Heaven: Structure of the Book

Phillips divides her book into 5 regions of China.  She also includes a section on Fundamentals, where she gives in-depth coverage to basic recipes, techniques, and suggested menus.  Any novice to Chinese cooking should start in this section, which is near the end of the book. Continue Reading…

Marrakech Travel Tips & Moroccan Kefta Tagine

6 January 2017
Before our honeymoon, we obsessively watched Youtube videos and read travel blogs for Morocco and, specifically, Marrakech travel tips.  Not all of them were helpful, and there were a few things that weren’t covered we wished we had known before, but now we get to share what we found with you! Oh, and a recipe for a Moroccan Kefta (meatball) tagine.  It’s spicy and filling–perfect for cold winter weather.

Marrakech Travel Tips

× Our top Marrakech Travel Tips ×

5 Helpful Phrases in Arabic/French to Know

The two most common languages in Morocco are Arabic and French, although many are conversationally fluent in English and Spanish, too.  The husband knew a few phrases in Arabic and understands French (he went to school in Canada).  However, I came in somewhat ignorant of Arabic and only know the common French phrases (Bonjour, Merci, etc.).  Here are the top phrases I ended up learning and finding most useful:

  1. Shukran/Merci (Arabic/French) – This means “thank you.” Even if you flub it a little, this one word will score you points with the locals.
  2. La (Arabic) – Meaning “no,” this is a must to know when going through the souks.  La, Shukran was our most used phrase as the merchants are so persistent.
  3. Salama ‘laykum/Bonjour (Arabic/French) – Salam-oo ‘laykum is the standard greeting in Arabic.  Some may greet you with the French, “Bonjour!” (especially if you look western), but the Arabic was received better by the locals for us.
  4. Ma’a as-salāmah (Arabic) – There are a few ways to say “Goodbye” in Arabic, but this is what we heard used the most.
  5. La afham (Arabic) – “I don’t understand” is always a practical term, where ever you are.

Aside from these terms, we mostly spoke broken English.  We laughed because it started to become our standard way of speaking, even when we were alone in our room.  If you want to use more Arabic, Maroc Mama has a great list of useful phrases.

5 Tips for Female Travelers in Morocco

If you’re female, you might want to know what to expect when traveling in Morocco.  I never felt threatened, but here are a few tips. Continue Reading…

New Year’s Resolution-Proof Vietnamese Pho

4 January 2017
It’s that time again–the new year.  While many are still winding down from what has been described a terrible year, still many are looking forward now to 2017.  Perhaps you are one of the people who make at least one New Year’s resolution.  You’re probably one of the minority of people who keep their resolutions, too.  Not me.  Thus, I no longer make resolutions.  Besides, if I would have made any, I already made them in October.

Perhaps I should resolve to eat more of this…

But if I had made any New Year’s resolutions, this is what they would be:

Let’s be clear, though, these are not my resolutions.  They’re my goals.  Repeat after me: not.  resolutions.  (That should get me off the hook, right?)

New Year’s Resolution-Proof Vietnamese Pho

This is a carb-free and low-calorie tweak of pho.  Using spiralized zucchini and daikon in place of the traditional rice noodle, you cut the calories by almost 40%.  It doesn’t hurt that the broth takes only 30 minutes and requires no special equipment!

So healthy! I feel healthier just looking at it.

Continue Reading…

Holidays as the Only Jew in the Office & Hanukkah Sous Vide Turkey Roast

21 December 2016

“Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel / I made you out of clay / And when you’re dry and ready / Oh Dreidel we shall play”

Two coworkers sang this song to me this morning, neither of them Jewish.  A little context:

Yesterday I handed out holiday gifts at my office, a practice I’ve never participated in before.  I prepared bags of chocolate gelt and dreidels, together with a small instruction sheet on how to play the dreidel game.  Year after year, I’ve received Christmas gifts from my colleagues, and year after year I struggled with what I perceived to be an awkward conflict of interest.  I also had never much appreciated feeling guilted into giving.  I’ll chalk that last one up to youth.

hanukkiah

An antique Hanukkiah we saw in the souks in Marrakech

This year, however, my attitude changed.  I don’t know if the change of heart can be attributed to Hanukkah and Christmas occurring so close together this year or being softened by the warmth of starting a new family with my husband.  Either way, I decided to participate.  I even decorated my desk with an electronic Hanukkiah (the special Hanukkah menorah) and a decorative dreidel.  I didn’t do this to announce to the world that I don’t celebrate Christmas, but instead to join in the season’s joy.

sous vide turkey roast

Whatever you celebrate, let’s all agree that sous vide turkey roast belongs in it.

Continue Reading…

Blogiversary & Israeli Garlic Chicken Re-Do

19 December 2016
Today marks one year from Almost Kosher’s first time hitting the publish button on Israeli Garlic Chicken.  While this recipe has remained our favorite to date, the pictures from that early post highlight how far we’ve come.  Our brand, my voice, and our photography have grown, as well as our audience.  Since our first post, we’ve even had a recipe shared on a national publication!

It’s a “blogiversary”!

To celebrate, we decided to redo our Israeli Garlic Chicken with new and improved photos.  We’re also going to share some top lessons and moments since we first started the blog.

israeli garlic chicken

An old favorite gets a makeover.

Continue Reading…

Moroccan Pride, Bahia Palace, & Fish Tagine

14 December 2016

“Beauty surrounds us, but usually we need to be walking in a garden to know it.” Rumi

If I were to sum up Morocco in one word, it would be, pride.  Moroccans are extremely proud of their heritage, their culture, their food, their hospitality, their foreign relations; they’re even proud of their pride.  It’s certainly not without good cause, either.

Morocco is not Turkey

Most shops and restaurants in the medina are not marked with signs to tell you where you are.  We sought a decent ratio of tourists and locals at any given cafe: locals, to prove it wasn’t just a tourist trap; tourists, to prove that our sensitive stomachs would handle the menu.  At one such cafe, we sat for a late breakfast, and I ordered a Moroccan coffee.  As the waiter brought my coffee, my husband asks him if it’s anything like Turkish coffee.  “NO! It’s nothing like Turkish coffee,” the waiter, clearly disgusted by the idea added, “it’s MOROCCAN coffee.  Pure Morocco.”  He walked away.  The husband asked for a taste, which I granted.  He takes a sip, stares me in the eye, and says, “it’s Turkish coffee.”

Later, we stop by the hammam in our hotel.  The hammam attendant asks us if we’ve ever had Moroccan hammam (spa) before.  The husband says he’s been to a hammam in Turkey but adds that it’s my first time. The attendant scoffs and asserts, “Moroccan hammam are much different!”  I have nothing to compare it too, but my lovely husband assured me after it was done that it’s nearly the same.

Bahia Palace

The Bahia palace is breathtaking.  Tickets are only 10 dirhams per person ($1 USD at the present exchange rate).  The palace is worth every penny.  Built in the late 19th century by a grand vizier of the sultan, the Bahia palace was intended to be the greatest palace of its time.

The gardens of Bahia Palace (photo by Thirteenth Knight Photography)

The gardens of Bahia Palace

Immediately upon entering, you are greeted by a beautiful garden.  Gardens are central to Islamic architecture: they represent heaven.  Wander around and, if you’re lucky, get here early to get a few shots without the crowds.  This palace is a popular tourist attraction for a good reason! Continue Reading…

Finding Genuine Saffron in the Mellah & Chermoula

7 December 2016
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

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
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

Continue Reading…

My Favorite Season & Pressure Cooker Pho Ga

14 October 2016
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…