Thursday, 23 July 2009

Apology to Dom

I have to issue an aplology to Dom for a comment I made about him on the Fortnum and Mason post.

I described his table manners to that of a pig in shit. I was wrong to say this as I am far clumsier than him when using a knife and fork.

I only said it because I was annoyed at the way the way he kept putting a sppon into my houmus when I was making it the other day.

Hajja's Helwas

I've developed a Moroccan sweet tooth - sweet shai bina'ana kul yom (mint tea every day)!  often with pastries (helwa) on the side.  

I came home the other day planning to take a break from sugar when Hajja (the matriarch) presented us with these:

The round things are glazed lemony, scone-like treats.  They're quite dry but surprisingly moreish and excellent washed down with lots of sweet tea.  The triangles are like sweet samosas filled with sweet rice pudding-y stuff, deep-fried then covered in sugar and cinnamon.  They're served with even more icing sugar to dip them into.  Exactly as you'd imagine - very good.  Although I can feel my teeth/arteries pleading with me to give them a day off.  

bye bye chicken

The other day Jaylan pointed out that the chickens that live on our roof sounded particularly close by and when we drew the curtain that separates our room from the main living area we saw this chicken clucking about nervously. 

We soon realised why - Hajj (he's the patriarch and it's a term of respect for men who have/probably have because of their age/will soon, insh'allah do the Haj) was sharpening a big knife.  So I said 'masallama d'zhezh'/'bye bye chicken', which made him laugh.  The chicken didn't find it so funny. 

Sadly, I forgot to take an 'after' shot of the delicious, and very fresh, chicken we had for supper that night.

Lovely Layla’s Tuesday Cookery Class Part 2

Tagine with chicken and prunes (for about 12 people). This is cooking of ‘Fortress Filth’ proportions – you may need to divide accordingly.

This week it was tagine with chicken and prunes, served with salad and, of course, bread/hobz(i may turn into some hobz, or a laughing cow, while I'm here I'm eating so much of the stuff). Actually, I think the chicken was a bit more tender this time, perhaps because the chicken was cooked with the skin on. The sweet prune against the peppery, oniony chicken was absolutely lush and the juices were perfect for mopping up with the bread. For a similar bread equivalent back home, I'd say the Turkish pide bread that you can get from your local (or Dalston) TFC is the way forward.

For the tagine:

3 kilos skinless chicken joints skin left on about ½ of them, 2 kilos white onions finely chopped, 1 kilo red onions – finely chopped, 1 bulb garlic – peeled and crushed, 1 tomato – grated/peeled and minced, a small bunch parsley – chopped,1 ½ tablespoons ground black pepper,1 ½ tablespoons ground dried ginger, 1 teaspoon saffron, ½ cup olive oil,1 cup vegetable oil, 1 ½ tablespoons salt, 5 cups water, 4 cups prunes. 7 cups water, 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, 5 heaped tablespoons sugar, Sesame seeds

For the salad:

5 cucumbers – peeled and chopped into small chunks, 6 tomatoes – peeled and chopped into small chunks, 1 onion – very finely chopped, Handful coriander – finely chopped, 5 tablespoons olive oil, Salt & pepper to taste


We used a large lidded saucepan because of the numbers involved but apparently this tastes even better cooked in a tagine. You could also use a casserole.

Bung ingredients 1-13 into the casserole/pot with the chicken at the bottom, bring to the boil, stirring after 20 minutes. This now needs to be left for about an hour.

Put prunes into a saucepan with the 7 cups of water, bring to the boil and leave for 40 minutes with the lid on. (If you’re using dried apricots, this should only need 20 minutes.)

Meanwhile, start preparing the salad. This literally involves chucking the prepared cucumber, tomato and onion into a bowl and chilling in the fridge.

While this is happening, enjoy a cold Fassi beer:

Or have a nice cup of tea and a sit down:

When the prunes are done, drain most of the liquid, leaving behind around 3 tablespoons of liquid.

Put the prunes and reserved liquid back into the saucepan along with the cinnamon, sugar and about half a cup of stock from the tagine over a moderate heat and stir until it comes to the boil.

Then leave it boiling with the lid on for about 10 minutes, leaving to one side once this is done.

To finish the salad, just add the chopped coriander and olive oil and season to taste.

Place the chicken on serving plates and spoon the prunes on top, Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with the salad and some hobz.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

High Tea at Fortum and Mason

For Dom's birthday a few months ago we took him for tea at Fortum and Mason. It's an odd thing to get a geezer for his birthday but believe me Dom was as happy as pig in shit. He's got a sense of duty with the right and proper way to do things. It's a shame that that sense of duty doesn't extend to way he shovels food into his mouth which is again similar to the pigs in shit then again I'm not really well placed to judge that one cos I enjoy a good shovel of food occasionally.

It's an odd place Fortnum and Mason, I always rationalise it as the place Harrods promises to be. What you imagine you'd find when your Mum tells you you are going to Harrods as a kid before you get there and realise it's an overpriced tat shop covered in gold plated Tutankhamen styled vomit. Fortnum and Mason however is proper. It sells proper stuff and it's all shiny and expensive.

We had Tea in the St James Restaurant on one of the upper floors. The Tea bit's all done up with nice sofas and tables and nice little cushions with either pictures of royal things or cats embroidered onto them. It's the model to which a high percentage of the front rooms in the country aspire to.

We all chose to have afternoon tea. We were going to get high tea originally because it sounded better but high tea is the one where you get a choice of scrambled eggs or welsh rarebit while afternoon tea is the proper one with the pretty little triangle sandwiches.

For £40 a head what you get is a a three tiered plate thing on which you have a plate of sandwiches that also has a little salmon terrine and a tiny bit of quiche. The next plate has scones, clotted cream and Jam. The third plate has two pastries from a selection that the ever obedient waiting staff bring over. You also get a pot of the most decentest tea ever chosen off of the tea menu and a glass of champagne.

The pretty triangle cut sandwiches had the crusts cut off and a uniform size and shape. You get a selection of fillings - cucumber and cream cheese, ham and mustard, egg salad and salmon paste. For the most part they were well made but the flavour was a bit dull apart from surprisingly the cucumber and cream cheese which stood out from the rest. Interestingly the cucumbers were incredibly thinly sliced.

We discovered while eating the sandwiches that they are bottomless like a Nandos soft drink and the waiting staff will continue to bring them out as long as your asking. It makes the £40 price a bit easier to bear.

The scones were as perfect as you would expect from Fortnum and Mason with the cream and jam as good as they can source.

With the pastries I chose to have a violet iced bit of sponge which tasted like a posh parma violet and a coconutty bakewell thing. The bakewell thing was not as good but still passable.

The tea I chose was a nice Assam. It's loose leaf and you get all the proper accoutrements like a tea strainer and a little silver ring to balance you tea strainer on when your not using it.

Although it's very expensive I highly recommend going and having tea at Fortnum and Mason or a similar establishment. It's a really great experience and I suppose being pampered and being somewhere elegant freshens you up somehow. If you do go please dress up smart as you don't want to ruin the experience for others. There were some US and Australian tourist when we went who hadn't made the effort and it can shatter the illusion.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Thailand: The Amazing Mocha Shake

They have a funny habit in the restaurants in Thailand of turning everything into a milkshake.I think they're convinced westerners can't resist them. You can get all kinds of UK , US and Australian chocolate bars made into shakes. The Snickers shake for example sounds good but it's full of peanut grit and tastes sickly sweet and rough.

They also call what we call smoothies shakes. They have no milk in them and are blended fruits. Some of these are very good as the fruit is always going to be fresh. I drank a few of these but then was introduced to the most amazing and beautiful of shakes; the mocha shake.

Now the mocha shake doesn't actually contain any real coffee. It's not an iced mocha like one of those things that Starbucks sell in the summer. I think it's a mixture of instant coffee, chocolate milkshake syrup or powder and a load of ice and cream. I may be wrong but I don't really want to know the ingredients as mysteries can enhance some things.

The best one I had was in a restaurant called Bamboo on Haad Yuan.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Thailand No Name vegetables

I went to Haad Yuan on the Island of Koh Phan Ngan in Thailand for two weeks earlier this month. Because of this I have neglected the blog and the quality has dipped without my involvement. I apologise and am going to post up some of the Thailand stuff to get the blog moving again.

I've eaten a lot of Thai food but had never been to Thailand before. One thing I've never come across outside of Thailand is No Name vegetables. They're balls of chopped vegetables battered and deep fried. They are called No Name apparently because they were made in times of poverty out of whatever scraps were around. They were never given a name because they were made out of necessity and no one expected them to appear on a menu in a restaurant.

They are quite close to Indian Bhajis without the Indian spices. In fact the ones I had didn't really have much spice at all. They were quite potatoey and served with the same sweet dip you get with spring rolls.

I didn't actually like them that much. They were ok but a bit too plain. The spring rolls were actually a better option if you wanted to snack on something a few hours before dinner time. Actually the spring rolls were particularly good. I don't normally like the ones you get in the UK because they have too many bean shoots. The ones in Thailand however had a perfect filling.

Sorry I've just realised I haven't got any photos of the spring rolls.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Tasty Tofu

Yes tofu really can be tasty, I promise! Tofu has a really bad reputation as being very difficult to cook but this just isn't true, once you know what you're doing it's easy. I get my tofu from Longdan, Lewis and Dom's much proclaimed favourite supermarket, as it's super cheap at only £1.30 for an enormous slab of the stuff.

The mistake that most people make with tofu is to just fry it off lightly in a bit of oil and then marinate it. Sealing it with oil just stops the flavour of any marinade being fully taken up by the tofu and renders it slightly tasteless.

Tofu is of course pretty bland as is but it's real beauty lies in it's high absorbency - it will just suck up any flavours you soak it in. To ensure that it absorbs as much flavour as possible what you need to do is to simply fry it off lightly in it's own water.

Cut the tofu into the desired sized cubes and fry on a medium heat using a spatula to squeeze out as much of the water as possible.

Once all your tofu pieces are a light golden colour you're ready to add the marinade.

I make mine with lots of soy sauce, the juice of a lime (use only half if you don't like too sharp a flavour), some spring onion, 3 or so finely chopped garlic cloves, as much chilli as you like, fresh is best but dried chilli will do if you have nothing else, a little grate of ginger and a fair amount of soft brown sugar to sweeten it up. Leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes and simply add to your stir fry a few minutes before it comes off the heat to warm through.

And there you have it tofu that even Lewis and Dom will eat happily!

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Fancy Fast Food

Found this via Boing Boing.

They take some fast food, McDonald's, Pizza Hut etc etc, take it to bits and then attempt to reconstruct the food into something altogether more luxurious and fancy.

It's all very clever but a burrito deconstructed and re made so it resembles tortellini is still going to taste like a burrito isn't it?

Friday, 3 July 2009

date milkshake at cafe clock

kind of milky, nutty, datey and cakey all in one. my new friday night beverage of choice at my new local of choice:

when joe gets back from the sahara, we're going to check out their famous camel burgers. according to conde nast traveller they're the best the world over.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Tomato and Chorizo Salad

Lewis called this a man salad, it certainly has lots of bold flavours going on.

Finely chop half a red onion, half a green chilli and a handful of flat leaf parsley.

Grab a packet of cherry tomatoes and half each of them and put this, the onions, chilli and parsley in a salad bowl.

Slice a chorizo into chunks a little smaller than the halved tomatoes and fry until they have released some of their orange fat, add the chorizo and the fat into the salad bowl, the fat makes up part of the dressing, add a splash of red wine vinegar, season with salt and pepper and give the lot a stir.

This goes best with lots of crusty bread, I reckon it would be great as a kind of rough relish in a burger too!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Layla’s Tuesday Cookery Class Part 1

Last night was the first of lovely Layla’s Tuesday cookery classes. For the bargain price of 40Dirhams (about £3/$5 for our American visitors) we got a step-by-step guide to making Moroccan couscous with chicken and vegetables at the ALIF villa and to eat the fruits of our (well, mostly Layla’s) labour. This is meant to be an idiot-proof guide to making it. We’ll see when I try to recreate it back home. Next week it’s tagine and after that, pastilla. Lush.

Enough for about 12 hungry people – divide quantities depending on how many you're feeding.


2 kilos skinless chicken joints

1 ½ kilos couscous

4 onions (halved then sliced lengthways)

2 tomatoes (quartered)

2 cups chickpeas (soaked overnight)

2 kilos potatoes

1 ½ kilos carrots

1 white cabbage

2 large green chillies (actually, I’d go for more so depending on how hot you like it – 2 was pretty mild, I reckon)

fistful each of coriander and parsley folded then tied into a bouquet garni

1 ½ tablespoons ground black pepper

2 tablespoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon saffron

½ cup vegetable oil

½ cup olive oil

2 heaped tablespoons salt


Hobtop pot/multi steamer. I reckon you could probably get away with using a large casserole and a bamboo steamer using some of the stock?


1. Chuck all the ingredients (except potatoes, carrots, cabbage and chillies) into the casserole/pot with c. 2 cups of water, bring to the boil and leave for c. 25 minutes with the lid on.

2. Meanwhile, peel potatoes and cut into man-sized chunks then cover with cold water to prevent from going brown.

3. Peel carrots and halve then quarter again lengthways into c. finger-sized pieces.

4. Keep an eye on the casserole/pot – it should be braising not sauteeing so add water if necessary.

5. To begin the couscous operation (it’s not like back home where you just chuck hot liquid on for a few minutes – this takes some more time and love!) pour cous cous into giant vat.

6. Add 3 cups of cold water and leave for about 7 minutes uncovered.

7. After 7 minutes, separate couscous with hands (like making breadcrumby pastry).

8. Put couscous into steamer section of hobtop multi-steamer thingy and put this over the meat and vegetables to steam for 15 minutes with the lid off.

9. Cut cabbage into eight pieces.

10. After 15 minutes put couscous into food vat.

11. Keeping the heat high, add the carrots, potatoes, cabbage and whole chillies to the casserole/pot, add enough water to cover, replace lid. There’s about another hour to go at this stage.

12. Now add about 10-12 cups of water to the couscous and leave for 5 minutes.

13. Stir/fluff couscous.

14. Add ½ cup sunflower oil.

15. Add 1 tablespoon salt and stir well for c. 1 minute.

16. When casserole returns to the boil, put ½ the cous cous back into the steamer thingy over casserole again.

17. Careful – liquid can’t reach the couscous so ladle some out if necessary but save any stock you remove.

18. Have a nice cup of tea and a sit down.

19. After about 15 minutes, swap steaming couscous for the half left over.

20. After about another 15 minutes, take couscous off the heat and mix with earlier batch.

21. Add the reserved stock to the casserole/pot, taste and season to taste if necessary then leave it to do its thing for about another 20 minutes.

22. Have another sit down while the kitchen fairy washes up and lays the table.

To serve

1. Put couscous onto large platters.

2. Serve casserole on couscous with chillies on top.

3. Ladle over some of the broth leaving some aside to serve.

4. Serve onto plates or do it the communal Moroccan way and just dig in with only your right hands if you’ve got the knack!