Sunday, 31 July 2016

cookbook review: a month in marrakesh

A Month in Marrakesh: A Food Journey to the Heart of Morocco.

Another installment in my "neglected cookbook series"! This time around, I explore A Month in Marrakesh, a fun cookbook that takes you on a tour of Marrakesh.

As an indolent cook, one thing I really like about A Month in Marrakesh: A Food Journey to the Heart of Morocco, is that it has an abundance of simple recipes. There are also more complicated or time-consuming ones for the more diligent cooks, and I enjoy their inclusion, too - the pictures and recipes are still interesting to look at, and who knows? Maybe one day I will be up for the challenge! I also appreciate the sturdy, hardcover construction of the book. I'm not the daintiest person in the world, so fragile books are a bit scary for me. This one feels reassuringly solid.

If I am to mention downsides, it would be that the layout can appear slightly messy at times, and the easier recipes are narrated paragraph-style, in which the ingredients are not outlined in a list but are incorporated into the instructions. Some people may not regard this as a problem, but I personally find it easier to make shopping lists and prepare stuff when the ingredients are all tidy and structured. Thankfully, for the recipes with more steps and ingredients, it is still done the way I prefer.

Flipping through the cookbook, the recipe for harira soup caught my eye. Even though it calls for more than a dozen ingredients (if you're familiar with the recipes I develop myself, you know I have a penchant for very brief ingredient requirements), I found it to be pleasingly accessible. This is wonderful, nourishing comfort food - lamb, chickpeas, onions and carrots in a stew of tomatoes, fabulously flavoured with lush tablespoons of spices - paprika, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon. The suggestion in the book is to pair this harira soup with flatbread, but I had it with couscous and it was also lovely. I was so charmed that I made it again soon after my first go, and then, yet again. Definitely regular dinner repertoire material.

Harira soup.

I got lazy for a while, so it took me some time to try another recipe from A Month in Marrakesh, but I finally did, and made the stuffed dates from the dessert section. This is a super straightforward recipe, and the stuffed dates make superb snacks - great for gatherings and parties! Though, in my case, I ate them all by myself, one after another, while watching Four Weddings and a Funeral. That also works.

Basically, you get some dates, make an incision, remove the seeds, and pack in a cooked paste of ground almonds, lemon zest, sugar, water, butter and rose water. I didn't have rose water and didn't want to buy a bottle just to make these, so I used a splash of lemon juice instead - which I know is totally different, but hey, I often love a sharp zing of citrus in my desserts, and it definitely delivered here. I will admit that I was a bit apprehensive when I tasted the almond meal concoction on its own - it was edible, but not quite delectable, as far as I was concerned. But somehow, once the almond paste is married to the dates, some kind of synergistic effect takes hold, and I found these stuffed dates to be rather addictive! So, yeah, I like them enough that I think I will probably make them again. Next time, though, it will be to share with other people, not to devour all on my own!

Stuffed dates.

Anyway, that's my review for A Month in Marrakesh. I am happy with the two recipes I've tried, and hopefully I won't neglect this book too much in the years to come - based on my experience so far, I think it's safe to say that there is yet more deliciousness to discover amongst these pages.

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Tuesday, 12 July 2016

2016 gardening update - tomatoes, radishes, lettuce, and more!

Home-grown tomatoes!

So, earlier this year, I said to myself (and to all of you, too) that I'd pursue this gardening thing.

I am happy to report that I did spend quite a bit of time in the garden this year, and it did yield me some lovely edible things in return for my efforts. Hurrah!

Let's start with the tomatoes. I had some plump and delectable medium-sized tomatoes that grew from compost (in the above picture), and also some sweet and juicy cherry tomatoes from the plants that were purchased from the shops (below).

Bite-sized cherry tomatoes.

My first harvest was delightful. I never knew that freshly picked tomatoes could be so aromatic - when I sliced up those bigger ones, the savoury scent of tomato was a revelation. Amazing. Speaking of which, I was also very fond of the scent of tomato leaves, which is similar. How would I describe it - it's like the taste of tomato, but for your nose. Just glorious.

Unfortunately, a brutal heat wave followed soon after, and then, autumn came along. I did manage to get a few more tomatoes after the initial batch, but they weren't as tasty, due to the weather conditions.

But I will always have the memory of that first harvest.

My first tomato harvest! It was so, so good.

I also sowed radish seeds. It was exciting to see the seedlings pop up soon afterwards!

Cherry Belle radish seedling.

And then to watch them grow...

Young radish plant.

While the seed packet suggested that my radishes (of the Cherry Belle variety) would be ready for harvest in 3 - 4 weeks, I found that if I left them in for a bit longer, they did get more voluptuous. In my case, they were still quite slender after a month, as seen in this picture - perhaps the growing conditions weren't optimal? But delicious nevertheless. And I ate the radish leaves, too - they're quite bitter raw, but once you cook them, they're quite mild and pleasant!

Also, there was a rat stealing my tomatoes and radishes at one point! I learned very quickly I had to pick the fruit as soon as they are just ripe, before the thief got to it - or to be even safer, cover up my plants! Such are the trials and tribulations of being a gardener.

A small Cherry Belle radish about 3 - 4 weeks after sowing the seeds.

Some cucumber seedlings also started emerging enthusiastically in late summer, but by the time they flowered, it was autumn, so I think the timing was too late - I never got any fruit out of them. However, did you know that you can eat cucumber leaves - which actually taste a lot like cucumber? I picked some of the younger cucumber leaves, sliced them up, wilted them in a noodle stir-fry - and I loved it! So much so that I'd be happy to grow cucumber again, even if it's only for the leaves!

Young cucumber plant.

And I scattered lettuce seeds into the garden, too, and this produced a mix of green and red lettuce. I watered them diligently, and they rewarded me by getting bigger and bigger. Annoyingly, however, keeping the soil nice and moist meant that oxalis weeds (seen here - the ones that look like clover) thrived as well. The good news is, oxalis is edible. The bad news is, they're very high in oxalic acid, and therefore can only be consumed in tiny quantities before you venture into potentially hazardous territory. The ugly news is, they're very persistent and will take over the garden any chance they get!

My lettuce patch!

Then there is what we call rocket here in Australia, otherwise known as arugula in America. If you like rocket, I highly recommend that you give growing it a go. I found them to be easy - once you nurture the plants past the youthful stages, they flourish with gusto, and seem pretty hardy and resilient. I really enjoyed picking the rocket leaves every so often, and using them in my various culinary endeavours.

Salad rocket, also known as arugula. The scientific name is eruca sativa.

Last but not least - there are always little surprises here and there when tending to a garden. I had a couple of unknown plants pop up after some rainy days in autumn - aren't the blossoms pretty? If any of you can identify either of these plants, please feel free to do so in the comments!

Unknown plant with purple flower in Perth, Australia.

Unknown plant with pink flower in Perth, Western Australia.

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