Jamaica, here we come

Jamaican rumResearch and planning are well under way for our lunch in Jamaica. This is going to be very exciting because Karma, Rob, Lili and Eden will be here. The Aussie branch of the family is so excited – they’ll be here for five weeks, so we’ll have lots of opportunities for baby cuddles with Eden (who is eight months old) and playing with Lili, who is two and a half. Karma chose Jamaica for March, and Rob has chosen Portugal for April.

As is becoming the custom, when planning for our culinary virtual tours, my mind turned to what alcohol we should have. OK, it’s Jamaica. It’s a given. We’ll have rum. And off we go to Uncle Dan’s in Ringwood to check out their stocks. James was amazingly well versed about what was worth getting and what was not. I ended up with a bottle of Appleton Estate Signature blend rum. Given that we’ll have five adults at this lunch, I’m sure there will be another visit to Uncle Dan’s.

So, some interesting facts about Jamaica?

  • Jamaica is one of only two countries in the world that does not have red, blue or white in its flag. Do you know what the other country is?
  • There are hardly any snakes in Jamaica (mongoose were introduced to kill the rats in the cane fields, and after the mongoose took care of the rats, they turned their attention to the snakes). The ones that are there are not venomous (unlike Downunder!)
  • Ian Fleming wrote ten of his James Bond novels in Jamaica. He designed his dream home, had it built in Jamaica, and called it Goldeneye.
  • Jamaica was the first country in the world to impose economic sanctions against the apartheid regime of South Africa.
  • Jamaica has made significant contributions to two of the most important things that make the world go round – music and sport. We love you, Bob Marley. We love you, Usain Bolt.
  • The movie Cool runnings is not an accurate  depiction of Jamaica’s entry in the 1988 Winter Olympics. In fact, after reading the real story, the movie is rather cringe-worthy.

 

 

 

 

 

Moroccan delights

Oh, Morocco. How you amazed us with your flavours, your subtlety, your variety!

Our lunch in Morocco was wonderful. On another perfect Melbourne summer’s day, we decided to eat outside under the shade of the neighbour’s trees.

I was worried during the menu planning stage that it would all taste the same. Every savoury dish seemed to have dried cumin and coriander in it and fresh coriander and parsley on it (as a garnish). But I should have known that I could trust centuries of Moroccan cooks – every dish was deliciously different, and each complemented the other perfectly.

I would never order soup in a restaurant, but decided to make Harira (lamb and chickpea soup) as a mark of respect to Islam. According to my recipe book, harira is served to break the fast during Ramadan. It was the most hearty, delicious soup I have ever eaten, and will most certainly go into my list of favourite recipes. I suspect that harira is a bit like spag bol, in that there are many different variations – all of them good, but all of them subtly different. The version we tried could not be improved, I’m sure. It was simply wonderful.

Another recipe to keep is beyssara, which is broad bean dip. Except that it needs dried broad beans, and I left it far too late to source non-traditional foods like dried broad beans! I used canned butter beans instead, but the result was delicious. Maybe even better than homemade hommous.

And the filled savoury pancakes! Homemade pastry filled with savoury minced beef then rolled and fried. So very yummy!

The slow-roasted lamb with cumin was easily one of the best roast lamb dishes I’ve had. It was even better than the slow-roasted lamb shoulder at Cumulus Inc. And if you’ve ever had the slow-roasted lamb shoulder at Cumulus Inc, you will understand what a big call that is. It was impossible to stop picking at it.

And if you try nothing else from these pages, try this. Cut the skin and rind off a chunk of watermelon, cut the flesh into 2 cm cubes, put them into a bowl, sprinkle with rosewater, refrigerate for one hour, then sprinkle with chopped mint before serving. This is seriously pimped-up watermelon, and it was even more impossible to stop picking at than the lamb was. In fact, we didn’t stop picking at it, and managed to eat half a watermelon between us.

And the mint tea at the end of our feast settled our stomachs nicely, just as it is supposed to do.

It was so very hard to pick a favourite out of this menu.

I had said that Chile would be a hard act to to follow. Move over, Chile – Morocco is now the benchmark.

And next month, it’s off to Jamaica. The land of Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, jerk chicken, reggae music. Planning starts next week. Watch this space …

The descent into Morocco begins

Fasten your seatbelts and stow your tray tables away, we’re commencing our descent into Morocco!

My friend Viv (who is also Will’s mum) gave Lauren a Moroccan recipe book for Christmas, so I have dipped heavily into that for our lunch in Morocco. My first pass through gave me 18 recipes to try, and given that Liam and Lani are unlikely to try any of it and Elysia will be very hesitant, it leaves three big people to eat 18 lots of food. Ummm, that just ain’t gunna work.

So, after some heavy culling I got it down to 12, and will make half, and even quarter, quantities. My workmate, Jess, doesn’t think I understand the meaning of the word “cull”, but some very difficult decisions were made – it was hard work, Jess!

This is what our menu looks like:

  • Broad bean dip
  • Warm olives with lemon and herbs
  • Fried pastries with seafood
  • Filled savoury pancakes
  • Lamb and chickpea soup
  • Slow roasted lamb with cumin
  • Spicy prawns
  • Fried potato cakes
  • Beetroot and cumin salad
  • Tomato and preserved lemon salad
  • Watermelon with rosewater and mint
  • And, of course,  mint tea. It’s not a visit to Morocco without mint tea.

And maybe hot dogs for the kids, which I will serve on some of the blue platters I bought when I was in Morocco. Which will make them Moroccan hotdogs. Easy peasy!

Looking later through the menu, I realised that I had left off those two most Moroccan of foods – tagine and couscous. The tagine I have is rather big, so I might have to leave it out for this time. Although maybe I could serve some of the food in the tagine. And I bought some couscous – just in case we’re still hungry.

The Morocco fact sheet and place mat are attached. I wonder what questions Quizmaster Will will come up with.

morocco-factsheet

place-mat-morocco

OK. Now’s its off to the supermarket, then hitting the kitchen for lunch in Morocco on Sunday.

wadaeaan al’an

(my translate app tells me that that means “goodbye for now” but I guess it could mean anything)

 

 

 

 

 

Morocco, here we come

It’s February 2017. That means Morocco.

map_morocco

djemaa-el-fna-05
Djemaa el-fna at night – the best time to visit

I have been extremely lucky to have been to Morocco twice.  In August 2009, Karma, Lauren, Will, Liam and I had a few days in Marrakech. Truly, if there is one place to visit before you die, it has to be Marrakech. Djemaa el-fna is the most wonderful souk imaginable, and is all noise, colour, action, smells – everything that stimulates the senses. Beware the water sellers though (see below).

 

In March 2009, I went on a 10-day tour of Morocco. It is the most amazing country, and every moment there was a lesson in life. I’m afraid I let myself be disappointed in Casablanca – maybe I expected Humphrey Bogart to be at the airport, gaze in to my eyes and say “here’s looking at you, kid”. But, of course, that was never going to happen.

hassan-ii-mosqueCasablanca is the home of the fabulous Hussein II mosque, which according to Wikipedia (and we know that Wikipedia never lies) has the tallest minaret in the world, at 210 metres. It is an extraordinarily beautiful building, but its beauty creates a stark contrast to the rest of Casablanca.

And Fez. Don’t forget Fez. Fez is the home of the one of the largest medinas in the world, apparently it is listed as a World Heritage Site. Like Marrakech’s Djemaa El-fna, it is a wonderful assault on the senses. A visit to the tannery at Fez is another Moroccan must, although I’m sure it smells worse than Labyrinth’s Bog of Eternal Stench (I miss you, David Bowie!). They give you bunches of mint to sniff when you go in, but it is entirely ineffective – that’s how bad it is.

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The tannery at Fez – worse than the Bog of Eternal Stench

And so to the water sellers.

We were warned about how pushy the various tourist touts in Morocco would be. But the water sellers at the Djemaa El-fna take the cake in my experience. We were warned to always negotiate a price before taking photos of tourist touts, and ten dirham was the standard and, at about A$1, it wasn’t going to break any banks.

I asked a water seller if I could take his photo. No problems, that’ll be ten dirham. So then he called some of his mates over and said he would use my camera to take a photo of me with them. If I wasn’t so naïve, I would have heard the alarm bells then. The photo was duly taken, and I asked for my camera back. But, suddenly, the cost had gone up to 100 dirham. When I said that we had agreed on ten dirham, the water seller (the one in the middle in the photo below) reminded me that he had my camera. Ten Australian dollars later, I had my camera back.

To be fair though, I did see the water sellers giving money to the beggars in the souk, so they were prepared to spread their income around. I understand that giving alms to the poor is one of the five pillars of Islam, so I didn’t mind too much that my $10 was used in a respectful way. And they have a living to make as well. I never let any tourist touts go near my camera after that, though.

water-sellers-01
Marrakech water sellers – a photo with a back story!

Chilean delights

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The table set and ready to go

What a great choice Chile was for our first international lunch! The table looked incredible, and we hopped into the food with great gusto.

I was able to do a fair bit of preparation on Saturday afternoon, which left us with the easier recipes to finish off on Sunday morning. Elysia did a great job at alternately constructing the Torta De Hojas and photographing the food – all the photos on this page are thanks to her!

Lauren and I liked the Avocado Shrimp Ceviche best, but the Chapaleles were a hit as well. And how can Chapaleles not be a hit – pan-fried mashed potato with blitzed pork crackling is always going to be a winner. The pork emapandas were also great, and definitely worth cooking another time, but the Leche Asada was a little too eggy for our palates. The pisco sours were as good as they were last week, except that I’m sure they were even stronger!

Lauren and Will called into Dan Murphy‘s on the way and bought some Chilean wine, which we can highly recommend.

Our factsheet is attached below. Will was the quizmaster and, true to form, devised some fairly obscure questions. Questions like “Which world leader would be most welcome in Chile?” You have to study the factsheet and think outside the box to get the answer to that one.

chile-factsheet

Check out the photos below. Thanks Elysia for taking them!

Chile will indeed be a very hard act to follow.

But now it’s adios to Chile and ssalamū ‘lekum to Morocco.

 

Planning for a wonderful world of Chilean food

So, now it’s up to menu planning.

With thanks to the good folk at All recipes for their inspiration, we are going to sample the following at our Chilean lunch on Sunday:

  • Chapaleles
  • Pork empanadas
  • Avocado shrimp ceviche-estillo sarita
  • Gambas pil pil
  • Spanish rice
  • Leche asada
  • Torta de hojas
  • Pisco sour (lots of)
The bottle of pisco poses in front of the lemon tree
Pisco, flags and a lemon tree

I had been told by a work colleague (hello, Martin) that Pisco Sour is one of the best drinks on the planet, so we did a trial run yesterday. Oh my goodness. Martin has not set us wrong! The first mouthful made my face screw up (which, in all honesty, could be considered an improvement), but it was soooo refreshing. Especially on a hot summer evening. Who’d have thought that some pisco, lemon juice, sugar and ice could be so delicious?

Ingredients were not that hard to source. We got pisco from Uncle Dan’s (aka Dan Murphy). Hasa marina caused me some angst, but a visit to USA Foods in Moorabbin kind of fixed that – will harina de maiz be OK for the empanadas? Let’s hope so. Chicharrones also caused some angst until a chance visit to a local Chinese grocer  found fried pork rinds.

Cooking will begin in earnest on Saturday.

Joy made place-mats for lunch in Chile
Joy’s place-mat for lunch in Chile

And table decorations. Master Eight and Miss Four have made Chile flag picks, and I have designed place mats. Now to finish off the factsheet for the quiz, with the disclaimer that I am only going to pull facts off the internet as I find them – I am not going to verify any of them. Especially the quirky ones.

A closer inspection of the pisco label reveals that it is 40.5% proof. Holy moly. No wonder we loved it!

And now I’m off to prepare another Pisco Sour.

So, where to start?

looking-through_05Having decided to do a virtual culinary tour of the world, the first question was “where to start”.

By a very technical process, which involved catching a 50 cm inflatable world globe and choosing the country that was under my right index finger, Chile is the first country in our virtual tour.

Apart from tasting the food of the country, I also want this to be a learning experience for my grandchildren. The Aussie ones are 14, 8 and 4, and the English ones are 2 and under 1. Most of the time only the Aussie grandies will be part of this adventure, but the English ones will be in Melbourne in March and April (they might not learn much, but they’ll taste a lot).

So, apart from researching the food, I will also make up fact sheets and we can have a little quiz at the end of our meal.

Chile sounds amazing. I didn’t know that it had the driest desert in the world (the Atacama Desert). Or that it has the oldest mummies in the world. Or that it is the world’s fifth largest exporter of wine.  Or that evidence of potato consumption goes back 14,000 years. Master 8-years-old was very pleased to learn that soccer is the most popular sport, and Miss 4-years-old was happy to learn that the Chilean flag has the same colours as the Australian flag (which are not all that unique as far as flag colours go, but hey-ho).

The next step is to research what food we will cook and eat for our lunch on Sunday 29 January. Pisco sour will definitely be on the menu. Any other suggestions are welcome.

Adios for now