I’ve been to tons of bars in my life. Too many to count, in fact. Hmm, that sounds bad. But hey, it’s all part of the job, right?! We’ll go with that. As you probably know, there are some truly amazing bars here in the Bay Area. However, a select few hold a special place in my booze-filled heart. One of these is Alembic. There are so many reasons to love Alembic; too many to discuss in today’s post. Let’s focus on one: the Southern Exposure. This was one of my first, and still the best, experiences with vegetable juice in a cocktail. When I’m anywhere in the Haight (Alembic’s neighborhood) this cocktail singlehandedly lures me into the bar. It’s that good. But don’t just take my word for it . . . dust off your shaker and get to work!
As you know, there are about ten million reasons to love Tracy Benjamin of Shutterbean. However, reason number one in my book (because I have a book . . . of reasons) is that when I asked her where she wanted to meet-up, her answer was, “How about a distillery!?” Not just any distillery mind you, but St. George Spirits. Before Tracy could reconsider her hasty decision, tickets were booked for a tasting and distillery tour. Buahahaha!! If you haven’t been to St. George, stop what you’re doing right now and book a tour. If you’re coming from across the bay in San Francisco you can even make a day out of it – hop on the ferry and drift over to Alameda. Perhaps you could bring bikes and cruise around the island, if you’re so athletically inclined. Maybe it happens to be the 1st Sunday of the month, and you can hunt for bargains at the Alameda Antiques Faire (like Tracy and I) which by the way, is right next door to St. George. Just a thought. On our tour, our guide discussed in detail the spirit-making process – all while huddled amongst barrels and barrels of booze (and a shark!). After the tour is a tasting, where you get to sample a little bit of everything. And St. George really makes everything. There’s Hangar One vodka, Terroir gin, Breaking & Entering Bourbon, Absinthe, and that’s just to name a few! Of course, I had to pick out a few bottles to take home with me to keep the party going. I highly suggest you do the same.
Little known fact: I was this close to enrolling in culinary school. Yep, I was all set to send in the paperwork. Ultimately, my dreams of becoming a chef were dashed by the thought of tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. In the end, I think I made the right choice given my situation – tending bar meant money coming IN, and not out of the bank. Not to mention, it got me started on my current boozy career path. All that said, deep down I still geek out when I get the chance to witness a chef work their magic. Whenever Karen’s up here in the Bay it’s such a treat to watch her work. This time instead of Karen, chef Zouhair Karam graced us with his presence, and shared his quick and easy chicken tagine recipe. Currently, chef Karam is running a Moroccan pop-up on Friday nights at Guerrilla Cafe in Berkeley. Tagines make frequent appearances on the menu. A tagine is a natural clay pot native to North Africa, used for all sorts of amazing slow-cooked dishes. Basically it’s one of the best cooking tools ever, as it does all the work for you. I should say that tagine dishes can vary quite a bit, but likely some combo of meat, chicken, fish, veggies, herbs, spices, and even fruit and nuts. Here, we kept it quick and simple with chicken.
All the work for this dish is in the prep. Gather and prepare all your ingredients ahead of time: marinate the chicken; peel and slice the potatoes; peel the tomato; dice the onion; slice the garlic; chop the parsley and mince the ginger. Once everything is prepped, you’re good to go. Forgive me, as some of the ingredients you see below are not in the tagine, but for the roasted pepper salad that chef Karam made for us (pictured here) another traditional Moroccan dish.
I’ve mentioned before how tea has always played a special role here at our house. My wife’s family is from England, and a cup of English breakfast tea with a little milk and sugar is a daily staple. I’ve grown to appreciate the rituals of making British tea, like using a proper porcelain cup, allowing your water to come to a full roaring boil, and knowing the perfect amount of time to let the tea steep. Basically . . . tea is important. But this tea, this tea is on a whole different level. Forget cocktails, forget coffee, Moroccan mint tea is my new jam. After our delicious lunch with chef Karam and Project Bly, we all shared a pot of tea. I was super giddy because while I’ve heard a lot about Moroccan mint tea, I had yet to enjoy a cup of my own. Let’s just say I did my happy dance – or was that just my sugar high? Seriously, I can’t get enough of this tea. It’s minty, refreshing, cleansing, and oh so sweet. Simply put, it just makes me happy.
A couple quick things to note about Moroccan mint tea. First, the tools. The Moroccan teapot, or berrad, is not only beautiful, but the perfect shape for delivering the long pour you’ll need for your tea. Moroccan tea glasses are generally small, handleless, and often colorful. Next, the process. Crafting the perfect cup of Moroccan tea is a special process. You cannot rush. You cannot cut corners. And no, a microwave is not involved. I tried to be as clear as possible, as it can be a bit confusing at first. Pay close attention to these steps, and I think you’ll do just fine. Also, if you’re more of an audio/visual learner, I recommend checking out Cooking with Alia and Tastemade for some great videos of the process.
Although it’s at the very top of my travel wish list, I have never been to Morocco. Neither has Karen nor Todd. So we were beyond excited when our friends at Project Bly brought Morocco to us last week. If you’re not familiar with this oh so inspiring online destination and you are as consumed by wanderlust as we are, I would seriously consider bookmarking their site immediately! The team at Project Bly travels the world, searching for the world’s best markets and most far flung artisans, to curate rotating collections of objects, textiles, art and jewelry – all while allowing us to live vicariously through their journeys in the form of photography and video. Back to our Moroccan feast. Moroccan chef Zouhair Karam put together a delightful spread of chicken tagine, salad, and mint tea to be enjoyed with sweets, dried fruits and nuts. Berber rugs, silver tea trays, bread baskets, vintage tea pots, tea glasses and tadelakt bowls were laid out beautifully. For an brief but lasting moment, we were all transported to Marrakech. And it was lovely. Stay tuned for some Moroccan inspired recipes coming to you this week!
Fruit! Summer’s here (and for others, right around the corner) and that means feasting on my favorite fruits, like watermelon, mangos and pineapples. Straight and unadulterated fruit is fantastic, but check out these recipes that take fruit to a whole new level. Like this balsamic melon salad by The First Mess. Someone get me a fork!