Cafe Mogador

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Cafe Mogador IMG_0761

Category: Moroccan
Neighborhoods: East Village, Alphabet City

Address: 101 St Marks Pl
New York, NY 10009

Phone: (212) 677-2226

5/5 stars

My family and I tried this restaurant last night. I was really excited to have Moroccan cuisine since I can’t really get it around my area. We made 7pm reservations but weren’t able to arrive until 7:30pm due to traffic. When we called, they said they couldn’t save the table but would prioritize us in getting a table. However, I guess it wasn’t too too busy and they still had the table opened up. The service was really fast, but not too fast which was nice.
The atmosphere was nice. The section we were in was a breezeway type area, which was neat, but as it became darker outside, the room was increasingly dark, making it too dark and hard to see each other and what we were eating. Additionally, the noise level wasn’t too bad, loud, but so that we didn’t have to really raise our voices too much to hear each other. Our waiter was nice and helpful, but the bus boy tried to take a couple dishes away that we were not finished with, without asking us first.
Now on to the food!
To begin, we ordered an appetizer of hummus and a salad with whole but separated romaine leaves, radish slivers, shaved parmesan cheese, and a mustard lemon vinaigrette. The hummus came with warmed pita flatbread that was spread with a bit of olive oil. The bread had a delicious flavor and airy texture, separating into 2 layers and had the perfect amount of olive oil. The hummus was of excellent quality, light, fresh, and lemony with notes of paprika and cumin. The salad was simple and the vinaigrette, which we had on the side had a strong mustard flavor, complimenting the salad well. My only criticism is that it was a little too small! (Especially since we shared it among the 3 of us and it was $8.
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For entrees, we ordered the special tagine, which was halibut in spiced tomato broth with some root vegetables, the casablanca tagine with lamb, and the grilled chicken kebab.
The halibut was tender and flavorful, but the broth was a bit too bland for my taste. Tasted like tomato and hot pepper.
The casablanca tagine was a stew with caramelized onions, chickpeas, and raisins with a lamb shank in it. The lamb was tender and flavorful, falling right off the bone. The stew was very flavorful, lending a fruity type richness, and when combined with the cous cous that was served on a plate on the side, the whole dish came together as a winner! Alone, the cous cous was very flavorful, seasoned well with spices and herbs, and not too salty at all.
The chicken was also superb! Charred on the grill just a bit with a fairly tender texture, it was very flavorful. It was also great when combined with the tzatziki sauce served on the side. The skewer of grilled peppers and cherry tomatoes was also very good. The rice was very well seasoned with herbs and not too salty. This also came with a cucumber, tomato herb salad that was delicious, fresh, crisp, and didn’t leave you with an oily mouth.
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Even though there were a few criticisms I had, I’m giving this place 5 stars because the food, which for me is the most important element, outshined any other criticism I had regarding the service or ambiance.

Nova Mediterranean Grill

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Nova Mediterranean Grill 

Category: Mediterranean

Address: 815 East Lancaster Ave
Villanova, PA 19085

Phone: (610) 525-4745

1/5 stars

I was really disappointed with Nova Grill after having dinner there tonight and will most likely will not return. I had much higher expectations since it was so highly rated on yelp.
I ordered the chicken kebab platter. There were about 6 small cubes of grilled chicken breast on a stick. When I went to remove them, the cubes fell apart and when I tasted them, the chicken was extremely dry and overcooked and not very flavorful at all. The tomato cucumber salad was very fair, kind of watery, and some bites actually tasted like rotten tomatoes. I definitely would not agree that all their ingredients are fresh. The rice pilaf was fair, it had some flavor, but had dry texture and had that old taste to it. I chose the multi-grain pita bread, which they obviously do not make in-house since it was pulled out of bags labeled gyro pita bread. I actually enjoyed the flavor of this bread and it was nice and soft, but when heated, they burnt some of the bread.
I also chose the tzatziki sauce which basically just tasted like really thick yogurt.
My friend enjoyed his dinner though, a chicken gyro, but had mostly the same impression when he tried mine.
Maybe other dishes here are decent, but unfortunately, this experience does not make me want to come back even to try other things.

Kanella

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Kanella 

Category: Greek
Neighborhood: Washington Square West

Address: 1001 Spruce St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Phone: (215) 922-1773

3/5 stars

Truthfully, I thought the food was going to be better because of all the raving reviews from people and Philly Magazine.
My friend and I ordered the Halloumi Saganaki as an appetizer. I found the cheese to be a bit dry and the salad (which was essentially parsley, mint, and tomato with 3 pieces of fig) was drenched in oil and mostly tasted like parsley.
We also shared the Grilled lamb kofta. The texture was moist, but the different ingredients in the kofta (pistachios, apricot, and different spices) were hidden behind a ton of salt. The lamb would have been very good if it just had enough salt to bring out the flavors of the meat and other ingredients. I did enjoy the pickled okra, but thought the lentil tabuleh was also very oily as well as the flatbread it was served on. The yogurt also tasted like sour cream. It definitely helped to make a sandwich out of the ingredients and in this way the yogurt mellowed out the saltiness of the meat.
I also thought the dishes were definitely overpriced for the portion size.
The service was fine. And we ate outside under a canopy in the rain which worked out except that we could smell the sewer several feet away.
All in all, it was alright but I probably would not return and find other Greek restaurants that don’t drench their food in oil and salt.
              Halloumi Saganaki
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Focaccia Bread

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This bread has been on my bucket list for a while. So I decided it was time to knock it off! A bread that I have had in restaurants occasionally, I learned it can be really good or just gross.

Reading through the long recipe multiple times in my Bread Baker’s Apprentice book, I kept changing my mind about whether or not to attempt this bread. I have gained a sense of trust with this book now that I have made multiple breads from it, but the amount of oil in the recipe was a bit scary. Other recipes I looked at for focaccia did not use as much oil, but also did not seem to be as complicated in order to develop that impeccable flavor coming from long fermentations.

Still much in doubt, I pushed myself to make this 2-day bread. There were two versions to choose from, yet another decision! That was an easier one though since they both promised the same result, so I selected the poolish version.

*If you’re wondering what the reddish, brown things are on the left side of the focaccia, they’re sun-dried tomatoes :)

I did run into a few dilemmas. For instance, I realized 3/4 of the way through making it that I didn’t have the right pan. The closest pan that approached the required size pan was a baking sheet, which would have worked, except it doesn’t have sides. So, the dough expanded beyond the pan and the herb oil leaked out of the pan, on to the counter and began to drip onto the floor. Trying to create a boundary, I used more plastic wrap and towels to secure the oil/bread inside the pan while it finished fermenting. Fortunately, my mom saved the day by picking up the right-sized pan while she was at the market. :)

I also adjusted the oil by a lot in the herb oil topping and the extra oil to spread in the pan.

Despite having to let the dough rise longer and be transferred to a different pan pretty late in the game, this bread turned out beautifully and was delicious!! Even people who didn’t care for focaccia bread loved it! It lent an airy, light, chewy crumb and an amazing flavor complimented by the herb oil on top!

Here is the recipe with my tweaks if you would like to give it a try!

Poolish Focaccia

Yield: one 17 by 12 inch focaccia

Day 1: Poolish- makes about 23 oz 

2 1/2 cups (11.25 oz) unbleached bread flour

1 1/2 cups (12 oz) water, at room temperature

1/4 tsp instant yeast

1. Stir together flour, water and yeast in a mixing bowl until combined. The dough should be soft and sticky and look like thick pancake batter. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours, or until mixture becomes bubbly and foamy. Immediately refrigerate it. It will keep up to 3 days in fridge.

Day 2: Focaccia 

3 cups (20 oz) poolish- a little less than above recipe makes

2 2/3 cups (12 oz) bread flour

2 tsp (.5 oz) salt

1 1/2 tsp instant yeast

6 TBP olive oil

3/4 cup water, lukewarm (90 to 100 degrees F)

Directions:

1. Remove poolish from fridge 1 hour before making dough to take off chill.

2. Stir together flour, salt, and yeast in a 4-quart mixing bowl (or in bowl of electric mixer). Add oil, poolish, and water, and mix until ingredients form a wet, sticky ball (or mix on low speed with paddle attachment). I used an electric mixer so I will post instructions for this method instead of hand method. Switch to dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5-7 minutes or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. It should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom. You may use additional flour to firm it up to achieve a soft, pliable consistency. The dough should still be sticky but not unmanageable.

3. Sprinkle enough flour on counter to make a bed about 6 inches square. Transfer sticky dough to flour bed and dust liberally with flour, patting dough into a rectangle. Wait 5 minutes for dough to relax.

4. Coat hands with flour and stretch dough from each end to twice its size and fold it letter style, over itself to return it to a rectangular shape. Mist top of dough with spray oil, dust with flour and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let rest 30 minutes.

5. Repeat this stretch, fold, mist, dust and cover process. Let rest 30 more minutes.

6. Repeat one last time. Then allow dough to rest (ferment) on counter for 1 hour. It should swell but not necessarily double in size.

During this time, you can make the herb oil. Heat 1/2 cup olive oil to about 100 degrees F. Take off heat and add 1/4 cup fresh herbs (can include any combination you would like); I used lemon basil and rosemary. You could also add half the amount of dried herbs or a combination. Then add 1/3 tsp kosher salt, 1/6 tsp ground pepper, and 1 clove of pressed garlic.

7. Line a 17 by 12 inch sheet pan (with edges) with parchment paper. Drizzle on about 2 TBP olive oil (not herb oil) and spread it with hands to cover surface. Transfer dough to pan. Spoon a little less than 1/2 the herb oil over dough. (Leftover herb oil can be stored in the fridge for other uses; great to dip bread in.) Then use fingertips to dimple the dough and spread it to fill pan simultaneously. Try to keep thickness as uniform as possible. You can pull the ends to stretch a bit, but don’t worry about it too much because it will expand to edges of pan as it rises in the next step.

8. Loosely cover pan with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for about 2 hours or until dough fills the pan.

9. After the dough has filled the pan, put on any pre-bake toppings such as sun-dried tomatoes (which I used on half of my bread). You can also use high moisture cheeses (fresh mozzarella, blue cheese, or feta cheese), course salt, or sugar. Let dough relax for 15-30 minutes to build gas in dough back up.

10. Preheat oven to 500 degrees with rack on middle shelf. Place pan in oven and lower temp to 450 degrees. Bake for 10 minutes, rotate and continue baking for 5-10 minutes more or until dough turns a light golden brown. The internal temp should be about 200 degrees.

11. Remove pan from oven and transfer bread out of pan to cooling rack. Remove parchment paper. Allow to cool at least 20 minutes before slicing or serving.

Adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

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I don’t tend to bake cakes often, mainly because a cake generally has a large yield and is more of a celebratory dessert than something you would make just to have on hand. So, because one: I have a small family who already has trouble consuming everything I make, and two: birthdays, parties, and cake-occasions don’t arise too often, my opportunity to make cakes is limited.

So, when this opportunity does arise, I take out my bucket list of cakes and attempt to select one out of the ample, tempting choices.

Believe it or not, I insisted upon making my own birthday cake this year (which was actually towards the beginning of the year…) because of this very reason. Although this made my mom a bit sad since she’s always made my birthday cakes in the past, I explained my reasoning and she agreed.

I narrowed my cake bucket list down to three options and then finally settled on carrot cake. A spiced, moist cake that warmed your palette and soul in the wintery season. Except then I had to select one of the several carrot cake recipes I have been wanting to try. There was the one from the Flour Bakery cookbook, the typically flawless Baking Illustrated recipe, the healthy cookinglight recipe, and the bundt cake book recipe, which I think was the one I made once for my mom’s co-worker’s birthday and was so delectably delicious, but wasn’t positive and also had that urge to try something new.

I was almost positive I would choose the Flour recipe because of its bursting with carrots and super moist description, but then I realized the recipe only made an 8-inch round cake– which would be then cut in half to make two layers. However, despite the small dimensions, this cake contained very similar amounts of oil and even more carrots as the other recipes, which yielded much larger cakes.

So, I changed my mind at last minute to making the Baking Illustrated recipe, which had a just as promising description and their typical commentary describing how they figured out the perfect carrot cake formula.

I always have a hard time knowing when cakes are done because of their large surface area. My oven has also been a bit unreliable lately and seems to have an abnormally uneven distribution of heat. Sometimes with cakes, this results in the middle of the cake sinking a little after ten or so minutes of cooling. Because of this uncertainty, I was a bit nervous about how the cake’s consistency and texture would turn out, but unfortunately, I couldn’t taste it until we cut into it with everyone else later that night.

However, even though the cake was a bit sunken in the middle (which could be hidden by the frosting on top), this cake was absolutely delicious! Very moist, but not dense with lots of carrots and a spiced flavor, which made for a sweet end to my birthday!

 

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Yield: one 9 x 13 inch cake, 10-12 servings

Ingredients for Cake:

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg or ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp ground cloves

scant 1/2 tsp salt

1 pound carrots (11 to 12 medium small carrots), peeled

1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz) granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed (3 1/2 oz) light brown sugar

4 large eggs

1 1/2 cups canola oil

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom of pan with parchment paper and spray parchment.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt in a large bowl; set aside.

3. In a food processor fitted with the large shredding disk, shred carrots (you should have about 3 cups); mix in carrots with dry ingredients and set aside.

4. Wipe out food processor and switch to a metal blade. Process both sugars with eggs until frothy and thoroughly combined, about 20 seconds. With the machine running, add oil through the feed tube in a steady stream. Process until mixture is light in color and well combined, about 20 more seconds.

5. Scrape mixture into a large bowl; then stir in carrots and dry ingredients until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain. Pour into prepared pan.

 

6. Bake until a toothpick or skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating pan from back to front half way through baking time. Cool cake to room temperature in pan on a wire rack, about 2 hours.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:

3 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, chilled

1/2 TBP sour cream

1 tablespoon butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Dash of salt

1/2 cup powdered sugar

Directions:

1. Beat together cream cheese, sour cream, butter, vanilla, and salt. Slowly add powdered sugar and beat until well combined and to desired consistency and sweetness. (Feel free to add more powdered sugar, if you like a thinner, sweeter frosting.)

2. Invert cake onto wire rack and peel off parchment. Then invert on a serving platter. Using an offset spatula, spread frosting evenly over surface of the cake.

Adapted from Baking Illustrated 

Easy Little Bread

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If you’ve never tried making a yeast bread before or have had little experience with yeast, then this is a great recipe for you to try!

It’s simple, quick, versatile, and even delicious! You can eat it with dinner, for breakfast with some butter or jam, or use it as sandwich bread. Oaty with a hint of wheat and sweetness, this is a great staple bread to have around the house. Unlike most yeast breads, this one only rises for 30 minutes and doesn’t even require any kneading!

Thanks to Heidi Swanson and her terrific blog, 101cookbooks, for stumbling upon this recipe that she found in a classic cookbook titled, Gran’s Kitchen: Recipes from the Notebooks of Dulcie May Booker, a cookbook written by Natalie Oldfield compiled of recipes inspired by her grandmother.

Enjoy!

Easy Little Bread

Yield: one 9 x 5″ loaf

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups / 300 ml warm water (105-115F)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (about one packet)
1 tablespoon runny honey
1 cup / 4.5 oz / 125 g unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup / 5 oz / 140 g whole wheat flour
1 cup / 3.5 oz / 100 g old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant oats)
1 1/2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
butter for greasing pan

Directions:

1. In a medium bowl, sprinkle the yeast onto the warm water and stir until the yeast dissolves. Stir in the honey and set aside for a few minutes, until the yeast blooms and swells a bit – 5 – 10 minutes. (You won’t see too much change though.)

2. In the meantime, mix the flours, oats, and salt in a large bowl. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir very well until everything is incorporated.

3. Butter a 9 x 5″ or 8-cup loaf pan. Turn the dough into the tin, cover with a clean, slightly damp cloth, and set in a warm place for 30 minutes, to rise.

4. Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C, with a rack in the middle. When ready, bake the bread for 30-40 minutes, until golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan. Remove from oven, and turn the bread out of the pan quickly onto a wire rack. Let it cool on a rack so it doesn’t steam in the pan. Serve warm.

Adapted a bit from Gran’s Kitchen: Recipes from the NOtebooks of Dulcie May Booker, via 101cookbooks 

Raspberry Banana Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

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One of my all-time favorite cakes is a recipe I found in Cooking Light Magazine all the way back in 2003 called Raspberry Banana Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting. Although I tend not to return to most recipes after I give them a try, this one I couldn’t resist making again and again even with that voice in the back of my head saying “Make something new!”

It has a irresistibly moist, but light texture and delicious fresh banana flavor. The raspberries inserted in between the two cake layers go perfectly with the banana cake and the lemon cream cheese frosting compliments both of these flavors even further to create this sensational cake!

It’s perfect for birthdays, holiday celebrations, or really just a cake to have in the fridge to nibble on throughout the day. It can be made in any season, but personally, I think summer is the ideal time to make this cake, particularly in July when you can find local raspberries that are fresh and sweet!

When I realized we had some deeply ripe bananas lurking on the counter, I thought this cake would make the perfect July 4th dessert! It did indeed, and garnished with some fresh blueberries and additional raspberries on top of the cream cheese icing speckled with lemon zest, this cake definitely depicted Independence Day!

[The pictures on this blog post depict two different times that I made this cake (one of which was this past Wednesday, July 4th!)]

Raspberry Banana Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Yield: two 8-inch round cakes

Ingredients:

Cake:

Cooking spray

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

scant 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup salted butter, softened

3 large eggs

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup low-fat buttermilk *see note

1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 2 large bananas)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting: *see note

3/4 cup (6 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, chilled

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2 teaspoons grated lemon rind

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Dash of salt

1 cup powdered sugar

1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries, washed and halved (two 6 oz containers or one 12 oz container)

*Note: You can make your own buttermilk by placing 1 TBP white vinegar or lemon juice in a measuring cup and then pouring 1% milk up to the 1 cup line.

*Note: After always ending up with way too much icing, I began halving this recipe. However, it depends on how thick you like your layers of icing; I personally just like a very thin layer of icing so halving this recipe yields the perfect amount of icing to cover both layers of cake.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. To prepare the cake, line 2 (8-inch) round cake pans with wax paper, then coat lightly with cooking spray; dust each pan with 1 1/2 teaspoons flour.
  3. Place granulated sugar and 1/4 cup butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add eggs, beating well.
  4. Lightly spoon 1 3/4 cups flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour and baking powder, stirring well with a whisk.
  5. Combine buttermilk, banana, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately to the sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture (mix after each addition just until blended). Evenly divide batter between the two prepared pans.
  6. Bake cake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Peel off wax paper. Cool layers completely on wire rack.
  7. To prepare frosting, combine cream cheese, 2 tablespoons butter, rind, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and dash of salt in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at high speed until fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar; beat at low speed just until blended (do not overbeat).
  8. Place 1 cake layer on a plate, and spread with 1/3 cup frosting. Arrange halved raspberries in a single layer over frosting, and top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Garnish with fresh raspberries (and blueberries). Store cake loosely covered in refrigerator.

Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine