Tfaddalou ‘al terrace…

February 4, 2012

…said Madame Mrad to Deedee and her guests. It had been ages since they’d been chez Madame Mrad, so she went out of her way to pamper them.

Warnink arrived with his signature bottle of pink bubbly (he went for Veuve Clicquot Rose this time), and a big bag of bread (BBB) from Bread Republic Bakery in Furn el Hayek, Ashrafieh. Shah came lugging 2 huge boxes of 961 beer! “Yee, merci kteer! La shoo azzabit halak?!” One box of Porter, a creamy chocolaty smoothness that makes me melt and left with coffee lurking on my palate. The other was a fresh batch of Red Ale, that brilliant amber colored ale with its signature refreshing splash in the first gulp ending in just the right bitterness. Zouzy strolled in with Oslo Ice cream. They have great flavors, and their vanilla will be the right companion with dessert.

Futurine, a UFO from planet Gluttonus, had heard about Madame Mrad’s cooking and Deedee’s gastronomic nonesenses. She put together a “Culinary Task Force” that she dragged with her onto her spaceship and flew to Leboland to observe their techniques. She was beamed onto Madame Mrad’s terrace with a bottle of red wine in one hand, home made guava jam in another, debs el rimman in her third hand and a bottle of henn bles liqueur (yaani, yellow holly berries) in the fourth hand! (Futurine is an alien after all, so she can have as many hands as I want!! ;-))

Her task force beamed in next. These bizarre aliens were ready to observe and document Madame Mrad and Deedee’s every move. One alien’s eye was big and round like a camera lense that ogled Madame Mrad the whole time. The other alien’s head lit up like a torch, so bright you needed sunglasses every time you turned his way! The third guy had long antennae for ears that enabled him hear things miles away.

Deedee and Madame Mrad winked at one another and smiled coyly… they were ready to put on their show.

The guests were served an apperitif, including Pimms & 7up with a splash of lemon juice, garnished with cucumber and orange slices; Campari & Soda also with a dash of lemon juice and garnished with an orange slice; and 961 beer while they nibbled on Boursin stuffed Mushrooms. These are easy to make and taste deedeelightful: choose bite size mushrooms, remove the stems and stuff the hole with Boursin cheese. The regular (garlic) flavor has enough spice and aroma in it. You could also substitute the boursin with Feta or Chevre and mix with fresh zaatar, rosemary, lemon rind, basil, I mean, just go wild with it! Then throw these babies in a pre-heated oven and let them cook for about 10 minutes until the juices have dried out (check on them regularly, akeed).

Madame Mrad announced that everyone is to be seated, “Tfaddalou ‘al tawleh“. Lunch was about to be served. She had prepared a coursed meal for them.

They started with a Carrot Ginger Orange soup… with a twist: she added pumpkin, since ’tis the season. The pumpkin gave the soup a thick hearty texture. Drizzled with coconut cream and served with a large parmesan cheese crouton.

Next came her famous Sauteed Greens with Shrimp, a mixture of chard and romaine lettuce tossed in a blend of sesame & olive oil, chopped garlic, ginger and chili; drizzled with Soy Sauce and lemon juice, season with pepper (no salt – the soy sauce should be salty enough), and throw in a handful of chopped fresh coriander at the end. Sautee the shrimp in a separate pan with garlic, ginger and a splash of white wine, then add to the green mix and sprinkle with roasted sesame seeds. Toss and serve.

The first two courses were served with a crisp Italian white wine from Enoteca: Villa Antinori Bianco 2010 from Tuscany:  straw-yellow color with aromas of flowers in the nose and a fresh crispy finish.

Next Madame Mrad took out the carefully carved Lamb Chops that she’d been marinating overnight in mulberry sauce (sharab ‘l tout), a dash of balsamic vinegar, rosemary, chopped garlic, dried chilis, salt and pepper. She grilled them in a pan on a high fire so they were crisp on the outside but medium/medium-rare on the inside. In the meantime, she opened a bottle of Chateau Qanafar 2008 and decanted it, while her famous Rosemary Potatoes were baking in the oven. She slices her potatoes like chips, chops garlic and onion, drizzles olive oil, salt, pepper, and lots of rosemary – the nice curly ones which she picks from the small bushes that grow near her building.  Throw these in the oven and keep tossing so they get nice and golden crispy.

The Chateau Qanafar 2008 (which you can find at Bread Republic in Hamra) was an excellent match with the Lebanese lamb. A dark burgundy red that’s been aged in oak, this new local favorite of Deedee’s is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and the rest Syrah. The nose develops from red berries to dark cinnamon and pine forrest, ending with a ripe prune and cocoa finish.

We took a short break while Madame Mrad tossed the salad she had prepared: Fennel & Orange salad with dry roasted Pine Nuts. The combo of radish, orange, cilantro and fennel is refreshing and elegant. Toss in a handful of dry roasted pine nuts in the end. This salad with its tangy dressing is the perfect palate cleanser.

She opened a bottle of Lagrein 2009, a northern Italian red from the region of Alto Adige that you can find at Enoteca to go with the cheese. This full bodied Italian is elegant and smooth and has fine tannins with notes of blackberry. Its velvety complexion has licorice and espresso combined with clear oakiness. She picked out two simple cheeses for this early-autumn-but-still-feels-like-summer afternoon: an Egyptian Roumi and Comte. The Roumi has the subtle sharpness she wanted, and the Comte is creamy and mild. Madame Mrad serves her cheeses with dry almonds, walnuts, raisins and apricots, along with a generous spoonful of honey and a gob of that perfectly sweet and sour Guava Jam that Futurine’s space-mom had made.

It was finally time for dessert, so “bring out the champagna ya Abdo!”  For dessert, Simon’s Clove-studded Apples: 5 green apples peeled, cored, and cooked for 5 minutes in water and a dash of lemon juice. Then butter those babies up, sprinkle them with brown sugar or, better yet, massage them with honey, then prick them with rows of clove pins, place them in a pan (on aluminum foil) and cook in a pre-heated oven for about 10 minutes. You don’t want them to get too soggy. Take them out, half them, and serve each one with a generous scoop of vanilla icecream… from Oslo… get it?

The Pink Veuve, like all the Orange Lady’s fabulous concoctions, was fresh and deedeelightful with a perfect citrus twist bursting in your mouth.

Khalas, ma ba’a feena! Anjad ‘ntafakhna! Bas hallak fhimna ‘an shoo ‘am yihko,” said Futurine in her cute alien Lebanese accent.

Baad ma hkeena shee! Deedee and her friends started raging about the gastronomy scene in Leboland. Yaani, ma fee consistency, ma fee training, ma fee creativity!!  How is Leboland supposed to live up to its reputation as a tourism haven in the Middle East, when we don’t deliver the basic professional ingredients?

Most of what this country thrives on is the service industry, but unfortunately, we don’t give our servers the tools to help them do their job professionally: yaani training! For example, restaurants can have their staff taste the food and wine that they’re serving so they can at least describe it properly to clients, and hence, sell it!

Most restaurants in Leboland offer pretty much the same menu: “Baddik Rocca Parmesan walla Endive Rocquefort, Madame? We have International Cuisine.” Wallaw? How embarrassing! What happened to getting creative and trying new things? What’s wrong with your chef, gringo? It’s not all that difficult. Invest in your people! They’re what can make or break your place.

This obsession with Classic French Steak au Poivre is out and New York style Skirt Steak with Roasted Beets & Horseradish Cream is in!

That said, credit is due to those who have kept up their standards, trained their people, and still serve good food. We all know who they are. Some I’ve written about, others I will write about.

Consistency… it’s so under-rated!

The aliens had heard enough. They were ready to head back home to practice what Deedee and her friends were preaching. “May the Force be with you“, they said and got beamed back up to their spaceship and zoomed back to planet Gluttonus.

Eedu’a, eh? Nanu Nanu!


On the way back from…

October 16, 2011

…her secret hide-out north of Beirut, the Road Runner swerved and stopped infront of Deedee’s neighborhood grocer. Oh my Bob! Right there on the pavement was a box of burgundy red beetroots with the green leaves still on them. I remember having them sautéed with kale at The Spotted Pig in NYC. So I asked the guy to help me pick out the ones with the freshest and softest greens… naturally he looked at me perplexed and asked, “Lésh madame? Shoo baddik ta’mli fiyon??”

Deedee knew that Madame Mrad would be thrilled to toss the beetroot leaves with garlic in olive oil, then add some chopped chard, romaine lettuce, and even rocca and basil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Let’s call that Deedee’s Green Medley (inspired by the Naked Chef’s Italian Style Greens).

That Medley becomes the side dish for the lamb chops that Madame Mrad’s been marinating in olive oil, garlic, chopped dried chili, rosemary, a dash of balsamic vinegar and… are you ready for this? Black Mulberry syrup! Yep! That’s right, “Sharab el tout” (while in syrup mode) is the new red wine marinade, if you will. Let them marinate for at least a couple of hours, but much better overnight if you have the time.

Next to that are Madame Mrad’s famous potatoes. This time she drops the rosemary and goes for coriander instead. Yaani “batata bi kisbra” bas bil oven. Chop garlic and onions, toss in sliced (a la chips) potatoes, drizzle olive oil, season with salt ‘n pepper, then mix in the chopped coriander and roast in the oven for about half an hour. Always check on these babies and toss them every ten minutes so they dont stick to the pan and so they cook nicely on all sides… crunchy is good here.

All we need now is a bottle of red… “Shoo ra’yik bi Chateau Qanafar?”… “Shoo? Kind’a far? Far from where?” Well, actually Khirbit Qanafar is pretty far, yaani, you have to drive all the way to the West Bekaa, after Kefraya somewhere. George Naim and his son, Eddy, have revolutionized Lebo wine. Yes, Deedee’s actually fallen in love with a Lebanese… for a change 😉

This bottle of Chateau Qanafar 2008, a Cab/Merlot/Syrah blend, which I can only find in Bread Republic Hamra, has the most transformative character I’ve experienced in a Lebo wine. The nose is cinnamon and mulberry at first. The body starts off with a lighter consistency, then morphs into medium, and finally mutates into this smooth, full bodied, well rounded palate that leaves you lingering with a dark berries and chocolate finish.

Keep your eyes out for these guys, they’re on to something.


Deedee had a little lamb…

April 3, 2011

… actually it was a lamb shank, and it was all so unexpected! You see, Deedee and A were supposed to have dinner at Madame Mrad’s, who was planning to cook lamb shank, but by total coincidence Peter calls and says he’s already cooked dinner… and when Peter invites you to dinner, you don’t decline!

So we grabbed a cab, stopped at Enoteca for a couple of Deedee’s recent favorite discoveries: L’Avenir Stellenbosch Classic 2005 by the French Laroche wineries but from their vineyards in South African, and the Crianza 2006 from Bodega Marqués de Velilla , then headed to Peter’s place for a binging session.

For starters, he’d prepared a Mixed Greens and Peach Salad garnished with walnuts tossed in a White Balsamic Vinaigrette – white balsamic vinegar is made with white wine, as opposed to the regular balsamic which is made with red wine. Absolutely refreshing and deedelightful!

After that Peter snuck out his latest creation: Homemade Butter! Oh my Bob!! I can’t believe it’s not butter… well, it is but Peter makes it and gets totally wild with all sorts of flavors such as rosemary, peach, etc… oooh… I get deedelirious reminiscing about that butter melting in my mouth!

We had the L’Avenir Stellenbosch Classic 2005 with our starters. This silky South African deep dark purple blend is made mainly with Cabernet Sauvignon, then some Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The aroma is blackcurrent and chocolate, and the palate is raspberry, blackcurrent, licorice, with fine tannins and a smokey oakey finish.

While we were sipping our wine, Peter started plating his Spring Lamb Shank and Gratin Dauphinoise. He likes to salt his meats at least 2-3 days before he cooks them! This naturally adds flavor and cures the meat. Then he does all sorts of sacrilegiously wild things to it et voilà, out comes a mouth watering feast. To go along with that, we had opened that bottle of Marqués de Velilla’s Crianza 2006. This elegant thick Spanish deep red is made with 100% tinta del pais (an alias for tempranillo) grapes and has an oakey aroma, with velvety chocolate, blackcurrent and a smooth raspberry finish.

Danke schön Peter, es hat sehr gut geschmeckte!


Deedee went to the zoo…

January 26, 2011

…the other day and was astonished to see the Lemmings getting into a scrimmage then committing suicide for a reason they didn’t understand. The poor suckers are socially retarded… but then again, so are all the other rodents out there. Then she came upon Ammo the Orangutan who was hysterically blabbing away but no one understood what he was saying… probably because he wasn’t making any sense in the first place! The poor soul suffers from mental constipation.

She did a double take because she almost missed the cute Chameleon up in the woods, who keeps changing color… so much, that we can never find him! He’s metamorphosing all the time… and all because he’s upset that Turbanitis and PMS don’t want to play in the same cage.

Deedee looked at the animals in the zoo and said, “Chill out boys, I got a great recipe that will make you all feel giddy.” She had been to Souk el Tayyeb on Saturday and bought a cute little pumpkin, actually a butternut squash. She decided to make pumpkin soup and turned to her friend Jamie Oliver‘s recipes for assistance.

Superb Squash Soup with Parmesan Crouton. This spicy soup is the perfect twist from a regular pumpkin soup and just the right comfort-food after a trip to the zoo. Cha suggested we drizzle some Coconut Milk on top, and OMBob was he spot on with that combo! Top with a piece of parmesan bread melted in the oven; and garnish with the fried sage from the recipe. Deedeelish!

Cha was craving Fettucini Alfredo, so Deedee waved her magic wand and whipped up an Alfredo à la Fads – chopped garlic and red chili tossed in olive oil, throw in pancetta or cubes of smoked schinken. Take out the cubes to be added to the recipe later. Pour over a pack or two of crème fraiche and a spoonful of Labné (haida el secret) to give it thickness. Add your spices (salt, pepper, rosemary, basil), a handful of grated parmesan, then drop the ham cubes in at the end. Careful not to overcook the sauce otherwise it breaks up. Before you drain the fettucini, throw in fresh or frozen peas, to give Alfredo a little color and a burst of freshness. Serve topped with roasted pine nuts (for that smokey flavor) and garnish with parmesan shavings, akeed.

To wash away the stench from the zoo, they drank a bottle of Marqués de Velilla, Crianza 2006. A full bodied, elegant and complex Spanish red made from 100% Tempranillo. The palate has fine tannins and strong notes of dark berries and chocolate, with a long velvety finish. You can find this one and a 2004 vintage of the same wine at Enoteca.

“Yalla, kilkon n’dabbo ‘al beit”, said Deedee to the Lemmings, so they obediently scurried back to hide in their little holes.


You don’t want to find yourself under…

January 22, 2011

…siege and not be prepared for the occasion.

Deedee says, “It ain’t no fun hangin’ around the house if you ain’t got stuff to play with.” Other than her toys, Deedee likes to keep a stock of edibles lying around. So here’s what she thinks you should keep in that pantry:

  • Definitely stock up on wine and any other booze you like to consume… believe me you’ll need it at some point… mind you, I’m not encouraging binge drinking, but its good to have the stuff lying around to make that siege go down easier;
  • While you’re at it, make sure you have chasers, yaani tonic, soda water, juices… whatever you like in your drink;
  • Coffee & tea… for that morning hangover… ya know? mhmm;
  • Foodwise: Rice, lentils, dry hummos (chick peas), and pasta are no brainers;
  • Canned peeled tomatoes, tuna cans, hummos and foul cans… any other canned goods your heart fancies;
  • Garlic, onions, potatoes;
  • Buy your favorite bread – khibiz or a loaf from Bread Republic – make sure they slice it, then store it in the freezer;
  • Vacuum packed halloum and akkawi, they last and are fun to play with when you’re getting creative;
  • Hard cheeses usually last a while too, get some butter and put in the freezer while you’re at it;
  • Walnuts, almonds, raisins… yaani, dried fruit in general is nice at this time of year… pine nuts?
  • Then make sure to buy fresh herbs like rosemary, zaatar, sage, bay leaves, etc… and keep them around till they dry… they’re great to spice food with when you dont have the fresh thang;
  • Oh! Chocolate! How can I forget the oral pleasures!?!?

There you are, your own special list of life saving essentials.  Do feel free to add to the list… Just cuz we’re under siege, doesn’t mean we can’t eat well.

Merci Turbanitis and Go-Tee (aka PMS) for giving us yet another opportunity to get creative. Never a dull moment!


khalas, ma ili jlédé…

November 9, 2010

…yaani, “this isn’t fun anymore” is exactly what Madame Mrad thought after dinner. The company was… self absorbed? Well, at this point, there’s nothing worth talking about except that delicious meal she whipped up that afternoon.

Madame Mrad discovered there’s a special pork meat butcher in Bourj Hammoud called Michael’s Butchery (01-261380 or 03-825903) right off the Municipality Square! She really wanted to make Schweinshaxen (a German Pork Shank dish). It didn’t end up being a typical one but she made it à la Mme Mrad. Place the Pork Shanks in a big pot and cook in wheat beer (she also added a little white wine and topped it with water) then, throw in an onion, parsley, thyme, sage, garlic, peppercorns, cloves, sea salt, a carrot, an apple, celery and cook for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. It comes out so tender that it melts in your mouth.

Side dishes included:

A mélange of small potatoes (purple, green and yellow) sliced round, with a couple of chopped carrots, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme and rosemary drizzled in olive oil and place in the oven. Toss every once in a while so nothing sticks to the pan and it doesn’t overcook the onions.

Red Cabbage Slaw – another German dish. First cook the red cabbage in water to soften it, then drain. Place some butter in the pot and throw in the cabbage and a shredded red onion, pour in some red wine, add an assortment of chopped dried fruit, apple, honey, cinnamon, bay leaves, salt, pepper, and cook until soft.

Asian Style Swiss Chard (yaani sili’ bil ‘arabi): in a wok drizzle olive oil and a bit of sesame oil, add the chopped up swiss chard, soy sauce and some lemon juice, salt and pepper, and toss until it slightly wilts. Sprinkle sesame seeds, and you’re all set!

A nice combo of different flavors (sweet, tangy and savory) to accompany those shanks (or hocks, if you will) and, of course, a bottle of good wine.

This time Madame Mrad thought to give the Syrian wine: Château Bargylus 2006 another try. This red is so thick you can almost chew it! Very tannic and metallic, the nose is deep dark berries and fresh pine forest. The palate was almost strong enough to wash that bad taste from Madame Mrad’s mouth… but not quite!! Do make sure to chill it a bit before serving. It makes a whole lotta difference.

So when are you leaving? What time’s your flight? Questions asked so many times that I diverted to Out-of-Office AutoReply.

Thanks for the dinner, Madame Mrad… Tikram ‘ain el ego taba’ak!


Something smelled fishy…

October 10, 2010

…and Okaïbé was it! Last Sunday, Deedee left her fan club back in Batroun, and on the way stopped at the seafood vendors in Okaïbé to pick up a couple dozen of those sweet little scallops when she found a bunch of crab sittin’ there screamin’ “Deedee, take us with you!” So I did and they really enjoyed that hot tub I made for them with lemon chunks, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks and some whole pepper. Deedeelightful! Grab them while they’re in season.

This Sunday, I was in the mood for fish, so I snatched away that gorgeous 800 kg redish amber Loukkoz Sakhré (rock fish) or Hafshé as the gang calls it (thanks T for the tip). So turns out Loukkoz may actually be Grouper rather than Sea Bass. There’s a debate going on about that, so if you know the answer, puhleez enlighten us. Anyhoo, Deedee thinks the sakhré rocks! It’s much meatier, in a chunky sort of way, than the ramlé (sand fish).

Decided to bake it, so chopped coriander and garlic, shredded ginger, lemongrass, and red chili pepper, then added lemon slices. Put some inside the fish, some on the outside and bake for 20-30 mins,  depending on the size of the fish.

On the side: Basmati rice, with a herbal concoction to add aroma (bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and cloves)… I had grated some lemon rind which I forgot to put with the fish, so threw that in with the rice and it gave a great kick!!

When serving, drizzle some soy sauce on top of the fish. It culminates the dish with an Asian motif.

Deedee literally screwed open a bottle of Metis Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. This wine, from Vintage in Saifi Village, is a light greenish yellow and smells of citrus and some vanilla. It is round and full in your mouth tasting of both citrus and passion fruit. A very suitable partner to Deedee’s Hafshé à la Asiatique.