Iron Chef: “No Animal Left Behind” (feat. Cabrito Sliders)

The goat head cheese was just a first course at the annual JP Super Bowl party.  The decision to make it, plus an overflowing freezer of random meats, led to our 2012 Super Bowl food theme: No Animal Left Behind.  Every couple/team of attendees was responsible for a different animal, and we had goat, pork, venison, chicken, and lamb covered (with a nod to cow in the form of baked brie).  And THAT theme was apparently the equivalent of putting out a “not welcome” mat for our vegetarian friends (sorry Taylor).

After missing too much of a few Super Bowls in a row due to cooking, my goal for this one was to cook and serve my dishes before the game.  The head cheese was ready to serve out of the fridge, but my other planned item required a little bit more prep: cabrito sliders.  For those who don’t spend their evenings groaning about how good the food looks on a few consecutive hours of food shows, cabrito is young goat meat.

Got this at the Fitler Square farmers market in Philly. I really miss the food in Philly, the farmers markets were about half as expensive as the Stillman farms circus that rolls through JP

There’s not a ton to do with ground goat, I’ve been trying to figure out a use for almost a year, but I’d heard that they make burgers with it in Texas, so that’s what I went with.  Due to the similarity to the flavor of lamb, I wanted to add some flavors that would cut the richness.

First thought was to pickle some onions, something I’d wanted to learn how to do for a while.  I got started a few hours before people arrived by throwing two sliced red onions into boiling water.

Not much of a blanching or par boiling guy, so this was a first for me. Boiled onions sound like something from a You Can't Do That On Television sketch about eating dinner at your grandparents. That reference makes no sense to anyone under 30 or anyone who grew up without cable

I blanched the onion for a minute, strained it, then put the slices back in the pot.  A cup of apple cider vinegar, a spoonful of sugar, and just enough water to cover went back onto high heat.

Already starting to have that bright color I associate with every awesome pickled red onion that I have used as a condiment

Once it started boiling, I timed off a minute and poured the whole pot into a large mason jar.

This part terrified me due to once watching Brother John pour hot coffee into a glass with an iced cube (because he missed out on the pitcher of iced coffee) and having the heavy glass he was using explode in his hand. He was fine (and quickly attempted the same thing with a plastic cup) but I wanted to avoid shards of glass and pickle stank all over my kitchen

Lid went on the jar and it headed into the fridge where I was instructed that the onions would crisp and brighten as they cooled.  Big surprise, a recipe was correct and not subject to the same wild variances as my guesswork.

As game time approached and I was within 20 minutes of cooking my sliders, I pulled and rinsed a couple handfuls of cilantro leaves and a handful of mint leaves.  Once finely chopped, they headed into a bowl with the ground goat meat, 8 cloves of roasted garlic, salt, pepper, and a little olive oil.

I know it looks like a ton of garlic, but roasted garlic is much more mild and blends in fully without running into a strong tasting chunk. Also, I knew the goat would be pretty strong and gamey

After a trademark Pete Ryan hands-on ground meat blending, including the requisite disgusted looks from party guests when they see me up to my wrists in their food, the slider meat was ready.

About how I wanted it to look. At this point I was surprised by how much fat had been ground into the meat since I expected something 93%+ lean, but I also knew that fat would probably be heavily lamb-y in flavor

After tasting a quick test batch and getting a sense for the size that would be perfect for two bites, I had an idea of the sauce that would match.  I wanted something with a Greek or Morrocan-type flavor that also replaced the need for cheese on a slider.

With that in mind I went with a non-fat Greek yogurt (since I am so health conscious) blended with paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, and a little lemon juice.

Unfortunately, the same spices are used in Old El Paso taco seasoning and always make me think of that flavor when I taste them individually or together. Also, Old El Paso taco seasoning is the bawmb

With my sauce and toppings made, it was time to throw a full round of sliders onto the griddle.  Since I was making them thin and small, the griddle was over high heat with the plan to only cook for a couple minutes on each side.

Size-wise my goal was for each to be about 1/16th of a pound. Annoys the crap out of me when I order sliders at a restaurant that are basically a half full-sized burger. Sliders should be two awesome bites and, like the rest of my thoughts on burgers, I will argue this passionately and support with violence where necessary

The other secret weapon I had in my kitchen waiting for these were the old standbys, Martin’s Potato (Dinner) Rolls.  They really never fail; everything you put in them looks and tastes twice as good.  Plus, they fit Pete’s two-bite doctrine.

After about five minutes, the sliders were ready for construction.

They look just like little Jimmy Dean sausage patties. Mmmm, Jimmy Dean sausage. Yeah, the 2012 diet hasn't gone so well, thanks for inquiring

Each slider got a small dollop of the yogurt sauce and a couple slices of the crunchy pickled red onions.

Yes, we went from 8 in the last one to 7 in this shot. Different batches. My blog readers are such jerks with their nitpicking of details. Not really, actually. I'm not even sure anyone is reading this thing aside from the boner pill and Russian free music site bots that fill up the comments spam folder

Close ’em up and serve.

Back to 8, but a totally unnecessary shot. I wanted to show a picture between the 1st and 2nd bite but the Increasingly Awful Point and Shoot (legal name now) refused to focus on the slider due to its fascination with my cracked mid-winter knuckles

The burgers were pretty dece in my opinion.  The meat was a good mix of crisp and tender with the roasted garlic and herbs adding a lot of flavor.  The sweet acidic crunch of the onion was exactly what I wanted; the flavor of dill pickles and raw onions in one flavorful compact package.  I over-spiced the yogurt sauce and although it gave the cheese-like flavor I wanted, it made the slider “have a lot going on” as Trisha said.  That Trisha shout-out is intended as a mea culpa for not telling her she was eating goat brains and eyes in the head cheese.

Now for the rest of the Iron Chef entries.

The app(s):

Nate and Emyo's Buffalo Chicken Dip. I love this stuff; sharp cheesy/buffalo-y chicken mess scooped up with tortilla chips. Falls under the category of "once a year" foods for me only because I am unable to contain myself and ate approximately half the tray

Not pictured: Chet’s venison sausage from his family’s game ranch outside of Austin, TX.  I am positive I took a picture of these but I think I.A.P.n.S. has now added randomly deleting photos from the memory card to it’s repetoire.  Delicious and spicy, I was psyched that there were leftovers that I could use in a pasta dish later in the week.

The entrees:

Con's Moroccan lamb meatball dish, served with warm pita for scooping and eating. Really good, and the spices he used reminded me of every bite of food that I loved in Morocco. The texture of the meatballs was the best; not dense but held together great

The Booshzels Pulled Pork sliders. Buschy was nervous I'd be mad at him for making competing sliders. In reality I was mad at him for showing that pulled pork is so easy to make that even he can make a delicious batch of it. You know, with his unrefined palate and all

Dessert(s):

Chrissy's bacon and French toast cupcakes. The real dish that blew everyone else's out of the water. Salty bacon on top of a maple cream cheese frosting and French toast flavored cupcake. Delicious meat dessert!

Not pictured: Julie’s vegetarian chocolate chip oatmeal cookies which gave anyone experiencing the meat sweats a break in cookie form.

Gonna give the 1st place ribbon to Chrissy for the creativity with everyone else tied for second since everyone was a winner in this competition.  Overall, a solid theme for a party, would love to give it a shot again with a larger group and more animals.  Always could handle a few more animals, we didn’t even cover beef, rabbit, turkey/duck/other fowl, or any fish or shellfish.

A few options for next week.  We’re down in Naples right now where we discovered a solid butcher shop with lot’s of interesting cuts.  Nothing beats surf and turf where the “turf” is lamb kidneys and alligator.

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Weird Crap I Cook: Goat Head Cheese

I think the name of this post gives a reasonably accurate impression of what will unfold, albeit in obnoxiously wordy fashion.

You know those Saw movies that they advertise once a year around Halloween?  The ones that make you wonder who the hell would choose to sit down and watch horrifically graphic gore for a couple hours of their precious free time?  That’s what this post may feel like at times, except if those movies ended with everyone in the movie becoming best friends and eating a surprisingly tasty meal together.

Before we get started, check out how cute Janet is these days:

Obsessed with her own looks at 7 months old. Maybe I should ask her about her favorite books like that uber preachy article that was re-posted on Facebook a thousand times tells me I should

Alright, now that we’ve broken the ice with that one, let’s get started on this journey.

While wandering through Haymarket with a few friends on the Friday before New Years, I stumbled upon a butcher shop that seemed to specialize in cheap cuts from goat and lamb.  When I saw a skinned goat’s head for $8, I knew I was incapable of resisting and purchased it after having the butcher split it in half with the bone saw.  The previous sentence has surely appeared in multiple serial killer autobiographies.

Once home it went into the freezer to wait for the right meal.  Originally it was going to be soup, but I saw some potential to make a head cheese/terrine and barreled ahead once I saw the minimal instruction available online.

That eyeball is like something out of a nightmarish Pixar cartoon. Way, way too large looking compared to the rest of the head. Remember, it is already split in half down the center at this point

Perfect Super Bowl Sunday food!  I’m the best host ever.

I got started by thawing out the head for a couple days.  Once I tore into the bag, I gave the head a good rinse in the sink and then used a small spoon to remove the brains.  My apologies in advance for what is the toughest shot in the bunch.

Look, this photo was important to setup the post but I sat here staring at it trying to think of something funny to say for 10 minutes. I got nothing, this is just how it looked

The brains were thrown in a bowl and placed in the fridge to wait for their time to shine.  The head got a thorough coating of cumin, paprika, curry powder, salt and black pepper.

Everything looks and tastes better with seasoning

At this point, I had no idea how much meat would come off of this head.  I was picturing the final terrine fitting into a small tin loaf pan, with it mostly made up of the small cheek muscles, tongue, and brain.  It’s hard to believe looking at it, but I seriously underestimated this head.

The seasoned head went into a 450F oven on the top rack to get some roasted color and flavor.  After about 15 minutes, I had this:

I'd feed you some bullsh*t like, "it looked delicious!", but in reality when I pulled the pan out of the oven, the change in temperature caused the right eye to rupture and spray various parts of my kitchen with boiling eye liquid. Even EYE wasn't ready for that one. Puns! Puns lighten the mood!

The head pieces went into a pot of boiling water with a couple dried cloves and a bunch of whole peppercorns to simmer for 3 hours.

While that cooked I hung out with my buddy Matt, originator of the increasingly famous Dupee Burger, and a completely fearless eater.  Perfect company and photographer for the halfway point in the cooking process when the goat tongue needed to be removed and peeled.

Tongue is already out and on the plate. At this point it looked like the terrine was going to be a single serving due to how much the tongue had shrunk

With tongue in general, the most common approach is what I did here; boil it for a bit, peel it, and cook it a little longer.  With the Hogs Head Barbacoa, the 20 hours of cooking made the area that needs to be peeled off melt away completely, but that wasn’t an option here.  I found a little excess on the end to grip and easily peeled from one end:

Good work by Dupe here, especially considering it was after 11, I was pouring IPAs freely, and he was dealing with the increasingly awful point and shoot camera in low light

The peeled tongue and head halves went back into the simmering liquid for another hour and a half while the DB and Dupee made our way through a Long Trail variety pack.

After fishing the head out of the pot with tongs once again, the meat was falling off the bone.

I'm anxious to get to the point in this post where I don't feel the need to apologize for every photo but it's not coming anytime soon

I let the bones and meat cool down for fifteen minutes but kept the pot of cooking liquid on the burner with the cover off so that it could reduce and concentrate for another hour or so.

Once everything was easy to handle, I started picking over the bones a bit.  There was a lot of loose cartilage, bone and skin that I immediately threw away.  The cheeks and tongue provided a good amount of meat, but I also found meat in random crannies as well as around the eyes.

I say "around the eyes" in hopes that some of the people who ate it don't read the captions. I actually took the meat around the eyes and the eyeballs as well. My guess is I am never allowed to cook for my friends again

After a few minutes, I had some piles of meat.

Clockwise from top left: palate, tongue, cheeks, and misc. Way more meat than I expected to come off of such a small, lean-looking head. That goat would be so flattered to know I described its head as "lean-looking"

This led to a little game Dupee referred to as “is it food?”  Basically, I tasted each bit of meat separately and decided whether it would be considered edible and also sorted out any bone or cartilage that snuck into the piles.  The answer is that most of it is food, except the palate which was the texture of a flip flop that had been boiled for three hours.  The other revelation was that the meat tasted far more like lamb than I expected.

From there I cubed the tongue and chopped the rest of the meat together.

Dupee really came up huge on a post that Kristi would absolutely want no part of. In fact Kristi saw the relatively innocuous looking roasted head and ran out of the kitchen shrieking "ooooooooohhhh, I saw it! I saw it! I saw it!" with her eyes tightly closed

With the meat chopped and in a bowl, I got started on the other key elements.  Most importantly, the brain.  You didn’t think I forgot it, right?  Silly you.

I started out by throwing diced bacon and chopped carrots in a hot pan together and letting them cook for 6-8 minutes.  While those cooked, I chopped up a pile of fresh mint leaves to blend into the meat.

I am far from a technically proficient cook, especially with a knife, but I blame that dangerously protruding pinky on the IPAs

I had purchased cilantro too, but mint seemed like the right call with the flavors in the rub and the strong lamb-like flavor of the head meat.

With the herbs chopped and the bacon rendered and crispy, I threw the two halves of the brain into the hot pan and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Brains are cool looking food. I believe what I am doing here is called "gilding the lily"; basically surrounding something that will look foul to most people with delicious looking items

After a few minutes on one side, I flipped the brains and added a long pour of white wine, (about 3/4 cup) and turned the heat up on the pan.  The goal was to poach the brains and let the carrots soften while the wine reduced.

Carrots, bacon, and white wine can make anything look and smell delicious

After another 10 minutes, the wine had reduced and I pulled the brains out of the pan and transferred to a cutting board.

I cut off small pieces for Dupee and I, and found the texture and flavor to be a better version of what I ate in Morocco.  Very soft and creamy, like Laughing Cow cheese.  Tasted strongly of lamb/wine/carrot/bacon but with a metallic aftertaste.  Not iron-y, almost copper-y?  Not sure, something like that.  The rest I chopped to add to the head cheese ingredients.

The brain really reminded me of the awesome, "This is your brain on Long Beach Island" florescent shirt I wore growing up. I wish I still had that shirt and some of those insanely stupid Big Johnson shirts

Along with the drained carrots and bacon, a small splash of apple cider vinegar (no more than a tablespoon), and salt & pepper, the chopped brains headed into the bowl.

The head cheese mixture smelled great at this point, but there was still a lot of doubt in my mind that it would be in any way edible

The reduced cooking liquid is an important part of head cheese (or any meat terrine) since the liquid has gelatin-like characteristics from boiling the bones and skin.  Mixing in a few ladles of the liquid helps the head cheese/terrine bind together into a loaf when it cools.

I was hoping to avoid using this loaf pan again since I wanted thicker slices, but there was way more than I expected

I'd tasted every ingredient and smelled how good the seasoning was, yet I was still completely terrified by what I had made

I covered the loaf pan and the head cheese went into the fridge to set for 12 hours.  It was during that time that I realized the perfect condiment to serve with it.  An item that had been in my fridge for longer than Janet has been alive: homemade kimchi.

I prepared this back in June. Every few weeks I sent Conor a text message to the effect of, "Con, I think the kimchi is ready!" then forgot about it in the back of the fridge for another ~20 days. I have an above average sense of humor

I’ve only had kimchi a few times in my life and from what I can tell it’s just spicy pickled cabbage.  So that’s all this is.  I had an extra half head of green cabbage leftover in early June so I sliced it, tossed it with a little sugar, salt, cayenne pepper, siracha and lots of rice wine vinegar and packed it in a tupperware.  Then it sat in my fridge for 8 months.  But, I tasted it last week and it had all the contrasts the head cheese would need with crunch, spiciness, and a little acidity.

So, on Super Bowl Sunday I ran the bottom of the loaf pan under hot water (brilliant call by a still horrified Kristi), flipped it upside down and tapped the head cheese out of the pan.

Cut it in half so that I could get this shot and also to send half to Cambridge with Dupee so he could share it with our friends on the wrong side of the river. Oh, and ruin the day for my vegetarian friend Taylor

As everyone arrived, I pulled the slab of head cheese out of the fridge and cut a couple slices off expecting the usual; Conor and I eat a bunch of it and Buschy has a tiny taste with his eyes closed.  Until I tasted it on some toasted bread and was a little surprised.

The texture was creamy, but not in a bad way; just different from what I expected since the tongue, cheek, and bacon played a prominent role.  The flavor was surprisingly good; not too strongly funky, just rich lamb-like flavor complimented well by the mint and sweetness from the wine & carrots.  And that was before I put on a spoonful of the chopped kimchi.

Still in disbelief that not only did this end up being eaten instead of thrown out, but it ended up playing a crucial part in some deliciously unique food too

The kimchi pushed it over the top.  All of the contrasts I noted before worked perfectly without overpowering the flavor of the head cheese.   More amazingly, it made the head cheese look appetizing to people besides Conor and I.  Against all expectations, everyone except Kristi (traumatized) ended up trying it and most had seconds or thirds.  I only ended up throwing away two small slivers!

The white is the brain. That wasn't how I pitched it to people. Also, toasted bread was just to sound like I actually present things elegantly. It was actually toasted, thin-sliced, day-old everything bagels from the bakery department at Stop and Shop. Giant bag for $1.99 was tough to refuse

One of the best parts of writing this blog is that it has forced me to experiment a lot with building flavors and working with meat I’ve never handled before.  It’s pretty awesome when it works out that I can transform something no one would try on their own into tasty food that people eat seconds of.  Another best part is that I can normally get them to eat it before posting and letting them know what they really ate.  I am an ass.

Next week, the rest of what was served at the Super Bowl party and particularly my cabrito sliders.  It was a “no animal left behind” theme and we covered goat, venison, pork, chicken, and lamb.  Not too shabby.

Pete’s Travels: the Markets of Morocco

When I was growing up, I would watch MTV Spring Break and think to myself, “I can’t wait to go on spring breaks like that when I am older!”.  Then I went to college and instead of spending my spring breaks in Panama City playing Truth or Date with a bikini-clad coed, I spent them with the rest of the Bates Crew team not drinking, waking up early, and generally appalled by the opposite sex.

When I got to business school, I wondered if I would finally take that tequila-fueled spring break I dreamt about so many years prior.  But, I realized I am happily married, would swim wearing a t-shirt if it was socially acceptable, and find Ed Hardy clothing to be a reasonable sign of poor education.  So instead, I introduced Morocco to this DB.

Leather hat, sunglasses, business school shirt, muscle kiss. Thats Pete's Recipe for being A DB. Write that down

The trip location was decided somewhat haphazardly, but we all agreed it was a place we likely wouldn’t visit with our significant others and that there was a lot we wanted to see.  I was most excited to visit the markets (or souks) in the Fes and Marrakech medinas, since they’ve both been in business for over 800 years.  Neither dissapointed.

First stop was Fes where we stayed at a small riad (or inn) just inside the medina walls.  On our second day, we hired a local guide named Mohammed to show us around the medina since there are a lot of sites to see and its an incredibly confusing place to navigate yourself.

This is a typical way to cut across the medina, a 50 yard long alley that is narrower than my shoulders. Without a guide I likely would still be lost in the medina

After walking for about 15 minutes and taking a few confusing turns, I recognized that we were in the heart of the food section of the souk.  The most surprising thing, was that I was surrounded on all sides by meat and produce yet it had none of the off-putting smells I had encountered in markets in Italy and China.  It smelled clean and kinda delicious.

We arrived in the market section of the medina around 10AM and it was crowded until we left at 4PM, Mohammed is the way too cool for school dude in the jellaba

The most notorious food item that I was interested in finding was khelea, a breakfast food that nearly made Andrew Zimmern throw up when he ate it.  I asked our guide about it and he made it sound like it was as common a part of breakfast as bacon or sausage in the U.S.  Which he must have assumed was pretty common since he was talking to me.  He pointed out a butcher that was making it.

Big bucket of kaleah. Moroccan vendors have an obsession with presenting food in a conical manner. Looks great with spices, kinda foul with meat and fat

This stuff was everywhere.  From my understanding, its meat (I think beef) that is cooked, salted, then packed in animal fat or olive oil to keep it preserved at room temperature.  Its taken from that cone and put into smaller containers for sale to the multitudes of Moroccans looking for it.  Aside from the olive vendors, it was the most common item we saw.

I was happy that I traveled with three idiots who didn't like olives so that the free ones served with meals were all mine

Back to the kaleah.  Most stalls offered a variety of cuts of meat and animal fat vs. olive oil.

These containers were everywhere, I counted at least 20 stalls that had it

As it turns out, this stuff isn’t nearly as gross as it sounds and we ate it mixed in with our eggs without even knowing what it was.  The texture and flavor was similar to the air dried beef in creamed chipped beef.  Not entirely sure what grossed out Zimmern so much.

Once we got past the overwhelming visual of being surrounded by kaleah, we realized that we were right in the middle of the meat market.  They specialize in beef and lamb and all parts of the animal are available.  Individual vendors specialized in the prime cuts or the organ meats, but rarely carried both.  The latter was definitely the more photogenic subject matter.

The prime cuts

The organs. Hows that for a contrast? Fresh fava beans on one side of the stall, and what I have since discovered but didn't notice when taking the picture is a pair of testicles on the far left edge of the picture. Cow, not fellow traveler

Kidneys, brains, hooves, tongues, bones, and whole sheeps heads.  Sounds like what Pop Ryan used to tell me was in hot dogs.  At this point I was excitedly asking Mohammed way too many questions which he happily answered with only the slightest hint of fear in his eyes.

Boiled brains and steamed sheep heads are both very common foods in Morocco, while the other sheep organs like kidney, heart, and pancreas are usually stuffed with other ingredients and grilled or fried.  Check out how much larger the beef counterparts are.

I was even overwhelmed by this stall. All of these organs were enormous

The beef heart I cooked last summer was half the size of the one at this stall, but that was nothing compared to the stuffed pancreas the guy next store was selling.

I mean, what the hell?

Apparently this is like Moroccan scrapple, stuffed with other chopped organs and rice, but it was ten times more terrifying to look at.  I am still not positive that this was pancreas since I can’t find any images online of anything similar, but thats what Mohammed said.  Here’s a sliced version.

Those red onions and tomatoes aren't making the main event look any less scary

At this point, we had seen every single part of these animals except for their skin, until I turned around without looking and somebody carrying about 30 skins ran into me.  He was heading to the tannery, which is also located inside of the medina, to drop off his haul.

That's dye in the foreground, not blood. It'll make more sense in the next picture

The tannery made up for the complete lack of foul smells in the food market.  This facility processes camel, cow, and sheep skins primarily, and does it all in the labor intensive manner that its been done for hundreds of years.

The white containers in the back are for the initial treatment, the front containers are where the skins are dyed and scraped

The initial treatment needs ammonia in the mix.  In Morocco, they stick with their traditions and use pigeon poop as the source of ammonia, which definitely doesn’t help make a funky smelling process any less funky smelling.  Regardless, it was a very cool process to watch and explained the extremely large amount of leather goods available in the medina.  Including the hat from the first photo that cost me $10.

Back to the food, this time the seafood and shellfish section.  Lots of fresh stuff coming in from the coast daily.

Again, no overpowering odors. Smelled like a high quality fish market

The fish looked amazing but without a place to cook, much like the meat stalls, it was somewhat painful to look at.  We also didn’t see much seafood on menus or at the street food stalls, which made it a little worse.  What we did see at a lot of food stalls were snails.

These little dudes were trying to escape left and right

The last time I ate snails I was twelve and had a serious allergic reaction.  I came to Morocco prepared with antihistamines and an asthma inhaler since I was very excited to try this local delicacy.  There are a lot of things wrong with that previous sentence.  More on that in a future post.

I was starting to recognize that there was more challenging food available for eating than I could possibly handle.  Feeling intimidated, I distracted myself with the woman making crepes a few stalls down.

I could have been completely hypnotized watching this process for hours

This was really cool to watch.  That sphere is metal and very hot, so she would drape the crepe dough around the entire dome where it would instantly turn transparent and then slowly turn the opaque yellowish color you associate with french crepes.

After about a minute, she would peel it off and fold it on itself which made for a layered crepe with air inside, kind of like pita bread.  Most mornings these were served with breakfast at the riads we stayed at.  A little fresh sheeps milk cheese, a little honey, with a cup of coffee on the side, and you had a delicious start to the day.  Speaking of sheeps milk, these stands were on the fringes of the market for easy pickup.

Note the kaleah above the sheeps milk products

The glasses are filled with sheeps milk yogurt that is similar to the texture of a smoothie; the plates have a cheese that is closest to ricotta.  You couldn’t stand and look for too long since there were a lot of donkeys being led into the market at the entrance by this stand.  You know, since the narrow alleys aren’t crowded enough without lumbering, stupid donkeys.

Throughout the day we constantly had to press ourselves against the wall so a donkey could get by. Most of the time, they were carrying nothing heavier than something a human could carry in themselves. So, Morocco is full of lazy donkey owners. How's that for a sweeping generalization?

The other crazy thing about the medina relates back to an expression Mohammed said was very common in Morocco, “Don’t judge a palace by it’s door”.  Kind of an equivalent to “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” but they mean it literally, unlike our meaning of not making assumptions about an unattractive person until you see how funny they are (hi).

Every door in the medina looks the same, but we would duck into certain ones with Mohammed’s guidance and discover a beautiful palace inside.

This place had an average door, followed by an unassuming staircase straight down, opening up into an enormous open indoor courtyard with ornately decorated mosaic walls

There was ton of great things to see in the souks, but my personal favorite was the community bakery.  Aside from the people carrying animal skins, the most common sight was people carrying their homemade dough to the community bakery to make khobz; the local flat-ish, round bread that is plentiful with every meal.

This is the least blurry the baker looked in any picture I took and I had no idea how to say "slow down so I can take an awesome picture for my occasionally viewed food blog!" in Arabic

This guy works in a basement-type setup all day baking bread.  Most people mark the top of their loaves with a unique set of slash marks to make sure they get their own bread at the end of the day.  They pay about 1 Dihram (or 15 cents) to the baker per loaf to get it cooked in this huge wood-fired, honeycomb-style oven.  The loaves are constantly cycled in and out of the oven and thrown onto the floured floor to rest.

This was so cool for someone who loves food. This guy essentially has a role in hundreds of family meals every day

Morocco was a country that made me hungry at every turn.  There were so many unique food items and you could tell that people really put a lot of care into the food that they made and sold.  My next post will dive into the foods that I had the courage to try, and also unique experiences like a tagine cooked in the Saraha by our Berber hippie guide.  It was a very cool trip.

Sorry for the long post and the hiatus.  As usual, I will try to be more regular with posts and get into a groove again.