December 15, 2013

Eggs For The Weekend

I enjoy cooking with eggs.  My favorite story as a chubby little kindergartner (with a BIG appetite) was "The Little Red Hen", a popular Russian folk tale about the virtues of the work ethic and personal initiative.  But at 4 years old, none of that mattered to me.  I was only interested in the illustrations depicting anything to do with food and eating.

The book was full of wonderful illustrations, such as the planting of a few wheat grains that the little red hen came across one day on the farm.  Later in the story, she harvests the wheat and mills it into flour.  All on her own, without the help of any of the other farm animals.  Then there's that perfect kitchen in her "house", where she baked her delicious bread loaf and enjoyed it with her chicks, shutting out the other animals for being too lazy to help.

Come to think of it, that story was my first ever cookbook!

But back to eggs.  They're a great source of protein and a very versatile pantry staple that combines beautifully with many other ingredients. We all have our favorite egg recipes - and mine are numerous -  but I have two standouts that I make all the time.

Baked frittata with corn, blue cheese, onion and parsley

The first recipe I learned from my grandmother, a talented home cook who took a simple approach to cuisine, with astonishing results. She fried her eggs in olive oil and spiced them with sumac, a common flavoring agent in Mid-Eastern kitchens.  The zesty citrus taste of sumac cuts through the richness of the eggs which become crispy from frying in the oil.

The second recipe is a baked frittata that I put together from whatever I had in my fridge that day, and it became an instant hit.  Sweet corn pairs fabulously well with the strong blue cheese, mixed with parsley and onions for an herby and earthy balance.  

Sumac-Spiced Eggs
serves 4

8 fresh, organic eggs
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1.5 Tbs sumac (found in specialty/health food stores)
salt to taste

In your favorite skillet - I prefer cast iron - heat oil until hot and begins to ripple.  Crack eggs in the skillet.  Sprinkle with salt and sumac and fry until the desired doneness is achieved.  I cover the eggs and cook to over-medium, where the whites are firm but the yolk is still runny.

Baked Frittata with Corn and Blue Cheese
serves 4 

4 fresh, organic eggs, beaten
1/2 bunch chopped Italian parsley (about a cup)
3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
15-ounce (425 gr) can of corn (or 2 cups frozen corn, thawed)
salt & fresh black pepper to taste
olive oil cooking spray
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped

Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Spray a 9-inch (23 cm) pie plate with cooking spray (or brush with a little olive oil).  In a large bowl, whisk together the first five ingredients. Set aside.  Sautee onion in oil until translucent and beginning to brown.  Add to egg mixture and fold to combine.  Pour mixture into pie plate and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove frittata from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Frittata cross-section

Random Pic: "Turkey S & M"

My Thanksgiving turkey wrapped in Saran while it dry-brined.

November 4, 2013

Cooking While Broken.

After Peru, I had a few days' pause at home in San Francisco before it was time to go back to Switzerland, one of my favorite places on the planet. Mind you, I had a broken finger on this trip, so that part wasn't much fun at all. But I was committed to giving a guest lecture to a brilliant group of hospitality management students there. Not going was absolutely out of the question.

I woke up to the first day of snow in Chateau d'Oex, near Gstaad
The historic Castle of Chillon in Montreux

In spite of my handicap, I was determined to take advantage of every bit of free time I had when I wasn't working, in order to sight-see and do some cooking for my friends. In hindsight, the latter was probably not the smartest thing I've ever done.
My experience with one-handed cooking? I don't recommend it.  

But the next day it was sunny again on the lake in Montreux

However, I highly recommend that you try the fabulous meatballs recipe below, a favorite of mine which I somehow managed to test and tweak while I was there. Also check out the random selection of pics I took on the trip, including how to hot-tub with a broken finger.  

Hot-tubbing for the broken
Delicious Swiss breakfast in Valais

The view from my friend Jacques' house in La Croix, Montreux

Braised Meatballs with Dried Cherries & Labneh - adapted from Chef Yotam Ottolenghi's original recipe
The finished product
750 g (1.65 lbs.) minced lamb (not too lean, a few specks of fat in the meat will make it tasty) 2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped 20 g (0.7 oz.) parsley, finely chopped 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed 1 tsp each ground allspice and cinnamon 70 g (2.5 oz.) dried cherries, roughly chopped (dried plums work well, too!) 1 free-range egg Salt and black pepper 100 ml (0.5 cups) sunflower oil 700 g (1.5 lbs.) shallots (or sweet onions), peeled 200 ml (1 cup) white wine 500 ml (about 2 cups) chicken stock 2 bay leaves 2 sprigs fresh thyme 2 tsp sugar 150 g (5.3 oz.) dried figs 200 g (7 oz.) good Labneh, aka Lebanese Yogurt (Greek yogurt works just as well) 3 tbsp of your favorite fresh herbs (such as mint, coriander, dill or tarragon), torn roughly

Meatballs a-cookin'!
In a large bowl, put the lamb, onions, parsley, garlic, allspice, cinnamon, dried cherries, egg, half a teaspoon of black pepper and a teaspoon of salt. Mix with your hands and roll into rounds about the size of a golf ball.
Heat one-third of the oil in a large, heavy-based pot for which you have a tight-fitting lid. Over medium heat, cook the meatballs a few at a time, turning them around for a few minutes on medium heat, until colored all over. Remove from the pot and set aside. Repeat with the remaining meatballs.
Wipe the pot clean and add the remaining oil. Add the whole peeled shallots and cook them over a medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until golden-brown all over. Pour in the wine, leave it to bubble for a minute or two, then add the stock, bay leaves, thyme, sugar and some salt and pepper.
Arrange the figs and browned meatballs around and about the shallots; the meatballs need to be almost submerged in liquid. Bring to a boil, cover the pot with a lid, reduce the heat to minimum and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for another hour, until the sauce has reduced and intensified in flavor. Taste and season as needed.
Transfer the contents of the pan to a large, deep serving dish. Whisk the labneh, pour this over the top, sprinkle with herbs and serve with your favorite white rice.
Please follow me on Instagram & Twitter. #tenpotatoesblog @tenpotatoesblog

October 1, 2013

Tastes of Magic in Lima

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of taking a trip to Lima to participate in the first edition of Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants Awards.  The capital of Peru dates back to the times of the first Conquistadors. Amazingly, the noble descendants of Pizarro's First Captain, Jeronimo Aliaga, still reside in the same house which he built back in 1535.  It is the oldest house in America that is continuously inhabited by the same family.  Lima is South America's third largest and - for many good reasons - one of the most important megacities and culinary destinations in the region.

stuffed, baked potato dough called Papa Rellena (L) and Charito Oysters a la Chalaca (red onion sauce) at the traditional Queirolo Taberna in Lima, a family business which dates back to the 1880's!

The country's mind-boggling diversity of regional ingredients lends itself to a cuisine that is commanding the respect, curiosity and admiration of chefs and gourmands worldwide.  Fact: Peru grows more than 4000 varieties of potatoes.

with the wonderful team at Lima Tours, enjoying a luxurious lunch at the Larco Herrera Museum restaurant.  The museum houses an incredible variety of historic Peruvian artifacts, as ancient as 2300 B.C.

 lobster goodness at Mercado restaurant
There is an astonishing array of marine life in the Peruvian Pacific waters, where the country's coastline is just shy of 2000 miles long.  Currents, both hot and cold create distinct aquatic environments in which different species of fish and shellfish thrive, depending on the temperature of the current in each environment.

Further to the east, the mighty Amazon River offers up its own bounty of countless exotic fish and other delectable river creatures, delightfully omnipresent on restaurant menus everywhere.  And right along the middle of Peru, the Andes mountains rise up majestically to form the fertile agricultural heartland that produces fruit and vegetable varieties found nowhere else in the world.

ceviche at its best from the country that invented it
Dining around Lima, an outsider may easily observe just how obsessed the Limeños are with their local food culture.  There, it is not with "what do you do?" that conversations are begun, but rather with "where have you been to eat so far?"

Chefs, restauranteurs and foodies in Peru go to great lengths to promote their magnificent cuisine, and the world is just beginning to take notice.

On our way to visit Mistura, Latin America's largest annual food festival, our taxicab driver beamed with excitement as he provided us with valuable advice on what to try first and how to pace ourselves.  "Mistura is heaven on earth for food lovers", he happily postulated.  The festival takes place underneath a very large cluster of tents, pitched side-by-side on the sandy beach of Magdalena del Mar district, also known as Lima's Costa Verde.  Much like the Louvres Museum, this festival is impossible to experience in just one visit.  At least 3 days are de rigueur for sampling the country's hundreds of regional dishes, cooked to order right before your eyes.

some of the country's finest bakers making fresh bread onsite at Mistura

The final count?  84 courses in 9 days, enjoyed with some of the warmest, most hospitable people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.  Cuisine is just one of many tricks up the Peruvians' sleeve, and I look forward to discovering more of their magic on another visit, hopefully very soon.  

Best Wishes,


lunch at Mercado in Lima.  L to R: Chef/Owner of Contramar Mexico City, Gabriela Camara, American TV Chef Rick Bayless, GM of Hotel B, Ignacio Masias, me, Malabar' Chef/Owner Pedro Schiaffino and my lovely colleague Laurie
the lovely Boutique Hotel B in the bohemian-chic district of Barranco, Lima

August 25, 2013

From Beirut to Rome: Good Food Makes A World of Difference.

We just returned from an incredible vacation to the Middle East and Europe.  At culinary capitals like Beirut and Rome, food is a natural vehicle for good times, creating the great memories we bring back home and cherish forever.

Take breakfast at my parents' house near Beirut, for example.  My mother makes her own thyme pies, and my father organically grows the most delicious tomatoes I have ever tasted in my life.  Put the two together, and this combination is flavor perfection.  I couldn't think of a better meal to kick-start my day.  I also sneaked back a few pies in my suitcase on the way home.  I'm happy to share my recipe for these thyme pies - called Man'ousheh in Lebanese.  Simply send me an email!

A typical Lebanese breakfast: Preserved Lamb with Eggs; Garlic Yogurt (Labneh); Hummus; Balilah, an assortment of Vegetables and Pickles, all enjoyed with Lebanese bread.

Mom's Middle-Eastern dinner feast
Lunches and dinners in Lebanon were no different.  We visited several great restaurants (as well as home kitchens), where we experienced some of the most sumptuous and elaborate meals.  Invitations would come in at random from friends and family, and for no specific reason other than "just to have a good time." This is how magic is created around the dining table, bringing people together to enjoy and celebrate life, which turns into a chance to try out new flavor combinations.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, and I invite you to try out my latest recipe below: a Lebanese-style vinaigrette, guaranteed to liven up any salad you make and become a staple in your repertoire.  Enjoy!

The salad complemented the heavier dishes perfectly

Similarly, after traveling to Italy, I am reminded that a dish as straightforward as a Roman pasta with fresh tomatoes, cooked to perfection is why simple good food always wins.

One of the many simple but great meals we enjoyed in Rome. Pictured here in the Jewish Ghetto.

When you experience meals that are made with love and the most wonderful of ingredients, life gets instantly better.  Whether to Rome or Beirut, or anywhere your journeys take you, here's to more travel, good food and happy memories around the table.

Best Wishes,


Family-made Limoncello at a lemon orchard in Sorrento, Italy
Simple pastas and risotti make the best meals. Rome, Italy
Classic Lebanese Salad Dressing

Use this dressing (or vinaigrette) to add some zing to any of your favorite salad ingredients!

Mom's salad dressed with the classic Lebanese vinaigrette
Makes 1 Cup

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice - never from a bottle
1/2 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt - kosher salt is great for dressings
ground black pepper to taste
Optional: a pinch of Sumac spice

Add all ingredients to a bowl.  Mix just before serving.  Dressing some salads (such as those containing warm roasted vegetables) ahead of serving is perfectly fine.  Use your own judgement in this case.

July 13, 2013

The Makings of a Great "Kibbeh Party"

There are TWO essential recipes for any food-making party to be successful. 

Grab a few great friends
Add a beautiful setting, in our case, our friends’ gorgeous house
Sprinkle on a good amount of sunshine
Finish with the consummate labor-of-love meal, in this case Kibbeh Lebanese Meatballs
Pair that with a beautiful bottle of wine

Sarah (pictured) and Pat graciously hosted the party

I’m lucky to have all these elements in my life here in San Francisco.  A couple of weeks ago, we decided it was time for another Kibbeh party.  It was our most successful one yet! 

The luscious combination of freshly-ground lamb from our favorite butcher in North Beach (San Francisco’s Italian neighborhood), imported pine nuts from Lebanon, Bulgur cracked wheat, a staple in Mid-Eastern cuisine and a stovetop onion and spice mix kept the kitchen smelling sweet for days.

The fixins: pine nuts, stuffing and shell mixture
So, grab a few of your friends (and other key ingredients) and throw yourself a fabulous Kibbeh party that you will soon not forget!

Kibbeh – Lebanese Meatballs. 

For the outer shell:
2.2 lbs. (1Kg) ground red meat, I prefer Lamb
2.0 lbs. (just under 1 Kg) fine bulgur wheat, #1 grade
2 medium onions, grated
3 Tbsp. cinnamon
3 Tbsp. Lebanese or Middle-Eastern spice mix, also called Bhar
1 Tbsp.  cumin

For the stuffing:
1.1 lbs. (1/2 Kg) ground meat: If you have lamb for the shell, use lamb for stuffing
2 onions, chopped very finely
2 Tbsp. Labneh, Lebanese or Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
Generous pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup of pine nuts, toasted stovetop with a Tbsp. olive oil
Peanut or corn oil for frying

Outer shell:
Cover and soak the bulgur in cold water for 30 minutes.  Drain, squeezing the water out with your hands.  Add to a very large bowl.  Grate the onions and remove the excess liquid.  Add to bowl.  Add meat, cinnamon, spices, and a very generous pinch of salt.  Knead by hand in the bowl for about 10 minutes until all ingredients are well incorporated and the mixture comes together like bread dough.  Set shell mix aside.

Sauté the meat in a large pan until all the liquid evaporates.  Add onions and sauté until pale.  Add the labneh, salt, spices, cinnamon and nutmeg and cook for 2 minutes, incorporating well.

When ready to stuff, it’s good to remember to have a finger bowl handy to keep your fingers wet; it will be easier to shape the balls this way.  Grab a portion of the shell mixture the size of a Ping-Pong ball, roll it in your hands to form an evenly shaped ball. 

Holding the ball in the palm of one hand, puncture a hole in the middle of the ball with your other hand’s index finger.  Turn the ball in a circular motion in the palm of your hand.  As you turn, continue to gently push with your finger to form a larger hole for the stuffing, almost but not all the way through.

Stuff the now-hollow shells with a heaping teaspoon of the stuffing.  I like to add 3-4 pine nuts into each shell along with the stuffing.  Close the top of the shell with your hands to form a conical shape.  This takes a bit of practice, but with some patience, you will easily master this step.

Set the formed shells on a baking sheet for frying, or freeze the shells until hard, then pack into freezer bags. They can keep for up to 5 months in the freezer.  Frozen shells can then be fried without thawing, as per below until they turn golden-brown, about 10 minutes. 

Forming the meatballs with friends is a fun labor of love
Frying: set the oil temperature to 350F (about 175C) and fry the freshly made shells for 6 minutes or until deeply golden brown.  Make sure you have enough oil to cover the shells for deep frying.  When done, drain on a plate covered with paper towels.  Serve with a fresh salad or your favorite Labneh or Greek yogurt.

Note: for a healthy alternative to frying, use the fresh or frozen meatballs in your favorite soup or broth.  I like to serve the meatballs with chicken soup.  Just cook them in the soup until done.

Makes about 60 meatballs.

Tabbouleh salad pairs beautifully with Kibbeh, so does good wine and sunshine!

April 21, 2013

A Hearty Winter Meal for All Seasons.

I belong to a small legion of people who don't mind Winter.  In fact, I am going to go as far as saying I enjoy it.  I usually cook with intent focus when I'm spending time indoors during cold weather, but not this year.  I was traveling a lot for work and just could not find the time.  I think most people would agree with me that soups, stews and roasts just don't taste the same in warmer weather and for that, I'm going to have to wait another year. Although, the two recipes below are definitely exceptions to that rule.

We had a wimpy season in San Francisco this year, but I felt the full force of Winter on a recent business trip to Switzerland.  I visit the country twice a year to lecture at a hotel school and while I was there last month, my dear friend Karin invited me to cook a meal at her place in the beautiful lakeside town of Vevey, and I was happy to oblige!

My plan was simple: to put together a proper meal for a cold day.  That morning, the temperature had dipped below freezing and Karin and I were both in the mood for something hearty and comforting for dinner.  On the menu was Hummus (naturally!), followed by "Loubieh bi Zeit", French Green Beans cooked in Olive Oil and stewed, juicy tomatoes.  For the main course, I made a Lebanese potato and meat stew called "Yakhnet Batata" and for dessert, we had Ghirardelli chocolate squares I had brought over from SFO!

"Loubieh bi Zeit" (Green Beans Cooked in Olive Oil). Serves 4 - 6.

1 kg. (2 lbs.) frozen French green beans (haricots verts). Fresh greens beans work well, just cut the stems off from each end.
4 large ripe tomatoes (or 2 large cans diced tomatoes)
1 large onion, chopped
8 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp paprika
1 small can (about 3 tbs) tomato paste
1 tbs salt & 1 tsp pepper

Once the onions have sauteed, in goes the bag of frozen beans
Next you add the tomatoes, the spices and the paste before adding water and cooking everything on low

Heat the olive oil in a large pot and fry the onions and garlic on medium-high heat until pale in color.
Add the beans and continue cooking until the beans turn a pale green color.
Add salt, pepper, paprika, tomatoes, tomato paste and mix well.
Cover the beans mixture with hot water and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the beans are softened, about 35 - 40 minutes.
Serve warm as is or with your choice of cooked rice.  Brown rice tastes great with this dish.

"Yakhnet Batata" (Potato Meat Stew).  Serves 4 - 6.
I prefer chicken as the protein for this dish.  Although traditionally, it is made with lamb, which is also excellent.  

1.5 kg (48 oz) potatoes, peeled, washed and cubed
600g (20 oz) boneless chicken breast or thigh meat (according to your preference), cubed
1 entire head of garlic, peeled & crushed
2 1/4 tbs unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tbs salt
1.5 tsp allspice
1 tsp pepper
6 cups water

Heat vegetable oil in a large pan and fry the potato cubes over medium-high heat until golden.  Remove onto a paper-towel lined plate.
Fry coriander and garlic with 1 tbs butter in the same pan over low heat. Stir till fragrant for about 2 minutes.  Set aside.
Add butter to a large pot and fry chicken cubes until golden brown.
Add water to the chicken and bring to a boil over high heat.  Skim any foam that accumulates on the surface.  Reduce heat to medium and cook for 30 minutes (or 2 hours if using lamb).
Add fried potatoes, salt, allspice and pepper to chicken and stock. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat. Cover. Cook for 15 minutes.
Add coriander and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes.
Serve warm with a rustic loaf or your choice of bread on the side.

Note: the Kibbeh meatball making party I wrote about in my last post was a huge success.  The girls and I had a fantastic time cooking together and catching up.  We made lots of meatballs and ate some that night.  The rest we froze.  

The fried meatballs were a huge hit at dinner that night, and I am going to post the recipe sometime this Spring and I'm even planning on a second Kibbeh party with more photos, so stay tuned!

February 1, 2013

What Really Matters.

January is a time when most people tend to check up on their life.  A new year is beginning, so we start reflecting on our past, taking stock of where we stand.  We scrutinize our achievements and the progress of our careers.  We examine our health and look more carefully at the figures in our bank accounts.  We also ponder our relationships with friends and loved ones and seek new ways to improve and reconnect.

Personally, I am no stranger to this process.  Every January, like clockwork, I sit down with a pen and paper to give my life the yearly physical.  I think about what I would like to achieve and I put together all sorts of to-do lists and plans for the months ahead.  I categorize, prioritize and monetize my entries.  The longer the list, the better I feel.  But as I grow older, I'm noticing that the content of my lists is definitely changing. While I still think that having serious career and life goals is key, my approach to list-writing is slowly morphing to reflect what's really becoming important to me.

For example, this year I created a new list that I titled "Things That Make Maroun Happy".  Hands down, my favorite list so far!  It came about because I felt that my goals seem to focus mostly on money and my career, and that bothered me.  I needed to balance that by creating simpler, less rigid life aims for myself.  Something more intrinsically enjoyable to me.  So, with that criteria in mind, I started thinking of some of the things that I would REALLY like to do this year to spice things up, and I came up with a few objectives.

Speaking of cooking with a group, I'll be doing that this weekend with two very dear friends of mine, Pat and Sarah at their gorgeous home in San Francisco.  The basement is spacious and perfect for such a project.  It has French doors that open up onto a beautiful urban garden, in which grows an amazing variety of organic herbs, fruits and vegetables.  There's even a hot house where tomatoes thrive in the winter time!

The girls and I are going to make a huge batch of Kibbeh meatballs.  A labor of love, no doubt, but well worth the effort.  Kibbeh is a recipe for Lebanese meatballs, made with Bulgur wheat and stuffed with pine nuts and spiced lamb and then fried.  Absolutely delicious.  We'll probably make around 300 meatballs, divvy up the batch between us, have some for dinner that night and freeze the rest for another time.  (Kibbeh meatballs freeze beautifully).  I'll snap a few pics of that and post them in the next issue.  I'll also share the easy recipe, which requires just a few simple ingredients.

Borough Market, London.  I could spend all day here!

I haven't been writing here for a while, so I thought I would also share a few photos that I took of me, my friends and my family.  The photos span a couple of years back and depict various themes of people cooking, eating and drinking.  So, in case you were wondering what I've been doing since I last wrote in this blog.  Well, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words!

One of several daily Lebanese coffee breaks
Thanksgiving at home in San Francisco
Quality Control by our Moms
Lunch at Im Sherif, Beirut with two amazing people

Visit to the Lavaux Hillside Vineyards, Montreux, Switzerland

Dinner in the heart of a working salt mine in Bex, Switzerland
Cooking with friends in Paso Robles Wine Country, California

Paul enjoying a small cocktail at Palmilla, Los Cabos, Mexico

Seafood lunch with the family in Beirut

My brother Wael manning the Barbeque