Morocco, Kingdom of Taste – A Pop-Up Event Experience

In this day and age, many people are putting their travels on pause to stay safe, though many of us yearn for the sights, the sounds, and the tastes of countries and continents we miss or have yet to ever visit!

Well, aren’t I lucky to live in a melting pot of a city in which I can learn, taste, and experience the cuisine of a country that’s roughly 3,700 miles away!

Spanning September 25th through September 29th, a fabulous pop-up – Morocco, Kingdom of Taste – has taken over the stunning Public Square & Gardens at Hudson Yards. I was lucky enough to visit on their first day with some of my fellow esteemed food writers and content creators, where I was both educated and dazzled by Moroccan cuisine, food staples, and spices through interactive displays and cooking demonstrations.

I strolled through their five main displays: Olive & Olive Oils, Citrus, Local Products, Seafood, and Fruits & Vegetables. The displays were robust and playful – especially the Seafood display! – and I also picked up a few nuggets of information along the day.

First off, I don’t think it ever crossed my mind that Argan oil could be consumed! Just typing that statement and reading it makes me feel a little silly; many of us are used to seeing shampoos, conditioners, and body lotions at our local drugstores boasting about its ability to moisturize us from head to toe & prevent hair breakage. Why it didn’t cross my mind that it could be used in cooking is now beyond me; I suppose I can use the popular term, “I was Today Years Old when I learned how Argan oil is used in cooking!” Morocco was the first exporter of argan kernels, and it boasts a flavor profile of almonds and hazelnuts, along with providing a healthy boost of antioxidants.

The Citrus section was a burst of bright sunshine, and I learned a little bit about preserved lemons along my visit as well, namely how they are used heavily in Moroccan cooking and – as many foods do – serve a medicinal purpose in helping with protecting your immune system. (And in this pandemic, we could all use a strengthen immune system!

As I cruised through the Local Products section, I marveled at the various spices and enhancers around me. Having heritage from Italy, I grew up eating what I called my Nana Fracaro’s “Cheesy Rice”. Little did I know that this was saffron-infused risotto; little did I know it’d cost a lot of money and take a lot of time to make it as an adult, but that’s another story. 😉 Sharing shorelines with the Mediterranean Sea, I know that saffron is popular in neighboring countries, so it is no surprise to me that it would be incorporated in Morocco as well.

The seafood section was a delight in its playful design, a place I could see my father going absolutely bananas for; he is a man that will not turn down a tin of delicate sardines or mackerel! Served hot, cold, or in a variety of different ways, I may have to reconsider my stance on them, as this display made them look incredibly appealing.

Finally, the vegetable section of this pop-up showcased many of my favorites, such as fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, and lemons. Sometimes, the simplest produce can be the basis for an extraordinary meal, whether in Morocco, New York City, or elsewhere!

All that was showcased in these pop-up sections came together beautifully thanks to a cooking demonstration from respected Chef Yasmina Ksikes, known for her LA-based Lalla Mina; her and her team created food samples that were as beautiful as they were delicious, giving us a literal taste of the many oils, vegetables, fruits, seafoods, and spices regularly incorporated in Morocco cuisine. She gave a thorough demonstration of how she creates Zaalouk, a Moroccan eggplant and tomato dish. She made mention of something anyone that cooks can relate to: Even though Zaalouk is a common dish, she has her own techniques and spice additions that make it uniquely hers; I think most chefs, recipe developers, and and even folks own kitchens can claim the same for some of their favorite recipes. Like dishes I make often that I’ve put my own spin into, creating it isn’t from measurements or directions after a while, but rather from intuition. Yasmina knew her technique for “triple burning” the Zaalouk – a caramelization method used to add depth of flavor and a richer texture – and knew just the right about of cumin and smoked paprika to sprinkle in. There is always something awe-inspired about watching a master at work, this demonstration included.

I’ve had many friends visit Morocco over the years, some even as recently as 2019, and I have heard nothing but the most stellar raves about their visits, from the landmarks, the cultures, and – of course – the cuisine. I’ve had many friends visit Morocco over the years – some even as recently as 2019! – and I have heard nothing but the most stellar raves about their visits, from the landmarks, the cultures, and – of course – the cuisine. One day, I hope to experience this land and all it has to offer for myself. In the meantime, I am happy that I just had to visit Hudson Yards for the best of the best Morocco has to offer. In these last stunning days of September, be sure to visit Hudson Yards through September 29th to enjoy this Morocco, Kingdom of Flavor pop-up, and leave with a further knowledge and appreciation of this great nation.


Note: I was compensated for my visit to the Morocco, Kingdom of Taste Pop-Up and creating this blog post & accompanying social media posts in collaboration with Sopexa, part of the Hopscotch Groupe Agency. As always, all opinions stated here are my own.

Crunchy Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Anyone who is anyone knows that there is one reigning Queen of Banana Bread named Allie in New York City right now…and it’s not me. Ha! Allie’s Banana Bread is so hot, its “drops” sell out in less than a minute; I’ve been lucky to grab two drops – her Oreo Banana Bread is the epitome of hedonism – and I’ve also swooped up many a loaf at Butterfield Market on the Upper East Side. The demand is high, like concert tickets or counting down the minutes for Beyoncé to drop her next Ivy Park x Adidas collaboration: You’ve gotta be ready with your credit card info SAVED on your computer, because missing out = being bummed out!

I must be truthful, seeing Allie’s Banana Bread lit a spark in me recently to give a stab at trying a new method to make banana bread, and I am really pleased with the results, even if it take a bit of pre-work.

My first loaf of ABB was her peanut butter loaf – which I accidentally bought at Butterfield instead of a regular loaf, since I wasn’t paying attention – but was not disappointed when I tucked into it, quite the opposite, in fact! Peanut butter & bananas are a match made in heaven; I’m NOT on Team Peanut Butter & Chocolate, to the shock and chagrin of many I state that fact to. (Not sorry, y’all can KEEP your Reese’s.) But give me some PB and a banana, and I am a happy camper. Having peanut butter in banana bread was a first for me with that Allie’s loaf, and I felt this overwhelming urge to recreate it.

I’ve played with peanut butter in baking before, and I have not been happy with the results. While not baking, don’t get me started on my banana ice cream with a peanut butter swirl recipe from many moons back. (Search this site all you want, you won’t find it anymore! Ha!) Absolute. Complete. Disaster. However, I now know how that recipe can be improved upon in the future, and the trick isn’t creamy globs and swirls of peanut butter: it’s frozen chunks!

I recall seeing a very polarizing article online a few years back about folks that spread peanut butter onto parchment paper, freeze it, then cut into squares in order to make peanut butter & jelly sandwiches en masse. Some people thought this was genius, while others heatedly debated, “Well, why not just spread the peanut butter on the bread IMMEDIATELY so you don’t have to wait for hours to make some peanut butter sandwiches?!” I’m Team Spread The Peanut Butter On The Bread NOW, but the concept of freezing peanut butter got my mind thinking. When I’ve added it to baking or my ill-conceived ice cream in its room temperature form, its spread has been uneven; one part of my baked goods may have tons of peanut butter, while other sides have none at all. Freezing peanut butter and cutting it into small cubes allows control of the spread, as well as makes for luscious pockets of peanut butter to sink your teeth into with each bite of banana bread.

Now, I’ll gladly do the obvious counterpoint here:

“Well, screw this, I’m just getting peanut butter chips. Why would I wait for hours and cut up cubes of frozen peanut butter when I can buy peanut butter chips at the store?”

Honey, you do you, but I find this method to be so wholly satisfying. Do something different and freeze that peanut butter! Shake up your routine and put in a little elbow grease. Plus, you’ll save some money. I spent $1.59 of a jar of crunchy peanut butter from Trader Joe’s; a bag of peanut butter chips from my local grocery store are $3.99. I’ll save all the pennies I can.

Crunchy Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Ingredients:

Frozen Crunchy Peanut Butter Chunks

  • – 8 oz. crunchy peanut butter, thoroughly mixed 

Banana Bread

  • – 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, unsalted
  • – 1/2 light brown sugar, packed
  • – 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • – 2 large eggs
  • – 1/4 cup milk (I use whole milk)
  • – 1 capful vanilla extract 
  • – 4 banana, ripened
  • – 2 cups flour (I’ve used all-purpose and white wheat)
  • – 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • – 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • – 3/4 cup frozen crunchy peanut butter chunks, divided into 1/2 cup & 1/4 cup portions

Before We Get Started…

  • – Have ample parchment paper on hand for both freezing the peanut butter and for your loaf pan.
  • – The recipe has only been tested in a standard loaf pan, roughly 8.5″ x 4.5″ x 2.5″ inches.
  • – If you prefer easier removal of your banana bread from the loaf pan, have cooking spray on hand to spray parchment paper.

Directions:

Crunchy Frozen Peanut Butter Chunks
 1.) Thoroughly mix a jar of crunchy peanut butter, making sure peanut pieces are throughly incorporated throughout. 

2.) Line a shallow container with parchment paper that slightly overlaps the sides; this way, you can easily remove the peanut butter when frozen. I’d suggest something close to a 6″ x 3″ container. Pour peanut butter into container and spread so it is even. Place in your freezer for at least 4 hours, overnight is preferable.

3.) Once frozen, remove peanut butter from container but keep parchment paper beneath it. Place on a cutting board surface and dice into small chunks, roughly 1/2″ x 1/2″, or 1 cm. x 1 cm. Place chunks carefully back into container and place in freezer until ready to use. 

Banana Bread
 1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line loaf pan with parchment paper that slightly overlaps the size for easy removal of baked banana bread. If desired, spray parchment paper with cooking oil for an easier release. 

2.) Chop butter into pieces, and microwave for 30 seconds; stir, then microwave for an additional 30 seconds. Stir until completely melted. Alternatively, chop butter into pieces and melt in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until melted.

3.) In a large bowl, combine melted butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until sugar has started to melt into the butter and the three are combined.

4.) Add eggs, milk, and vanilla extract into butter-sugar mixture. Whisk until combined.

5.) Add two of the bananas to the mixture and smash with either a potato smasher or a fork until incorporated into the mix. Take the third banana, cut into slightly large chunks, then fold into the mixture. Take the fourth banana and cut a thin length-wise strip from the top; set aside to place on top of batter in the pan for decoration. Chop up remainder of 4th banana and add to mixture.

6.) Place flour, baking soda, and salt through a sifter into the mixture to ensure there are no lumps of flour. Use a spatula to combine the dry ingredients in until combined, but do not overmix.

7.) Remove crunchy peanut butter chunks from freezer, and sprinkle roughly 1/2 of a cup into the batter, folding in slowly; once these chunks come back to room temperature, they can melt fast, and we want to maintain the integrity of them in chunk form as best as possible. 

8.) Pour batter into loaf pan, sprinkling remaining frozen crunchy peanut butter chunks on top and adorning with thin banana slice. Bake for 70 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted. 

9.) Cool banana bread in pan for 15 minutes before removing from pan, and allow to cool for another 15 minutes if eating immediately. Wrap all unused banana bread tightly in plastic wrap and store in a cool place; the banana bread should last up to four days. 

Butter of Europe

Butter, butter, butter. Is there anything better? Speaking strictly in terms of the realm of the food world, not much else can top it. Well, quite literally, butter is usually what will top something else, like a nice slice of baguette. 😉

I’ve recently had the pleasure of sampling some wonderful butters associated with Butter of Europe. Some I had tried, but most were new and exciting for me! (Yes, butter *is* exciting.)

These butters have received a PDO – Protected Designation of Origin – indicating that they’re a specific product unique to the region they come from. The best example? Champagne! It can only come from the Champagne region of France, everything else is just sparkling white wine. (And yes, I learned that from “Wayne’s World” as a child. Ha!) Some of these butters I’ve had the pleasure of sampling, such as Isigny Sainte-Mère, is from a region in Normandy and has had its PDO designation since 1986. Namely, the designation zone for Isigny circles the edges of Veys Bay, between Cotentin and Calvados, with this region’s proximity to both rivers and the sea help keep pastures green and robust, allowing cows to produce milk that have a unique creaminess and flavor.1 I’ve always had a great appreciation of products to which I can easily trace their origins, seemingly impossible for – in this case – the average four-pack of butter I’d normally buy at the grocery store. Who knows exactly where the cream in that butter is coming from! Some other examples of butters with PDO are Charentes-Poitou since 1979, and Bresse which received its relatively recent PDO designation in 2014.1

On a personal note, I am a huge fan of Isigny Sainte-Mère butter. Unsalted yet undeniably creamy, I’ve used it quite often while baking at home prior to me drafting up this blog post, and I have been so pleased with the end result! And I have a used it to grill a grilled cheese sandwich in the past, made with French cheeses? But of course!

Butters of Europe – Showing off multiple butters that are PDO, such as Isigny Sainte-Mère, Président, and Beurre de Baratte.

Many bakeries around NYC have used butters associated with Butter of Europe in their creations, which is blatantly obvious in the folds of their tender croissants or the crisp of their buttery palmiers. Not to mention that these butters – be it unsalted or delightful flavorful compounds – go well with the various baguettes and bouIes had the pleasure of experiencing. There are three bakeries, in particular, that are firm users of some of these butters: L’Appartement 4F, Pastissere Claude, and Le Fournil.

L’Appartement 4F is a two-person operation, a cottage bakery based out of Brooklyn that makes tender sourdoughs and delectable croissants. My personal favorite treat from them was their chocolate croissant, its layers buttery and wavy, dare I say it was almost too gorgeous of a croissant to eat! Co-founder Gautier has a background in engineering, and he – along with his partner Ashley – have certainly engineered some amazing pastries!

Patisserie Claude was originally founded in 1982 in the West Village by – who else! – Claude. Pablo Valdez took over in 1998 as the long-time assistance to Claude, and they’ve continued to make their from-scratch treats daily, many from Claude’s original recipes! Their simple bricohe, paired with a spread of the La Conviette butter roll with its Charentes-Poitou PDO, makes for a simple yet comforting snack that elicits the feeling of being at the bakery itself, even when at home.

Le Fournil was founded by Jean-Francois Hebert, a third-generation baker from Normandy, France. It opened in the East Village during the pandemic, a risk for some that has luckily paid off with this boulangerie. Their treats are fantastic, but their rustic baguettes and boules are fantastic. Yes, I went the grilled cheese route with some of them, using some Président to add some butteriness, and thinking about that sandwich again is giving me hunger pangs as I type!

Having these PDO butters is a treat; I’ll call out the naysayers, but I can absolutely taste the difference in these. Especially with the Isigny Sainte-Mère; it’s unsalted yet has an undeniable creaminess and unique depth of flavor to it that makes me think, “I wouldn’t even need this butter to be salted!” When I enjoy a product that is PDO – whether it’s butter, cheese, et al – I know that I’m having something special. I know that I am enjoying a product that has been well-curated and crafted over many generations. I know that I am having a product that I could literally never get from any other region in the world. Finally, I know I am supporting a culture, workers, farmers, and their families when I make that extra effort to find a PDO product. So cheers to these butters and to the wonderful NYC bakeries that incorporate them to make culinary delights that are absolutely extraordinary. 🥂


NOTE: I received all butters and pastries complimentary from Butters of Europe for editorial consideration. All opinions, as always, are my own.

1 – Annotations taken from the Butter of Europe communication packet I received with my butter packages.

King David Tacos, Brooklyn – Restaurant Review

I’ve stayed in my Pandemic Bubble – lil’ ol’ immunocompromised me still does not take chances, even with two shots of Moderna in my system! – but I have slowly but surely been making occasional journeys for well-spaced outdoor dining over the past few months. (My trick? Go early in the morning or later in the evening to guarantee fewer people are around as you dine. I mean, I use this trick for MANY of my outings, let’s be honest…) The same goes for restaurant invites. During the pandemic, I received a few dozen invites to come to various restaurants in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens for comped meals and “influencer events” to post about on my blog and / or Instagram feed, but…no. I never felt safe pre-vaccinations, and I still err on the side of caution. Also, I’m very intentional with what I share with you – my audience – and if I’m going to start going out again – no matter if it’s an invite or if it’s to a place I’m dying to try – I want to go to a place that has some heart, soul, and some great history + I want it to align with my (pandemic) dining values, namely encouraging take-out and / or having a stellar outdoor seating set-up.

I recently accepted an invite to visit the brick & mortar location of King David Tacos. This is a business I have visited in the past, and I have a clear recollection of one of their food carts tucked away not too far from South Street Seaport many moons ago; I was so excited to try something different to eat for breakfast as I hustled off towards a ferry to somewhere outside of Manhattan. I don’t quite remember what taco I ate or which ferry I eventually hopped on, but I clearly remember thinking, “This is delicious, and I hate scrambled eggs!” Ha! (Perhaps King David Tacos is the reason I am so amenable to scrambled eggs now? Should I just pin it on that? Because I’d be happy to!

King David Tacos was founded by Liz Solomon Dwyer, an Austinite that wanted to bring this goodness to NYC from Texas to switch up the breakfast scene. (You can read more about the evolution of King David Tacos here.​​) I stumbled upon the KDT carts a few more times over the past few years – pre-pandemic, my most recent interaction with them was at a street vendor gathering on Governors Island – but my visits to where their downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn carts were located were far and few between, being both an uptown Manhattan resident and worker. Still, whenever a cart came across my vision, I made a beeline for it, always satisfied with my decision. 

When I received an invite to visit the new King David Tacos brick & mortar location at 611 Bergen Street in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, a spark was lit. There was some nostalgia as well as some curiosity to try some tacos that had previously never passed my lips. As previously mentioned, In this current-pandemic world – no, no, the pandemic is NOT over, folks! – I take great care to protect my lil’ ol’ immunocompromised self. Two of their selling points for me that prompted my interest to visit were that they encourage take-out – they even have a cute little take-out window! – and the outdoor dining situation is large enough and comfortable at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning to give me some literal breathing room. So off I went; the 3 Train from 96th to Bergen treated me particularly well despite the usual MTA weekend b.s., and I made it in record time! 

I arrived and was greeted by Kevin, a friendly employee who may or may not have changed my life for the better by suggesting that I get a shooter of their velvety queso sauce. Though I’ve had King David Tacos before, and though I had studied the menu of their 611 Bergen location beforehand, I walked in and my mind just BLANKED. I was looking at the tacos, wrapped in vibrant gold wrappers, trying to think of words and cravings. Thankfully, Kevin was patient and got me back on track. (Blessed.)

I went with two tacos I had not previously tried: The Or’izo and the No. 5. The former consists of warm-spiced chorizo, potato, Vital Farms eggs, & cheese, while the latter is one for the plant-based eaters with its Chili Non Carne™ with poblanos and carrots & potato. I am an omnivore that loves her meats, but I have been incredibly impressed with the plant-based “meat” market; if I hadn’t known, I would have easily mistaken the Chili Non Carne™ for ground beef!

Also, their 5″ flour tortillas are shipped straight from the source: Austin, Texas! I know some people choose one side over the other, but I’m Team Flour Tortilla for life!

Kevin told me to enjoy the queso on my tacos, and I could make the No. 5 non-vegan by pouring a little on top. My conscience got the best of me, and I only poured my queso on the Or’izo, I just couldn’t sully the Chili Non Carne™ otherwise. (Ha!) But what a delight it was! I might have licked the remaining queso out of its tiny container. (Actually, there is no “might have” about it.)

The menu at King David Tacos is vast with items to satisfy anyone, with meatier tacos, a dedicated vegetarian option, nachos, chips & salsa, and some beverages to satisfy your thirst, such as Topo Chico, cold brew, and – what I was so excited to get an iced cold cup of – perfectly-spiced & creamy horchata! 

The urge to hop back onto the 2 / 3 down to Bergen is strong, but this Manhattanite would have to do it early: their hours are currently 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. daily. Definitely something fun to do if you want to grab a taco or two, a horchata, and take a stroll down to Prospect Park on an early morning jaunt. And for those of you in Brooklyn, especially Prospect Heights: Y’all are the lucky ones! I’d be coming here all of the time!

Whether you stumble upon on of their carts or find yourself in Prospect Heights craving something satisfying for breakfast, King David Taco will surely check off many boxes for you as well. Be sure to pay them a visit soon!


NOTE: I was invited to King David Taco for a comped meal for blog & Instagram coverage, + I tipped 25% based on the total cost of my items I was comped for. All opinions are my own!