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Chef Michael’s Argan Oil

Chef Michael’s Argan Oil

Happy Tuesday, Dear Readers!

Well, it’s been an up-and-down couple of weeks since my last post, and for that I apologize. I’ve been working on the copywriting side, and even visited with the GER last week. But I did get lucky right after my last post—in addition to a lot of good feedback, I got a call from Chef Michael and his wonderful wife, Rosemine, and we talked for over an hour! I won’t give away any of their trade secrets, but they did have a lot to say, and I do appreciate their time.

Chef Michael has been making tasty food for many years, and they opened the Gourmet Kitchen in 2011 in The Woodlands/Tomball area. They specialize in corporate events, like the open house at Woodlands Wellness. But what I also didn’t know is that they also do event catering for the Bernhardt Winery in Plantersville, TX. No kidding! I’ve not even heard of that winery, but that’s not surprising, since Texas has quite a number of them, including Haak Vineyards & Winery (in my part of town, they do weddings) and Messina Hof (in Bryan, near Texas A&M.)  If you’re in the mood for a winery trip, check out Bernhardt’s concert series, both winter and summer—and you’ll be able to sample some of the same delicious food from Chef Michael’s Gourmet Kitchen while you’re there. I’m not saying it’s going to be gluten-free like it was at the open house—that all depends on what the winery (or any client) requests. But whatever it is, you’ll be treated to some of the best tasting food north of the Tunnel.

I asked Chef Michael what got him started making gluten-free and yeast-free food. Most caterers don’t want to deal with “special menus” but can accommodate vegetarians with easy substitutions (I know that from corporate experience.) His answer was simple: “Dr. Davis asked for it.” Now that option is available on his catering menu for Dr. Davis as well as anyone who is looking for a healthier option for their event. You can read more about it here. Definitely not what you’d call “diet food,” and utterly delicious.

Remember this picture from my last post?

One of the delicious  dishes from Chef Michael's repetoire

One of the delicious dishes from Chef Michael’s repetoire

Well. . .that was one of the questions I asked Chef Michael and Rosemine: What the heck is Argan Oil? Rosemine told me, and since then, I’ve certainly learned a lot about it.

Now, before I tell you more, let me preface it this way: if you’re familiar with making anything with chocolate (including things like cakes and ice creams) or are a fan of the Barefoot Contessa, you’ll know that adding a small amount of coffee in a chocolate recipe helps bring out the chocolate flavor. You don’t taste the coffee, but it enhances and improves the taste of whatever you’re doing with the chocolate. My favorite Yeast Free Brownies are a perfect example.

The Argan Oil in Chef Michael’s cooking was like that. Not something I noticeably tasted in the forefront, but something in the background that really enhanced the flavor of everything. Olive oil is great, and so is coconut oil, but Argan’s warm, nutty flavor is a little something special without covering or overpowering the rest of the flavors.

Argan Oil comes exclusively from Morocco, and is used primarily in European and Mediterranean cooking. It’s only been known and available in the US in the last ten years or so (and why have I never heard of it?) One website I researched said that it was unknown outside of Morocco until French chefs started putting it in everything. Now Argan is gaining ground as a gourmet oil and as a health/wellness/beauty product.

Processing and extraction of Argan Oil are all done by hand, by Moroccan women who make a living with the arduous process. It is a nut oil—so if you have a nut allergy, it may not be for you. (Remember: I’m not a doctor, just a food blogger.) The nuts are dried, and are heated to remove the “nutty” aroma for cosmetic use. The culinary oil is then toasted to enhance the nutty flavor that it’s prized for.

Now I wonder if an Argan tree will grow in Texas—but it takes 30-50 years to bear fruit!  Maybe I’ll try growing hazelnuts; I don’t have that kind of patience (or time left.)

The nut comes from the Argan tree, or Argania spinosa. The nut kernel is surrounded by a fleshy fruit, which is removed by hand and used for animal feed. Attempts at mechanizing the separation and extraction process have not yet worked, but I’m sure that will change in the future when someone figures it out. For now, the local women’s cooperatives that do the labor-intensive extraction work helps the women make a living and provide for their families.

So what do you do with it? Unlike olive or coconut oils, you generally don’t cook with Argan Oil. It’s something to be used as-is and in small amounts, like a salad dressing or a “finishing oil.” It’s a bit like the fancy pink Himalayan salt I bought at the Metropolitan Food & Entertaining Expo a couple of years ago. You’d sprinkle a pinch on top of something right before serving, rather than measure some and add it to the recipe. Argan Oil is also used as a dip, similar to the little dip dishes of olive oil in Italian restaurants. It doesn’t have the high smoke point of coconut or olive, so a few drops at the end is all you need.

Argan Oil is similar to olive oil in health benefits, too, rich in Vitamin E and other essential fatty acids. It may also be more resistant to oxidation than olive oil. Some people swear by taking a tablespoon or so first thing in the morning.

There is an additional product from the Argan tree, called Amlou, with a consistency similar to peanut butter. It’s a Moroccan thing, much like peanut butter is to us. It’s made from stone ground almonds, local honey and Argan Oil, and is also available jarred. Spread it on crackers, toast, or whatever you like.

Topically, Argan Oil is used straight for sunburn, wrinkles, acne, stretch marks, and as a hair treatment—but only a little at a time. Medical benefits (according to ArganFarm.com) include lowered cholesterol, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, pain treatment, lower blood pressure and regulation of heart function.

Again—I’m not a doctor, just a food blogger reporting what she reads. While the topical applications are probably safe and effective, I can’t positively answer for the medical benefits; you’d have to try it and see, assuming you don’t have a nut allergy.

Now, I didn’t know the rest of all this about Argan Oil. About a year or so ago, one of my writer friends posted a comment on Facebook about “Morocco Oil” that she bought to use in her hair. (That’s another name for Argan Oil.) She loved it. I meant to try it and I forgot. A couple of months ago, Neighbor K told me to try some Pantene shampoo and conditioner that contained Argan Oil. After looking at a dizzying array of Pantene products, I found the right one and wielded my coupons at the checkout.

Then while Rosemine explained it to me on the phone, I walked into my bathroom and realized that I really did have some. Of course, it wasn’t straight oil, it was in Pantene shampoo and conditioner, and some Tresomme hair styling stuff that contained some Argan Oil, noted on the label.

I really had no idea.

If you’re interested in learning more about Argan Oil, there are a number of sites dedicated to it.

This article on Food Republic gives a writer’s experience learning about Argan Oil while visiting Morocco in 2012.

In the US, Zamouri Spices is a Kansas-based company that not only imports Argan Oil for culinary and cosmetic uses, it also carries a number of Moroccan products that are difficult to find here in the US. (Being from New Orleans, it’s not something I’d ever look for.) They also carry spices, tangines (those round triangular-lidded clay pots), copperware, tea and tea accessories, and other related items.

From the UK is Argan Oil Direct, which also has free shipping worldwide and a USDA organic certification. This site offers two free e-books (which I haven’t read yet) and has a lot of information on it. This is also a company with a home base in Morocco, and is part of one of the Berber family that owns land that the trees grow on.

If you don’t mind ordering online from overseas, ArganFarm.com is run by a native Moroccan named Bader Eddine, and he lives in Essaouira City. His company sells direct from the people who extract it, and also offers a free e-book so you can read more about it. Although the book is well written, Bader’s English is a bit wonky, since it’s probably not his first language. That’s OK–at the end of the book is an offer for free shipping to 200 countries (including the US.) I didn’t see any mention of organic in the book or on his website, but it might be.

Please note that I have not personally ordered from any of the overseas websites. If you do, make SURE to use a credit card, so that if something goes wrong, you can, if need be, dispute it.

Amazon also has a large selection of Argan Oils available from several vendors, some from Zamouri, for both cosmetic and culinary use.

If you’re in The Woodlands, and your company has an upcoming function where the food is that important (or if your event is in The Woodlands), make sure you contact Chef Michael’s Gourmet Kitchen at 281-660-8680, or email them at cateringbychefmichael@gmail.com. You can see more on their website, including menus, additional information, and even a few recipes! Chef Michael and Rosemine can help design a menu that’s perfect for whatever you need. You can see some pictures of their elegant spreads, and even a picture of them at the winery, in their online gallery.

I’m working on a few things for upcoming posts. But darnit, sometimes things are so new that I can’t get my hands on it yet. I’ll let you know when I can.

Happy Dining!

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The Woodlands Wellness Lunch

The Woodlands Wellness Lunch

Hello, Dear Readers:

It occurred to me that I haven’t written since Friday the 13th. AAAHH!!! My apologies. I didn’t realize it was that long. I hope everyone had a great Valentine’s Day, and if you were so inclined, a nice time at the world’s largest #Starbucksdate. I did, and I got a lot of reading done.

Meantime, last week (Feb 19th) I headed north to the annual open house at my doctor’s office. Woodlands Wellness & Cosmetic Center has been in business for ten years. To celebrate–they moved! Seriously, they have a new, larger location, with more room, a long hallway and lots of beautiful blue tile. (I want that blue tile in my house. When I get in it, of course.) And they even told me where they were moving to. So, since I don’t get out too often, I got dressed and went. It was a beautiful day, the weather was cool but not cold, and the doctors and staff had a very long day. (I had a long, long drive, too, but it was worth it, especially for an overdue “day out.”)

They put a few pictures on Facebook, and I guess they had a “ball” afterwards, because everyone was in formal wear. The doctors were seated in one picture, and my Dr. Davis had her shoes off. It was indeed a long day for them, but a good one.

There are two “sides of the house,” and I go for the health & wellness side–the bioidentical hormones and all that. (I told a couple of folks I was “jacked up on hormones and vitamins,” but I’d also watched a Sinbad stand-up DVD a few days before, so I kept saying that til I got home.) Dr. Sakina Davis is the doctor I see, a very nice lady, and, quite frankly, the only doctor I think I can trust:

Me and The Good Doctor. See? They do let me in!

Me and The Good Doctor. See? They do let me in!

Now, I have to explain that Dr. Davis likes peacocks the way I like cats and tigers. So, the office is decorated in a peacock theme, and while this iPhone picture doesn’t really show it, Dr. Davis has a peacock feather in her hair. Fabulous, and of course, appropriate. I tell you that for a reason, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Her husband, the friendly and affable Dr. George Davis, is the cosmetic side of the house. He does the CoolSculpting, Botox, Radiesse, dermal fillers and other cosmetic procedures I learn about when I go to their open house. All the staff will answer any questions you have about any of their procedures, all you have to do is ask.

Another product they carry is Jane Iredale makeup. I’m a longtime Avon user, but I did get a lecture from a fellow redhead on the advantages of switching to Jane Iredale. She was very nice, and despite telling them that I still have oily skin, I heard the term “dry patch.” It was just powder I’d put on. I do not need moisturizer!!

I don’t doubt that it’s good, and I was offered a makeover using JI makeup. You tell me–did it help?

Right after my Jane Iredale makeover, taken by the redhead who did it.

Right after my Jane Iredale makeover, taken by the long-haired redhead who did it. (Now my profile picture here and on Facebook, too.)

I dunno. . .I think I’m looking like my grandmother with red hair. And I think Maw Maw O’Donnell wouldn’t be thrilled with that, either.

If you know anything about this line, it’s more expensive than Avon. Well. . .it was fun, but I’ll have to think about it another day. Honest, that was the first time I’d worn makeup in about a month. When I got home, the eyeliner looked like I’d been caught in the rain. I did tell them, but anyway. . . .

When I walked in, one of the very nice staff offered me my choice of coffee, water or a mimosa. Yes, that’s orange juice with champagne, at 10:00 am, and no, I did not. But I asked for decaf, and they had some–in one of those little takeaway boxes from Starbucks. Thank you! It was very welcomed, warm and tasty, especially with the hazelnut creamer I didn’t realize I picked up.

To introduce you to all the different things WW&CC offers, they give you a “swag bag” of nice things (including a sample lip/cheek stain from Jane Iredale) and a card. You stamp your card when you talk to the different reps for different things. For instance, Christina was giving out samples of Nordic Natural gummy vitamins (delicious), another rep discussed Radiesse, the Jane Iredale ladies were in another room, ending with Dr. George and one of the high-end procedures he does. (I say “high end” because it’s kind of over my head.)

Once you get all your stamps, you drop your card into the raffle box. If you buy supplements, everything was 20% off, and you got an extra ticket, so I got another bottle of the only Vitamin B complex I’ve ever tried that doesn’t make me sick. So I put one ticket in for the Hydrafacials, and one in the box for the Jane Iredale gift basket. If I win. . .well, that’s an excuse to drive back up there, isn’t it?

Yes, there was indeed food involved. The best food anywhere, and even better than last year, which was also very delicious. This year’s menu was again created by Chef Michael’s Gourmet Kitchen in Tomball (close to The Woodlands) and they designed this elegant menu for both the morning and evening sessions:

The fabulous menu from Chef Michael's Gourmet Kitchen.

Chef Michael’s fabulous menu for the morning and evening open house sessions. Sophisticated and first-class dining.

The young lady who was working the morning shift wasn’t quite sure what to think of me, but she was very nice and didn’t mind me nibbling the chips and the hummus. Of course, me being a bit dull sometimes, I forgot to ask her name and thank her personally. But if you’re reading this, your patience is appreciated, and you’re very nice–thank you.

KALE!! I had some for Neighbor K, who loves it. (I didn’t ask for a takeout container. . .but had anyone offered, I would have brought her one of them kale thingies.) Honest, I like kale, don’t love it like K does, but the quinoa/goat cheese/kale dish was just delicious. I passed on the eggplant dish, but then I realized I should not have done that. DUH.

Of course, I didn’t take a picture, because I was too busy eating it:

I don't even know what Argon oil is, and at that moment, I didn't care, either.

I don’t even know what Argan oil is, and at that moment, I didn’t care, either.

I will tell you that the sun-dried tomato hummus has to be the best I’ve ever tasted. I make a simple hummus on the weekends but halve the lemon because most hummus screams lemon–it’s too acidic. Chef Michael, however, doesn’t put much lemon in his (if at all), and it’s ten times better than mine! But that’s why he’s the chef and I’m a blogger. . .and that’s OK.

The beautiful vegetable plate with the sun-dried tomato hummus at the top right. I didn't mess with the Baba Ghanoush, because, well, it's eggplant and you know why.

The beautiful vegetable plate with the sun-dried tomato hummus at the top right. I didn’t mess with the Baba Ghanoush, because, well, it’s eggplant and you know why.

Also provided were some sweet potato tortilla chips that went perfectly with the hummus. I was good–I had some, and loved it, but did NOT eat the whole thing by myself. But you know I could have, especially with sweet potato chips.

I did email Chef Michael’s wife, Rosemine, and she said she would ask him about a short call with me. I never heard back, so that tells me that he’s busy making delicious food for other people know about him and who ordered. Anyone who is on the receiving end of Chef Michael’s food knows how lucky they are, too. . . .

The other thing I got ahold of were these tasty little sandwiches:

Aren't they beautiful?

Aren’t they beautiful?

Yes, they are gluten free. Here’s what was in them:

2015-02-19 11.35.55

They were just delicious, and yes, I could have eaten one of those trays myself, after the hummus. But I didn’t. OK, maybe half the tray, but I stuck with one or two.

I myself have not made the almond bread yet, but I plan to one day. I hope it comes out half as good as Chef Michael’s.

Chef Michael’s website also has a section for yeast free/gluten free menu, and you can read about it here. No wonder Dr. Davis contacted him for catering the party!

Remember about yeast-free and gluten-free that some things are that way “by default,” that is, wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) have the offending ingredient in them anyway, like hummus. Flour is used in a number of places as binder or to thicken, and I’ve used it myself on occasion (but not for a while.) So when it says “gluten free,” it might have always been so. Salsa, for instance, or butter. Make sense? The other way is to make the item with alternate ingredients that make it act like the gluten version (i.e., bread) so that the gluten (or other ingredient) is simply avoided. With this party, I knew everything was healthy, but when you’re cruising through a grocery or health food store, you must read the labels and ask questions (or you’ll end up with sugar in your tomato paste.)  Chef Michael understands what Dr. Davis was asking for and provided it, but not everyone you encounter will understand that you’re trying to avoid wheat, flour, sugar, soy, etc. So you have to ask if you’re not sure.

Anyway. . . .

Chef Michael’s website is ChefMichaelsGK.com. You can email Chef Michael Matthews or his very nice wife Rosemine at cateringbychefmichael@gmail.com. They do catering on the north side of Houston, including The Woodlands. If I can find it next time I go up there, I’ll stop in to see them. You can also call them to place an order at 281-660-8680 or 281-794-1771.

If you have a special event coming up and you live up there, or have an event planned for that part of Houston, CALL THEM FIRST. After lunch at Woodlands Wellness, I highly recommend them.

Now, while Chef Michael also does dessert, this time, he didn’t–it was by none other than my *other* Woodands favorite, Frost Bake Shoppe. Get a load of this:

Is that not an amazing cake?

Isn’t that an amazing cake?

I hate to over-use the word “amazing,” but it really was. And, wait for it–GLUTEN FREE!

I have written about Frost’s delicious gluten free treats before, ever since I attended the lecture with Dr. William Davis, the Wheat Belly guy. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, I was talking to the GER, and mentioned that I was going to this activity in The Woodlands, the same place I got the cupcake he enjoyed the last time I went. In fact, he said, “bring back a dozen!” (My response: “Dude, they’re $3.50 apiece.” But you know they’re worth every penny.)

Now, this trip to The Woodlands did not end up with me stopping at Frost, because this beautiful creature appeared in the lobby. Take a closer look:

The cake, with a cake peacock on top.

Those were actually chocolate and vanilla mini-cupcakes, with the little sugar “feathers” on top, comprising the tail:

Really, really well made and beautiful

Really, really well made and beautiful

Remember when I said Dr. Davis likes the peacock the way I like tigers and cats? (That’s what I was told when I asked a staff member one day.) The cake was made to match the office’s beautiful decor. Now do you get it? The Peacock Cake!

I’m not getting married, of course, but if I were. . .that might be what I’d want for a wedding cake. Maybe my birthday cake when I turn 55. From Frost, of course. You can see a gallery of their delicious treats here (indexed by type.) And if you are up that way, stop in for a real feast for the eyes and soul. Gluten free, of course.

Oh, how many did I have? I might have accidentally eaten one of the “feathers” and um, one or two or four of the mini cupcakes. They were the tiny ones, which means I really only ate *two* cupcakes! Neighbor K gave me a funny look when I told her that. With the same look she gives the Daft Pug, she said, “just because they’re gluten free doesn’t mean you can eat them all.” Yes, I know, and I did NOT eat them ALL. Just enough to not make a trip to Frost before I came back to Clear Lake.

I did make one more stop, at Trader Joe’s in The Woodlands, and bought. . .a bunch of stuff. You know, the kind of thing I like to stock up on: olive oil, the cocoa powder, things like that, since they’re cheaper there. Neighbor R also asked me to pick up some of their $3-a-bottle Pinot Grigio, which I happily did. It’s her favorite, and I’m happy to do so for an 80-year-old firebrand with bum knees.

If I call her “a little old lady in Clear Lake” again she will hit me with said bottle. Full. Then I’ll be going to see Dr. Davis for a head injury. Oh, wait, Dr. George is also an ER physician. . .maybe I should go see him, right?

Many thanks to the Drs. Davis and their wonderful staff for a fantastic open house, Chef Michael’s Gourmet Kitchen for wonderful, tasty, and healthy well-made food, and Frost Bake Shoppe for an incredible, beautiful and delicious cake that none will ever forget.

If you’re gonna have some food, make it something good.

Happy Dining!!

 

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