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Spiced butternut squash muffins with margarita sour cream

March 31, 2015

butternut squash muffins -mycustardpie.comIt was butternut squash’s fault. It waved at me from its nest among the vibrant fresh greens, the crisp peppers, the baby potatoes (their cousins were already in my bag). Suddenly it was in my hand and within half an hour it was part of my weekly farmers’ market vegetable still life which had already spun out of control in the ‘how can we possibly eat all this in one week?’ stakes.

This innocent vegetable is on the list of ‘things we will not eat’ designated by both KP and veggie teen. No surprise that it was looking at me reproachfully at the end of the week. I’d have to be creative, and inspired by Kate of Veggie Desserts my thoughts turned to something sweet…. but not too sweet.

Healthy and wholesome was my aim, but not so extreme that it would fall upon me to ‘tidy’ them all up myself. I sampled one while it was still warm from the oven, then swanned off to the Dubai World Cup with the memory of their moreish spiciness lingering on my lips. On my return their numbers were depleted – these were a hit – and they seemed to have got better overnight. The butternut moistness is complemented by the slight earthiness of the wholemeal flour, and none of the spices dominate (I often find cinnamon too overpowering). I’m keen to try this using all raw honey next time but my precious golden jar was getting low.

The cream is a frivolity, but oh so good, a tangier (tangy-er?) version of one that Nigella makes.

If you wanted nuttiness, a handful of chopped walnuts would be great; or even chocolate chips, but we couldn’t claim to be quite as virtuous then.

Who knew a plain, brown muffin could be quite this good.

Spiced butternut squash muffins with margarita sour cream

  • Servings: 16
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 75g melted butter
  • 60g raw honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 180g light, soft brown sugar
  • 3 medium eggs, free range
  • 450g roasted butternut squash (cut in half and bake in a medium oven for 30 minutes or until the flesh is soft, then scoop out and discard the skin and mash the insides with a fork)
  • 300g wholemeal flour
  • 1 1/2 level teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 1/2 level teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 rounded teaspoons mixed spice
  • scant 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt


Put the melted butter, raw honey, vanilla extract and sugar into a mixing bowl and beat in the eggs.

Stir in the butternut squash with a spatula then fold in the remaining dry ingredients.Do not over mix.

Place paper cups in a muffin tray and fill to about halfway with the mixture (I use an ice-cream scoop).

Bake in an oven preheated to 180 C for 15 – 20 minutes. When you insert a skewer it should come out clean or with a crumb attached. Cool on a wire rack.

Margarita sour cream topping

Combine the juice of 1 lime, 1 dessertspoonful each of triple sec and tequila and 3 dessertspoonfuls of icing sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Beat in 175g creme frâiche until thickened. Serve immediately (it may split when stored).

butternut squash muffins -mycustardpie.comLooking for more ways to use up veg in your sweet baking?

Beetroot and walnut muffins – My Custard Pie

Roasted beetroot and raw cacao nib cupcakes – Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary

Skinny zucchini muffins – Recipes from a Pantry

Spiced sweet potato muffins – Fuss Free Flavours

Sweet potato, celeriac and sultana muffins – Jen’s Food

Carrot cake cookies – A Mummy Too

Spiced pumpkin muffins – Cook Sister

Parsnip and lime marmalade cake – Kellie’s Food to Glow and many others on her site

And pretty much everything on Veggie Desserts including kale and lemon muffins

farmers market veg

My veg mountain, including the butternut squash, from the farmers’ market

Do you ever get carried away while food shopping? What do you do when you have a veg mountain?

Fancy going to Dubai World Cup 2015? Yes you could be there

March 24, 2015

champagneI don’t do many giveaways here on My Custard Pie because I’d rather chat with you about other things, but this is just too good to miss. If you live in the U.A.E. you could win two tickets to the Dubai World Cup of Racing 2015. Read on for details of how to enter…

Here in Dubai, milliners are flying in, there’s a concentrated effort around frock buying, and excitement is gathering for the highlight of the racing season. The Dubai World Cup is also known as the richest horse race in the world due to the size of its prize money pot. The race track is very different from where I grew up in Cheltenham, with its sweeping oval nestled beneath the Cotswold hills. Dubai is about flat racing, bathed in flood lights and held in a sinuously curved stadium where everyone has an incredible view of the action (and the people-watching) and the atmosphere is electric.

Racing in Dubai is also about the build up, whether you arrive by bus from Irish Pub McGettigans or book a limo, enter the fashion show (winners take home a new Jaguar F type for a year), the entertainment (a firework start and a big name act to finish – this year it’s Kylie) or sip the finest Champagne in style. I’ll be doing the latter this coming Saturday in the exclusive Le Lounge hosted by fine wine retailer Le Clos, in prime position in Apron Views. I haven’t been to the races for a few years although went a lot in the past and I’m now super excited. And you can too…

Dubai World Cup ticket luxury giveaway

Le Clos, the fine wine and luxury spirits retailer based at Dubai International airport, is offering up two Apron Views tickets to the Dubai World Cup this weekend, to one lucky My Custard Pie reader. With these tickets, you will get access to Le Lounge, where you will be treated to a bottle of Moët & Chandon Champagne*.

If you fancy coming, pop your name on the blog in the comments and a quick line telling me why you’d like to win the tickets by this Thursday (26th March 2015) and we’ll settle this in the usual way, picking one name at random.

And that’s not all…

At the Dubai World Cup this weekend, race-goers visiting Le Lounge will have the chance to capture their style moments in Le Clos’ photo booth. Visitors to Le Lounge who get snapped in the photo booth can take away a printed image of them and their friends on the day; plus there will be a Le Clos roving photographer to capture DWC style. For a chance to win the ultimate Champagne dinner for 10 people (valued at 20,000 AED), race-goers must tag themselves on the Le Clos Facebook page. The more interaction the photo gets, the better. 20 bottles of Grand Cuvee Marque are also being given as prizes, so there is a real incentive to get tagging.

racing in Dubai

Very old pics of me and my sister in the free section at the old stadium on a normal race night. How times have changed!

If you’ve ever flown into stay with me in Dubai, you’ll know that I order and pay for wine online from Le Clos and a nice man greets you before passport control and hands it over. It’s something I look forward to when I arrive back in Dubai and a great way of buying fine wine duty free (or there is a branch at Al Hamra Cellar if you drive to RAK).

I’ll let you know what I get up to on Saturday – follow my tweets and instagram if you want live coverage! Otherwise I’ll try and share the highs, lows, bubbles and, of course, what we ate asap next week.

*T&Cs:1. Competition closes on Thursday 26th March 2015 at 11.59pm GMT+4.
2. The prize draw is open to any UAE resident over the age of 18 who complies with local laws pertaining to attending this event and consuming alcohol. To enter, simply leave a comment below telling me why you’d like to win the tickets (and make sure you leave your email in the box provided).

Sorry to all those outside the U.A.E. (unless you want to hop on a plane). If you are planning to visit Dubai anytime, put the Dubai World Cup in your diary.

Disclosure: I am a guest of Le Clos at the Dubai World Cup, but have received no remuneration for this post and opinions are my own.

How to cook quails eggs

March 16, 2015

How to cook quails eggs -“How many?” Adil the farmer asks me. Actually he might just have gestured; his English and my Arabic are on a par. At 1 aed each (about 20 pence) I can afford to buy lots. He starts to count the dainty, speckled eggs into a plastic bag cushioned with strips of paper. The lady at my elbow asks “what do you do with them?”. This is part of the pleasure of shopping at the Farmers’ Market on the Terrace, the chatting, the friendly camaraderie, the exchange of information about food with people of many backgrounds and cultures.

My first ever quail egg could have tasted quite ordinary but I was won over by their stylish presentation at a party where the food was by fashionable London caterers ‘The Admiral Crichton’ in the private garden in a London square. The eggs nestled on straw in a wicker basket, some peeled, some still in their bluish, mottled shells. We’d been warned by our MD that the first cocktail would be very strong to relax our clients and get the party started with a bang. Food seemed sensible and these were immensely moreish. I was a lifelong fan from that moment.

My girls loved snacking on them when they were little – the perfect toddler fare – and their nimble fingers soon picked off the papery peel. As an easy starter to take to a friend’s house (who is wheat-intolerant) this weekend they were ideal. I arranged them on a white linen napkin inside a basket with a shot glass full of celery salt for dipping. Quails eggs can be used in any way you’d use chicken eggs but it’s nice to make the most of their Lilliputian size:

How to cook quails eggs -

Hard boiled quails eggs

Place the eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Place over a medium heat. Time for 2 1/2 minutes after they come to the boil and then drain and plunge immediately into lots of cold water.

Serving ideas: Peel and use in salads, dipped into celery salt, or with home-made mayonnaise. If you have a lot of patience you could make miniature Scotch eggs (thanks Kavey). Or pickle them.

Fried quails eggs

It’s quite hard to crack a quail egg without breaking the yolk. I peel off the end of the shell then pinch the membrane to break it. You can pour the egg out of the shell quite easily then. Otherwise carefully saw off the end with a serrated knife. Lightly grease a small non-stick frying pan and place over a low to medium heat. Slide the eggs gently onto the pan and cover with a lid (or large plate). Check after a minute (glass lids are great) and once the white is set firm, gently lift out with a fish slice.

Serving ideas: with shoe-string fries; on thin slices of toasted baguette with a sliver of crispy bacon or chorizo; or on rye bread rounds on small slices of smoked salmon.

Poached quails eggs

Gently crack your eggs as above onto a flat plate. Bring a small frying pan of water to a gently shimmer and slide the eggs into the water very carefully.  Keep the water at a temperature so it hardly bubbles. Remove the quails eggs when the whites are set. If using later plunge them into a bowl of iced water and reheat in simmering water for 30 seconds.

Serving ideas: mini eggs Benedict or Florentine; on top of tiny fish cakes; with baby asparagus and shaved Parmesan.

Farmers Market weekly shop vegetables and eggs

Last Friday’s Farmers’ Market haul

So you love quails eggs like I do (KP won’t touch them even though he adores hard-boiled eggs – that’s just weird)? Are you a quails egg virgin? Any other serving suggestions to add to this list?

P.S. All these pics taken on my iphone – do you think that matters? Would love your feedback.

Escape to a desert island – visiting Sir Bani Yas

February 28, 2015

Sir Bani Yas Island - My Custard Pie“How much does one giraffe eat?” asked the small Emirati boy. “About 75 kilos per day” replied Johann our safari driver. Murmurs of surprise from everyone in the car as we watched three of the tallest animals in the world lollop along in front of our jeep heading towards their feeding area.

We were mid-safari on Sir Bani Yas island (meaning dome of salt) just off Abu Dhabi’s Western coast, the former private island of Sheikh Zayed, late, revered first ruler of the United Arab Emirates. A private Majlis at the highest point of the island is still frequented by the present Sheikh and groves of olive, tamarind, pineapple, mango, banana, apple, orange and lemon trees provide fruit for the palaces. Three types of date palms grow there too and I can vouch for their exquisite sweetness and texture as they are offered as a welcome in reception along with cardamom scented Arabic coffee.

How would you fare if you were stranded alone on a desert island? As a regular listener to Desert Island Discs, I’ve noticed that there are three answers to Kirsty’s question. Some people absolutely dread being on their own and would miss civilisation unbearably, others look forward to the challenge of self-sufficiency and usually plot how they would engineer their escape, the last group welcome tranquility and the appeal of solitude. After a really hectic spell I was definitely in the latter category. Luckily my desert island would be complete with five-star hotel,  so I headed off from Dubai for a simple if boring drive of three and a half hours for a weekend ‘staycation’. Ferries run about every 2 hours to take you on the 15 minutes transfer to the island (your car is safely parked in a special place by the dock).

Sir Bani Yas Island - My Custard PieThere are three places to stay on the island and a driver took me to Desert Islands Resort and Spa.  The hotel entrance is fringed with a lake dotted with flamingos, while the guest rooms look out on the sea. All three resorts are run by Anantara and the decor of the lobby is African game lodge meets the Far East, which means there’s a touch of elegance but cosy at the same time.

I wandered down to the beach where a row of sea defences, speckled and mottled from the lapping water, looked like the emerging coils of a gigantic sea serpent. Reporting for duty at a cooking lesson at the Samak seafood restaurant actually meant that I dressed up in an apron and a chef’s hat and watched while the real chef cooked and then he looked on as I ate it.  Worn out by all the excitement I poured fragrant oils, from the little urns provided, into steaming hot water, lit a candle (how thoughtful), had a warm bath and an early night.

Breakfast is served in the Palm restaurant and the lighting is a little weird – much better to sit outside. A gargantuan buffet with every item you could conceivably desire covers at least a third of the place, from cronuts to Bircher muesli via Arabic style laban, olives and cheeses to a full English and more. Many people looked as though they were hunkering down to stay and eat for hours. However, my date with Johann was on the horizon so I ordered from the egg cooking station. There’s an omelette they do in  Middle Eastern hotels where they add chopped onion, tomato, cheese, herbs and chilli. This set me up for anything the wild animals could throw at me.

Sir Bani Yas Island - My Custard Pie

Sir Bani Yas Island - My Custard Pie

Looping our way through the game reserve in an open sided jeep in early light meant we were up close and personal with hundreds of gazelle-type creatures who were milling around waiting for their feed. Sheikh Zayed saved the Arabian oryx (Al Maha), from extinction when he created the reserve. It’s the national symbol of the United Arab Emirates. He also rescued the black-faced Blackbuck (this curly horned mammal can run at 90 km per hour), the Mountain gazelle (Al Domani) and the Sand Gazelle(Al Reem) ; copious numbers mixed in with deer and other breeds were pottering about munching. They are also munched… more of that later.

The ‘greening of the desert’ was a Sheikh Zayed initiative and the island is planted with thousands of Sidr and Do’ani trees in neat rows (to facilitate irrigation). Grass is planted for grazing and this whole micro-climate attracts a wonderful array of bird-life. Other rulers started to give gifts of animals to Sheikh Zayed and our next aim was to track down some of the big game. The sight of a row of Reticulated giraffe, purposefully moving their impossibly long legs in rhythm was thrilling. They seemed so at home in the landscape and completely ignored us as we parked up close to them while feeding. Ostrich and more assorted gazelle mingled in while osprey glided overhead.

A young male cheetah rested on a hill gazing out over the landscape. He’s one of five who roam the reserve although he has his own fenced off territory to prevent over breeding and excessive fighting (a cub was killed a while back). The cheetah help keep the exploding population of gazelle – now far from extinct – in check as they hunt for their food.

General Manager Mark Eletr takes me for lunch over at the Olio Italian restaurant at the nearby Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island Al Yamm Villa Resort. Thirty private villas cluster around a low-level, Mediterranean style building fronted by a serene, uncluttered (minimalistic?) beach. It’s comfortable, tranquil and elegant without extravagance. There are no real surprises on the Italian menu but the Chef, who has an international pedigree but talks in a voluble Italian accent recommends the special of day. We gaze out over the white sea and azure waves, pausing only to shoo away an overenthusiastic bird which looks like a fluffy grouse which scuttles onto our table now and again. Chocolate volcano cake to follow? Oh go on then.

Lying on a massage table the window to the beach veiled by a gauze curtain and the waves audible through the plinky-plonky spa music was the perfect thing to follow lunch. You could even have your massage on the beach itself in an Arabian style tent. Stress and computer work goes straight to my shoulders so I’ve road-tested many, many massages over the years and this was a good one.

It would have been foolish to ignore Mark’s recommendation of Amwaj for a sundowner and I lost count of the photos I took of the dramatic colours over the ink black lapping sea in the sweep of the bay while sipping an excellent Negroni. A fire pit was lit against the chill of the evening, the soundtrack was relaxing funky jazz, but eventually I tore myself away to eat authentic Middle Eastern food on the terrace.

Up at dawn the next morning, I walked round the lake and followed a group of gazelle trotting ahead at a wary distance. Flamingos were silhouetted against the rising sun and I counted five heron swooping up and down on the water. It was utterly peaceful and the 5km solitary amble the perfect foil for the noise and lights of Dubai.

At breakfast, I had my own wildlife display when jays spotted the remains of my poached eggs on toast. I sat very still and watched as they got braver and braver, one hiding behind the teapot and then popping out to dive in for the spoils.  The lady who said she was afraid of animals while on our safari would have hated it but this feeling of being on the edge of nature was the highlight of the stay for me.

My room on the ground floor opened onto a small terrace and when I wasn’t eating, drinking or communing with nature, the warm sun, pleasant breeze and sound of the birds all did their stress-busting magic.

One last meal, which sadly was a bit rushed due to my imminent departure by ferry was nevertheless really special. The Al Sahel Villa Resort is within the reserve itself and another small collection of private villas in surroundings modeled on the African bush . My table at the Savannah Grill restaurant looked out onto an area of trees and bush grass where it’s possible to book private dining at night. Gazelle grazed leisurely on the lawn, a peacock wandered over to inspect me and any thoughts that a bobotie spring roll might not work as a concept or be too greasy evaporated as I took a bite.

The return journey by chauffeured four-wheel drive and ferry had all the services of a short flight, with a departure lounge and baggage handling. I even had someone to load my bag into my car on arrival. My desert island experience renewed my mind, body and spirit, the kilometres slipped away and it was a bit startling to find myself back in Dubai’s chaotic metropolis.

Sir Bani Yas Island - My Custard Pie

Sir Bani Yas Island - My Custard Pie

There are many reasons why you’d visit Sir Bani Yas Island. As well as the wildlife and safari, you can kayak or play tennis. There are bikes for hire for a whizz round the island, they’re the ones with a motor for those who want to save their legs. You can dive offshore, go horse-riding and of course there’s the spa. You can even take a tour of the remains of a Christian monastery dating from the 6th Century.

Is it a culinary destination too? I ‘d expected standard hotel fare, a quality international menu without any excitement. In fact given my frazzled state they could have served me Marmite on toast all weekend and I’d have been happy. There was an element of the same old, same old, but with a noticeable difference. The island isolation seems to have unified the culinary team to meet the demands of the guests above and beyond the norm (you can’t go down the road for an alternative so the chefs try to make something you’ll like). The ‘ceviche’ at the Samat restaurant was precooked as most of the guests don’t like raw fish (sadly I do!). They did however make the most delicious steamed sea bream however and do not serve endangered hammour on any menu for environmental reasons. GM Mark told me that they couldn’t ignore the issues faced in the seas lapping at their shores. Big tick of approval there.

The Middle Eastern food at Amwaj was really well executed showing off the talents of Lebanese chef. It wasn’t the hummous, muhamarra and Dijaj Meshwi that showed off the high quality here although they were all delicious. It was the spankingly fresh salad of whole lettuce, cucumber, tomato and herbs demonstrated respect for good ingredients. The cocktail list (to go with the setting sun and fire) was excellent, but the Lebanese wine the only palatable red choice by the glass (a Portuguese Merlot? seriously?).  It’s worth visiting the Olio and Savanna restaurants for their settings alone but the enthusiasm and skill of the head chefs shone through in the dishes I tasted. The filled seafood pasta flavoured with squid ink by the Italian chef was outstanding especially when watching the waves lapping at the shore a few metres away.

Savanna was a place I could have taken root at and spent the whole afternoon watching the gazelle graze, the peacocks wander and the long grass wave in the breeze. I thought the bobotie spring rolls sounded odd but ordered them anyway and was won over as the thin, crisp, perfectly dry pastry crumbled to reveal a spicy, meaty filling paired with a homemade fruity chutney.  The strength in the hotel team is that several of this band of mixed nationalities and backgrounds have worked together for years within the region and patently love what they do. A special mention has to go to one chef who popped up whenever and wherever I ate (his name and title was so complicated but he’ll know who he is) . He appeared late at night down at Amwaj to make sure everything was OK and made a superb poached egg for me for breakfast.

The hotel was relaxed and informal for families and kept thinking how much my girls would have adored this trip when they were younger. My visit in January meant that the hotel was quite quiet and there was a crisp breeze coming off the sea – it gets hotter and busier as the weather warms up but like most UAE dwellers, I get enough sun. For me it was the ultimate weekend decompression chamber, getting closer to nature, peace and solitude in comfort and style.

Sir Bani Yas Island - My Custard Pie

Sir Bani Yas Island - My Custard Pie

I was a guest of Anantara for the weekend (excluding the Spa), all opinions my own. Find more details about the resort here. It’s possible to fly to the island from Dubai with Rotana Jet but they didn’t respond to my enquiry.

Seeking out street food in Abu Dhabi

February 21, 2015

“When they opened the gates in Al Ain, people were running in”, this nugget of information from one of the Abu Dhabi street feast traders mobilized us to action. Determined to sample something from every food truck that had been shipped from the UK, Sam, Shiyam and I positioned ourselves and three different trucks ready and waiting to be their first customers. Chopped onions were being unwrapped, tubs of browned halloumi carried past, grills heating up. With the sun going down over the Abu Dhabi Corniche the temperature was perfect for punters but pretty steamy if you were in a small van next to a shimmering hot plate. As Brits out during the depths of a UK winter, the lobsters weren’t just on the grill, many had overdone the sun and were glowing pinkishly. They were all stoked for another busy night.

Paul from Donastia Social Club answered my questions and while he turned the chops on the grill so the fat crisped up perfectly and the sweet scent of cooking lamb filled the air. I returned triumphantly to our little table with my lamb cutlets with a pea puree and confit broad beans and we pooled our spoils. The lamb would have graced a restaurant menu perfectly – nothing junk food about that – and the local fresh ingredients shone through. The stall holder from Big Apple Hot Dogs had brought his 98% meat, natural casing sausages from the UK and they were fat, peppery and laden with sauces. A lot more ‘mmmm-ing’ from our table – actually that might have just been me. I’d been sceptical that someone could make cheese on toast exciting. Raclette cheese mixed with cheddar and some onion in a a perfectly toasted sour dough sandwich tasted as good as it sounds. The Cheese Truck were now vying for second place my streetfood rankings. Slightly greasy churros were dunked into cocoa laden dipping sauce from Churros Bros.

Diving off for the next round, I headed for The Roadery in their blue van called ‘Pam’. The guys were already rusting up some bracos, a flat bread freshly made from flour and baking powder and freshly cooked into a British taco (their own invention). The tongue was not ready so I plumped for Wagyu beef cheek. The girls taking the money had volunteered to help and had driven down from Dubai after work. Dan Shearman who delicately assembled my braco brings nose to tail eating and sustainable food to the street. Served in a slender bamboo tray, this was another plateful which would have easily made it onto a good restaurant menu. The Roadery – please move to Dubai permanently.

Back at the picnic table we finished off a very rustic looking pizza made in the back of a tiny Ape van. Brothers James and Thom Elliot documented their journey as they drove it back from Italy – hence Pizza Pilgrims –  and now recreate Neapolitan-style pizzas in London. The sauce tasted as though it had been made from fresh tomatoes – another big tick. The Indians Next Door were so friendly and genuine, just like their food. This was the best value all night with a freshly made roti filled with slow cooked chicken curry. I’d braved a rapidly expanding queue for ATE street food among groups of Emirati ladies – it was great to be among locals in Abu Dhabi (more rare in Dubai). Brioche sliders were being filled with slow-cooked lamb, chicken or beef – I plumped for the latter two which were good but not great compared to the previous meaty offerings… however this is all relative as you’ll see later.

We chatted to local traders as well, like Tahir from the fabulous Moti Roti, Jones the Grocer team (who had sold cheese to the Cheese Truck!), and the Biryani Pot guy (from the Purple Honey group) but our priority was to sample what the visitors had brought. Gasping for a drink the final truck was really welcome – Yogusensi and one of each was ordered. We tried ‘Pink lemon…aid’ (lemon, apple, black grape), ‘Cosmic Energy’ (beetroot, ginger, apple) and ‘Hail King carrot’ (carrot, orange, ginger, apple). There were all super fresh and beautifully balanced. I didn’t think I’d every rave about juice but these were top notch.

Leaving the throng, with live African drumming music in the background and the chefs demo area in full swing, we made our way back to Dubai. Shiyam couldn’t resist taking us to one of his favourite dosa places on the way though. Picking our way to a small canteen style restaurant across from an old-style Indian cinema, vada and dosas filled with chillies and peppercorns were passed through the white tiled hatch on metal plates. Vegan and gluten-free, this was delicious food to please a crowd and we just about managed to make a fair-sized dent in the crispy, golden discs.

The food had been stellar, so what made it different from the ‘street food’ movement which seems to be creeping into the Emirates? Firstly, the people who man the vans cooked and sourced the food. There had been a mix up with suppliers when the arrived so they hit the local markets and all we talked to were raving about the amazing choice and produce from the fish and veg souks. They all loved Lulu’s too. While some are growing businesses (like Pizza Pilgrims) most are one or two person operations who took a huge risk in removing their vans from the streets of London for the two months it takes to ship them here and back. They are only as good as the last meal they serve in a very competitive street food environment so it has to be great (and not just about image). The food is made for the street and unlike most of the new UAE trucks are not restaurant pop ups.

Where to get real street food in Dubai?

I’m a fan of Moti Roti  which started as a small stall at the Ripe market when it was in the Courtyard. Although Tahir doesn’t cook everything he’s always at every outdoor event they attend. Like the London traders he started on the street. For me, the current restaurants in a van fall into two categories a) restaurant pop ups and b) fast food vans (some on a par with 1970’s burger vans in quality and some very expensive). I tried a wide range of the food at the Al Quoz Street Nights event last night and although some of my favourite restaurants were there, most did not deliver in taste or portion size (too huge and difficult to eat). They are better off cooking in their own kitchens. The ‘ATE’ sliders which we’d thought just OK the night before, knocked spots off anything I tried there.

The exception is Ghaf Kitchen who are actually an anomaly as high-end outside caterers and always serve up excellent food (the owner was there taking orders at Street Nights). Baker and Spice also get it right at the Farmers’ Market as they don’t recreate anything from their menu but make simple, fresh food which is excellent on the grill. Otherwise you’ll have to eat ‘street food’ inside in hole in the wall restaurants throughout Deira and Bur Dubai (similar to the dosa place). Visit I Live in a Frying Pan for a whole host of little hole in the wall recommendations and this great post about four street food gems in Satwa by Chef and Steward.

If you are in London look for Kerb, Street Feast and the Real Food Festival – see more on my post about eating out in London.

So if you are in the Emirates today and seeking street food, head to the Street Feast on Abu Dhabi Corniche. For a fantastic vibe, some brilliant street art, music and to eat outside, go to Street Nights in Al Quoz.

It’ll be interesting to see where the street food movement goes next both here and in other big cities. What’s the best street food you’ve ever eaten?

What to read while eating your pancakes

February 17, 2015

Pancake day - mycustardpie.comHappy Shrove Tuesday. This day always makes me smile as it brings back happy memories. My Mum standing at the stove making pancake after pancake – the thin, crepe type not the fluffy American style ones we’ve come to know of late. My sister and I would sit there expectantly eating each one in turn, rolling up the lacy circles, dousing with lemon juice and a sprinkle of crunchy granulated sugar. “Surely you don’t want more?” she’d say in amazement as we got to the end of the first batch of batter, heroically whipping up another jugful and entertaining us with her tossing-the-pancake skills. It was even better when the day coincided with my birthday. A double dose of pleasure in the midst of dark February winter days…

I have to remind myself of this as I sit here at my desk, looking out of the window, the sunlight streaming in, tiny sun birds eating seeds, a hoopoe on the lawn and the palm tree fronds waving gently. Do I make normal pancakes tonight just for KP and me and do I attempt this pancake for veggie teen (who is still on a vegan month)? Perhaps I’ll just stick with nostalgia today make a batch for myself today.

Another thing putting a big grin on my face is the latest issue of Food e Mag.

Food E Mag DxbIt’s a beautiful online food and travel magazine and this is my favourite issue to date. What makes it unique are the authors – it’s founded and written by bloggers within the region (Gulf states and Middle East). Initially brought to life by Sarah and Ishita, the latter is now Editor in chief, with Debbie as Travel and Features editor; it’s a really good-looking title.

This month there are pancakes, of course, courtesy of Gbemi who blogs as Dubai Fit Foodie. I spent a couple of hours with Noreen earlier this year, and she showed elder teen and me how to create a stunning table from bits and pieces anyone can find. Go straight to page 10 to see why we were so inspired.

Prachi‘s dedication to getting children interested in good food and cooking from scratch to set them up for a healthy life has reached the ears of Jamie Oliver. Totally thrilled that she’s just been appointed as a Food Revolution Ambassador. This work is vital in the U.A.E where obesity and diabetes are epidemic (more on page 14).

Until I met Riath – the honey man – from Balqees, I thought all honey was natural. Since then the scales have fallen from eyes and I know how difficult it is to find truly unadulterated, pure honey and only buy Balqees (page 18).

If you’ve ever wondered why I’ve been on seven wonderful Frying Pan Food Adventures, read Radhina‘s article about them. Warning – the pictures alone will make you want to book one immediately.  If you are traveling further afield there is a guide to food tours in Mumbai, Bengalaru, Seville and Prague.

People often ask me where to eat out and I usually point them in the direction of The Hedonista. I thought I knew all the healthy eating places in this city until I read her really comprehensive article (on page 40).

This is just a taste of what’s inside. It’s free and simple to navigate on a tablet (as well as on mobile and laptop). Oh yes – you may have noticed the badge in my side bar. As Food Sourcing Contributor, this month I’ve had a look at ‘superfoods’ and where to find them (on page 8).

Put the kettle on and find somewhere comfortable to curl up with a cup of tea and spend some time getting lost in the delicious pages of Food E Mag. That’s what I’m going to do right now. A few Maltesers may also sneak into my mouth, left over from last night’s supper with friends in the garden. Must share my first experience with cooking a Texas brisket on the barbecue soon – seriously good.

Making pancakes is very simple – this is pretty much how my Mum made them:

Pancakes (or crepes)

  • Servings: 4-6 pancakes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 125g plain flour
  • 1 egg, free range
  • 300ml milk
  • vegetable oil for frying


  1. Put the flour into a medium-sized bowl and make a well in the centre.
  2. Crack the egg into the well and whisk it, slowly drawing in flour from the sides to make a thick paste.
  3. Start to add the milk, little by little, drawing in more flour until you have a thick batter. Whisk all the lumps out (this is easier to do with a thick batter than a thin one).
  4. Whisk in the remaining milk until your batter is the consistency of single cream. If possible leave the batter to rest for an hour.
  5. Heat a very small amount of vegetable oil in a frying pan until so hot that a haze appears. Tip the pan so that it is just coated with droplets of oil. Pour in a ladleful of batter and immediately swirl the pan in a circular movement so there is a thin layer all over.
  6. When the edges are set, gently loosen them from the sides with a knife. Bubbles will start to appear, give the pan a shake, forwards and backwards. If the pancake does not move in the pan loosen it underneath with a knife or spatula. Flip the pancake over with a spatula or by tossing it. Cook for a minute or less (small light brown freckles is what you are after). Slide onto a plate and serve with lemon juice and sugar*. The first pancake is always a bit oddly shaped – they get better.

*It has to be fresh lemon juice and sugar. Keep your maple syrup, chocolate spread and other aberrations sweet toppings for the thick, fluffy kind of pancakes. The only exception is if you are making them as crêpes Suzette!

Pancake day - mycustardpie.comAre you getting out your pancake pan today? What do you think of Food E Mag?

Something bubbling in my kitchen

February 9, 2015

sourdough starterThe windows are wide open during the day, a fresh breeze blows through the house and every surface is coated with a fine dust. Whether this is sand or flour is hard to tell. Before Christmas I waited and waited for a letter that did not come. January arrived and a few weeks in, an envelope covered in colourful stamps was waiting for me on the table. The magic granules from Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, created with flour, water and invisible elements in the atmosphere, had travelled by halfway round the world from Australia. The offspring of Priscilla, christened Prudence by me, was stirred into some more flour and water and started a new life in Dubai.

So in my kitchen this month have been golden, chewy-crusted loaves and the scent of baking; the first steps in my new routine as a regular sourdough bread baker. I started by following Celia’s sourdough 101 guidance then, a couple of overnight loaves. Some have been baked in a Le Creuset cast iron pot, one on a baking tray. With Celia’s straightforward but meticulous guidance, informed by her experience and knowledge, the baking routine has not been arduous at all and the fear factor replaced by curiosity and excitement. Oh, and the bread is very good (don’t judge a book by its cover).

Next I tried a rye loaf, using Dan Lepard’s method from The Handmade Loaf. There are some fantastic passages in the book, I love how inclusive and non-judgemental he is:

The adage here must be to bake with what you have; make the best of what is around you. For some, there is no choice in their minds but to use a natural leaven as the sole ferment within a dough. For others, this is akin to witchcraft, and a madness in an age of convenience. To my mind, a beautiful loaf, wrought with care and consideration, must be the aim;

The dough was like a sticky lump of porridge, impossible to knead or shape properly. The finished loaf was black-tinged, cracked and a bit flattened. It looked dry and overbaked from the outside, but when I cut into it slightly underbaked. However, the taste was sublime, slightly sour, deep and malty. I now have a rye starter (or leaven) in my fridge and I’m looking forward to many more rye loaves in my kitchen… hopefully a bit better looking.

Good bread needs the best cheese, so I’ve been tucking into some English cheeses from the South-West kindly brought back from Devon by Drina of Eaternal Zest.  I remembered a sandwich which I used to order from a little Italian deli in Goodge Street and recreated it for lunch. With beautiful ripe tomatoes from the market, basil from the garden and Astraea olive oil I’ve had it two days in a row already.

So with bread baking, veggie teens month of veganism (thanks to Tidjoori for some lovely organic, vegan products including a mayo) and lots more to tell you about in the pipeline, this is a quick look ‘in my kitchen’. All pictures and editing were done with my new iphone 6 plus using Snapseed, Fuzel, Diptic, Over and Letterglow apps (not all at the same time!).

You can gain admittance to many more kitchens through Celia’s monthly event – look for the list in her sidebar. And thank you once again dear Celia, for welcoming me into the fold of your worldwide sourdough baking family.

What’s in your kitchen this February?


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