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In my kitchen – Market treasures from near and far

May 2, 2015

Here’s what’s in my kitchen at the beginning of May (take a closer look and read the captions by clicking on an individual image, use the arrows to navigate).

Are you enjoying new buds on the trees, rays of warm sunshine, the first signs of Spring and warmer days ahead? Here in Dubai I’m praying that our warmer days hold off just a little bit longer. It’s still cool enough to sit outside in the evenings; we saw Kasabian this weekend and sat on picnic blankets on the grass when we arrived (before dancing down at the front). This week Food E Mag celebrated its first anniversary and arranged a party at Shades by the pool at The Address, Dubai Marina. There were so many faces from Fooderati Arabia I hadn’t seen for ages. It’s lovely to meet up with old friends isn’t it.

My own taste of Spring  came with a quick trip to Georgia last weekend, with a couple of friends. As Europeans now living in the desert, our hearts lifted at the sight of catkins on the trees and small purple flowers peeping through the snow.

We managed to visit the market in Tbilisi a few hours before we flew, so many things in my kitchen were bought there. I love the way Georgians recycle old glass jars and bottles. Sadly, was the last Farmers’ Market on the Terrace for this season so I stocked up with things I’m going to preserve, including tomatoes, peppers and chillies. Friday mornings won’t be the same.

If you are wondering what’s in other kitchens around the globe, visit Celia’s page and follow the links in her side bar for this monthly event.

What’s in your kitchen this May? What’s the weather like where you are (as a Brit, talking about the weather is in my DNA)?

How to pair gin with dinner

May 1, 2015
Red Snapper - Pairing gin with dinner - mycustardpie.com

Red Snappers – like Bloody Mary but with gin

I’m a gin drinker. When there was an explosion of crafted, nuanced and elegant gins in the UK, US and elsewhere, I quickly threw over my teenage crush of Gordons and Schweppes and ran off into the sunset with new gin loves; Hendricks, Plymouth, Tanqueray 10, No 3, Portobello Road, Sipsmith, Sacred and more, partnered with a tonic which sounds like it comes out of the African bush. Gin cocktails, when made well, can make the earth move. But my ‘go to’ is a Thursday night gin and tonic, with good crisps such as Kettle Chips.  An aperitif yes – but paired with dinner instead of wine…. surely a recipe for a messy break up?

Jared Brown knows his gin. He knows his cocktails. In fact his knowledge about food, wine, distilling, cooking, history, marketing, writing, publishing, keeping chickens and all manner of topics, plus the odd juicy and totally unprintable story, make him a mesmerising raconteur. His wife Anistatia Miller has a similarly formidable palate and intellect, and together they’ve written and published scores of titles on alcoholic drinks including the seminal and lauded two-volume Spirituous Journey: A History of Drink. Jared is Master Distiller for Sipsmith, the first gin distillery of its kind to open in London since 1820 (after which several more new traditional gin distillers have followed).  He presided over our gin-centric dinner at the head of a long table in the private dining room at The Reform Social & Grill at the Lakes and accounted for his motivation and fascination with spirits  by saying,

If I leave this world with people drinking better than they did my job will be done.

Pairing gin with dinner - mycustardpie.com

Selection of gin at Reform Social and Grill, Dubai

 

He’s bored by distillers who talk about the science, percentages and processes (although clearly he knows his stuff) and cites his training as a chef and his background in the restaurant trade as the driving force. “Gin, for me, starts with dirt underneath my fingernails.” He grows botanicals in his garden in the Cotswolds (he’s originally from upstate New York) but lost over a hundred varieties when he started rearing chickens,  although he seems to have forgiven them, “Cute chickens, that like a cuddle.”

We start with a Red Snapper Granitée aka a gin-based Bloody Mary made with Portobello Road accompanied by a short history of the drink. It had the perfect balance of smooth, savoury and spice but without the usual oily, throat grazing vodka kick. This was paired with gin-cured salmon with cucumber and dill, an attractive if underwhelming dish. However, slightly sweet smoky fish and the flavours in the cocktail are known to be complementary – a Canadian cocktail variation called a Bloody Caesar is made with Clamato juice.

An excellent roast wood pigeon salad with hazelnut, chicory and gin vinaigrette followed with a glorious cocktail called a Martinez.  Superceded by the Martini, this was all the rage in 1934 in New York where the most popular garnish was a hazelnut slowly steeped in Maraschino liqueur. Jared had speeded up the process to create some of the latter by using the restaurant’s sous vide machine. This cocktail is made with gin, sweet vermouth, a touch of Curaçao and sometimes orange bitters. The gin used was Chase Elegant which Jared compared to “a voluptuous farm girl with unshaven armpits; a slightly rough spirit in a world of over-smooth drinks”.

Our seared scallop with gin and honey butter was a very clever dish (usually I never choose scallops in Dubai), the herbal aromatics from three parts Noilly Prat vermouth in the Reverse Martini (a favourite drink of Julia Child) and the cardamon and grapefruit notes of London No. 3, from Berry, Brothers and Rudd, were a great match with fish.


Of all the food and drink pairings the moist, pink, grilled duck breast with pear and juniper and the Jai Alai, was the most surprising and stunning. Sacred Red Vermouth and Bols Genever 1820 have joined my gin wish list to recreate this mellow, plummy, aromatic cocktail with citrus notes, so perfect with the duck.

Sadly I had to leave before the pudding of chocolate tart with gin and lime paired with the Mr. Chaplin, a combination of  Sipsmith Sloe Gin and Sipsmith VJOP (Very Junipery Over Proof). I consulted a friend afterwards but her memory was very hazy once it got to dessert!  Jared continued to share his extensive knowledge and weave his web of spellbinding stories (some gossip column-worthy tales too) and, had I not been flying to Georgia that night, I would have stayed to soak up every last word along with every last drop of the magical concoctions. 

Pairing gin with dinner - mycustardpie.com

Where to drink gin in Dubai

  • The Reform Social & Grill – ask Mark to make your cocktail. I recommend a Cloverleaf (made with Sipsmith sloe gin, mint and Fevertree elderflower tonic) or a Tom Collins (ask for it unsweet). He’s a truly gifted mixologist and they have an extensive range of gins.
  • The bar at Mint Leaf of London was the source of an earlier amazing gin tasting with some stellar creations (although I hear a rumour that complete gin-nerd Martin has left).
  • Hakkasan has always led the way with their stock of gin, importing brands such as Monkey 47 and Sipsmith directly before they were generally available.
  • There’s a Hendricks bar at the Four Seasons Jumeirah, which I have yet to visit.
  • Up and coming is Ginter – a bar serving over 25 gins which opens at the new Intercontinental Dubai Marina in May.
  • MMI is pioneering the gin movement in the UAE and sells everything from restrained Darnley’s View, the acclaimed Bulldog, to exotic Ophir in their shops.  Follow the hashtag #ginspiration for events and news.
  • You can order Sacred gin on your way through the airport (terminals 1 and 3) via Le Clos.

I was a guest of MMI and Reform for this event but wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Gin fan like me? See you at the next one.

Convinced by cocktail pairing with dinner? What’s your favourite gin (people ask me this all the time… I’ll tell you next time)? Let me know in the comments….

Leftover Texas brisket chilli

April 22, 2015

Leftover brisket chilli - mycustardpie.comAfter negotiating the wildness of the Sheikh Zayed Road, heaving home over seven and a half kilos of beef, then cooking it over flame and wood, I felt like a brave hunter-gathering, early homosapian. Ok, I drove in a Pajero and used a gas barbecue with wood chippings, but give a girl her warrior fantasy moment.

The problem with spare barbecued meat is, unlike when cooked in the oven, the smoky flavour can be less appealing in classic leftover dishes like rissoles or Shepherd’s pie.  This chilli worked so well that KP declared that it was better than a) the brisket off the barbecue and b) my normal chilli. I am going to take this as a huge compliment as both a) and b) were delish (and you know I’m loathe to blow my own trumpet).

Forgive the vagueness of this recipe as I whipped it together without measuring. I would have made notes if it wasn’t thrown together in haste as KP, Houseguest and I were very hungry.

Leftover Texas Brisket Chilli

  • Servings: 5-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons chilli powder (depending on the heat)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • Leftover barbecued beef brisket cut into cubes – about 750g I think (use what you have)
  • Ripe tomatoes (about 800g, a power blender full, whizzed smooth – or use tinned toms)
  • 1/2 stick of cinnamon
  • 2 tins of kidney beans, drained
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • Fresh coriander and sour cream to serve

Method

  1. Heat a glug of olive oil in a pan (I used a Le Creuset cast iron casserole), saute the onions until soft, golden and just starting to go brown round the edges, add the garlic for the last couple of minutes.
  2. Add the chilli powder and cumin to the pan and cook briefly, for about a minute, stirring so they don’t catch. Stir in the cubes of brisket so they are coated with the spicy onion mixture.
  3. Pour in the tomato puree, stir to combine, adding the cinnamon stick. Simmer gently for about 30 minutes.
  4. Add the kidney beans and cook over a low to medium heat for 15-20 minutes. The beans should be warmed through but retain their shape. Season to taste. Serve with fresh coriander, sour cream and rice.

Leftover brisket chilli - mycustardpie.comDo you have any favourite tips for using leftover meat from the barbecue?

How to cook Texas-style brisket on a gas barbecue

April 18, 2015

Texas brisket - mycustardpie.comIt’s mid-week, you are working all day, you’ve got a group of friends coming round for a barbecue in the evening. What do you cook? Something tried and tested? Some pre-prepared kebabs from the supermarket?

Or do you browse through your cookbooks and find a recipe that not only needs a smoker (which you don’t have) but also says this:

Brisket is the Mt. Everest of barbecue. Not only is it huge, but it also poses challenges all along the way. If your first couple of attempts don’t work out exactly as you had hoped, persevere. The rewards of mastering your own barbecued brisket are unspeakably good. Among a cadre of outdoor cooks you will have earned long-standing respect and admiration.*

There are acres of pages on the internet dedicated to achieving the holy grail of brisket – the Texas barbecue. People (mainly men I suspect) worship at the altar of a smoky, soft, melting, gargantuan slab of meat surrounded with myths, ritual, complexity and a ton of kit.

I just had my barbecue. Actually we have three – no prizes for guessing which family member acquired these – but I chose to use the gas barbecue so I could regulate the temperature accurately without too much attention.

Aye, there’s the rub. And the question of to rub or not to rub. Using this as a vague guide I found a pot of ‘rub o soul’ a friend had made (get it?). The colour was brick-red so I guessed it would contain chilli and some other smoky ingredients. Copious amounts were applied to a 41/2 kilo brisket, mixed with brown sugar and salt, then into the fridge overnight. In the morning I set the barbecue for indirect cooking and put clusters of wood chippings (Jack Daniels infused) both wet and dry in cylinders of foil with the ends open. The brisket went in a foil tray on top of an upside down roasting tray, 4 hours wrapped, then cooked for a further 1 1/2 hours. Now here was the high risk bit. Apart from sticking in the thermometer I wouldn’t be unwrapping this until  I served it in the evening. Which would be triumph or disaster!

It was a true triumph and super easy as this beast is so well-tempered. KP requested it again when a bunch of golf mates were coming round and there would be fifteen of us round the table. I made my own version of Tony’s rub. Prime Gourmet, a good butcher in Dubai, sold me a monster brisket of well over 7 kilos;  a day and a half of cooking later I was asked for the recipe several times as friends tucked into tender, slightly smoky, spiced, meltingly soft slices of beef.Texas brisket - mycustardpie.com

Texas-style barbecued brisket

  • Servings: 14 with leftovers
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) soft brown sugar
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) coarse sea salt
  • 4oml paprika
  • 2 tablespoons ground chipotle
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon chilli powder (or more if you prefer)
  • 1 tablespoon crushed chillies
  • Generous amount black pepper (about 25 twists of the grinder)
  • 3 tablespoons smooth yellow mustard (I used American style)
  • 4 1/2 – 71/2 kilos brisket trimmed of all but a cap of 2-3 cm of fat

You will also need: a very large disposable aluminium tray, a rimmed baking tray or similar that you can place on the barbecue upside down, a meat thermometer, wood chips, a smoker box (optional), a meat thermometer (digital preferred), lots of foil.

Method

  1. To make the rub: lightly toast the fenugreek in a dry, non-stick pan, then add the black mustard seeds and remove from the heat when they start to pop. Mix with the sugar, salt and remaining dry spices.
  2. The night before you are going to cook the brisket, rub the surface of the meat with mustard then sprinkle with the rub. Press into the surface all over. Rewrap and leave in the refrigerator overnight.
  3. Remove the meat from the fridge about 45 minutes before you start to cook to bring to room temperature. Soak about five large handfuls of wood chips, reserving some dry ones. Check that your barbecue drip tray is clear (a lot of fat renders), put the baking tray upside down on the grill bars and light the barbecue for indirect cooking (with my Weber it is by lighting the outer burner only). Put two large handfuls of the soaked wood chips plus a few dry ones in the smoker box or into a piece of  foil scrunched up with an opening at the top. Place this at the edge of the grill and close the lid. Bring the temperature of the barbecue to 107-121C (225-250F).
  4. Unwrap the brisket and put into the disposable foil tray. Place this on the upturned baking tray on the barbecue grill and close the lid. Top up the chips every hour if necessary (depending on how smoky you like your meat). Keep at a constant 107-121C (225-250F). Check the internal temperature of the meat – it needs to reach 71C (160F) – this will take at least 4 hours.
  5. Once the thickest part of the brisket reads 71C (160F) on the meat thermometer, take the meat off the grill in its foil tray. Remove the smoker box or wood chips. Close the lid of the barbecue to retain the heat.
  6. Put a big piece of double layer foil on the counter, take the brisket out of the foil tray and place the meat in the middle of the foil sheet. Baste with some of the juices from the tray and then seal the parcel well. Put back onto the barbecue (on top of the baking tray). Keep the barbecue at a constant 107-121C (225-250F). Check the internal temperature of the meat by inserting the probe through the foil (do not unwrap) – it needs to reach 88-90C (190-195F) at its thickest point – this will take at least 2 hours.
  7. Remove from the barbecue and leave to rest for at least 1 hour. It will rest without problem for several hours – just put in a very low oven (50C).  When ready to serve carefully unwrap the meat reserving the juices.
  8. Carve across the grain into thin slices, basting with the reserved juices if you like. NB. My pictures are not of the whole cooked brisket and taken the day after. I went light on the smoke hence no pink line at the edge of the meat.

*From Weber’s Way to Grill

This beef, from Australia, was butchered before shipping and comes in a sealed bag. Here’s what 7 1/2 kilos looks like packed, mustard-coated and then rubbed.

We served this with sweet potatoes with orange and angostura bitters; tomato, onion and roasted lemon salad – both from Ottolenghi’s Plenty More, a green salad, baby new potatoes and a sourdough bagette. A big piece of meat is my preferred way of feeding a crowd especially for a barbecue. Jeanne from Cook Sister agree with a whole leg of lamb and Franglais Kitchen makes hickory-smoked slow roasted pulled lamb. Both sound delicious.

Have you tried cooking a Texas brisket? Do you do anything differently?

What makes a good vegan cookbook?

April 11, 2015

The fresh vegan kitchenVeggie teen has decided to do one month on, one month off, being vegan. I’m supporting her decision, in fact veganism is something I have thought about myself as the choices for ethically raised meat and dairy become more scarce (see below*).

I found the first month quite tough in catering terms despite veggie teen pointing out that a lot of the things I cook for her on a regular basis are vegan. I want to make sure that she’s eating a varied, complete diet and make things that she’ll love, not just like, to eat.

So I’ve welcomed two new vegan cookbooks into my kitchen with optimism – one I bought from Kinokunya and one was sent to me to review. How did they deliver?

The Fresh Vegan Kitchen – David and Charlotte Bailey

The by-line for this book is ‘Delicious recipes for the vegan and raw kitchen’. The authors sell vegan street food and the recipes are high on spice and influences from the Far East. Instead of ‘veganising’ recipes, with the odd exception such as beer battered tofu and chips, David and Charlotte have drawn from vegan recipes from other lands, or adapted nearly vegan dishes to suit.

Everything looks light, vivid and healthy. The pictures are attractive, down to earth and quite understated; when you make a dish there is a good chance it will look like their version. It’s an attractive book with clear type and a square format which means it’s easy to hold and flick through.

As stated in the by-line, many recipes in the book are raw. Raw Phad Thai made of ribbons of vegetables and tropical fruit is high up my list of things to try (especially now I have a spiral slicer thing).  The raw borsht (called barszcz if you are Polish descent like me) also sounds delicious; a blend of beetroot, celery, onion, lemon, carrot, cabbage and ginger.

On my list of ‘cooked’ recipes to try are korma, a stack of crispy vegetables in a fragrant coconut sauce; herb-laden arancini (Italian rice balls) in an interesting fresh tomato sauce; smoky Mexican cowboy beans (where you smoke the onion with woodchips); and pearl barley risotto with pumpkin and sage.

Other chapters in the book are useful. Pickles, spreads and treats includes instruction on how to make raw nut cheese, raw cashew cream, Mexican pate, walnut pate, kimchi and kale chips. I tried their recipe for sauerkraut but sadly failed as the plastic bag filled with water to weigh down the cabbage (as instructed by the book) leaked. As well as chapters for breakfasts, drinks and smoothies and salads, the ‘basics’ includes a wide variety of their homemade curry pastes, stocks, salad dressings, dipping sauces, how to sprout beans and grains, and how to make seitan (a wheat gluten, meat substitute). The instructions are quite sparse – I don’t think this is a book for a beginner cook.

vegan cookbook review on mycustardpie.com

Sweet potato, quinoa and lime corn tortilla with refried beans. I will make the beans from scratch next time

Another big thing to note is that a lot of the recipes in this book are gluten-free. This isn’t an issue in our household and while this will appeal to many. It’s way different to any other cookbook I have and while I like the balanced tone of the authors in the introduction, quite sensible, practical and non-faddish, to cook solely from this book would be quite a leap for us (especially KP).

Veggie teen’s verdict when looking through to bookmark recipes that appealed was: “I like the breakfast solutions, and they don’t try to imitate meat. Too much Asian stuff for my liking.”

Sadly she’s not keen on Far Eastern flavours – bit of a drawback with this book on this basis! Her top ‘to eat’ recipes were scrambled tofu; sweet potato quinoa and lime corn tortillas and refried beans, choc chilli mole with black beans; borage and blueberry snow cones; churros and silken tofu choc mousse.

I found the book could do with a glossary of ingredients as I had to turn to Google several times including  to search for tamari (similar to soy sauce but made without wheat).  My ideal would be to cook vegan using the items in my cupboard without the need to buy a lot of new ingredients.  The recipes in this book do use a few unusual vegan-centric things such as nutritional yeast, vegan mayonnaise, almond milk, flaxseeds, raw cacao powder, egg-replacer powder and agave syrup. There are also things that I find hard to locate in Dubai such as smoked tofu, tempeh, dried soya and fermented black beans. On the whole, they focus on fresh, wholesome produce and really good spice mixes. I’m staggered therefore that they include puffed rice like rice crispies in one recipe (notoriously bad processed food due to its manufacturing method).

I know a lot of people who will absolutely love this book (The Cinnamon Fiend I’m thinking of you!). It’s probably too far down the raw and gluten-free path to make it my sole source of vegan recipes, but it’s fresh and accessible in many ways and definitely a keeper for ideas. Visit Wholefood Heaven to read more.

But I Could Never Go Vegan! – Kirsty Turner

ButICouldNeverGoVegan - mycustardpie.comThis book sings the deliciousness of the recipes from its pages. The photography of the dishes is fresh, vibrant and seductive. It seeks to convince you that you won’t miss your everyday meat-based meals. It draws on many American staples from Southern Biscuits with sausage and gravy to Cheeseburger Pie. “You CAN live without cheese” it claims on the cover.

This vegan lark seemed like it was going to be a doddle. Once I started to cook from the book, however, it was as though I needed a whole different way of shopping. Dried onion and garlic powder, kelp granules, vegan cream cheese, liquid smoke, vegan sugar, jackfruit, liquid aminos and spirulina.  I  made the mac n cheese (without the tempeh bacon and pecan parmesan). It looked and tasted exactly like mac n cheese i.e. the stuff that comes out of a blue box (don’t ask me how I know what this tastes like….taste being the operative word here).  Veggie teen thought this was pretty good, elder teen ate it but without enthusiasm, I found it pretty revolting. I don’t think I CAN live without cheese!

vegan cookbook review on mycustardpie.com

Making Mac n Cheese (without the tempeh bacon etc.) – couldn’t find vegan butter and used Marmite instead of white miso

Surprisingly for someone who hasn’t eaten meat for more than half of her life, veggie teen listed tempeh bacon mac and cheese and BBQ bacon burgers in her top five ‘to make from the book’ list. Chickpea omelets, falafel tacos and broccoli and quinoa tabouleh with tahini-herb dressing were others.

Her verdict: “They give a good recipe for everything you’ll miss as a vegan and everything is hearty. Too many alternative ingredients though.”

Elder teen was drawn to more in the first book than the second, and as a budget conscious student felt that the lists of obscure ingredients were way out of her reach. “Making vegan cheese looks interesting but I probably couldn’t get agar flakes at Tesco.” She felt that vegan recipes should be about cooking and celebrating vegetables so much you don’t miss meat and dairy (like the hot aubergine salad in The Fresh Vegan Kitchen).

So what makes a good vegan cookbook?

In the words of elder teen your reaction shouldn’t be ‘it’s vegan and it looks nice” rather “it looks delicious and oh it’s vegan.”

I’ll report back when I’ve cooked more extensively from these  two books.  The new V is for Vegan cookbook by Kerstin Rodgers (aka Ms Marmite Lover) is on my wish list too.

*Big agriculture and corporations have taken over our food supply and factory farming provides meat and dairy at a price which I am not willing to pay, the hugely detrimental cost to the animal and our environment. Milk in my tea and cheese would be more difficult to give up than meat for me. Right now I’m dealing with carnivorous eating by making the best choices I can, putting only free-range eggs and meat in my shopping basket, and eating much less red meat and very little chicken.*

Thanks to Pavilion who published and sent me a review copy of The Fresh Vegan Kitchen. All views my own.

What makes a good vegan cookbook in your opinion? Could you go vegan (if you are not already)?

Visiting Dubai? Top tips on what to do before you travel

April 4, 2015

Top tips before you visit Dubai - mycustardpie.comPlanning a trip to Dubai? We’ve welcomed scores of visitors to stay since we moved to the U.A.E. in 2000 and here’s the checklist I send them. Some knowledge we’ve gained through living here could be so handy for new travelers to Dubai. Whether your trip is for business or pleasure, here’s my guide to making your visit stress-free and enjoyable with these insider tips of things to do BEFORE you leave home.

Beat the immigration queues

Improvements are being made, but visitors to Dubai can face a long wait before passport control. For a small fee you can be whisked through and have a personal escort. There are three levels of service – if you book bronze make sure you look for your name on the screen and make yourself known. With silver and gold a meet and greet person will seek you out with your name on a board. Well worth doing especially at peak travel times such as Christmas – book Marhaba online here (also available in Bahrain).

Book your Burj Khalifa visit

Want to go up the tallest building in the world? It’s a great view from the observation deck and the whole attraction is well-planned and packed full of background info. Make sure you book At the Top ahead of time. Fast track tickets on the day are in limited quantities and more than double the price. Even pre-booked slots sell out fast. Book the Burj Khalifa observation deck now on this link.

View from the Burj Khalifa at night

Sign up for a Frying Pan Adventure

This truly is the best way to see a completely different side of Dubai plus you get to eat your way round nooks and crannies of the city while learning about different cultures. The tours are so popular they need advance booking to secure a slot. Arva and Farida are good friends but I can vouch for the tours as I have done at least eight to date. Browse and book your Frying Pan Adventure here. If you have missed out, order their little pocket guide to the Spice Souk – highly recommended..

Book a mosque tour or cultural meal

The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding is housed in a beautiful old building in the Fahidi District which is worth a visit alone. Their cultural meals (I love the breakfast) are relaxed, entertaining and will give you a better understanding about the Emirati people whose country you are visiting. Tour a mosque and see another side of Islam to the one on the news or just wander through a fascinating and beautiful area with a guide.  Calendar and booking details here.

Order wine

As a visitor you will not be able to buy alcohol in Dubai outside hotels and licensed restaurants as the liquor stores are for residents only. You can order duty-free fine wine and premium spirits starting at 100 AED from Le Clos in advance of your journey. A staff member will text you when you land and hand over your purchases packaged in attractive bags, just before passport control. If you are staying with people (who drink), duty-free wine is always welcome as there is a 30% tax in store; your limit is up to 4 litres (i.e. 5 bottles of wine). You can also buy wine and spirits in the duty-free shop after passport control before baggage reclaim. Order ahead on the Le Clos website (you may need to email but online purchase will be live soon).

Check your medication

Codeine based medicines and some opiates, which might be legal in your country, are banned. Check online and get a doctor’s note to verify that they are prescribed if in any doubt. Unwitting travelers have been jailed. There is a list of medication banned in the UAE on this website.

Check your pockets

Famous DJ Grooverider is not alone in going to prison for having a miniscule amount of hashish in his pocket. Even traces of drugs on your shoes or clothing can get you into trouble. “It’s for personal use,” will not wash here and there is zero tolerance for possession. Poppy seeds are classified as a drug by the way. For more info plus interesting comments section read here.

Top things to do before travel Dubai

Find out if it’s a full moon

Tours to camps in the desert are common but one that only happens once a lunar month is Dubai Desert drumming. With all the usual trimmings such as Arabic food and camel rides, the unique attraction is playing African drums in the middle of the desert under a full moon. It’s fun, quite a communal bonding experience (get to know the people on the next cushion to you), great with or without children and good value. You have to find your own way to the camp by taxi or hire car but I’m sure the organisers would be able to advise the best way. Full Moon Desert Drumming details here.

Check what’s going on

Dubai’s social calendar is packed full of events. International artists and bands (here and in nearby Abu Dhabi) are a regular feature and going to a concert in the UAE is (in most cases) a very stress-free and enjoyable experience. Since 2000 we’ve seen scores, ranging from Sting and Robbie to Kasabian, The Stranglers, Black Sabbath and many, many more. Other major events include Dubai World Cup (racing), Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, Dubai Desert Classic (golf), Dubai Food Festival, Dubai Rugby 7s and Art Dubai. Dubai Calendar lists all the major events and you can download an event guide. Time Out Dubai is a great resource for information and one of the main ticket sellers too.

Tips before you visit Dubai - mycustardpie.com

Abra on the Dubai Creek

Get a deal on eating

There are hundreds and hundreds of restaurants in Dubai ranging from the highest luxury to the cheapest street eat and everything in between. Licensed restaurants are only in hotels and clubs so the bill can mount up. All you can eat buffets are very popular in the city and with a mind-boggling array of dishes from sushi, to oysters to live cooking stations. Brunch is a Dubai institution with ‘free-flowing’ all in deals for most. Time Out and Zomato have listings. If you are visiting for a week or more it could be worth downloading the Entertainer app which gives ‘2 for 1′ deals on a whole range of restaurants. There’s a fine dining version or more general one (which includes offers on activities such as Wild Wadi water park).

Currency exchange

Actually this is one thing to leave until you get here. Rates at money exchanges are very competitive and the head cashier often has some leeway so ask for ‘your best rate’ if you are converting a reasonable amount. Al Ansari is a major chain but there are branches in most shopping malls and throughout the city.

Make travel easy

Public transport in the city is pretty good and taxis are reasonably priced. Buses, the metro and water ferries require the purchase of a Nol card which you can top up with cash (available at Metro stations and some bus stations).  Taxis can be ordered on 04 2080808 or hailed from the street but at peak times the RTA Smart Taxi app is useful as it picks up your location. Other geo-located apps are Uber and Careem. Download SmartTaxi, Uber or Careem before you leave.

Plan a tasty trip with insider tips

While the big websites have a lot of information, get an insider’s view from people who live here to plan your stay. Dubai in 48 hours by The Hedonista is excellent plus browse the site for restaurant reviews and travel within the Emirates (such as the heritage safari in old jeeps). Foodiva is the best, most comprehensive, source of unbiased restaurant reviews (mainly high-end) and you can even book a ‘Dine around Dubai‘ 5 star dining tour. Like a Tourist in my own city by Ishita Unblogged is crammed full of things to see and do. Geordie Armani specialises in honest reviews of mid to lower priced family restaurants, and Do in Dubai does what it says on the tin. Dive into hole-in-the-wall eateries and street food via I Live in a Frying Pan. Finally Lime and Tonic has a range of ‘curated experiences’ which are often outside the norm which you can book online.

money exchange - travel tips Dubai

Other things to consider

Find out if you need a visa from your country; arrange travel and medical insurance; google car hire companies; check data roaming packages; buy sunscreen, mozzie spray and a hat; bring a universal adapter (the UAE has 3 pin sockets like the UK). More info: UAE travel Advice of Gov.uk ; Your first time in Dubai ; Dubai – What to pack.

So all set for your trip? What are your tips for things to do before you travel to Dubai?

Disclosure: My Dine around the Palm trip with Foodiva was courtesy of The Entertainer. All opinions my own (I was not obliged to write about it or the app).

The calm after the storm – in my kitchen

April 3, 2015


Here’s what’s in my kitchen at the beginning of April (take a closer look and read the captions by clicking on an individual image, use the arrows to navigate).

March was wonderful but a bit crazy. I can’t believe that the Emirates Festival of Literature, Art Dubai, Taste of Dubai, Dubai World Cup and Arabian Youth Orchestra were all in one month. And yes I went to all of them plus more.

I turn to my kitchen at times like these for relaxation. We need to eat so I have to cook – it’s a necessary but creative and calming activity.

Have a snoop around many more kitchens through Celia’s monthly event – look for the list in her sidebar.

What’s in your kitchen this April?

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