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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?

Slow Cook Italian and other slow cooking cookbooks

April 2, 2015

Slow Cook Italian by Gennaro Contaldo - mycustardpie.comMy slow cooker has been the best thing I’ve bought in years. Pressure cooker – sits in the cupboard; Kitchenaid – I use less and less; Vitamix – soup making and smoothies only. But my slow cooker, a quick, cheap impulse-purchase from Lakeland, has been used at least once a week since it found a place in my home.

Of course, I did what I always do; went out and bought some new cookbooks to go with it.  Slow Cook Italian by Gennaro Contaldo has just been published, so let’s see how it compares with the other books I’ve road-tested.

Slow Cook Italian – Gennaro Contaldo

Gennaro Contaldo rose to fame due to Jamie Oliver who credits him on the cover of the book “Beautiful, classic recipes made with passion, by the man who taught me everything I know about Italian cooking.” Slow Cook Italian is different from my other books as it’s not written specifically for the slow cooker. It’s a collection of Gennaro’s recipes which fall under the slow cooking banner.  The photography is simple interspersed with a few pictures of Gennaro with his family; not every recipe has a picture. As well as soups, stews and savoury bakes, there are chapters on pasta, light dishes and leftovers, roasts, breads, cakes, desserts and preserves. Where a recipe is suitable for the slow cooker, there are specific instructions. Gennaro confesses that he never uses a slow cooker but sticks to a pot on the stove top, harking back his parents generation when all cooking was done on coals or wood.

As I was hosting two 17-year-old boys flying in from Kuwait to attend Arabian Youth Orchestra this week, some hearty comfort food was certainly in order.

Gennaro says that although a ragu is one of the most popular pasta sauces worldwide, the Bolognese is often made badly outside of Italy: too much tomato, not cooked for long enough and usually served with spaghetti. I pride myself on a good ragu so wondered if this recipe – the official recipe of the Bolognese association of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina would be that different. Turns out I’d fallen into the trap of making it too tomatoey and this super simple slow cooked version was really excellent. It’ll be my ‘go to’ ragu in the future. I also bought some tagliatelle against KP’s wishes (who refuses to eat anything but spaghetti).

The ingredients list for Pollo all cacciatora (Hunter’s chicken) was fairly simple too – chicken with herbs and lots of cherry tomatoes (from our garden).  This was seriously good and got a massive thumbs up from the boys. I also used the recipe for Pomodori esiccati a casa (home-dried tomatoes), to use up our glut from the garden, which didn’t differ from my normal method.

On the slow cooking front Goulash Tirolese (Tyrolean beef stew) and Stufato dia manzo al cioccolato (slow-cooked marinated beef with chocolate) are next on the ‘to try’ list. There are more non-slow cooker recipes but many look appealing including panini al rosmarino (rosemary bread rolls) which pop up in Jamie books but Gennaro makes his a lot prettier. In fact all of the breads look really intriguing including some rolls with aubergine baked inside them. The recipes for baked pears with amaretti biscuits and almonds, and almond tea cake (there’s a theme) look really tempting and the apricot and hazelnut tart is begging to be made.

If I’d been browsing in Kinokunya where books have to grab your attention within a few turns of the page, I probably wouldn’t have taken this home as it’s quite understated. But after cooking from it, the true value of simple, authentic Italian food shines through for the slow cooker and beyond. I’m so glad I have it as I know this book will definitely be on my counter more than on the shelf. Gennaro captures a time when life was slower too and conveys this through delicious dishes.Slow Cook Italian by Gennaro Contaldo - mycustardpie.com

The Essential Slow Cooker Cookbook – Lorna Brash

This book did stand out in the bookshop and, whereas many slow cooker cookbooks have a domestic science look about them, this one shouted ‘pick me I have delicious recipes and, by the way, they are made in a slow cooker’. The detailed instructions (about settings in particular) show the author really knows her way around this method of cooking and there are many ‘I didn’t think of making that in a slow cooker’ moments. She addresses the ‘wateriness’ issue (some slow cooking recipes don’t seem thick enough) too and gives advice on adapting our own recipes for the slow cooker. Nearly but not all recipes have a picture with them. My favourite to date have been:

Mediterranean slow-roast lamb shanks, Louisiana beef chilli, Provençal slow-roast lamb shanks with rustic beans, chicken with creamy leek and tarragon sauce, and Mediterranean stuffed peppers. Not sure why I haven’t made the ginger crème caramels yet – they are calling my name.

Slow Cooking for Vegetarians – Annette Yates

This book covers just about anything you could ever dream of and whacks it in a slow cooker. Bought with veggie teen in mind it’s been the inspiration for so much more including porridge, cakes, Christmas pudding and vegetable stock. There are pages of veggie stews, soups and braises and everything is with recognisable ingredients although it does include some Quorn recipes (I avoid this processed food). The head notes are tempting but this book is without a single image inside. It’s also proved that some things should be done the traditional way; slow cooker cranberry sauce is horrid.

200 Slow Cooker Recipes – Sara Lewis

A small low-cost book, which I’ve used the least. Usually I turn to it when developing a recipe for something that’s in my head and I need to check temperatures and cooking times. It has a lot of similar recipes to the Lorna Brash book but without the gorgeous photography but with a surprising amount of detailed instruction and a good recipe layout, plus every recipe has a picture.  A good starting point but I might not miss it if it disappeared from my book shelf (after I’ve tried out the lemon custard cremes recipe).

Slow cooking cookbooks review - mycustardpie.comDo you use a slow cooker? Any cookbooks you recommend for slow cooking or Italian food? Do you own any other Gennaro books? Please share your thoughts below….

Disclosure: I bought the last three books myself from Kinokunya, Dubai and Amazon.co.uk, and was sent Gennaro’s book to review by Pavilion. All opinions my own.

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

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

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 -mycustardpie.com

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 - mycustardpie.com“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 - mycustardpie.com

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.

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