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Simple and in Season summer round up (July entries)

August 13, 2014

This gorgeous UK summer weather seemed to stretch on and on. I can’t help but think it inspired everyone to create even more delicious things to eat as there were a phenomenal number of entries to Simple and in Season in July from bloggers in Britain and around the world. I popped into see Ren (who I’m caretaking this event for) earlier in the month for a cuddle with baby Matthew who is adorable.  Her Mum showed us typical Polish hospitality and insisted we stay to eat some of the huge feast she was making for lunch. Smacznego indeed.

This collection of wonderful recipes is well worth bookmarking or pinning as a guide to summer eating.

Summer soups

Don a floppy hat and eat these in the garden, whizz one up for a light lunch or treat your friends with a stunning summer starter.

  • What do you do when you find a surprise turnip in your garden? Linzi of Lancashire Food added some delicious extras (including white wine) and made turnip soup.
  • Katharine from Leeks and Lemoni has also been enjoying the fruits of her garden and this pea and mint soup is vivid green and fragrant.
  • Kellie, a cancer health advisor, eats luscious, ripe tomatoes like candy (we do this in our house too). She adds interest and texture to her simple, intense tomato soup with wholemeal maftoul (a giant couscous) and fresh, garden herbs.
  • How cool – in every sense of the word – is a watermelon gazpacho laced with fennel, cucumber, garlic and chilli? I miss my friend Francine of Life in the Food Lane so much since she moved to Houston (and her amazing food).

Seasonal salads

Do you yearn for exciting and enticing salads at this time of year? I know I do and here’s some inspiration:

Light dishes and summer recipes

  • Have you ever cooked with nasturtiums? Me neither, but I’m totally intrigued by Urvashi’s enthusiasm for elevating the leaves to superfood status. Over on The Botantical Baker (how apt) they are a key ingredient in a little gnocchi from Uruguay and Brazil called Nhoque da Sorte. The full story is really interesting.
  • Fish is a lovely light dish to eat during the warmer weather and Sarah from Maison Cupcake transforms basa fillets with bacon and spinach into a frugal meal that will satisfy the biggest appetites. She uses black salt too which I’d never heard of before.
  • When it’s warm you don’t want to spend too long slaving over a hot stove. This is where Louisa from Eat your Veg comes up trumps with Quickie Broccoli Pasta using veg box produce.
  • Ness from Jibber Jabber UK recommends you use her rocket pesto on pasta, baked salmon fillets and even on burgers. Any leftovers you can freeze in ice cube trays and pop out when required.
  • Thrilled that Erum of Total Salads, who also lives in Dubai, submitted this delicious recipe for seasonal vegetable pakoras. I’m sure even vegetable haters would change their minds when they’ve been dipped in chickpea flour and made into fritters.
  • Pesto makes another appearance in ‘My Little Italian Kitchen where Alida stirs a courgette pesto through garganelli pasta with almonds with juicy prawns and cherry tomatoes .
  • Selma from Selma’s Table makes a different kind of fritter combining sweet potato, courgette and paneer in baked fritters. Great vegetarian option at a barbecue.


  • Frittatas are a favourite in my kitchen and yours it seems. Sarah of Tales From a Kitchen Shed browned the top of her swiss chard, mushroom and potato frittata with a blow torch. Such a lovely picture in her flower-strewn garden.
  • These Cheddar and spring onion courgette fritters are smaller and less eggy but equally tasty thanks to Laura of I’d Much Rather Bake Than…
  • My Mum used to serve up hearty food on the warmest days and we wolfed it down, and that’s exactly what Jen’s “slightly veg-phobic man in his mid 30s” does with this turkey and chickpea curry (on Blue Kitchen Bakes).
  • The other alternative to warm days is to head out for the barbecue – it can be a bit of afaff though. Not so when you put your
    Barbie-tastic Dinner on a Stick. Such a great idea by Louisa of Eat your Veg.
  • I finally found some rice paper wrappers before I left Dubai so these crab and avocado Vietnamese summer rolls on Franglais Kitchen are well and truly bookmarked. So pretty – thanks to Nazima and Pierre.

 Strawberry fields forever

And if it’s summer in the UK there must be strawberries… lots of ripe juicy ones…


Beautiful berries and more

July is the month for an abundance of other seasonal fruit too…

  • Helen of Family-friends-food loves gooseberries and gin. I’d like to meet her as I think we’d get along well. I’ve bookmarked this vegan gin and gooseberry jelly recipe to make for my daughter.
  • Fresh raspberries play a starring role in this giant cupcake that Caroline Makes.
  • An honest nine year old prevented Emma from shoplifting an apricot by accident. She paid for it and then went back later to buy more apricots which she baked into this glorious apricot and bailoni tarte tatin over on A Bavarian Sojourn.
  • Hidden veg are teamed with delicious ripe cherries to make these courgette & cherry cupcakes (gluten free) with cherry cream cheese frosting by Kate of The Gluten Free Alchemist.
  • If you are able to tear yourself away from eating all your cherries raw, a claufoutis is the next best thing in my book. Linda of La Petite Paniere has a gorgeous Clafoutis aux Cerises recipe for you to try.
  • Louisa whips up a gooseberry fool in minutes on Eat Your Veg. There was a delicious fool using pink gooseberries at a recent barbecue. Divine.
  • Ripe red gooseberries also pop up in the middle of these pretty little red gooseberry cakes baked by Choclette on Chocolate Log Blog.
  • My childhood summer hols were spent in our garden and we trawled it for anything edible; currant bushes yielded little jewels and have a soft spot in my heart. Delighted to see blackcurrant frozen yoghurt from Corina of Searching for Spice…
  • … and this simple to make rhubarb and redcurrant cheesecake by Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker.
  • Quince is season in the Southern Hemisphere. I’m bookmarking this caramelised quince and almond cake for when they appear in Dubai; this recipe baked by The Quirk and the Cool for a chilly Sydney winter, is totally up my street.
  • Peach Streusel Kuchen Traybake also sounds very warm and comforting – another entry from  Sarah of Tales From a Kitchen Shed…
  • who also produced a refreshing frozen peach yoghurt and oatmeal recipe to cool off after a curry.
  • This lemon, lavender and almond cake (which is also gluten-free) would also end a meal nicely or stand alone for afternoon tea. Thank again to Helen of Family-friends-food.
  • Like the sound of fresh raspberries balanced on a Cointreau custard in a chocolate shell? Me too… and you can find how to make raspberry Cointreau tarts from Alexandra – The Lass in the apron.
  • ‘Caroline Makes’ something really unique – a Watermelon Fake Cake. I was expecting some carved up coloured sponge cake from the title but she produces something much more surprising, healthy, refreshing and seasonal.

And for all those barbecues (if you are in the Northern Hemisphere in July) something to drink and something to spice up your grills.

  • Take a peep into Ginger and Bread’s garden and pick up a scrumptious recipe for Chancho en Piedra aka Chilean Tomato Salsa which you can slather on bread, crudites, burgers….
  • And talking of slathering on bread, Tandy made this lovely homemade grapefruit curd which she transformed into grapefruit meringue tartlets over on Lavender and Lime.

If somehow I’ve missed you off the list email/tweet/message me immediately. It was quite a task compiling this delectable collection. If you want to enter the current round (August) it can be found over at Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary here.

Thanks to Ren for entrusting her precious event to my hands for a month and massive thank you to every who sent their recipes.

Fabulous fish – learning what to do with it

July 23, 2014

Learning what to do with fish - mycustardpie.comYou know me well enough by now – I struggle to be anything but honest. Try as I might to disguise, my true feelings are always writ large over my face. So at the risk of offending KP I must admit that I wasn’t that thrilled with the gift of a fish course. It took almost two years from receipt of voucher to arrival at the door of Manna from Devon, based in a house perched high above the Kingswear crossing to Dartmouth (Devon, UK). Taking a seat on the outside deck taking in the view of leafy branches and distant fields, with a cup of tea poured from a huge, bulbous white teapot, I discovered that there was a bread course taking place simultaneously. Further salt in the wound as I long to do a bread course.

Why was I so reluctant? Partly as KP wants to eat more fish, so this is one of those presents you give for yourself as well as the recipient (we’ve all done it). It just didn’t set my world on fire.

Standing round a large wooden table, Holly asked the seven of us to confess our fish-based skill hopes, wants and dreams and then we ‘met’ a variety of fish – all fresh from Brixham.

Learning what to do with fish -

Gurnard (behind), black sea bream (left) and monkfish tail (right)

Very early on I had an ‘aha’ moment when Holly classified the seemingly endless oceans of fish (in my mind) into white and oily, flat and round, plus shellfish/seafood. Thinking in simple terms rather than getting in knots about the name of the fish (often very difficult to determine at our fish markets in Dubai) instantly opened a door of exploration.

We gutted and filleted mackerel, brilliantly marked, shiny and ram rod firm. We were given clues to the freshness of fish – if you can see a finger print in the flesh then reject them, for instance.  Then was the turn of the triangular gurnard, tougher in skin and with a flotation sac that made us squeal with delight when Holly extracted and popped it. We picked meat out of lobster and learned how to deal with a cooked crab. We made homemade mayo and portioned monkfish tail. We inspected John Dory and cooked megrim sole a la meuniere in foamy butter so its skin became deliciously caramelised. We pan-fried mackerel and poached some in a homemade shell-fish stock with other fish to make a deeply savoury soup. We removed the scales of a beautiful black sea bass with a scaler, table knife and plastic bag). We didn’t all do every stage but there was enough hands on experience to give everyone a go and practice the main skills like filleting and skinning. Thrilled to be chosen to dissect squid for the first time, I chopped off its head, removed the guts (something I handled a lot throughout the day) and beak, scored the skin into diamonds, and portioned the tentacles.  Due to the gentlest of simmering, the squid was meltingly silky within the soup. Fish should be cooked at very high temperatures or very low and slow.

We had several breaks to eat the fruits of our labour: monkfish lightly cooked among stewed peppers, pan-fried mackerel fillets, fish soup with mayonnaise (and the lobster and crab), oven baked plaice and John Dory, sea bream en papilotte and more accompanied tea, coffee or wine (as preferred).

This is not some sterile kitchen; a dog wandered in now and then (not in the food prep area); a baby robin appeared on the deck; a tiny blue tit chick pecked at seeds on the window feeder; the bathroom has seen better days; this is a cookery school run by people who love to cook.  Holly, with quick wit and relaxed manner, passed on her frankly encyclopedic knowledge of fish and fish cookery in an unassuming way. Trained at Leith’s she admitted that growing up in Worcestershire, making a great fish finger sandwich formed the basis of her fish eating experience until she moved to Dartmouth a decade and a half ago. She was quick to acknowledge the role of local fish seller and his generosity of sharing information and passion for his product.

As delicious scents of bread baking wafted up from the basement and the other course members took their places at the table with a wooden tray of local cheese I didn’t feel at all envious. In fact I felt slightly superior in my new position as a fish gutter, scaler, skinner and squid decapitater. But above all, I left Manna from Devon with a new-found confidence to tackle any fish thrown at me. Actually please don’t throw fish … but show me the way to the fish market now.

A few moments of the day on (very bad) video, including making sole meuniere – you get the gist.

More information:

Do visit Manna from Devon and not just for fish cookery either.

Holly gave us a lot of background about how fish is caught, sold and exported in the UK (masses goes to Spain). They obtain their fish, via fishmonger Mark Lobb, from Brixham, one of the most important fishing ports in Europe and the UK’s largest fish market (now bigger than Billingsgate in London). Take a look at nearby Newlyn fish market and a Cornish seafood safari with Helen.

Jude shows you how to cook live lobster here.

Wander round some other fish markets –  start with  Morocco – courtesy of Urvashi and the fish market in Dubai (with me) and then visit a tuna museum with Helen.

I hope to bring you lots of new ideas for cooking with fish once I’m back in Dubai but in the meantime try Kavey’s recipe using firm white (sustainable) fish, chorizo and potatoes; Thai fish cakes and baked mackerel with red onion and rosemary on MCP.

Learning what to do with fish -

Looking down over Dartmouth

Do you eat fish? How confident are you about cooking it, what do you like to do with it and what do you find most challenging?


Sisterly love – fettuce with butternut squash, sage and smoked garlic

July 17, 2014

I could have told you about how good it felt to walk through the lush, green fields of Gloucestershire, wild flowers swaying in the breeze, a spring in my step, the deep blue sky making my heart sing.  Or how, once again Gifford’s Circus made my face ache with smiling. Or laughter in a country pub where a small dog’s life was nearly imperiled by a game of Jenga. Or being almost moved to tears by the cool beauty of a collection of statues at a famous country house in Derbyshire. So many good things to share from my two weeks in the UK this summer…and more to come…

But right now, all is well with the world because of dinner at my sister’s kitchen table. I could have angled the dish, got the light right, propped and garnished, made better pics and let it go cold. But instead, I picked up my fork and tucked into the smokey, sweet, savoury, food blanket of comfort.  This is a ‘sort of’ recipe, more a recommendation of a simple trio of flavours that work perfectly (quartet if you add the cheese).

We opened a bottle of 2013 La Mascaronne Quat’ Saisons Côtes de Provence rosé (from Raffles in Nailsworth) – light, dry, balanced, soft, perfect summer drinking. As well as the taste, the coral colour went beautifully with the butternut orange.

Our Polish heritage makes us very tolerant of garlic. My sister added both fresh and smoked cloves. The smoked ones are already part cooked and a bit sweet. You can substitute a whole head of ordinary garlic instead of the smoked. Just cut the top off the ends of the cloves, slick with olive oil and roast along with the squash. Squeeze out the garlic when you come to serve. The smoked does add a really beautiful depth of flavour though so I hope you try it.

Butternut squash smoked garlic pasta -

Fettuce with butternut squash, sage and smoked garlic

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4-5 cloves garlic (optional)
  • 4-5 cloves smoked garlic
  • sea salt (smoked if possible)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • a generous handful of fresh sage
  • 250g fettuce (or dried pasta of choice)
  • Pecorino (or similar Italian hard cheese)


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Peel the butternut squash, halve it and scoop out the seeds. Cut the squash into small, even chunks.
  2. Toss the squash in the olive oil and spread over the base of a roasting tin. Add the unpeeled whole cloves of fresh garlic if using.
  3. Put in the oven, turning the squash cubes gently once or twice during the cooking time. After 20 minutes, roughly chop the smoked garlic and add to the squash with some salt and pepper.
  4. After about 30 minutes, stir the sage leaves into the squash and return to the oven. Keep an eye on the sage as you don’t want it to burn, put some foil over the tray if you think this is happening. Cook for another 15 minutes (until the squash yields easily to the point of a knife or skewer).
  5. Boil a large pot of water, add some salt. 10 minutes before the squash is done (or time as per the pasta packet instructions) add your pasta and cook until al dente.
  6. Drain the pasta, stir in the squash mixture and serve with Pec0rino and black pepper.

Variation: For added crunch, toast the squash seeds for about 10 minutes and sprinkle on at the end.

Do you have special memories of a meal that your family shared?

No time to bake? No-knead bread

July 12, 2014

No knead bread - mycustardpie.comIf everyone jumped off a cliff would you follow? I have a very awkward streak which means I would probably wander off in the other direction even if a tornado or a herd of run-away wildebeast was coming. This resistance to going with the masses has influenced many things in my life; for instance my choice of camera (most people seemed to have Canon so I bought Nikon).

This stubbornness had its effect on my food blogging too.  A couple of years ago the raptures dedicated to pages and pages of macarons made sure that I would never, ever attempt to make one. Cup cakes and whoopie pies were equally safe from ever making an appearance in my kitchen. No knead bread made a similar splash and, though far more appealing than the sweet baking fashions, my recalcitrant nature meant that it lingered, untested by me until last week.

I was juggling end of term, packing for the UK, arranging my daughter’s last bits and pieces for Thailand, rushing to client meetings, trying to finish work projects before I travelled, getting three different types of currency from the money exchange and all the usual demands of a busy life. Running down my store cupboard before six weeks in the UK, I was also keen to bake so the easiest loaf was needed and I had a sudden vision of no-knead bread.

Did it fit the bill? Yes indeed, in fact it was the only loaf I could have feasibly fitted in among the chaos. The result was a crusty loaf with a good firm texture with very time or little effort required. I’m now itching to experiment with different flours and flavourings when I return to my kitchen in Dubai.

Most recipes I found online were in cup measurements so I’ve converted the proportions to suit weighing. It makes quite a small loaf so I’ll experiment with slightly larger quantities next time too, however the small amount remaining went stale quite quickly (although made good toast). If you have never made bread, or don’t think you have time to, this is the loaf for you. Be warned – it looks very homemade, but I think this is a good thing. Just slather with good butter and excellent jam.

No Knead Bread

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 400g strong white bread flour (plus a bit extra)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried yeast
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 300ml lukewarm water


  1. Put all the ingredients into a medium sized bowl, mix together with a wooden spoon, spatula or plastic scraper to form a ragged, fairly messy dough. Cover with cling film and leave for 18 hours at room temperature.
  2. When ready to bake, flour your work surface generously. Using a plastic spatula or scraper, ease the dough onto the surface.
  3. Using your scraper or floured hands gently shape the dough into a ball by tucking the sides underneath. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rest until the oven is heated (next step).
  4. Set the oven to 230C (or equivalent) and put an enamelled cast iron casserole inside (or any similar dish with a lid such as Pyrex which will withstand high temperatures) to heat up for 30 minutes.
  5. Cut a strip of foil or baking paper, about 10cm wide and long enough to reach up the sides of the casserole dish.
  6. Carefully remove the casserole from the oven (it will be very hot) and place on something heat-proof next to the dough. Put the strip of paper inside. Using floured hands, quickly scoop up the dough and flip it, seam side down, into the pot. DO NOT TOUCH THE SIDES OF THE POT WITH YOUR HANDS.  Don’t worry if it looks a bit lop-sided.
  7. Put the lid on the casserole and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid, replace the casserole in the oven and bake for a further 15 minutes until golden brown.
  8. Remove from the oven and use the paper or foil to lift the bread out of the casserole and onto a wire rack to cool.

Find more no-knead inspiration:

You can find me rhapsodising (is this a word?) about bread making over on Dima Sharif as part of her wonderful, annual Ramadan series.

Are you a follower or a rebel? Would you be heading over that cliff or running off in a different direction? Bread maker or just bread eater?

Pick farmers markets – don’t pick on them

July 9, 2014

Do you buy from farmers’ markets? Are they a sustainable alternative to supermarket domination or, as recent media reports would have you believe, an expensive luxury?

Farmers’ markets in the UK have been on the rise since the first one opened in Bath in 1997. Is this success as result of people wanting better quality, fresher produce, to support small producers and family farms who were going out of business due to the dominance of supermarket buying policies? Or is this because shopping at markets is a status symbol for the pretentious, wealthy and trendy?  The ‘build them up and knock them down’ mentality of the British tabloid press has led to some unfavourable coverage for markets recently. A couple of weeks ago there was an article by Rose Prince in the Daily Mail. ‘Have you been duped at the farmers’ market?’ screams the headline. This was a follow-up to an equally incendiary piece quoting Jay Rayner who accused farmers’ markets as being ‘costly’ and ‘for snobs’.

Last Saturday I visited Stroud Farmers’ Market which was celebrating its 15th birthday in operation. They sky was grey, there were frequent showers, but the market was packed with a variety of shoppers enjoying the atmosphere, tasting and shopping. This used to be a place where you would never contemplate leaving the ring road. The town centre is now full of interesting independent shops. We enjoyed a cup of tea in one of several cafés which were all doing good business. When interviewed in a local paper, market co-founder Kardien Gerbrands (known as Gerb) recalls “When we started the Made in Stroud shop in 2000 we used to have a joke about whether this year’s tourist had been in. Nowadays we have tourists in all week.’

Because I’m away from home I’m not in charge of the shopping and cooking, my purchases from the market were few and could be considered luxuries not staples.  I bought local cherries from a stall that only sells one type of fruit each week from their fruit farms which changes through the season. I tasted and bought some of the best charcuterie I have ever eaten made from good quality, local pork. A vegetarian millet and onion bake was carried home for veggie teen.  The vegetables on display had been picked that morning and the choice was amazing. I bought some creamy, new potatoes coated with earth (the ones we’d had from the supermarket were like bullets).  The produce available was abundant, fresh and varied. There was quality and variety I had not seen in the supermarket, plus by shopping this way the supply chain is shorter (the opaque and complex way most of our food is bought and sold accounts for scandals such as the horse meat affair).

The findings of Channel 4’s recent the World’s Best Diet demonstrated that the best diets were the ones that consisted of the least processed foods. Looking at the range of produce available at the market, you might conclude that Britain should be in the top ten, but take a glance at the stock and promotions in supermarkets.  It’s estimated that just 1% of men and 2% of women were obese in the 1960s (when there were very few supermarkets) compared to a quarter of the UK population today.

On the day after the Stroud market, I visited another town in Gloucestershire which could do with some TLC. Co-op dominates the shopping choice for food and I wanted some bread for our picnic. There were rows of Chorleywood method, mass-produced sliced bread in plastic (mainly white or blends) or bread rolls that were so stale they were rock solid. I could not buy edible, healthy, wholemeal bread rolls or a small loaf; the choice was simply not available for any price.

Supermarkets have been taken to task by the media in the past, so why should farmers’ markets be immune? Here’s Gerb’s response on Twitter to the Jay Rayner article:

If this blog post seems like commentary from a wealthy ‘snob’ then I hold my hands up and admit to being one. I am privileged to have enough money to make the choice to buy better quality produce; but why should good food (fresh, unprocessed and healthy) be available only to those who can afford it? I grew up in an era before supermarket domination within a family where money was very tight. We wore second-hand clothes and didn’t have a car or a telephone; but we ate really well. Our diet followed these principles long before Michael Pollan coined the phrase “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” It was an economic choice; could we eat that way now on a similar budget?

I think the tone of the recent articles is a kind of snobbery. There wasn’t a Range Rover to be seen near the Stroud market; just members of a community enjoying a market that has brought countless benefits to the town and environment.  The BBC Food Programme has documented initiatives where veg box schemes have given local people access to cheap, fresh, local vegetables and fruit. These schemes are run by people who want a change in the way we live; in contrast to the ‘big four’ which are driven by share holder value. Industrialisation of the food supply has been held up by some as the only way to feed the masses but it doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job right now; a third of the world’s food is wasted.

As a tourist to the Stroud market you may think my commentary is not as valid as those who live, work and shop there regularly. However, the farmers’ market where I buy my weekly veg every single week of the growing season has also been under the cool gaze of Rose Prince and The Daily Mail.  I met Rose Prince while she was shopping there although the images printed in article are from the fruit and vegetable stalls next to the fish market in Deira (where they do sell imports from the region) not the market at Emirates Towers (where the produce is all locally grown in the U.A.E); the title of the article inaccurately describes the market as ‘sort of local’.  Shopping direct from the growers saves me money as it is much cheaper than the supermarkets (for freshness there is no comparison). While I do not agree with a lot of what Jay Rayner says, his comments have been taken out of context by the Daily Mail. He does champion ‘big food’ including supermarkets as the only answer; treating food as a commodity is why we are seeing so many problems – read this if you want to know why I think he’s wrong. Also, many market traders have answered back to this well publicised article.

So I’m raising a glass and a cheer for the 15th birthday of Stroud Farmers’ Market and all the producers of good food and produce. It will take more than these few articles to change my mind about farmers’ markets but will their negativity have an impact on others? What’s your experience of farmers markets?

It was raining when I visited  last weekend so didn’t take my big camera and all pics are on my iphone. To see more, read an earlier post about the Stroud Farmers Market.

Simple and in season July – now open

July 1, 2014
Summer pudding

Summer pudding

A new baby is always an excuse for a celebration and how lucky for this particular baby to be born at the end of June. My friend and fabulous food blogger Ren has just welcomed baby Matthew into her gorgeous family. I know from personal experience that a summer birthday is best. Compare my birthday parties in February (a few friends, pitch black outside, going home in the freezing cold) with my sister’s (the lawn full of friends, the sun beaming and a summer birthday tea). That summer tea always included strawberries picked, in abundance, from our garden, sprinkled with sugar and served in cut glass bowls with cream.

So while Ren juggles a new baby, a family, recipe development, and her successful blog, I’m very honoured to take the reins of ‘Simple and in Season’ for this month. It’s an event to share recipes based on seasonal ingredients – a topic very close to my heart.

I’m flying to the UK tomorrow for my annual catch up with my family and home country. A big part of the excitement is the prospect of eating new potatoes, rainbow chard, watercress and, of course, English strawberries.  The Stroud Farmers Market is always a source of inspiration. I’ll be posting from other people’s kitchens and if you’d like to share a ‘Simple and in Season’ recipe…..

Simple and in Season - enter your post on

Here are some guidelines:

Read the following and then add your recipe with a link to your post in the comments section below. 

  1. Come up with a dish using any produce that’s in season right now where you live – savoury or sweet, any seasonal produce you fancy including fruit, veg, herbs, meat or fish – it’s up to you.
  2. Post the recipe on your blog and link it back to this page – My Custard Pie – Simple and in Season and to Ren’s Simple and In Season page:
  3. Please feel free to use the image/badge above on your blog post.
  4. Post your recipe by the 31st July 2014.  I’ll do a round-up post of all the entries as soon as I can after that.
  5. You can take inspiration from anywhere – adapt a recipe from your favourite cookbook, try something from a magazine, make up your own creation or share a family favourite. The usual rules apply when using someone else’s recipe; please get permission from the author to post it or adapt it in some way stating how/why you’ve changed it.
  6. Enter as many recipes as you like. You can link posts entered into other blog events or carnivals as long as it involves a seasonal food item (and fits in with their rules).
  7. By entering your post, you are giving me permission to add a photograph to the round-up. I will link back directly to your post when I include you.
  8. On Twitter or Instagram use the #simpleandinseason hashtag or mention @mycustardpie or @RenBehan and we’ll share the love.

I’m very excited to be guest hosting this event and really looking forward to seeing your entries – my guess is a LOT of strawberries :)

What are you making with seasonal produce in July?

P.S. Simple and in Season July is now closed – thanks for your lovely entries. I’ll get the round up as soon as I can (celebrating my daughter’s 18th on 1st August and traveling that weekend so might be a few days into August).

Iftar in Dubai

June 28, 2014

Ramadan Kareem. The start of the Holy Month was announced this evening here in Dubai, by the shot of a cannon in Safa Park as the sun went down. It’s a month of contemplation, prayer, abstinence, charity, spirituality, family gatherings and a lot of eating.

For non-Muslims, there is very little hardship – just the closure of most coffee shops and restaurants during the daytime and not being able to eat in public. The benefits for all is a city that’s more relaxed and peaceful and the chance to break the fast with people in a huge variety of places with a wide range of special dishes.

In case you didn’t know, Iftar refers to the first evening meal when Muslims break their fast before the Maghrib prayer, just after sunset. Traditionally three dates are eaten first. Suhoor is the last meal eaten before dawn and the fajr prayer. These two meals are eaten during Ramadan when Muslims fast between the daylight hours and replace the usual three meals a day.

Like last year, I’ll be away in the UK for most of Ramadan but had a sneak preview of a few Iftar events this month. If you’d like to know what’s on offer in Dubai or fancy sampling some here are a few ideas – including some unusual ones:

Under the stars

Ramadan falls during one of the hottest months of the year in 2014 (it follows the Hijri calendar) and the weather is likely to be very humid and hot even at night. Locals still love the tradition of relaxing under canvas like their ancestors although they now live in cool buildings in this modern city  and The Palace offers a way to do both. In a beautiful setting, under light strewn palm trees, with a clear view of the Burj Khalifa and the top of the Dubai fountains to the right, tents fringe the gleaming aqua pool. Each tent has air-conditioning, which is quite effective (one side of the tent is gauze so it’s not icy cold) and waiters bring a variety of dishes from the a la carte Suhoor menu. It feels secretive and luxurious with a real touch of Arabian nights. Ewaan restaurant also offers an extensive Iftar buffet which can also be enjoyed in a larger communal tent attached to the hotel. The tents need to be booked and are 1600 AED per 8 people minimum spend – the menu is a la carte.

More info at The Palace Downtown Dubai


Throughout the month, Dubai hotels are laden with buffets, groaning under the weight of traditional dishes for Iftar and Suhoor. If you are going to experience one, I recommend starting with the Burj Al Arab. Drive over the bridge to this manmade island taking in the most breathtaking views of Dubai’s shoreline with the Persian Gulf either side. Valet park while enormous crucibles shoot dramatic flames up into the air and, if you are lucky, the building itself performs a multi-coloured light show. Once inside the senses are assaulted by colour, fish tanks, fountains and gold. You could dine at the Al Iwan restaurant (which I sampled last Ramadan) or you could experience the grandeur of the Burj ballroom complete with gigantic ice sculptures, Arabic musicians, Turkish-style ice-cream server and, of course, an extensive buffet. I’ll be honest, it’s all a bit theatrical, with a man serving tamarind juice from gigantic receptacle he carries on his back with causes him to bend double to pour a glass, with a jingle jangle. The food is a good range of the usual staples. My tip is to bag an area on the upper level which has curtained divans and backgammon sets. Hide yourself away until the early hours taking a peep at the goings on downstairs or the incredible view. Scrabble is also provided. Enough said.

More information about the Burj Al Arab Ramadan choices here.

A good alternative on this scale is Asateer at Atlantis. This is a beach front tent with live cooking stations and buffet, games such as backgammon and chess, Arabic oud players and a monochord artist. My friend Dima has a great post about it here.

Best Arabic food

Ok I haven’t eaten at every single Arabic restaurant in Dubai, but I’ve dined at Nawwara in the JW Marriot Marquis twice and both times the food has been utterly divine. You can spot someone who has lived in the Middle East for a long time by the respect they show hummus; they will sigh quietly and roll their eyes to heaven when someone says how easy it is to whip up a batch with a can of chickpeas and some olive oil. Everything here is prepared with such attention to detail it’s sublime including the super smooth, creamy, nutty, utterly scrumptious hummus.

I love the decor which is white, modern and airy (beautiful at lunchtime where the light streams in and enabled me to take these pics). There is a water feature through the middle which lends a cooling backdrop and remind ones of the falaj system of watering crops.

When we tried the Iftar menu as a preview we asked several times “Is this really the mount of food people will get?” We were replete after the beautiful mezze and after a brave attempt on the main courses we took doggy bags home.  At 195 AED per person, from sunset until 9pm, this Iftar includes mezze, savoury pastries, fish and meat course, delicious Arabic desserts and fresh fruit, all served to the table (not a buffet).

More information about Nawwara here.

The heartbeat of the city

Regular readers will know that I’m a now a serial food tourist in my own city and have been on five Frying Pan Food Tours. There is always more to discover and Arva (tour leader extraordinaire) and the crew have devised something special for Ramadan. Incorporating many of their favourite places, they explore how Muslims of many different nationalities break their fast and spend the Holy Month. Worth doing if only to watch the sun go down over the shimmering creek but there’s so much more. More info here.

In the House of the Mosque

Ramadan in Dubai -

Imagine slipping the first date into your mouth and taking your first sip of water inside the beautiful Jumeirah Mosque. The Majlis Cafe has recently opened its doors within a building in the mosque courtyard. You can gaze at the carved minarets through an arched window as dusk falls and listen to the prayer while sampling a very elegant Iftar. The cafe is part of the camel milk group so you can sample this as is, within cheese in some of the dishes or in a variety of different types of Al Nassma chocolate.

Over Ramadan the cafe will be open in the evening and has a special Iftar menu. Afternoon tea-style, there is a savoury version including sweet potato, foul, muhamarra and chickpeas, and a sweet option including balaleet (a traditional Emirati dish containing rice and egg). Both choices include a glass of camel milk and a selection of juices and are 50 AED per person.

More information about The Majlis Cafe here.

The  Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding also holds events through Ramadan which are well worth booking.

*The heading for this paragraph was inspired by a book set during the time of the Revolution in Iran – highly recommended read.

Home cooking

I always crave comfort food after a day where food has been forgotten in the rush. Baker and Spice have put their legendary breakfast dish on the dinner menu during Ramadan. I am of course talking about their phenomenal shakshouka which comes hot and bubbling from the oven served in a cast iron dish with eggs cooked to your liking. For me the eggs have to be runny so I can dip pieces of their excellent sour dough bread into the golden yolk mixed with the spicy, tomato and pepper stew underneath. Perhaps I can squeeze a shakshouka supper in before I go…

Take away and home delivery is available throughout Ramadan from Al Manzil and shakshouka matbukha on the evening menu at 95 AED (feeds two) at all branches.

More information about Baker and Spice here.

I’m intrigued by Tom and Serg‘s Ramadan plan. They will open during the evenings (they normally close at 4pm) for roast dinners. Rule the Roast starts at 7pm each night with a choice of roast meat or fish with all the trimmings. There are three sizes of roast at 80 AED, 95 AED and a family pack for 290 AED.  It looks as though the only vegetarian choice is stuffed aubergine with tomato and mozzarella (as veggie teen hates aubergine we won’t be going for the family pack!) Elder teen will be happy with the Yorkshire puddings though. For an extra 35 AED you can have pudding with things like traditional apple crumble and bread and butter pudding on the menu – but will there be custard? See the menu here

Artificial flavours and a lot of MSG spring to mind with most good value Asian restaurants, but hidden gem Wok It (near Bur Juman on the Trade Centre Road, opposite Centrepoint) make everything from scratch from fresh ingredients including their sauces. They make an addictively good street food dish called martabak telor which is worth the journey alone. Wok It will be open from sunset until 1 am every day during Ramadan. (Excuse the pics taken on iphone).  More information about Wok It here.


You would have thought that fasting during the day for a month would lead to weight loss. For a lot of people it’s quite the contrary and over indulgence through the evening combined with less exercise can be a real problem.

Bestro, a small restaurant in Lafayette Gourmet specialising in a completely raw, vegan menu is offering the Freedom Iftar over the Holy Month. They will have an extended range of dishes, served buffet style to allow people to sample the full menu. They have called it The Freedom Iftar as it is free from all the usual challenging things like sugar, gluten, dairy and meat. It’s 100% vegan, locally sourced where possible (due to the weather at the moment) and organic (nearly 100% of the menu is organic). The Iftar buffer is 120 AED  per person for all you can eat including water and iced tea. Hayley has also created a drink called the sunrise suhoor smoothie for takeaway only. It is designed to hydrate, nourish and give slow release energy, containing coconut water, chia, cacao, sun warrior protein powder and activated barley.  The menu dishes and drinks will also be available for take away during Iftar opening hours.

I’ve tried a lot on the Bestro menu and can vouch that it’s extremely tasty and satisfying – my favourite is the raw pizza (and the almond milk drink made with raw cacao).

More info about Bestro here.

Another new opening is Omnia Gourmet by Silvena Rowe. Set within a souk that overlooks a fishing harbour in Jumeirah 1, this is worth seeking out for a variety of restaurants there. The painted mural walls and cane chairs of Omnia Gourmet give it an cosy, casual feel and it’s from here that ‘Slim Ramadan’ menu can be taken away.  This is a healthy eating plan of salads, raw and ‘free-from’ dishes packed with texture and flavour to keep you on the straight and narrow. In fact Chef Silvena says she lost weight last year by following this diet.

More info about Omnia here and a write up by my friend Ishita here.

The Landmark Group has launched the Beat Diabetes Ramadan Cook Book, which is available to download for free here.

A flight of fantasy

Qbara is the hottest new place in town offering modern Arabic cuisine. On the evening that I tried out the food at an Iftar ‘preview’ for media, the place was busy with at least fifty per cent of the clientele in national dress. The transformation of this circular building from Planet Hollywood (fake fur lined walls, garish decor and loud music) to its new reincarnation is quite incredible. The space is open, the walls lined with squares of carpet (it works much better than it sounds), with an elegant bar and window into an open kitchen. On the bar side there’s a carved wooden wall which at times throughout the evening starts to move – a bit like Harry Potter movies. The panels slide in and out, the shadows of flocks of birds swoop over the surface and a chandelier swings to and fro. It’s amazingly clever and all projected (this is hard to believe).

The modern take on Iftar sticks to tradition while throwing in a few unexpected notes into the mix. A carved silver platter dotted elegantly with an array of vegetables, salad leaves and herbs was a dainty version of the usual Lebanese vegetable arrangement but a truffle butter formed the surprising and really moreish dip. The hummus, mutabal and pickles were decent, the broad beans and feta really good and the harira soup (lentil and roast pumpkin are other choices) had me scooping up every last mouthful even though I knew there was much more to come. Small plates to share are next including falafel salad, a brilliant tomato,watermelon and shanklish (a sort of cottage cheese) dish and soft shell crab ‘saj’. My favourite of the mains to share was slow cooked lamb ‘ouzi’ style – all were good although the chicken tagine didn’t deliver the preserved lemon flavour its title claimed.

A slate plate of bite sized desserts ends the meal including some exquisite Turkish delight. At 180 aed per person (including a range of juices and drinks) this is a great way to enjoy Iftar in a place with its finger so firmly on the pulse of this modern city.

More about Qbara here.

Getting away

Alila Jabal Akhdar

Alila Jabal Akhdar

And finally if you fancy getting away from it all, there are a couple of new hotels in Oman which are high up on my wish list. They’re offering some attractive deals over Ramadan too. Firstly the Alila Jabal Akhdar, a resort nestled high up (2,000 meters above sea level) above a dramatic gorge in the Al Hajar mountain range. The other is the Salalah Rotana Resort situated between frankincense lined mountains and freshwater springs along the Indian Ocean.

In the spirit of Ramadan

If you haven’t visited Mawaheb in the Fahidi Area (behind the Majlis Gallery) I urge you to do so. It’s an inspiring and very worthwhile initiative. Madinat Jumeirah offered twenty students and faculty at `Mawaheb from Beautiful People’ the opportunity to create a painting inspired by the Arabian architecture of the Resort and the famous animated Emirati cartoon, Freej. They met the characters following a private screening of the Freej movie that took place at the Madinat Theatre.
The painting they created will be on display and available for viewing throughout the month of July at Al Majlis, Madinat Jumeirah. Mawaheb is an art studio located in the historic Al Fahidi neighbourhood that offers young adults with special needs an opportunity to channel their creativity through painting, sculpture and mixed media. Well worth a look.

Further reading: Visit The Hedonista for an insight into Ramadan in the UAE  and don’t miss Dima Sharif’s daily post every single day during the Holy Month.

There’s a really useful guide for available lunch options at independent eateries (hotels all offer food through the day) by Geordie Armani and Foodiva. Well worth bookmarking for when you need a bite to eat during the day during Ramadan in Dubai.

Disclosure: I was guest at the Iftar previews for Nawwara, Qbara, The Palace, The Majlis Cafe and the Burj Al Arab (as they start at the beginning of Ramadan) – all opinions are my own.

Where to go for Iftar in Dubai during Ramadan 2014 -

How will you be spending Ramadan? How does it impact on your life where you live?


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