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Borough Market

October 18, 2013

Borough MarketTourist. Somehow this has become an undesirable term, a dirty word. Associated with snaking crocodiles of dull-eyed sentries, coaches like ant-hills spilling people, couples touting backpacks and lenses; tourist equals undiscriminating, while traveller means adventure .  “Borough Market’s not what it used to” seemed to be the common consensus among my friends who live in London. “It’s for tourists“. But sometimes you have to admit that’s exactly what you are; I haven’t lived in London for over twenty years and Borough Market was something I needed to tick off my list as a self-respecting foodie, albeit rather late in the day.

Emerging, with crowds of commuters to street level, from the Underground, the first thing that struck me was not a proliferation of bright fruit and vegetables but the disconcerting spire of the Shard at close proximity. Viewed from the angle of a very normal London high street it looks incongruous and slightly menacing.

Explore the Southbank

Stepping into the dark cavern behind the Borough Market sign, just after 9am, I was faced with boarded up stalls. It seems that the aftermath of cocktails at Fifteen had clouded my brain when reading the opening times. Desperate for a bacon sandwich (also due to aforementioned cocktails) I toured the periphery but had to settle for a flaky croissant and coffee at Elliot’s. There were few people about except for a ginormous queue for coffee at Monmouth (which I couldn’t face joining).

I pottered around  the market seeing it come to life. Braving the servers who didn’t have a square centimetre of flesh that was wasn’t tattooed, pierced, tunnelled or embellished, I downed a welcome fresh juice with lots of ginger. Out in the central courtyard various street food stalls were setting up with promising aromas, and ingredients starting to be chopped, seared and simmered. I decided to take a stroll along the South Bank and return when it was all fully up and running.

This part of London is rich with sights and sounds – with the Thames to your right, you pass The Golden Hinde, The Clink Prison Museum, Vinopolis (wine tasting, classes and exhibits), Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and end up at the Tate Modern and Millennium Bridge all within a very short walk (see pics here).

Taste…

By the time, I’d wandered back to Borough Market it was a different place. Stalls were thronging with people buying and tasting, there were queues for the fish and chip restaurant which had been ghost-like less than an hour before. The street food sellers were doing a roaring trade and I looked longingly at a vast array of Arabic mezze, Jamaican stews, a home cured salt beef stall and a proliferation of burgers and pies. Pitchers and beakers brimming with fruit-laden Pimms seemed to be everywhere.

Back inside, the fresh fish stall was gleamingly beautiful, staffed by keen looking chaps in striped aprons. The fruit and veg area was a series of painterly still life arrangements of produce. Tourists (and there were a lot of Chinese visitors wielding lenses) were tasting their way around, so I took the ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ attitude.

No surprises that a lot of cheese tasting was involved – Gorwydd Caerphilly, Belper Knolle from Jumi, and Comté from the Borough Cheese Company are worth seeking out. Mushroom pâté from Pâté Moi was flying out of the dishes as soon as they were filled (and gave me an idea…more anon). As I was meeting someone for lunch and travelling by coach later on, I did more browsing than shopping but I found space for one special thing in my back pack.

British Charcuterie

In Poland, in the summer of 1996, my Uncle went out and fetched some salami from his friend. Made from a locally kept, free range pig, the savoury spice was deep and layered, the fat creamy and sweet, the meat softly chewy. I hadn’t ever tasted charcuterie as good – until I found Cannon and Cannon. Doing a brisk trade but still happy to give samples to some enthusiastic 10 year old boys who were negotiating bargains, the stallholder found time to discuss Gloucester Old Spot pork, tell me about their producers and guide me through a tasting ranging from chorizo to some salami made with Kentish cob nuts. It was my introduction to the British charcuterie scene and I’m now on a mission to taste more…..much more.  Having lunch with my sister, devouring most of the haul paired with freshly picked tomatoes in my Mum’s garden, is one of my best food memories of the summer.

While the feel of the old market is still there, a new glass covered structure in the centre adds a modern touch, softened by plants like olive trees and hops. This is a hub for cookery demos or just somewhere to relax. The  variety of restaurants around the market, from old fashioned pubs to wine bars (there was a wine education session in full flow at a table in Bedales) keeps it buzzing outside market hours.

So should you visit Borough Market? Absolutely. Go hungry and blend in with all the other tourists. There will be crowds so take your time. Have a late breakfast in one of the surrounding cafes, stay for lunch, walk it off along the South Bank and the ingredients for dinner to take home with you.

Borough Market is located near the London Bridge Station, at 8 Southwark Street, London SE1 1TL.

The best food markets in London

In addition to Borough Market, there are many more thriving markets:

Maltby Street Market On a Saturday morning, Bermondsey comes alive when coffee roasters, bee keepers, gin distillers, preserve makers, and many more open their doors. Monty’s Deli Jewish soul food has a cult following, my friend Dana sells her fabulous Arganic oil and Brambletye Fruit brings biodynamic fruit from orchards in East Sussex. Popularity means it has spread to two adjacent venues; The Ropewalk (by the railway arches) and the Spa Terminus where producers are based throughout the week. The Ropewalk, 41 Maltby Street, SE1 3PA

Brentford Market  There had been a market in Brentford from 1306, until it closed in the 1930s.  With the aim of selling high quality, affordable food, and revitalising the high street, this market was set up again in May 2013 to give local people an alternative to the supermarket and the chance to buy direct from the producers who care about the food they produce. Market Place, Brentford, TW8 8AH

Brixton Village Market and Market Row The place to go for foods from around the world, with cafés, restaurants (the destination for budget eating in south London:Time Out) and shops that sell everything from charcuterie to cheese. Nearby Brixton Station Road Market also has a Food Corner and other food-related events. Electric Avenue/Coldharbour Lane, Brixton SW9 8JXBorough Market

Broadway Market This half century old market is a fusion of more than 80 food and vintage stalls. Taste street food and buy fresh produce including a wealth of cheese. London Fields park to Regent’s Canal, Hackney, E8 4PQ

Brockley Market Shortlisted for the BBC Food and Farming Awards 2012 best food market, this is a weekly Saturday market in Lewisham, with a mix of grocery shopping (fruit, veg, bread, meat, poultry, game and fish) and ready prepared foods focussing on locally sourced produce. Lewisham Way, SE4 1UT

Real Food Market The aim of this weekly 3-day market on London’s Southbank is that you can trust the provenance of your food by buying direct from the people who produce it.  Producers are also unified by an environmentally responsible and sell everything from grass-fed beef, artisan cheeses, traditional beers and ales, seasonal fruit and vegetables, real bread to charcuterie. Southbank Centre Square, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX

Farmers’ Markets in London

Alexandra Palace Farmers Market  30 – 50 producers every Sunday in Muswell Hill, with Kentish fruit and veg, pressed fruit juices, local rare breed pork and sausages, fresh fish, organic bread, handmade pies, cakes & biscuits, etc and hot food stalls too.

London Fields Market  A farmers market that takes place every Sunday in the school yard of London Fields Primary School, Hackney.

Islington Farmers’ Market London’s first ever and most established farmers. market takes place on Sundays in Chapel Market between Baron Street and Penton Street with at least 30 stalls each week. Wide variety of produce from cheese, to game, to cider.

Queen’s Park Farmers’ Market Voted Farmers’ Market of the Year in 2012, it’s also a favourite of Yael Mejia, the driving force behind the original Farmers’ Market in Dubai.

Visit London Farmers’ Markets site for more.

Are you a tourist or a traveller?  Are there any other ‘must-visit’ markets in London?

Related articles

A human right to eat: regaining control of our food

October 16, 2013

Surely no one disagrees that people have a human right to live in peace without their leaders persecuting them or blowing them up with sophisticated weapons. We’ve seen leader after leader go one step too far, and suffer the consequences. From Slobodan Milošević, to Saddam Hussein to Muammar Gaddafi,  (and currently Bashar Hafez al-Assad) the world agreed that they should no longer wield such power when they abused the basic human rights of the people in their country.

Another fundamental human right is to have enough food to eat. Astonishingly, we seem happy to entrust power over the production and distribution of our food to unelected bodies who wield far more influence than many governments. Theses companies are driven by delivering shareholder value which is at odds with the very principles of providing the world’s population with enough, nutritious, affordable food.

The potential for abuse of power

Jean Ziegler, Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on the right to food stated in a report in 2003:

[T]he growing power of transnational corporations and their extension of power through privatization, deregulation and the rolling back of the State also mean that it is now time to develop binding legal norms that hold corporations to human rights standards and circumscribe potential abuses of their position of power.
(source: Wikipedia)
In the ten years since this report, chemical companies such as Monsanto and BASF have had a massive influence on the way we actually grow our food, Nestle, Unilever, Kraft and Pepsico have become more dominant across a wide range of food sectors, major retailers have an even stronger hold on where we buy our food and multi-national brands dominate our restaurant choices.
Control over food means influencing the health and nutrition of whole populations and a direct bearing on whether people have enough to eat.

The right to food

The latest annual ‘Right to Food and Nutrition’ report published in September 2013 quotes:

“Food and power are related. It is almost impossible to find one person among the powerful in society and politics worldwide who does not have enough to eat,” said Huguette Akplogan-Dossa, regional co-ordinator of the African Network on the Right to Food (ANoRF). “The tendency is for exclusion from economic and political decision-making to go hand in hand with incidences of hunger and malnutrition.”

The report expresses particular concern about the increasing influence and control of agribusinesses and financial companies over food and nutrition. See article here.

Farmers Market Dubai (3)

So what can we do?

It’s imperative we lobby governments and fight against the insidious growth of GM crops, the domination of our towns by supermarkets and the industrialisation of our farms.

Where we (and while we still) have a choice, buying direct from farmers, choosing non GM produce, supporting small producers with good track records and food provenance, and cooking from scratch so we can control what goes into our own food, if enough people vote with their purses we can make a difference.

We must not let power over such a fundamental human right fall into the hands of people whose motivation is diametrically opposed to our well being.

If you have any doubt about the direct impact of our demand for cheap food available all year round on human rights, read this article about the farmed prawn industry.

The first line of E. E. Cummings poem, “As freedom is a breakfast food…”  is particularly apposite now as when it was written during the Great Depression. (Thanks to The London Epicurean for alerting me to this.)

Concerted citizen action to uphold human rights

Eleanor RooseveltIt might seem overwhelming but to quote Eleanor Roosevelt on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

While companies like McDonalds can use bucolic scenes of fictitious farms in their television advertising, Compassion in World Farming are not allowed to portray the reality of the lives of animals. I’m supporting this campaign:Compassion in world farming - banned

This post is part of Blog Action Day 2013 and the theme is Human Rights. Amnesty International is one of many partners.

I would love to hear your view on this in the comments section.

Sticky ginger cake with Turkish Delight icing

October 10, 2013

Ginger cake with Turkish Delight icingOne thing was for sure when I was growing up, there was always cake in the house. Rock cakes, soft and eggy studded with glacé cherries and fruit; coconut cake, shaggy and moist; fruit cake packed with plump sultanas, Victoria sandwich cake layered with strawberry jam and buttercream; fairy cakes drizzled with water icing; seed cake studded with caraway; coffee walnut cake; bread pudding (which was sliced and eaten like cake) or, for birthday parties, chocolate rice crispy cakes.

They were always home-made; except for one. Once in while, usually if my Mum had taken the bus into town and visited the supermarket, there would be a ‘shop-bought’ Jamaica ginger cake (if you live in the UK you’ll know which brand). Oblong in shape and covered with a red wrapper, it was sticky, crumbly and incredibly moist. Of course, probably much to my Mum’s chagrin, we wolfed it down.

Here’s the nearest I can get to the childhood memory of that cake.  I usually double this recipe and make two cakes at a time. They keep well wrapped in foil or in a plastic bag in the freezer.

There’s a P.S. to this recipe…

I joined in a cake feature for BBC Good Food Middle East magazine. I’d already done a test run with lemongrass icing inspired by a gorgeous cake I bought from Ginger Bakers at the Foodies Festival in Bristol. Then came the email “we have too many brown and white cakes” – hmmmm aren’t most cakes brown and white?  As I’m a natural kind of gal, I wasn’t keen on using colouring and what else would go with ginger? Also how would this fit in with my childhood memories (where cakes were brown!)? In a eureka moment I thought about combining flavours of my current home with the traditional English classic. I whipped up a batch of icing loosely inspired by the flavours of Nigella’s Turkish Delight figs.  I did add a tiny dash of Wilton gel pink food colouring for photographic purposes. Some fresh figs and mint leaves transformed it into quite a show stopper (to quote Great British Bake Off ). The quantity I made (as below) is far too much for this cake – so either halve it, use it for something else (like cup cakes) or give it to a teen to eat by the spoonful. If you like rose creams you’ll find this seriously addictive.

Sticky ginger cake

Wrapped in foil, in an airtight container, this keeps for ages and seems to get better i.e. stickier. The icings are entirely optional as it’s a good cake on its own. The lemongrass icing is quite subtle, the vanilla/rosewater icing for hey days and holidays or you can serve with custard as a pudding.

Ingredients

225g self-raising flour
1 level tablespoon ground (powdered) ginger
Pinch of fine sea salt
100g light, soft brown sugar
100g unsalted butter
100g molasses (or treacle)
155g golden syrup (date syrup could also be used)
20g of syrup from a jar of stem ginger
1 medium egg
150ml milk
1-2 knobs of stem ginger, chopped finely

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C and arrange the oven shelf about 1/3 from the bottom.
  2. Grease a 900g loaf tin with butter and line with greaseproof or baking paper.
  3. Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl, followed by the ginger, then add the salt.
  4. Put the sugar, butter, molasses, golden syrup and ginger syrup into a saucepan (non-stick preferably) and warm over a very low heat until the butter has melted and the sugar is no longer granular (do not overheat or let it bubble). Stir with a wooden spoon to combine, scraping any sugar from the bottom of the pan and stirring to help dissolve it. Remove from heat.
  5. Measure the milk in a jug and break the egg into it. Beat together with a fork until combined.
  6. Pour the sugar mixture from the pan into the mixing bowl onto the flour. Add the milk and egg and then the chopped stem ginger.. Stir gently with a wooden spoon then use a large hand whisk to get rid of any lumps of flour (stirring with the whisk held upright, rather than beating the mixture).
  7. Pour the mixture into the lined loaf tin.
  8. Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes. Check if cooked by inserting a wooden toothpick or cake tester into the middle – if it comes out clean the cake is cooked. If mixture coats the toothpick, put back in the oven for up to 15 more minutes (put a piece of foil over the top if it is getting very dark at the edges.
  9. Leave in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out carefully, remove the lining paper and place on a rack to cool.

Lemongrass icing

Ingredients

2 stems of lemongrass
150g icing sugar

Method

Chop the lemongrass into small pieces and put in a saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover (about 5 cm deep). Place over a low heat and infuse for 20-30 minutes (depending on how fragrant your lemongrass is). Bring to the boil and reduce until you have about 4 tablespoons of liquid. Put a small sieve over a bowl and pour the liquid into it. Discard the lemongrass.  Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl then add 2 tablespoons of the lemongrass water and stir with a metal spoon until you reach a fairly thick consistency which can be poured but is not very runny. Add more water if necessary a little at a time. When the cake has cooled, spoon the icing over the top letting it drip down the sides.

Ginger cake with Turkish Delight icing

Turkish Delight icing

Ingredients

300g icing sugar, seived
80g sour cream or crème frâiche
50g unsalted butter
tiny pinch of sea salt (1/8th of a teaspoon or less)
1 teaspoon of real vanilla extract (not essence or flavouring)
1 tablespoon rosewater
A dab of light pink gel food colouring (optional)

Method

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk together, with an electric hand whisk or in a food processor with the whisk attachment, until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). You could also beat vigorously by hand. Pour over the top of the cake and let it run down the sides. This amount will make more than you need; keep in the fridge and ice some fairy cakes too.

A final P.S.

The magazine wanted a childhood picture to go with the recipe. On my first birthday I was very fascinated with the candle on the cake and everyone was happy to let me investigate. A second after this was taken I was crying my eyes out with a burnt finger.  Other bakers joined in this feature, in print during October 2013; Pear Tree Diaries saffron and rose petal cheesecake and The Hedonista’s lemon cake recipes can be found online (Sips and Spoonfuls, Pastry School Diaries and A Food Affair also contributed).

My first birthday

My first birthday

Do you have any childhood memories of cake? And have your tastes changed?

A new kind of brunch, palatial afternoon tea, Aussie sleb chefs and more

October 8, 2013
figs

Turkish figs – Autumnal seasonal fruit from the region

Two months in the UK seem very far away now; with hardly a cloud in the sky we saw Britain at its best. Still savouring the nibbles and tastes of artisan food at the Foodies Festival, missing friends from Food Blogger Connect (and Ren Behan’s fabulous bigos), remembering a very convivial visit to Jamie’s Fifteen and wistful about the wind in my hair, walking boots on my feet and why I love Dartmoor.  But this is just the tip of the iceberg, so why not a single post about the UK in September?

I came back to Dubai, unpacked my suitcase, and hit the ground running.  Meeting clients, catching up with friends and there are SO many new hotel and restaurant openings, cooking and tasting events galore, the roads are manic again and there is a severe feeling of deja vu but with knobs on! All available sand seems to be behind hoardings and giant cranes have raised their heads on the skyline once more. Boom time but with a bit more sophistication perhaps? Dubai is a different place to even five years ago, with a better infrastructure; hopefully older and wiser. Let’s see.

Having amnesia about how hard getting up at 6am is when you’ve been out the night before, I probably said yes to too many things but it made the month fly by and, voila, it’s October and the horrid humidity and heat of September are almost out of the door. Here’s my month of munching with a few recommendations:

Where to find provisions and bronze-coated eclairs

1st September A fresh juice from Baker & Spice in Souk Al Manzil prised my eyelids open at a business meeting (free wi-fi). You can peek into their kitchen via a window (at the top of the escalator from the very easy parking) and this small shop is packed with freshly baked goods, sour dough bread, salads and a menu of hot food that changes every day based on what’s in season. I stocked up with local, free range eggs from the Farm House opposite which sells local, organic produce – but there’s not much fresh stuff on the shelves as the growing season is just beginning.

Super-traveller Miret  invited me for afternoon tea hosted by The Westin. Although we had loads to talk about (her use of social media to achieve her objective of travelling the world is inspiring) we managed to eat our way through some very fancy cakes, with not much left at all for Dylan of The Travel Manor when he joined us later. Follow Flânerie féminine you want a luxurious and stunning virtual tour of the world via Instagram.

Dining in the dark

6th September Dining without the use of sight is what makes Noire at Spectrum on One in The Fairmont Dubai very different. Read about the experience and why KP was feeling very smug at the end of the evening here.

Vaarwel and a literary feast

8th September Francine and I were a bit bleary-eyed when we met for a quick lunch at Bateel, and it wasn’t all to do with jet-lag. The move to Huston of a very talented cook, writer and lovely friend (and her husband Barolo loving Raymond who I met through my wine courses) will leave a huge hole in my life. Luckily we are plotting….

Feeling very virtuous as I drove to book club and abstained from drinking (it’s zero tolerance here). The food was also super-healthy as N had themed it to the book (which we try to do); Gold by Chris Cleave was all about Olympic cycling athletes. We’re reading My Uncle Napoleon by Iraj Pezeshkzad this month which has been described as “the most important and well-loved work of Iranian fiction since World War II”. An Iranian feast to look forward to (as well as a terrific book).

I live in a desert

9th September I Live in a Frying Pan and I always seem to end up in Zaroob for our meetings as it’s casual and quirky (like us). Tucking into some hummous and catching up on months of nattering I gasped as I noticed the scene outside the window. The Sheikh Zayed Road which had been illuminated by brilliant sunshine (39 C) was cloaked, very suddenly, in the cloudy mist of a sandstorm. It’s like dense fog but gritty and you find sand in your crevices for days.

Cake, conversation and where to eat an Autumnal British menu

Ginger cake with Turkish Delight icing

Ginger cake with Turkish Delight icing

10th September A photographer and magazine person were in my kitchen for hours to capture a cake baked my me that evoked special memories of childhood. Check out BBC Good Food Middle East Magazine this month for ginger cake with Turkish Delight icing – recipe here.

The service at The Ivy, Dubai has always been superb but I was less of a fan of their menu. An  Autumn menu tasting made me change my mind, and the atmosphere was enlivened by an excellent crooner (very Buble-esque).  Good conversation (and wine) flowed (recommend the Trebbiano, Cantina Moncaro 2010, Marche for good value easy drinking). I’ve added The Etymologicon to my Amazon wish-list as a result (a word to write, not say out loud). Mental note to try out breakfast at The Ivy when the Farmers’ Market resumes in November.

Where to feed your kitchen addiction

11th September Do you find kitchen shops relaxing? I can’t resist popping into one if I’m passing just to get a fix of shiny gadgets and interesting bakeware. When I first arrived in Dubai in 2000, good kitchenware shops were thin on the ground. I unearthed a quirky little trade supply shop in The Courtyard, but the first ‘proper’ good quality shop was Tavola which opened in 2003 and is still my ‘go to’ shop. Crate and Barrel opened a couple of years ago and is great for simple tableware – I buy their tea towels in the sale as backdrops for photography.  At an evening compèred by Saba Wahid about mocktails and mini canapés, it was quite hard to see the demo, the canapés were a bit hit or miss but the goodie bag contained a slate board and cheese tools; you know about my cheese obsession?

Ideas for a casual Middle Eastern supper with friends

12th September A hearty dinner for 10 which was easy to fit in around work and teen commitments was required so I joined the rest of the world and turned to Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem for inspiration. I pulled out a bag of frozen hummus (I make it in bulk) with crudités and plus a jar of Aivar. A leg of lamb was marinated and then cooked for 5 hours al la Ottolenghi’s shawarma recipe, served with his Basmati and wild rice with chickpeas, currants and herbs (using sharp barberries not sweet currants) plus a green salad. I whipped up some little meringues and broke them up with strawberries, figs, pomegranate seeds. Piled messily on a plain white rectangular plate (Jamie Oliver bung-it-all-on style) with cream flavoured with rose-water and vanilla; I’ve named it Turkish Delight Eton Mess. Should I share the recipe? Let me know.

… and round another table

13th September Is the best way to cook a join of beef on the grill? I’m beginning to think so as we had some gorgeous barbecued beef round at a friend’s house. He always treats us to interesting wine…

Where to go for cheese and wine and glamour

14th September The Cavalli Club wanted to test out their new cheese and wine night on a few wine geeks so we were happy to oblige. The service and selection was impeccable. Krste, the head sommelier is fantastic at explaining the wine matches – at 200 AED it must be one of the best value cheese and wine nights in town – every Saturday until further notice.

Local ingredients, flying chef

16th September You know what, if this invitation had come from anyone else than Miele I would have said no. I didn’t really have a clue who Shannon Bennett was. Smoked fish covered with caramelised brittle white chocolate? Surely that couldn’t work – but it did. Brilliantly. The first course was good with fish sourced locally (Oman) wild prawns from Yemen, decorated with teeny tiny courgettes with their flowers on and edible miniature pansies. But the slow-cooked beef that could be cut with a spoon for the main with pear and Macadamia nuts – feed me that every day for a week and I would still ask for more. For pud was pav (of course), sea shells and Lamingtons (which sadly looked better than they tasted). Miele did a fantastic job, the whole place looked gorgeous and Shannon appeared to be a very approachable, honest chap with the appearance of being completely chilled until he saw something that wasn’t quite right. A steely-eyed perfectionism shone through the long-haired laid back image. His food didn’t just look good – he knew where his ingredients came from (he tries to source local in Melbourne) – impressive given that he’d arrived from Moscow just the night before. His team were lovely too which speaks volumes. You can see the menu here.

Gourmet ingredients, a new burger drive-in and Barolo by the glass

18th September I went along to Lafayette Gourmet for the launch of ‘Meet the Blogger’ week and watched Cooking with a Manicure demonstrate three recipes – see 22nd for more.

Shoot me down now. After all my out pourings about home cooked food, anti-fast-food and big brands, I went to the opening of a burger restaurant. My house is in the middle of a Bermuda triangle of golden arches drive throughs (or should that be ‘thru’?) – all three about a few minutes by car. If you extend that radius to five minutes you can fit in a Hardy’s, Johnny Rocket’s and a Fat Burger. Burger Fuel was the latest addition and as I was about to abandon my family later that evening I suggested to the teens that they might like to come along to the launch event. Guilt appeasement and bribery.  I was curious too as this New Zealand chain is their favourite particularly as it has several vegetarian options for vege teen. The meat they use is grass-fed beef from New Zealand and they talk a lot about the quality of their ingredients. There was a lot to like about it, from the attractive decking and post-industrial interior to the recycled materials used in their minimal packaging. I had a mini-burger which was more than enough for me, the full-sized one is 1/3 of a pound i.e. 150 g. The bun was good  – not pappy at all – a huge improvement on the usual offering (although it’s probably over a decade since I sunk my teeth into a Maccy D for comparison) ; the Cheddar actually tasted like its namesake.

Leaving a Hot Rod (with sliced jalapeno peppers, melted cheddar, salad, relish and aioli) for KP’s supper I tripped out merrily to Certo, Radisson Blu Media City Dubai, which was celebrating being voted ‘most authentic Italian restaurant in the Middle East and Africa 2013″ by Ospitalità Italiana. I’ve been to many of the monthly wine nights at the hotel’s ICON bar, tasted some of their wines with Italian food and wine expert Antonella Millarte, and was thrilled to see Finlay Quaye play live on their rooftop bar, but have never eaten at Certo.

The spread of Italian aperativo, included a selection of porky treats such as prosciutto, mortadella and salame; pork licenses for restaurants are hard to come by as the regulations for separate preparation are very demanding. A towering glass wine room occupies  the centre of Certo and sommelier Medan announced the launch of a new wine list. Italy dominates with 134 different labels and with the focus on native Italian grapes and signature wine making regions. They also serve Barolo DOCG, DaGromis GAJA 2008, by the glass for 149 AED. The recent Prosecco craze seems to have spawned many that taste a bit like boiled sweets or have a synthetic nose. A glass of  Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, Jeio Bisol rekindled my relationship with the glera grape (316 AED per bottle). We also drank Col di Sasso, Castello Banfi 2010, a luscious, deep red cab/sangiovese blend and great value – for Dubai restaurants – at 255 AED (bottle).

Veg boxes, wine and dancing

Stuffed veg

Peppers and vine leaves stuffed with rice and lamb

19th September Until the Farmers’ Market reopens in November, there is a hole in my life. I ordered a Greenheart organic veg box. They are having a few delivery problems so it came really late at night although the produce was still fairly fresh. Peppers, courgettes and cucumbers dominated; there was a packet of local dates for sweet treat. Stuffed veg would be on the menu a lot this week.

Luckily KP was at home to receive the veg box as had already hopped on the Metro to the Dubai wine club at the Sheraton Mall of the Emirates, where we blind tasted three whites and three reds. A huge surprise when the wrappers came off to discover that all the whites were Chardonnay. See the wines we drank here. Went onto a friend’s house and ended up dancing in her garden to Daft Punk at 2am – not an every day occurrence.

Surviving comfort zone removal

22nd September Today was the combination of two things that were exciting, took some effort but were very rewarding. In my comfort zone behind my computer screen I’m fine but get me out in front of people and my knees turn to jelly, my cheeks turn red, my teeth chatter and I feel such a buffoon. Somehow the lovely team from Lafayette Gourmet and Lootah Premium Foods got me to say yes to a demo; so I found myself, wobbly legged, in front of a gang getting ready to cook. However, what a lovely gang with loads of supportive friends.  My chosen recipe was Spanish Omelette – a frugal, store-cupboard staple but utterly delicious simple meal. As good cold as it is warm, it was part of a series of packed lunch ideas for UAE Saves week. This is a fantastic initiative driven single-handedly by a human whirlwind, Nima Abu-Wardeh. Special thanks to James, Tony, Russell and Adrian for making this enjoyable. Phew.

Pack your lunch Monday

23rd September The team at 7 Days (the UAE’s free daily paper) pledged to take in packed lunches every day for a week for UAE Saves week. Nimah and I joined them round their board room table and a prize was given to the best lunch. I took my Spanish omelette but was deservedly beaten by a delicious vegetable pilau.

How to drink sake

24th September Sake remained a rather opaque subject until I joined this sake masterclass at Hakkasan booked via Lime & Tonic. I’ll wax lyrical at length in another post but, in a nutshell, would recommend highly. The next one is on 15th October – more here.

An afternoon tea to remember, a dinner to forget

26th September It wasn’t The Palace Downtown Dubai‘s signature cappuccino topped with gold leaf that attracted me, but I did try it (pretty to look at, usual taste). The afternoon tea in the Al Bayt Lobby Lounge was one of the best I’ve had; the whole experience is like drifting along on a fluffy, scented cloud being fed exquisite morsels by people who are dedicated to your pleasure. I took vege teen there and she revelled in the VIP treatment. She chose the classic Palace Tea (120 AED) requesting vegetarian sandwiches only, and I had the Arabian tea (AED 150).  The savouries were really imaginative but with relevant flavours, the little cakes beautiful and the scones feather-like. We sipped our tea to the melody of a violin. A place to take my Mother-in-law when she comes at Christmas – unless I can think of an excuse to return earlier. The menu is here.

Two huge video screens showed videos about how great Melbourne is. A bossy compère kept shushing the room in order to tell us how great Australia is and how lucky we were to be eating this dinner in the ballroom at Atlantis, The Palm. The many Australians didn’t need to be told and this wasn’t doing anything to convince the rest of us. A line of white-clad, immaculate serving staff snaked through the tables to deliver a series of dishes orchestrated by Australian Masterchef judge George Colambaris.  A partially opened tin of very fishy tasting fish, a plate of cold, watery miniature vegetables, an edible didgeridoo which tasted of dust, filled with hard, medicinal sweets. Much of this dinner was style over substance.

Lovely to meet Felicia and friend who reported later of a much nicer rice pudding dish cooked by George at Bloomingdales. If a PR job was needed, a tour of the tables by George instead of all the announcements would have been a much better idea. Such a contrast to the earlier Miele dinner. It’s rumoured that he’s opening a restaurant here soon….

Just a perfect day

27th September There are zillions of spas in Dubai but Sensasia is my favourite so when I noticed 50% off for the soft opening of the Souk al branch I didn’t hang about. Cradling a coffee at Baker & Spice and watching families start their weekend with a leisurely breakfast I could feel the stresses of the month slide away already. The effect of an hour and half of hot stone massage, lounging on the beds with a hot neck thing, sipping warm ginger tea, eating cold, salty cruditès and drifting in and out of consciousness to plinky-plonky music, was as miraculous as black magic.

Not being able to work out how to walk to Vida (Dubai residents will understand this) I drove round a few streets past buildings I remember a few short years ago being surrounded by sand and up to the hotel (which used to be called the Qamardeen) for Urban Picnic. A new brunch concept in a the land of brunch has to be very different to stand out, and this was. Grabbing a picnic basket or a teak slatted tray, you choose from arrays of still life picnics, tarts, quiches, salads, breads, cheeses, iced-teas and punches variously displayed on boards, in Kilner jars, baskets, bowls and jam jars. Pizza from the wood-fired oven, fruit de mare, lamb chops, steaks and oat-crusted chicken are offered hot in metal trugs. Old-fashioned puds such as bread and butter pudding and crumble, jostle with fruit skewers to douse in molten chocolate and iced lollies. You can eat on turf covered picnic tables, the outside terrace or spread your picnic blanket on curtained loungers. The brunch price of 295 AED (with alcohol) includes use of the pool.

Good red wine, pasta al forno, a peach frangipane tart and a singalong with some of our closest friends ended a perfect day.

Where to go for sea breezes

View from 10129th September Jeanne from food and travel blog Cook Sister was staying, with her husband, at One & Only, The Palm so acted on a two year old resolution to take the boat across to 101. Although there was a beautiful view of the receding shoreline spangled with skyscrapers, it’s really designed for guests of the hotels and the times aren’t that frequent. 101 is reached by a long jetty and sits opposite the shoreline with wide decks, white sofas and in the perfect situation to catch the breeze. Chef Ele kept popping out to see us like an enthusiastic French school boy with ruddy cheeks and rosebud lips. It’s quite dark out there so when he came out to ask what we thought of our main courses I had to ask what had made the cauliflower sauce with my sea bream taste so good (thinly sliced roasted cauliflower and an additional dressing with capers). I also adored the almondy calisson from our selection of desserts; not so much the choc nut thing but if you like Snickers you’ll love it. 101 is a lovely spot, and good for people watching, just go by taxi if you are not staying at one of the One & Only Hotels.

How to roll your own

30th September An amber sun was setting over the sea to our right, the spires of Emirates Towers, the Burj Khalifa and the serried rows of towering buildings flanking the Sheikh Zayed Road rush hour traffic gleamed its reflection to our left. ICHO on the 50th floor of  the Radisson Royal is worth a visit for the view alone. But we were here to cook Japanese; Chef Song’s delicate fingers transformed making miso soup and sushi into an elegant ritual, in a soft voice he told us all about the types of Japanese knives, wagyu and fish. I felt like a nursery school child in comparison when making my own soup and California roll. Chef Suri took centre stage at the teppanyaki station. A born showman, he sculpted flames, created a volcano from an onion, made a heart out of rice and served us a variety of freshly cooked morsels from the grill. The restaurant is over two floors plus an upper bar (good views but very smoky). I’d return for the sushi and if you like teppanyaki. My real gripe is not confined to solely to this restaurant but widespread in hotels here. Head Chef Carl impressed on us the importance of choosing really good ingredients and discussed grades of wagyu at length. Questioning revealed however that no fish is sourced locally and they use farmed prawns from Thailand and India. If you are still eating the latter please read this report.

This is just the tip of the ice-burg of events in Dubai and October has been even crazier. I, however, have decided to slow the pace down and get back to what I like doing best – sharing simple home-cooking with fresh ingredients.

What were your culinary highlights in September?

And the winner of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge is…

September 29, 2013

….. Wine Kat who wrote a short story about Possession and wine which reminded me of Roald Dahl’s style. Beautifully crafted and kept me reading until the end.

There was a lot of jostling for top position though, Talk-a-Vino and The Drunken Cyclist were just pipped at the post.

Thanks to everyone who read all the articles and voted. I thought the standard was extremely high and every post a rewarding, interesting or entertaining read and it seems you did too.

Monthly wine writing challenge winnerSo September’s (actually more like October’s) Monthly Wine Writing Challenge is handed over to The Wine Kat.  Kat will choose the theme for next month, and has the power to change the rules or keep it as it is. I did consult The Drunken Cyclist a couple of times this month so thanks :)

I’m sharing the list again in case you want to go back and have a browse – it’s really worthwhile whether you are ‘into’ wine or not.

Possession – a short story by The Wine Kat

Possession: A Confession by Wine Swap

I’m not a hoarder, I’m a collector by The Armchair Sommelier

The Possession Obsession by Duff’s Wines

‘He Who Knows He Has Enough is Rich’ -Lao Tzu by From Vinho Verde to Barolo with Love

How possessive are the wine lovers? by Talk-a-vino

A wine for a dreadfully awkward meal in A.S. Byatt’s Possession by Jameson Fink

Possession or Are German winemakers merely possessors? by The Winegetter

Possession: It’s Mine!!! by Red Wine Diva

Rice wine at the mid-Autumn festival by Saucy Gander

Possession by The Wine Raconteur

Who owns a name? Celebrating Robert Mondavi’s centenary by My Custard Pie (host so no vote for me)

Possession:Entry Denied by Foodwineclick

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #3: Possession by The Drunken Cyclist

Depossessed drink: Wine on loan by Wayward Wine

Thanks again, everyone, for writing and voting!  Proud to be part of this and can’t wait to hear what the theme is for #MWWC4.

Keftedes – moreish meatballs

September 26, 2013

MeatballsAs I bit into the meatball I got a taste of something fragrant, pungent even, slightly hot, savoury, aromatic. It seemed to tingle on my tongue. “Yes” said my Mum,” I put a clove of garlic in them.” This seemed as exotic and daring as if she had donned a Carmen Miranda hat and cha-cha-chaed round the sitting room. Hard to think that there was a time when pasta was only one shape – spaghetti in long blue paper packets – olive oil was in the medicine cabinet in a tiny bottle and garlic was a rare, foreign ingredient. Growing up in the 70′s in a working class family, that’s how it was. However, my Babcia (Polish grandmother) ate a raw  a day – and the scent of it always formed an aromatic halo around her – so I’m not sure where she got it from in such quantity!

So that was my meatball memory and some sort of meatball seems to exist in all cuisines. Whether you call it a kofte, slider, rissole, frikadeller, polpette or hanbagu, few can resist a bite-sized morsel of spicy or seasoned ground meat. I’m not claiming that this is a particularly authentic Greek recipe but it’s one that everyone seems to like. I’ve called them keftedes as they are a similar shape and size to the ones my Mother-in-law makes to a recipe passed down by her Greek-Cypriot mother. Mine have a lot more spice. Sometimes I roll them into balls as cocktail meatballs as in the top image.

The easiest packed lunch is made of left-overs from the night before, as all you have to do is put a portion in a tub ready for the morning. I often make double the quantity of these keftedes and simmer half of the them in a tomato sauce to eat with rice or pasta for supper. A few in the lunchboxes, with some hummus or tahini, flat bread, salad and a wedge of fresh lemon make a very satisfying meal. You can freeze the rest for another quick supper or lunch.

Lamb keftedes

Ingredients

1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
1/2 tablespoon of sesame seeds
1/2 dried chilli (optional)
1 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1/2 onion, chopped finely
2 tablespoons olive oil
500g minced lamb
1/2 bunch of parsley or mint leaves picked and chopped (optional)

Serves 3-4

Method

  1. Gently toast the cumin seeds, sesame seeds and dried chilli in a dry non-stick or cast iron frying pan until they start to turn very light golden brown.
  2. Remove immediately to a bowl and mix with some sea salt, pepper, garlic and onion. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and fry the onion mixture gently until the onion and garlic is soft and transparent.
  3. Return to the bowl and mix together with the lamb and parsley or mint if using. Shape into small, slightly flattened rounds (like a mini burger or large flat meatball).
  4. Add the rest of the oil to the pan and put over a medium heat. Fry the keftedes for about 2-3 minutes on each side. They should be cooked through but still slightly pink in the middle. Drain on kitchen paper and serve warm or cold.

UAE Saves Week 2013

I’m posting recipes and ideas that are great for packed lunches this week – some are already up on the Cashy.me site if you want to plan ahead. There are other non-food related, practical activities every single day, find out what’s on here and don’t forget to use #UAEsaves on your pics, posts and tweets.

P.S. Vote for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. 14 stellar wine writing posts to choose from, only one vote. Please cast yours now.

So do you have meatball memories to share? What’s your favourite way to eat a meatball? And is a vegetarian ‘meatball’ just all wrong?

Lentil soup – simple, tasty, healthy, hearty and frugal

September 25, 2013

My Middle Eastern cookery education started with a bang when I moved to Saudi Arabia. Housed on a compound I had access only to a small grocery store. Unless I joined the compound shopping bus trip or asked KP to drive me to the supermarket I had a very limited choice. We shared our apartment with a bachelor (long story) and my batterie de cuisine consisted of a frying pan, a saucepan, a wooden spoon and an inadequate knife. There were three plates, forks, knives and spoons (they’d bought an extra one of each for my arrival). Nearly 18 years on and how things have changed and my kitchen cupboards are full to bursting – but in those pre-childen days, with time on my hands, I did everything the old-fashioned way, from scratch and without the aid of gadgets.

The first recipe I was given was for lentil soup, by a work colleague’s wife (KP’s work colleague as I wasn’t officially allowed to be employed). This guy was flamboyant and known for wearing suits of every colour from light green to pale pink and his wife also dressed up to the nines. However, this soup couldn’t be more modest and it’s part of home cooking throughout the Middle East. Some restaurants serve it free of charge as an appetiser, flavoured with chicken broth made from the bones of meat destined for shawarma.

The handwritten recipe was so simple – sauté 1 chopped onion and 1 chopped carrot in a little olive oil. Add 1 cup of rinsed lentils and 3 cups of water. Simmer for 20 minutes, season to taste and add a teaspoon of cumin and some lemon juice to serve. I haven’t changed it much but use Claudia Roden‘s proportions, stock instead of water and sometimes add celery.

This is the ultimate in low-cost, body-and-spirit-warming comfort food. Homemade stock is good but a quality stock cube is fine (I use Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon). I also like a lot of lemon juice added at the end – but I have ridiculous cravings for lemon. There are many variations of this with spinach or potato for instance. Marrow bone is a fine thing to add and garlic croutons make it luxurious.

chopping onions

Lentil soup

Ingredients

3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
375g red lentils, washed and drained
2 litres of chicken or vegetable stock (home-made is great but a stock cube is fine)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 lemon, juiced

Serves 6

Method

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or stock pot.
  2. Add the onion and carrot and sauté until the vegetables are soft and the onion is transparent, but do not allow to brown.
  3. Put the red lentils into the saucepan, followed immediately by the hot stock and stir well.  Leave to simmer for about 25 minutes or until the lentils are very soft. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Purée with a stick blender, in a food processor or Vitamix, rub through a sieve or crush with a potato masher. Add the cumin and lemon juice to taste. Return to the heat to warm through, then serve.

Pack your lunch.

Soup is so simple to make and really satisfying as a packed lunch. Imagine the aroma and the look on your work colleagues faces as you unscrew the cap of your flask and pour out a cup of warm, fragrant goodness. Chunky vegetable soups are great for using up odds and ends in the fridge and smooth soups like roasted tomato could hardly be easier.  If you have a hearty appetite, soup and sandwich make a great combination. I’d suggest smoked turkey ham and mustard on granary bread to go with the recipe below. Pour soup into a wide-mouthed flask and eat with a crunchy, roll of bread.

UAE Saves Week 2013

I’m posting recipes and ideas that are great for packed lunches this week – some are already up on the Cashy.me site if you want to plan ahead. There are other non-food related, practical activities every single day, find out what’s on here and don’t forget to use #UAEsaves on your pics, posts and tweets.

P.S. Vote for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. 14 stellar wine writing posts to choose from, only one vote. Please cast yours now.

What were your first kitchen tools? Do you have a favourite soup recipe?

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