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A festive gin cocktail to see in the New Year

December 31, 2016

While only a constructed mechanism of the Gregorian calendar (and I live in a place where many follow the Hijri version!), I think there will be a collective sigh of relief as the page turns on 2016. I won’t list the multiple reasons for this as I’m sure no-one needs reminding – although I did see a tweet from @MsTexas1967 that conjectured:

It is becoming increasingly obvious that David Bowie has established a better alternate universe and is populating it selectively one-by-one

I think we all need an excuse to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and leap forward with optimism and grit; the latter needed to change the things we despair of, in an increasingly intolerant world controlled by a handful unelected powerful players. Simple eh?!

After the privilege of joyful feasting with family and friends over these last few weeks, I’ll also be joining the legions in a few diet and exercise resolutions. My motivations are health, strength, ability to do the things I enjoy for as long as possible. It’s also being able to appreciate the abundance more fully when treats are reserved for special occasions.

But until then, I give you my final gin cocktail of the year, once more created by Denzel Heath – bartender extraordinaire from the MMI Bar Academy.

Named after the Noel Bar in Greece where it is Christmas all year round this has the flavours of summer fruits (perfect for a Dubai winter), Sipsmith – one of my very favourite gins (although you could use another London dry gin) and some beautiful dry Fino sherry which you can keep in the fridge and use as an aperitif (perfect with green olives). Finally there is Champagne because this is the festive season after all.

Noel

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 60ml Sipsmith gin (or other London Dry gin)
  • 15ml Sipsmith Summer Cup (or alternative fruit cup such as Pimms)
  • 15ml Fino Sherry
  • 12.5ml homemade raspberry cordial*
  • Champagne
  • Garnish: raspberries or redcurrants and fresh green herbs

Equipment

  • Glass or drinking vessel (see Muddle Me in the UAE)
  • Crushed ice

How to mix

*To make the raspberry cordial: take equal parts fresh raspberries and caster sugar (500g) and leave for 24 hours inside a sealed container (kilner jar or plastic), shaking every so often. Whizz together in a blender and add 1 teaspoon of lemon salt (citric acid) to the resulting purée.

To make the cocktail: Part fill your glass or drinking vessel with crushed ice, pour in the ingredients one by one and top up with Champagne. Garnish with fresh raspberries or other seasonal decorations such as redcurrants and mint.

Here’s to Denzel for a year of wonderful gin cocktails and advice. You can find all my gin recipes and more, here.

And raising a glass to you all in massive thanks, especially my regular readers who fill me with so much joy and gratitude. It’s great to connect over shared interests and I wish you a very happy 2017.

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Why you need a festive cheese board and how to make one

December 17, 2016

Why you need a festive cheeseboard and how to create oneMaybe it’s complete madness to think about adding more food to the Christmas table but a festive cheese board is absolutely non-negotiable in my book. If the festive spread brings people together around the table, the cheese board keeps them there. Starters, turkey roast with all the trimmings, Christmas pudding, chocolate Yule log et al have all started to fade from the digestive memory but having little nuggets of savoury, saltiness to nibble on with the port or Sauternes is fuel to the communal conversation. It keeps people sustained through charade playing and can be supplemented by bread, ham and pickles later on instead of supper. It’s another celebratory item on the table for vegetarians, and keeps Christmas pudding haters happy – yes there are these strange people round my table and even members of my own family.

Throughout the festive season it’s a simple but stunning thing to take along if you are contributing to another feast, makes a splendid centrepiece on a buffet and can easily do as supper if you just can’t face cooking again. Having an array of cheese on hand makes great emergency rations if you need to soak up the excess imbibing from a party at midnight. If you suddenly crave simple fare a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich does the job as well as being a great ‘morning after the night before’ foil.

I’ve written about putting together the perfect cheese board for the festive season before and recommended specialist cheesemongers for choice, provenance and well-stored fromage. Last week I was asked to speak at a gathering organised by Good Magazine and Marks and Spencer so made my selection from their counters and found some absolute treasures. M&S has an excellent reputation for working closely with their suppliers and while dairies need to be a certain size to supply such a large chain, there was a lot to like about the provenance and authenticity of the cheeses. An advantage of such buying power also has an effect on price and I was impressed at how reasonable these very good quality cheeses are (the 300g wedge of Blacksticks Blue was 35 aed). Here are some of my tips from the demo:

How to put together the perfect cheese board

  1. Start with a theme. This could be a region, a country or something more esoteric but it helps to give a cohesion to the whole board (as well as narrowing down your choices for easier shopping). I went for English cheeses this time although included a Brie from just over the channel for balance.
  2. Choose your base. I favour a wooden board or tray but use something from in my kitchen i.e. a chopping board or bread board. Slate looks good too. Choose a size that’s in proportion to what you are putting on it. A generous look is what we’re going for, so don’t use a huge board that dwarf a few small cheeses if this is what you’ve got.
  3. A generous look. Using a few large blocks of cheese looks better than lots of little ones dotted about. In fact I’d rather have one really splendid piece than lots of mean looking sticks. Odd numbers work better too.
  4. Contrast in taste and texture. I usually work up in strength starting with a creamy goats milk cheese, a soft cheese, something hard, something crumbly and tangy and a blue.
  5. Accompaniments for cheese. A very plain cracker is essential plus you can add a fancier one – but don’t choose a flavour that will fight with the cheese e.g. a cheesy biscuit. Breadsticks add contrast in size and rustic rye bread slices are a good match. Chutneys, fruit pastes and preserves in little bowls add colour and shine. I love a dish of honey comb in the centre – it catches the light and is amazing drizzled over goats cheese, Cheddar and blue cheese in particular. Nuts and fresh fruit are the final elements and make everything look really festive. Blue cheese with pear is a match made in heaven. Figs, redcurrants and pomegranates add a jewel like touch, but even dried fruit such as apricots add a feeling of abundance.
  6. Assemble your board. Arrange the cheeses at different angles around the board with spaces between them. I like cheeses uncut but you can start to slice them so that guests don’t feel intimidated by a large block of pristine cheese, especially if on a buffet. Make the pieces large enough for a mouthful but not unmanageable. Herringbone cutting is nicer that sliced as though making sandwiches. For soft oozy cheese remove a sliver so that it starts to flow invitingly.
  7. A festive look. Place little bowls of honey or chutney between them. Start at the outside of the board and drape bunches of grapes over the edges and then fill in the gaps working inward. You can stack crackers in rows or place them in a separate basket. Group similar items together rather than dotting things around. Layer up with breadsticks or put them in a tall container for added height. If your cheese board is very large do this in situ as carrying it to the table could be precarious.
  8. The tools of the trade. Place a variety of cheese and butter knives at hand or even on the board so people feel they can dig right in.

Why you need a festive cheeseboard and how to create one

A mainly English cheeseboard from M & S

This is what I chose and have since been back to buy more of the blue and the delicious, creamy goats cheese.

Cornish Cove Mature
Made from the milk of cows reared in Cornish pastures this full, rich and creamy cheese is described as ‘rugged like the Cornish Cliffs’ and has been made exclusively by Cornwall-based Dairy Crest for M&S since 2010. The cheese received the royal seal of approval when it was selected to be included in the Marks & Spencer Patron’s Lunch Hamper.

Blacksticks Blue
This unique soft blue cheese is handmade at Butlers at Inglewhite Diary in rural Lancashire. With a distinctive amber hue, Blacksticks Blue has a delicious creamy but tangy taste. The Barker family have been farming in Lancashire since 1932 and the dairy is currently run by the third generation of Barkers. We drizzled Acacia honey comb honey over this at the demo and it converted quite a few people who didn’t think they like blue cheese.

Creamy French Brie
Made in the Ducey Creamery Normandy, this mild and creamy brie has a refreshingly clean flavor and smooth buttery texture.

Goats Cheese Log
Made at the Abergavenny Creamery, which is the UK’s largest and most successful producer of fresh goats cheese. Very smooth and creamy with a fresh goat’s curd flavour and amazing with fresh raspberries and raw honey.

Wensleydale
A young cheese crafted accordingly to a traditional recipe at Belton Farm in Shropshire. The Beckett family, who own Belton Farm, have been farming in the region since the 1920s.  A creamy, delicate and slightly sweet cheese with a smooth texture. Traditionally quite lactic with some sweet notes and an apple flavour.

Cheese history and a cheese cause

It’s official. Cheese is in my blood. This slight overstatement is a result of listening to the Radio 4 Food Programme and hearing that evidence of cheese making 7000 years ago has just been proved in Poland (I’m half Polish). It also discusses the impact of destroying bacteria which can help save our lives along with those considered harmful in the pasteurisation process. The microbes in cheese is a complex issue that we still don’t understand everything about; raw milk cheeses were almost banished in the 1950s but thanks to campaigners like Patrick Rance, common sense prevailed. Bureaucracy is raising its ugly head again though and I’ve donated to a campaign organised by food writer and activist Joanna Blythman to raise £50,000 to Save Errington Cheeses and defend artisan cheesemakers. You can contribute to their crowdfunding campaign for legal costs here.

A shout out to Noreen of Noni’s Place who styled this beautiful festive table.

You can see a Facebook live video of my demo here. Thanks to Marks and Spencer and Good Magazine for a marvelous festive event (and loads of cheese).

I was compensated for my involvement with this event, opinions my own (I loved their cheese!)

So, will there be cheese on your festive table?

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A surprising thing about truffles

December 2, 2016

“So can you tell me anything new about truffles?” I said rather cheekily to Chef Giorgio Locatelli as he sat down next to me at the end of the table for our lunch. “As a matter of fact I can…” he replied.

Having met Giorgio annually for many years I’m au fait with his passion for truffles which started in childhood. I know about the ritual of truffle buying when, once a year, all the children would pile into his Grandfather’s tiny Cinquecento and meet up with a man at a scruffy petrol station. Bills would change hands rather secretively ‘like a drug deal’ and the precious truffle would be taken home and used up completely in a celebratory meal of many courses, the simple fare letting the flavour shine.

I’ve learned about the process of hunting for truffles and the skill of the truffle hound, which digs with both paws if the truffle in really ripe, one paw if almost there and just sniff if it’s not ready for picking. I’ve learned the fickleness of the truffle and its reluctance to grown in a flight path or where there is intensive agriculture. Ironic that Alba, the place with the most famous reputation for truffles worldwide, is a huge wine growing region and viticulture can use some of the most intensive practices, probably threatening the truffle. I’ve heard of the practice of passing off truffles from Eastern Europe (truffle laundering), and how to store them (exposed to air and light as little as possible).

Listening to many of these tales again was as captivating as ever as Giorgio is a born raconteur with extensive knowledge and keen interest in everything around his topic – from science to history. The people sitting with me and the lunch table at Atlantis The Palm were equally enthralled.

And then we ate lunch. The usual simple favourites, a dish of silky handmade egg tagliolini, a risotto with masses of butter and Parmesan, a perfect raviolo filled with an egg yolk and pureed potatoes, white pizza with mozzarella and pumpkin, all topped with freshly shaved white truffles. Plain carbs and protein act as a magic blank canvas for the aroma and taste of the musky tuber. People try to put it with other luxurious ingredients, say lobster and truffle, and it kills the taste of both, says Giorgio. A pot-roasted veal tenderloin and some wafer-thin beef carpaccio were simple enough to complement their truffle shroud but my favourites were the pasta and risotto.

So what was the thing about truffles that was news even to Giorgio until recently? He’d tasted the truffles of several regions, including Alba, alongside the ones of his usual supplier from Umbria. He was surprised at just how much the latter tasted better in comparison this year. His supplier attributed it to the earthquake that struck Southern Italy this year. The trees would react to the stress and retain more nutrients into their roots for stability and protection, and the truffles ‘the children of the tree’ (to quote Giorgio) would benefit. Interesting theory this and very plausible given their sensitivity to environmental factors.

Although I’ve met many ‘celebrity chefs’ over the past few years here in Dubai, I don’t actively seek out these experiences. I admire their craft and have tasted some really wonderful dishes but it’s down-to-earth food made with the very best ingredients that would be my desert island dish. I suppose it’s like going to an amazing art exhibition with the most avant-garde works; it stimulates your imagination and thinking while you’re there but you wouldn’t want to live with it in your sitting room.

It’s the absolute focus on the integrity of the ingredients and the way they work within a dish which makes me admire what Giorgio does in particular, and his continual questioning of the provenance of food is where we find common ground. Obviously there’s a place for experimentation and exploration in high-end cuisine but the real luxury is in a plate of food containing two or three elements which absolutely work together. It’s something to celebrate and a real special occasion, and given that ordering a main course (ours were taster dishes) of Parmesan risotto with white truffle will set you back 260 aed it’s not an everyday thing.

Zabaglioni

More truffle stories

A few earlier encounters with Giorgio during truffle season….

Eating white truffle with Giorgio Locatelli (about ingredients and why ‘more’ is a ‘bordello’),

Truffle, risotto and perfect pasta from Georgio Locatelli (how to make perfect pasta and a risotto recipe)

and On moderation and militants (Giorgio puts the world to rights and we’re ready for revolution!)

You can sample the truffle menu in December while stocks of the precious tubers last at Ronda Locatelli. More info here. I was a guest of Atlantis The Palm.

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How to make a refreshing gin cocktail to sip under the stars

November 16, 2016

Last night there was a supermoon to end all supermoons. Did you see it? I fully intended to and went somewhere special to see the sun go down. I gazed out from the gorgeous terrace at Roberto’s, watching the sky turn from golden to salmon pink to deep blue until the lights of the Burj Khalifa started to twinkle. The moon, however super, just wasn’t visible from that viewpoint. Sinking into the sofa when I got home I knew I should haul myself out into my garden and marvel, but every ounce of energy had left my body. For once, instead of beating myself up, I made peace with myself. As an enthusiastic person I often feel guilty if I haven’t seized every precious moment. Perhaps if I’d had one of these in my hand I might have found that extra incentive.

Denzel, my bartender cocktail advisor, came up with this recipe specifically for sipping outside under the stars. While November in some parts of the world call for hot chocolate with a slug of something warming, here in Dubai it’s the perfect time of year to spend evenings outdoors. One to bookmark for those summer nights or sunny Autumn days.

The best gin cocktail for sipping on your terrace

The fresh, floral and green of the outdoors is reflected in the flavours of this drink. And it contains sherry, that slightly old-fashioned drink which has seen a little renaissance. Denzel chose Manzanilla sherry as it’s fruity and floral, but salty on the palate with a dry and zesty finish. The slight saltiness complements all daisy-style drinks (and sour drinks like the Margarita) and the floral notes play delicately with the green and violet ones. Less Chelsea flower show, more cottage garden.

Named after the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC in Dutch) for its role in the spice trade.The perfect gin cocktail to sip under the stars - recipe on mycustardpie.com

VOC Daisy

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients

  • 60ml gin, Sacred Cardamom recommended
  • 15ml Manzanilla Sherry
  • 20ml honey and green tea syrup *
  • 15ml fresh lemon juice
  • 15ml egg white
  • Sweet violet droplets**
  • Matcha tea and dried rose petals (optional garnish)

Equipment

  • Cocktail shaker
  • Strainer
  • Old fashioned glass
  • Ice

How to mix

Add all the ingredients (except the garnish) into a shaker with ice and shake vigorously until chilled. Strain the liquid from the ice into a chilled glass.

*To make the honey and green tea syrup infuse one part green tea in one part of hot water for 5 minutes then strain. Dissolve one part of raw honey in the green tea and allow to cool.

** Sweet violet droplets add an intense floral note to cocktails without being sweet. Alternatively substitute jasmine tea for the green tea when making the syrup.

Watching the sunset from Robertos terrace in Dubai drinking cocktails. To find a recipe for gin cocktails with a twist visit mycustardpie.com

Watching the sunset from Robertos terrace in Dubai

Watching the sunset from Robertos terrace in Dubai drinking cocktails. To find a recipe for gin cocktails with a twist visit mycustardpie.com

Oh Mr Moon – where are you?

Do you always seize the moment or have guilty feelings like me?! What’s in your glass this month?

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Learning to waffle Emirati-style (with Hilton Garden Inn)

October 20, 2016

Waffles with pear and raw honey on mycustardpie.comWaffle. Isn’t that what your Gran does when she natters on and takes ages to get to the point? I’m not sure when I realised that an alternative form of a waffle was something edible. Growing up in Britain it just didn’t even feature and batter-based edibles were confined to pancakes (thin and lacey like crepes) or Yorkshire puddings (brown, round, puffy and served with gravy).  In the eighties waffle meant the fabric of a posh bathrobe from a spa. But slowly another version crept into my consciousness.

At first they were served like dessert for breakfast, coated with pools of sugar or whipped cream, and had something to do with Belgium and then the US.

Of late, the waffle trend has gone into overdrive with the most extraordinary range of things being formed into grilled, corrugated shapes. Could waffling (is that a word?) be applied to different ingredients or even different cultural styles of cooking? It was time to investigate and bring the waffle into my life in some way.

I invested in a waffle iron and then searched for inspiration for recipes, methods and fillings. The simplest recipe was by Jamie Oliver and was very easy to make. Why buy frozen waffles to put in the toaster? It turns out that they are simpler than a pancake and you have control over the ingredients, especially the sugar level. You can even freeze your own homemade ones for serving later. I cored, quartered, seared some little pears on the grill and drizzled with a little raw honey (Balqees Organic Emirati raw honey) to add sweetness with goodness as a topping.

My next source of inspiration was from Emirati Chef Bader Najeeb, who put an Arabic twist on waffles for the Hilton Garden Inn to celebrate their first birthday. Using local ingredients and those inspired by Emirati culture, Chef B created three special edition recipes to mark the occasion: Arabic Coffee Meringues with Strawberries & Chocolate, Saffron Poached Pear Slices with Vanilla Ice Cream and Waffles Stuffed with Rose Falooda and Vanilla Ice Cream. They were put to a public vote, and the winning recipe is below. He was cooking them at a ‘waffle truck’,  a great opportunity to pick up waffling tips and to have a taste.

Falooda is an Indian dessert which became popular on the trading routes including in the UAE. Flavouring it with rose is a particularly Emirati influence. It was really delicious, a lovely texture and not too sweet.

waffles-with-rose-falooda

Hilton Garden Inn's signature waffles stuffed with rose falooda and vanilla ice cream

  • Servings: 1-2
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 100g rice vermicelli
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup rose water
  • 2/3 cup milk powder
  • less than 1/2 cup sugar
  • a handful of cashew nuts
  • 1 drop red food coloring (optional)
  • vanilla ice cream for serving

Method

  1. Boil the water, milk powder, and sugar on medium heat.
  2. Add rice vermicelli and boil until it softens.
  3. Remove from heat then stir in rose water, cashew nuts, & food coloring if using.
  4. Strain out the liquid and set the rose vermicelli aside.
  5. Make your waffles then stuff them waffles with vanilla ice cream and rose vermicelli.

As a waffle novice I’m still on a journey to perfect my cooking of them. The Jamie recipe is a good place to start but I’d like to make them healthier. My next step is to test out some recipes with wholemeal flour like these Wholemeal fruity waffles by my friend Emily from A Mummy Too and these ones on Well Plated that contain apple sauce in the mixture.

Chef B’s rose falooda waffles

Thanks to everyone who entered the competition to win one night’s stay at any Hilton Garden Inn worldwide (the winner was drawn and has been notified).

 

🍧 وافلز بفالودة ماي الورد و الآيس كريم – كوبين ماي – ١٠٠ جرام شعيرية – ٢/٣ كوب حليب بودرة – ١/٤ كوب ماي ورد – مكسرات الكاجو – أقل عن ١/٢ كوب سكر – قطرة ملون طعام أحمر / اختياري – ايس كريم فانيلا .. الطريقة: ١- فوروا الماي و السكر و الحليب ع نار متوسطة. ٢- ضيفوا الشعيرية و فوروها لين ما تستوي لينة. ٣- شلوها من ع الضو و ضيفوا ماي الورد، الكاجو، و ملون الطعام. ٤- تخلصوا من الماي و اتركوا شعيرية ماي الورد ع صوب. ٥- احشوا الوافل بآيس كريم الفانيلا و الشعيرية، و بالعافية! .. من الوصفات الثلاث اللي بنزلها فالأيام الياية، اكتبوا كومنت تحت الوصفة اللي تنال على إعجابكم أكثر شي للفرصة على الفوز بليلة في فندق هيلتون جاردن إن في أي دولة من أنحاء العالم!🏩 و بقدم الوافل اللي وصفته تنال على أكبر عدد من الكومنتات في شاطىء كايت سيرف تاريخ ٢١ أكتوبر – مجاناً 🎪 .. The final special-edition topping recipe I created for the first birthday of @hiltongardeninn in the UAE is with a twist – the signature waffles are stuffed with a delicious combination of Rose Falooda & Vanilla Ice Cream! 🍧 – 100g rice vermicelli – 2 cup water – 1/4 cup rose water – 2/3 cup milk powder – Less than 1/2 cup sugar – A handful of cashew nuts – 1 drop red food coloring (optional) – Vanilla ice cream for serving .. Method: 1- Boil the water, milk powder, and sugar on medium heat. 2- Add rice vermicelli and boil under it softens. 3- Remove from heat then stir in rose water, cashew nuts, & food coloring if using. 4- Strain out the liquid and set the rose vermicelli aside. 5- Stuff your waffles with vanilla ice cream and rose vermicelli, and enjoy! .. Make sure to comment on or like your favourite topping out of the three recipes for a chance to win one night stay at any Hilton Garden Inn in the world! I’ll also be serving up the most popular at the waffle truck at Kite Beach on 21 Oct. T&Cs apply (link in bio) #HGIwaffleDXB

A post shared by Bader Najeeb بدر نجيب (@chef.b) on

 

I love what Chef B is doing in conjunction with Hilton Garden with Emirati flavours for waffles and starting me on my waffle journey! I hope you liked the competition which gives me the opportunity to give something back to my reader. I received compensation from Hilton Garden to write this post but the content (apart from Chef B’s recipe and video) is all my own. 

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Is a Sir Francis Drake gimlet the solution to empty nest syndrome?

September 29, 2016
How to make a Sir Frances Drake Gimlet on mycustardpie.com

Sir Frances Drake Gimlet

Empty nest syndrome, is it even a thing? And how do you deal with your strangely altered nest now the flock has flown and you sit bereft and disorientated like two turtle doves? Since veggie teen left for University, we’ve been getting used to doing things for two. Without even discussing it we’ve made a point of making sure we spend regular time together. One new routine, in our emptier house is to curl up on the sofas (KP, me and the dog) and catch up on a bit of telly a few nights a week. Poldark is shaping up nicely and while the plot is rather over-simplified and the acting a bit predictable, the costumes, sets, landscape and the smouldering Aiden Turner all look rather gorgeous. In this week’s episode the villagers down on the Cornish coast were all suffering from scurvy due to lack of vitamin C, until a generous (and beautiful) benefactor gave them a few crates of oranges.

The original gimlet cocktail was a tot of Navy ration gin with some lime cordial to prevent the sailors from being afflicted with the same disease.

While modern interpretations can include fresh lime juice, you can make a gimlet very easily by stirring together 50ml of gin, 10ml of lime cordial with lots of ice, then straining it into a coupe glass. Alternatively a 1928 description of the drink was: “gin, a spot of lime, and soda.”

Denzel, my bartender cocktail mentor, has devised rather cunning, if slightly more complicated, variation of a gimlet for this month. I challenge your mouth not to water as you read the description; it’s refreshing, sour with a touch of spice. The flavours are exotic, like the places the sailors might have visited, and contains plenty of scurvy-preventing fruit plus an aromatic herbal concoction that will make you feel like an alchemist of old.

So I can sit on my sofa sipping one of these, pretending to be Elizabeth Chenoweth or Caroline Penvenen in a gown and petticoats, glancing at swarthy KP quaffing a cider. Scurvy is prevented, the nest seems cosy, all is well. I’m not suggesting that turning to drink is the answer to missing your loved ones. Treating to yourself to something special and hanging out with your partner helps though.

How to make a Sir Frances Drake Gimlet on mycustardpie.com

Good health and sea-faring

Denzel’s inspiration for this months’ gin cocktail had roots in sea-faring and getting back to the land. The Caorunn gin he recommends is made with hand-foraged botanicals from rowanberries to blackthorn. As well as the aforemention navy gin rations, ginger beer originated in England in the 1700’s and was a fermented alcoholic beverage. Ginger beer even crossed the pond in the early days and antique stoneware bottles of Francis Drake Ginger Beer, which was made from 1867 to 1925 in New Glasgow Nova Scotia, are still around. Vice Admiral Francis Drake was born in Tavistock in Devon, where KP grew up and I spend part of every summer. We often visit Buckland Abbey, Francis Drake’s former home, where he may have plotted his navigation of the globe or his defence of the British Isles from the Spanish Armada.

You may have to plot making this in several stages but it’s totally worth it.

Yeghes da! (Good health in Cornish)

Sir Frances Drake Gimlet

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients

45ml Caorunn gin

10ml coriander (cilantro) Bianco Vermouth*

30ml rhubarb and ginger cordial**

15ml fresh lime juice

15ml egg white

A coriander or flat parsley leaf to garnish (optional)

Equipment

  • Cocktail shaker
  • Fine strainer
  • Coupe glass
  • Ice

How to mix

Add all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously until ice cold. Then strain the cocktail using a ‘fine strainer’ or tea sift, into a chilled cocktail glass, to ensure a smooth and silky finish.

*To make the coriander (cilantro) Bianco Vermouth: add 25g of fresh coriander to 1/4 bottle (250ml) of Gancia Bianco Vermouth. Leave to macerate for 24 hours then strain. This will make more than the amount needed for one cocktail.

**For the rhubarb and ginger cordial: Dissolve 12 parts caster sugar in 12 parts rhubarb juice and 1 part ginger juice. Mix this with 0.5 parts of citric acid solution (i.e. 1 part of citric acid and 5 parts of water). If you can’t get citric acid (also known as lemon sugar in the Middle East) substitute lemon juice. The juice of one lemon is equal to one rounded teaspoon of citric acid. Alternatively there’s a recipe here (although I haven’t had Denzel’s approval on this one yet!)

What to do with your remaining coriander infused Martini Bianco? Make a herby Gin and French by mixing one part gin, one part martini and one part tonic water. Garnish with lime. You could also use it instead of white wine in a risotto. And the rhubarb and ginger cordial is an awesome addition to a glass of fizz.

What’s in your glass this month? Are there any other gripping series I should be watching? And how have you coped with a major life change? All tips appreciated.

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Where to find the best food tours in Dubai

September 25, 2016

Food tours are my favourite way to get to know a city and nowadays you can find them all over the world. Since my friend Arva dipped her toe into the food tour water here in Dubai, and then did the equivalent of swimming the Atlantic in setting up Frying Pan Adventures, the scene has grown and started to diversify. These three food tour companies show you what Dubai has to offer through an edible itinerary, in completely different ways.  Book one, book all!

Frying Pan Adventures

My mouth had to open wide to enclose the crisp shell, I was slightly panicked about choking as my teeth descended on the crisp shell and a flood of spicy, sweet, sour water drenched my tongue.  There was no way to swallow as the crunchy sprouts needed to be fully munched so my teeth did their work while my eyes watered and taste buds exploded in shock and pleasure. This was my first experience of pani puri, on my first ever Frying Pan Tour; I’ve been introduced to so many varied and diverse foodstuffs since then.  Full disclosure, I have lost count of the number of Frying Pan Food adventures I’ve been on (no joke). Arva has invited me on a fair few to beta-test or just to experience a new one. I’m such a fan that I try to sign up every visitor to Dubai who stays with me so I can witness their discovery of such a different side of the city, plus I get the excuse to come along too. From being greeted by Moroccan chefs who stuck their heads round the kitchen door and ullulated their welcome before cutting our pastilla with a ceremonial sword to being invited into a religious ceremony, to the best bread hot from the oven eaten on the street, every time has been special.  I even spent a big birthday taking my friends on a private tour.

Even if you’ve done a trail once before there are always some surprises thrown in as the Frying Pan sisters are continually looking at ways to improve the experience. For visitors to Dubai, I would recommend the Middle East Food Pilgrimage first as it covers a whole range of food from the region as well as giving an insider view into a parts of the city well off the beaten track. North India on a Plate and The Indian Express trail opened my eyes to neighbourhoods and food from a culture which has played such a part in the history of making the UAE what it is today.  If Local Flavors : Shop, Sizzle, Savour trail is running, book it immediately; you get to visit the fish market with a veteran local sea-captain (he’s quite a character) who then prepares and cooks it for you. Farida and Arva are self-confessed ‘unabashed food history nerds in the city’ with an insatiable appetite for tracking down irresistible but authentic dishes.

Food tours in Dubai. Read about the best ones on mycustardpie.com

Crossing the Creek from one food stop to another

For keen photographers, look out for the food and photo trails which are held in conjunction with Gulf Photo Plus. The evenings I went out in Bur Dubai and Deira during Diwali and Ramadan are some of the most exhilarating and unique experiences I’ve had during 16 years in Dubai.  And as the complete antithesis of the belly dancing camps, watch sunrise up close with nature in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve ending with a picnic brunch (provided by Baker & Spice). Absolute magic.

Book a Frying Pan Adventure here.

And don’t just take my word for it – read A Food Lover’s Tour of Old Dubai by The Travel Bunny (just one of hundreds of positive reviews). Read more about when I did a tour of North India, Middle Eastern and a food and photo tour of the Creek.

Tastecapade by bike

Food tours in Dubai. Read about the best ones on mycustardpie.com

Food tours in Dubai. Read about the best ones on mycustardpie.com

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Banks of blue bikes started to appear around my neighbourhood of Umm Suqeim, but it took a food tour to make my vague intention to ride one into a reality. A group of us all wobbled off in a circuit, led by Mary our guide and the driving force behind this start-up, with various food stops on the way. We drank fresh juices in a very particular cocktail, we watched the sun go down on the beach while eating and discussing, we talked fished and ate in a harbour, we sat on the floor in a traditional way for a variety of meals and snacks. Our cycle-powered eating excursion was punctuated by little snippets of information not only about the specific course or foodstuff but also how it fitted into local culture and traditions, some old, some quite new. Mary steered us in a gentle and informal way and it was like going out with an old friend; the cycling was not at all arduous and great fun. As Mary and her sister have lived in Dubai all their lives they have a deep understanding and another interesting perspective on the food culture and traditions. All in all a really enjoyable experience and a great one for visitors and residents alike. I definitely learned some new things about the area that I’ve dwelt in for over 16 years and the people who live there, plus went home with a very full tummy and new friends.

Book a Tastecapade tour by bike here. I notice there is a farm trip and a walking tour of old Dubai now too – although I haven’t tried these.

Foodiva’s Dine Around Dubai

Food tours in Dubai. Read about the best ones on mycustardpie.com

St Regis Dubai – part of the cheese dine around

Food tours in Dubai. Read about the best ones on mycustardpie.com

La Serre

In complete contrast to the other two, Samantha Wood of Foodiva concentrates on luxury, high-end and fine dining. As there are around a hundred 5 star hotels in Dubai, all with several restaurants and many with celebrity chefs at their helm, this is as much a part of the food culture as eating cheese bread on the pavement in Deira. Each experience differs as the restaurant scene changes so rapidly in Dubai, plus it’s essential to retain the air of mystery. On every dine around there is always something new and unique to sample. The evening tour lasts for about four hours and starts with a glass of bubbly. At time of writing the latter is Ruinart Rosé Champagne, the bottles opened with a sword by Mathias Kahn, the Swedish National Champion of the Art of Sabrage, at a mystery Champagne bar.  That’s guaranteed to set the tone for the evening. Walking is kept to a minimum as any ferrying between venues is chauffeur-driven – so you can do this tour in high heels. I’ve been on two tours in the past at the invite of Sam who is a friend. One was her regular Dine Around and was a trail of restaurants on The Palm Jumeirah, starting with canapé, cocktails and a fantastic view from the balcony near Social by Heinz Beck, ending with a flourish in Bushman’s Restaurant and Bar at Anantara The Palm with the most spectacular deconstructed Eton mess demo the size of a table. I loved the surprise element of not knowing where we were going next. Sam also arranges corporate tours and the second one was in conjunction with European cheeses i.e. total cheese and wine heaven.

Book the lastest Dine Around Dubai with Foodiva 

Dubai behind the scenes

If the alternative street life of Dubai appeals, the book Dubai: Behind the Scenes is a beautiful souvenir and record of a side of the city which many people never see and is starting to change. It’s a poignant and intimate look through the lens of photographer Jalal Abuthina at the areas of Deira, Bur Dubai and Karama and the many different cultures and communities inhabiting them. From street wrestling to ceremonies and everyday life it’s a really unique memento. See inside the book and find out more… You can order online or find a copy in Kinokuniya (Bookworld), Dubai Mall or Gulf Photo Plus, AlSerkal Avenue.

Food tours in Dubai. Read about the best ones on mycustardpie.com

*I was an (enthusiastic) guest on several of these tours but only recommend things here on the blog that I’m 100% behind.

Have you been on a food tour? Did you eat anything extraordinary? Disclosure: I ate sheep’s brain and eyeball in Istanbul.

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