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Tasting Tasmanian and a coincidence

May 19, 2015

Veggie teen plotted my astrological ‘natal chart’ the other day. I am the most sceptical, unbelieving, non-Zodiac reading person on the planet. I wish in some way I could hold some vestige of faith in seeing into the future and play along – but my inner cynic rears its head every time there’s even a sniff of pulling out the Tarot cards.  So I was laughing out loud when the character traits she attributed to me were spot on, especially this one: ‘you dislike the dull, the routine and crave the unexpected, the new, as you have a very original way of thinking.’ (Source: Zodiac signs blog)

So the events of last Wednesday night were a delight for me (and appalled Mr Routine Planner KP when I told him what I’d done afterwards). I bumped into a friend at the launch of Jumeirah Restaurant Week and jumped into a cab across town on the spur of the moment to meet Martin Shaw of Shaw and Smith and to taste some of his excellent wines from the Adelaide Hills wine region, Australia.

We met at Qbara, joining a table halfway through their dinner and tasting (whoops). The name is Arabic backwards symbolising a modern Arabic fusion menu – which is a splendid round restaurant with a dramatic ‘moving’ wall, a huge bar, flaming torches and lots of candles. Very swanky. In contrast Martin appeared to be a down-to-earth and thoughtful man, but quietly related how the Shaw and Smith Sauvignon Blanc is now so revered that he receives emails from people who check whether it’s on a restaurant wine list before making a reservation. If it isn’t, they go somewhere else.

I can still recall the first time I tasted this wine, I think it was the 2010 vintage. I remember a bone-dry wine, all gooseberries and fennel, but lean and intriguing, a super-crisp palate (without the searing acidity with a side order of cat’s pee that I am so over), and an elegance that made me want to return to it again and again.

We tasted the 2014 at Qbara. This vintage was different from the one I remember. Even more restrained, elusive and alluring on the nose, with a mineral finish leaning to salty. Elegant, balanced and fresh; a YSL white trouser suit after a Zandra Rhodes show.

Why has this wine done so well amid a sea of New World SB’s vying for attention? Martin compared Sauvignon Blancs to handbags, the very top (more expensive and exclusive) and very bottom (volume with low margins) have done OK, it’s the ones in the middle that are suffering. This makes sense. He hastened to add (being genuinely modest) that he wasn’t comparing his own Sauvignon Blanc to luxury brands. So I’ll do it for him – this is the Louis Vuitton of New World Sauvignon Blanc – or maybe the Chanel… it’s subtle not showy.

The Shaw and Smith 2013 Chardonnay was buttery but also in an elusive way, like a very meagre scraping of the best French unsalted on the thinnest bread. Ten months in French oak with only 30% new barrels gave such poise and balance. This was crème frâiche in a glass; citrus and cream – another Shaw and Smith wine with strength in its restraint.

My favourite wine of the night was a 2012 Tolpuddle Pinot Noir – a single vineyard Pinot from 25-year-old vines in Tasmania’s Coal River Valley – the harvest used to go into some of the premium ranges of other well-known names until Shaw and Smith bought it.

You know that feeling when you smell a slightly strange smell that’s a bit horrid but addictive at the same time? The first time I tasted a Burgundy of note, it had that character on the nose, herbs and cabbages – and when you sink your nose into a glass of Burgundy there is always a sense of not knowing quite what will be in there. The aromas of the grapes and the fields, the barrels and the damp part of cellar, the leather brogues of the wine maker, his wax jacket.  The stainless steel modern wine making of many New World Pinots seem to offer purity and cleanliness at the expense of the quirkiness. The Tolpuddle Pinot Noir was restrained and elegant, a unifying factor with all the wines I tasted that evening, but this one opened up beautifully in the glass with spice and fine tannins and possessed the savoury notes and seductive herbaceousness that make Old World Pinots so alluring.

The final wine we tasted was the Shaw and Smith 2012  Shiraz; beautifully balanced with soft mulberries and bayleaves but over-shadowed by the others for my tastes, although a fellow diner nominated it his favourite.

A happy accident

Then a strange thing happened. This is a bit round-the-houses so bear with me. I’d arrived back from Georgia just the day before, having traveled there for a wine fair.  At the fair I was chatting to Enek from Vino Underground (a wine bar run by natural wine makers) about how I thought there was potential for Georgian wine in Dubai. She mentioned that a Dubai-based sommelier had bought some natural wines from them to take back to his restaurant. Desperate to know which restaurant I gave her my card but had not yet received a reply.  In talking to the Head Sommelier Juan, my Georgian trip comes up in conversation and, lo and behold, the natural wine buyer was his Assistant Somm. Aziz. Bearing in mind that there must be at least a couple of thousand licensed restaurants in Dubai what are the chances? So I now have an enthusiastic tasting companion for the wines I brought back in my suitcase. And you never know, there may be qvevri wines from Georgia on a Dubai wine list sooner than you think. As a side note, Aziz  is also keen on Greek wines and they list the Sigalas Assyrtiko from the island of Santorina which is a real gem of a crisp, dry, mineral white.

There are so many pictures to download, memories to record and wines to document from my time in Georgia that I’m excited to share with you. But in the meantime I can’t stop thinking about these elegant wines from Shaw and Smith and will have a few bottles nestling next to the Georgian ones in the wine fridge as soon as I can.

En Primeur 2014

Wine tasting

Wines from previous vintages of Bordeaux

The Bordeaux campaign is well underway and while the prices are still preventing buyers from committing in droves as of old, there seems to be quiet optimism about this vintage. We will probably tuck away a case or two via Le Clos’ En Primeur service here in Dubai or through Lay and Wheeler in the UK. KP’s looking for any investment potential whereas I’m hoovering up tasting notes – hopefully we’ll find something that meets in the middle. I’ll let you know.

I loved this account on the Lay and Wheeler blog where they took two complete wine novice bloggers along for a week of tasting en primeur which is usually reserved solely for the trade. Very sensible move I say – not dropping any subtle or non-subtle hints of course.  I explain what buying en primeur is all about here if you want to know more.

This is the first of a series where I share what I’ve been tasting at home and elsewhere weekly, monthly, randomly.

Visiting the Sulphur Baths in Tbilisi

May 15, 2015

Tbilisi Sulphur Baths Georgia -mycustardpie.comOn my recent trip to Tbilisi I finally figured out how to arrange a visit to the legendary sulphur baths and what happens when you get there. This post probably contains tmi (too much – personal – information), you have been warned.

The Sulphur Baths in Abanotubani, in the midst of the old town in Tbilisi are famed to be the source of the city’s existence. When the city was contained within walls, visiting merchants along the spice route were ordered to use one of the 64 baths before they were allowed to enter. The name Tbilisi comes from the Georgian word for warm ‘თბილი—tbili’ so the site of the city was probably dictated by the location of the hot, sulphurous springs. Legend has it that in the 5th century, King Vakhtang Gorgasali’s hunting falcon brought back a pheasant which had been poached in the warm water and ordered his capital moved there. There is evidence that the Romans, legendary bathers, settled here too. The number of baths have dwindled to a handful but are still a fascinating sight from outside with their brick domes rising up out of the ground. The water, full of natural therapeutic minerals, springs from the ground at about 40 C. Poets and writers have bathed away their days (and hangovers) there including Pushkin and Dumas.

Drawn and repelled in equal measure by going to the baths, as someone who goes weak at the knees at the thought of hot water and a massage but completely lily-livered about contemplating embarrassing nakedness.  This poetic post by my friend propelled me on, but fear of the unknown, including unacceptable levels of hygiene, filled me with trepidation; I’m not overly picky but wary after reading the accounts of hammams in Istanbul on Trip Advisor and this account

However I took the plunge. A Georgian friend made an appointment for me and I asked which bath it was. “Oh you just go to the very back of the baths, there’s no sign, everyone knows Gulo’s.” I was now stressed on many levels, fear of getting lost, being naked, being ripped off, or immersed in filth. Luckily our guide briefed the taxi driver to take me to the door (it was pouring with rain too), even he had to ask directions twice, but it was actually quite easy to find.

Forget the Zen-like atmosphere of spas and their plinky plonky music. A couple of young men lurked outside the heavy wooden door and inside the large octagonal entrance children chattered on a sofa, ladies milled in and out of a kitchen, and the whole place had the feel of a rather odd living room. However, the lady on the desk was friendly and when I muttered indecisively in reply to her questions about sizes of rooms she just led me to one. OK? Yes I replied and also agreed to “washing” and a towel.

She instructed me to put my belongings on a battered vinyl sofa in an ante-room. Toilet? In the baths and it turned out to be a squat loo, basic but clean.

I believe that none of the baths have original tiling (probably a good thing for hygiene), even the most ornate Iranian-style baths at the top of the square, which is currently under renovation, had utilitarian Soviet-style interior. The walls of this one were covered with a modern irregular mosaic with brown tiles on the floor. It wouldn’t win prizes for beauty but there was an exotic feeling of being under an ancient brick dome with light streaming in from a round skylight. There was a tiled slab, two ropey looking basic showers and a big rectangular tub at the end which I slid into. A sulphurous cloud of vapour surrounded me and I displaced a big wave of water onto the floor. The heat of the water and a bird-brain mentality of not being able to do nothing for very long meant that the 15 minutes in the tub was just the right about of time to soak.

My therapist arrived. Topless. I gingerly hopped out of the bath and onto the slab – face down thank goodness. She scrubbed me back and front with a loofah mitt. The pressure was perfect for my hot-water-lobster-tinged skin; if you are used to the severe excoriations of Moroccan baths you might find it too tame but I’m sure you could ask for harder pressure. Soaping with a flannel, including a light massage, and sloshing with hot water followed. All stresses had evaporated by the end, although I still couldn’t make eye contact when asked to ‘sit’ and buckets of hot water were poured over my head. My masseuse asked “good?”. On my affirmative answer she proceeded to whip off her pants and shower thoroughly in front of me. I was too relaxed to care at this point and spent a little longer soaking before floating out to change in the ante-room. My towel was a very old, but clean, bit of cotton sheeting which actually did the job very well.

After I paid, a mixed party of Russian girls and boys were being shown round the larger room so I joined them to look. This was of more elegant proportions with a cold water bath too. When I started to take pictures the ladies were keen to show me everything including a bare portion of brickwork “antique”.

Tbilisi Sulphur Baths Georgia

Gulo’s is behind these domes next to the hotel

I felt my lungs had been cleared of the passive smoking from dinner the night before (Georgians chain smoke at the table in restaurants) although my friendly taxi driver also lit up on the way home. Argh! I was completely wiped out for the rest of the evening and enjoyed the complete sense of lethargy and relaxation this imposed for a night in. My skin stayed soft for days and days after. A big tick on my ‘to-do in Georgia’ bucket-list and overall spa-type experiences (including a hammam in Istanbul).

These pictures are by my friends who booked a larger room.

Where to find it

The Abanotubani area is not far from Gulo’s – walking towards the baths with the river behind you and the baths on your left, turn left into a small street between the domes, going up hill take the first right into a large car park style courtyard. In front of you are two doors. Gulo’s is the central door, dark wood with black iron fixings (there is no sign).

Or try one of the other baths in Abanotubani.

How much to pay

At Gulo’s I was charged 40 GEL for the room and 10 GEL for washing – and there for just over half and hour (some people spend hours there). Larger private rooms are at higher prices. I gave a tip too.

Other baths charge similar rates plus there is a much lower rate for communal bathing (not my cup of tea). Initially I asked the guide how much it would be and was quoted some silly prices so better to go direct in my opinion.

Other things to know

Taking your own towel is a good idea and going with a friend and booking the larger room is a more luxurious experience. Samira is our favourite masseuse. This bath didn’t appear to have lockers and I had a lot of expensive kit with me (cameras etc.). There is no hair drying facility to my knowledge so either take your own or take something to wrap around your head and go straight home.

Bakhmaro run by Gulo (Tel: 599 58 81 22)
There are 7 rooms for 20 – 50 GEL, 2 rooms for 60 GEL and VIP for 100 GEL (for 20 persons).

Open 07:30am – 01:00am.
Address: Grishashvili 5

Food and Drink: If you are in need of sustenance after your bath, head towards the river and turn right along the main road. The large restaurant set back off the road is called Breadhouse (but only has signs in Georgian). I’ve eaten in both sides and the food is good, particularly the khinhali (dumplings).

This was part of a trip to Georgia courtesy of the Georgian National Tourism Administration, National Georgian Wine Agency, the Georgian Wine Club and Taste Georgia. My visit to the baths was paid for and arranged by me independently.

All images and text copyright and not to be reproduced or duplicated anywhere without express permission. email

In my kitchen – Market treasures from near and far

May 2, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to pair gin with dinner

May 1, 2015
Red Snapper - Pairing gin with dinner -

Red Snappers – like Bloody Mary but with gin

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

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

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

Pairing gin with dinner -

Selection of gin at Reform Social and Grill, Dubai


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

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

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

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

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

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

Pairing gin with dinner -

Where to drink gin in Dubai

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

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

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

Leftover Texas brisket chilli

April 22, 2015

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

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

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

Leftover Texas Brisket Chilli

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


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


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

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

How to cook Texas-style brisket on a gas barbecue

April 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas-style barbecued brisket

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


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

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


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

*From Weber’s Way to Grill

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

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

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

What makes a good vegan cookbook?

April 11, 2015

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

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

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

The Fresh Vegan Kitchen – David and Charlotte Bailey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I Could Never Go Vegan! – Kirsty Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what makes a good vegan cookbook?

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

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

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

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

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


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