Friday, March 20, 2009

The Saturday Afternoon Soundtrack

Photos courtesy of Antonie Robertson

I’ve lived in Dubai for almost two years and it’s taken me a long time to sort out the soundtrack to my Saturdays. At home in London it would have run a little like this:

Wake up Boo – Getting up full of beans for the weekend ahead. If I’m hungover from a bit of an excessive Friday night, this could be modified to Get Off by the Dandy Warhols.

This World – Zero 7 – Relaxed Saturday morning things – reading a book, watching the TV, whipping up a tasty breakfast rather than the cereal mush I eat every other day.

Lively Up Yourself – Bob Marley – On the go – whatever takes my afternoon fancy – new art gallery preview, Portobello Road market, p’raps an afternoon bevvy in a nice pub.

This Room – Fat Freddy’s Drop – Going to see some live music or gossip time with the girls in a nice cocktail bar early in the evening.

Divine – Sebastien Teller – The bar gets a little busier and we get a little more gossipy. Or we go off on a mini adventure.

But when I moved to Dubai it was all very muddled. My Saturday soundtrack died, and if it had of existed, it would have been full of terrible squawky and discordant music that wouldn’t have made sense to anyone, not even me.

Fridays were great – brunches, parties, art gallery hopping, camping, trips to little-heard of destinations across the UAE but Saturdays were terrible. Saturdays were spent nursing gargantuan hangovers of the kind you shouldn’t encounter after university or lying in bed watching one of the mega-blockbuster films I’d buy from my local dvd peddler. I’d waste away the day, pretending I was resting in anticipation of another working week (Muslim week Sunday to Thursdays). In even desperate times I’d run out of books to read.

Over the last couple of months I began to hear strains of the music again – whether it was hanging out on the beach at Desert Islands or sitting by the pool and reading Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy, or planning the shopping list for the week ahead in the brand new Waitrose (only those in Dubai can understand how exciting that is).

All of a sudden, last Saturday, it was back. In full force. I won’t reveal what it was, but I’ll give you a hint of what brought it about:

Last Saturday I woke up and instead of wanting to curl up and die I realised that I felt great. In fact, I felt like doing stuff – namely cooking and chatting and lounging on the terrace in the sun.

So I rounded up the motley crew above and we sat down for a civilized Saturday afternoon that was the most fun I’ve had in ages. Tonie kindly volunteered to bring his gear and take some pics and we were off.

The menu was simple – although I was feeling adventurous, the weather was perfect for some lighter salads and then a wickedly delicious dessert. Once I’d had a brief flick through the cookbooks and conjured a few ideas of my own, it read: starter – spinach and goat’s cheese salad with caramelized onion, sushi, stir-fried marinated tofu with broccoli, sugar snap peas and baby sweetcorn and fudge cheesecake with a blackberry sauce.

I was most excited about the fudge cheesecake – the day before I’d wanted to try something completely diffefrent so I’d made some fudge and put it in the fridge to set. Now was the perfect chance to put it into play…

Because I hadn’t quite been organised enough to do the cheesecake first thing in the morning, I decided that it was going to be what some people call a cheat’s cheescake I.e. one that uses mascarpone or mascarporn-y as we named it at uni because it tastes so damned good.

While the cheescake was going, I got started on caramelizing the onions for the salad. Thus done I tossed it into the salad leaves with the goats cheese and pine nuts and put it out to play…

Next up was the tofu stir fry. I’m a big fan of tofu even though I’m a dedicated meat muncher - no it doesn’t taste like chicken, but if you want it to taste like tofu, well then, it’s not going to disappoint you. Make sure you buy the firm rather than the silken type for a dish like this. I’d marinated mine overnight with teriyaki, soy and oyster sauce, then it was a simple matter of tossing it in the pan with the broccoli, baby sweet corn, sugar snap peas and more teriyaki sauce on a very high heat for less than 5 mins.

Sushi quickly followed - I’m not the most dextrous of people so it’s always a proud achievement when my sushi doesn’t disintegrate… The wasabi was incredibly potent - all of us at one point sprung up holding our nose with tears running down our faces - we must have looked a rather odd sight.

By this time rumours of the fudge cheesecake had rippled to the table outside and people were popping in to help I.e try and steal bits of fudge, some of which I’d rippled through the mascarpone cream cheese topping, and the rest of which was smeared in a thick layer over the biscuit base. Blackberries make a great sauce for this - they can be quite sharp which contrasts nicely with the dense sweetness of the cheesecake itself. Passion fruit would be great too. I know it sounds odd, but it’s much better than a chocolate sauce which would just be too much.

So there we were, munching away on the cheesecake, so engrossed in what we were eating that silence had descended on all of us - no mean feat - in general we’re talkers not haters. One lone slice had been saved for my housemate and I had a hard job ensuring it made it to the fridge unsullied by spoon or finger. Even Gaby, who until 2 months ago hadn’t eaten any dairy for several years and who hadn’t been overly enthused about the idea of cheesecake had to admit she’d been won over as she finished the last bite. And then we sat, contented - quiet murmurings of our stomachs matched by trivial observations and dozy chatter.

By the way, after all that the soundtrack to the afternoon wasn’t really that important. Off the top of my head I’d pick The Eagles, Take it Easy. Or even I am the Black Gold of the Sun by NuYorican Soul. I was just happy to get back into the groove again.

Fudge Cheesecake with blackberry sauce
300g fudge
200g low fat cream cheese (or full fat, with all that mascarpone it doesn’t matter much)
200 g Mascarpone
250g Hobnobs
80g butter
100g blackberries
30g sugar
¼ cup water

Melt the butter, bash the biscuits into small crumbs and add melted butter. Add to the base of your pre-greased cheesecake dish. Pat until you have an even layer of biscuit base, put into the fridge for two hours or more.
Mix the cream cheese and mascarpone. Cut 100g of the fudge into small pieces, put in a pan to melt a little and stir into the cream cheese mascarpone mix.
Remove the dish with the biscuit base from the fridge. Take the rest of the fudge and spread into an even layer over the biscuit base.
Spoon the mascarpone, fudge, cream cheese mixture over the top, spread evenly and put in the fridge for one hour.
When almost ready to serve the cheesecake. Take the sugar, water and blackberries and add to a pan on a medium heat. Crush a few of the blackberries to colour and flavour the sauce. The others I prefer to stew whole. When the sauce starts to thicken take off the heat and leave to cool. Transfer to a small jug for pouring and serve along with the cheesecake.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Nota Bene

For those of you that haven't found the joys of AA Gill, rectify this immediately.

Dubai's restaurants could do with listening up to his advice too - before I read another extortionate dining promotion that will cost me half my life's savings, will you wake up and smell the coffee...

Taste of Dubai

At the end of the last post I said that I was going to have something special for you. Never one to fail my readers, I’ve quested in the search for the most exciting, splendiferous entry possible and I found it at….. Taste of Dubai.

The finest restaurants from around the city gathered together for a foodie mélange in the Media City Ampitheatre. It was heaven – not least because one of my favourite (and arguably the cutest) chef was in town – James Martin.

Word on the street was that James was going to be doing cookery classes in the cookery school area on the Wednesday and Thursday nights. I won’t expose myself by telling you how excited I was about the prospect of one on one contact with Mr. Martin but suffice to say, 6pm had myself and Monica hurrying out of work and over to Taste of Dubai.

The first thing we did when we got there was sign our names on the list for the class – that in hand we set off to discover the treats in store in the rest of the festival.
We’d walked about three seconds when we were confronted by this beautiful vision:

You’d have to be blind not to have noticed the artily-designed, larger than life cupcake revolution that’s been taking the cities of the world one by one. First I heard tell of a coup in New York, then murmurings of a fully-fledged takeover in London and now finally, it’s made it to Dubai. The ones above are from Sprinklez – a one-woman show working from home baking little bites of happiness to spread over the emirate.(

Round the corner Sugar Daddy’s was courting storm of popularity with it’s gargantuan creations – no wonder why, these Oreo cupcakes are good enough to, well, eat…..

And then it was on to the hot stuff. For those of you that are in the know, Zuma, Victoria Beckham’s London eatery of choice (she eats?!) has recently opened doors in the maze of DIFC. I heard that Beckham deigned to go and sniff edamame (sniffing is as good as eating I’m told) in the Dubai restaurant on her trip over a few months ago.

As I’m fairly skeptical about the sniffing school of thought, I tucked into a dish of Chilli Fried Squid with Lime while Monica tried their Barley miso marinated chicken lets on cedar wood. The squid was superb – crunchy, spicy and tender – the chef, Colin Clague, obviously knows a thing or two about Japanese food.

So engrossed were we in our plates, that we missed the beginning of the James Martin class. I still maintain that we got there at 7.30 on the dot but alas, it was no cooking for us. Still, we got to stand in on the class and watch as he whipped up Balsamic strawberry cheesecake, whilst cracking jokes and making fun of some of the less successful attempts by some of his pupils. I was still a little sulky, but got some nice pictures to make up for it.

Then, it was our turn – the next class was making Tom Yam Goong soup with chef Naruemol Poolkan of Benjarong in the Dusit Dubai. It was a revelation how simple it is to make this deliciously piquant, hot and sour soup –

We boiled…

photo courtesy of Antonie Robertson


photo courtesy of Antonie Robertson


photo courtesy of Antonie Robertson

Then consumed…

photo courtesy of Antonie Robertson
And it was worth every second of it I’m glad to say.

Here’s the recipe – whip some up for a quick treat for the tastebuds. Go easy on the chilli if you’re not a fan of the hot stuff and keep some tissues on hand to mop up the chilli nose runs.

Tom Yam Goong Soup

8 oz (250 g) shrimp/prawns, shelled and deveined
3 cups (24 fl oz/750 ml) fish stock
2 garlic cloves, minced
5 kaffir lime leaves
3 thin slices fresh or dried galangal
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) fish sauce
2 stalks lemongrass
2 shallots, sliced
1/2 cup sliced straw mushrooms
5 green Thai chili peppers optional
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) lime juice
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro/coriander leaves

Bring the fish stock to the boil. Turn down the heat to simmer gently, add the kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, galangal, fish sauce, garlic, lemongrass, shallots and cook gently for a minute.
Add the mushrooms and chillies and cook for a further minute
Add the prawns. Cook for one minute, remove from the heat, garnish with coriander and serve.