Vote for my Shawerma Tuna Flavour for a chance to win AED 15,000

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Cooking Courses, Demonstrations, Recipes, Shows...Are You Confused Yet? - One Cake Three Ways

Three different cakes made from one cake recipe
"We learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instructions."   - Malcolm Gladwell

I am always asked about the difference between demonstrations and cooking courses. I am also frequently told: "I have taken a baking class at... with... and haven't really learnt anything.". or "I have read many recipes on bread making, but somehow they don't work, and I don't feel like I am getting better." or "It looked good on TV, but when I carried out the recipe, it did not turn out well."...etc. I have put together this blog post to explore the different methods for learning cookery and to try and answer these questions for you. 

Towards the end of last year I had the pleasure to be chosen by Kenwood to launch their Middle East Cook & Coffee venue. Cook & Coffee is a Demonstration Kitchen by Kenwood, where you get to go and watch Chefs prepare different foods live. Not only will you learn the recipes and techniques of preparing the foods, but you will also learn how to maximise on your different Kenwood machines, so you can realise their best potential. I will use these Kenwood Demonstrations I performed as an example in this post, and will share with you how you can get three different results from 1 recipe. 
So read on and I hope you enjoy...

Cooking Demonstrations

The difference between Cooking Demonstrations and Cooking Classes
A Cooking Demonstration is a visual recipe. A cooking Class is an in-depth look into the preparation of food that includes all the visuals, the literature and the practice.

Live Cooking Demonstrations are nice because you get to watch the cooking process, interact with the Chef, asking all sorts of questions to make sure you know all you need to know for remaking this dish at home. Cooking demonstrations however are different from cooking classes. At a demonstration you only watch the chefs do what they do best. Classes are hands on, which means more learning as you get to do all the work. You know how sometimes, something might appear simple and straight forward, but when you are in your kitchen making it, you find yourself getting stuck. In classes while you are making the food, you have a chance to discuss where you are getting stuck, or what is going wrong in the carrying out of any recipe, which means once you are home you won't go through this. Therefore, if you are looking for learning fail-proof techniques, recipes, recipe creation...etc it is best that you join a cooking course. While if you are looking to expand on a knowledge you already have, looking for new ideas for preparations you are familiar with, then you will really enjoy cooking demonstrations.

In our journey of kitchen mastery, we start with reading recipes and trying them out, then we watch these recipes being carried out (watching mum, TV cook shows, demonstrations...), but when we want to really learn and understand what is going on in the prep and cooking process, then classes are the best and most straight forward option. This learning process also relies hugely on the instructors and their knowledge of the subject matter, most importantly on their ability to deliver the information. It is also heavily reliant on the course material, not every course, is thorough and really elaborate. Therefore it is best to go for the reliable courses that have been tried and tested, and for the instructors that are known to really deliver. 
It will be silly to expect the same degree of learning and knowledge between that acquired from CIA and that which you have learnt at a coffee morning gathering where the neighbour who knows a couple of cake recipes is the instructor. Not that am saying the neighbour option is bad, it could be very informative. However I am telling you to manage your expectations from either experience.

Can you learn proper cookery without joining a culinary school?
This question is very debatable. This is my take on it:
It all depends on what you are looking to achieve. Are you thinking to become a professional in the food industry? Or are you just trying to get better with home-cooking? Home cooks are mostly self taught. We gather information from cookery books, from friends, family and any one who cooks and shares recipes. When push comes to shove we combine ingredients together and see what happens. With time, we continue to improve and develop. The more ambitious home cook would go for classes simply to learn more. So in this regards, Yes you can learn cookery on your own. But for better cooking skills, do join classes you will be amazed at how much better you understand food which consequently takes your home cooking and entertaining to the another level. when you understand ingredients, how to handle them, and flavour combinations as well as specific techniques, cooking becomes more interesting and way less like a chore.

Understanding food ultimately takes
your cooking skills to another level
As for those who want to become professional cooks;
Let me start by saying that I am a completely self-taught cook. I have never joined any cookery courses or classes etc. Not because I ever felt they don't add value or are not important, rather because when I first took up cooking, I never thought I would take it up professionally. It was through the years that I had unveiled a passion that I never knew I had. Being a perfectionist combined with a true desire to know how things work, I went in depth by reading, researching, practicing, trials and errors, back to the research, the reading, the practicing the trials and errors and so on... I had even purchased all the books taught in culinary schools and went through them as a student would, only without a mentor! Of course, any time you research and practice, and the more you do it, your skills are bound to improve and continue improving. However the process is long, complicated and very frustrating. Sometimes it takes just 1 tsp for a recipe to flop, especially in the case of baking for instance. Not knowing that that was what you were doing wrong, you can try a recipe a million times, and it would still flop, which can be tiring to say the least. What you can learn in 2 weeks in a culinary school can take you months to learn on your own. If you are a dedicated person, who is very very stubborn and doesn't take no for an answer, then you probably can learn on your own. However, if I knew then what I know now, and if I ever thought I wanted to become a professional in the food industry, I would definitely have joined a culinary school and that is what I recommend you do in this case.

Food is very trendy at the moment and it seems everyone is either learning, starting a food related business, doing food writing, photography, cooking for parties, demonstrating, offering courses... etc, so lately there's been lots of confusion and at times over expectation from the different mediums. Now I hope this helps you understand what to expect from courses, demonstrations, culinary schools and that it helps clear out a bit of the confusion :)

For the recipe portion of this post, I am sharing with you how you can create 3 different results from the same cake recipe. This cake is probably the easiest cake to bake, yet still super moist and delicious. The best thing about it, it is really easy to know by heart, which means you can carry it out anytime, even when travelling in the summer without the need for your recipe book or notes...etc. The ingredients are basic pantry ingredients that are readily available, making it doable anywhere anytime. So treat your friends and family with either one of these cakes, or all three of them in a cakes buffet. The best thing is, no one will know it is the same cake recipe :)

Classic Victoria Sandwich Cake 
This is a classic cake – traditionally served in Afternoon Teas – that is both delightful and fresh.
We are using this classic cake recipe to create three different cakes:

Strawberries & Cream Cake
Mocha Cake
Summer Berries & White Chocolate Cake

You Need
Spreading Butter Cream
Cake Batter Ingredients 3 eggs
175g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence

Garnish Ingredients Fresh Berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries...)
Fresh Strawberries
Grated white chocolate
Icing sugar for dusting
Cocoa Powder for dusting  
Strawberry Jam 
Vanilla Syrup
Soaking cake with Syrup
Coffee Syrup

Buttercream Ingredients 200g butter, softened
200g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp Vanilla Essence 

Coffee Frosting Ingredients 200g butter, softened
250g icing sugar, sifted
4 tbsp prepared Strong Coffee 

To Make the Cake 
Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease and line two 8-inch or one 10-inch cake pan.
In a large bowl, mix all cake ingredients on medium speed until all are well incorporated and the batter is smooth. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tins and level the tops with a spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Turn on a wire rack and cool completely before spreading with cream.

To Make Buttercream 
Place all ingredients in stand mixer bowl, mix using Paddle attachment on low speed until well incorporated. Once incorporated turn speed up to max and beat for 2 more minutes. Buttercream is now ready for use.

To Make Coffee Frosting 
Place all ingredients in stand mixer bowl, mix using Paddle attachment on low speed until well incorporated. Once incorporated turn speed up to max and beat for 2 more minutes. Your frosting is now ready for use.

To Assemble The Cakes
Cake 1 – Strawberries & Cream :
For this recipe in Arabic click this link

When your cake is completely cool, spread strawberry Jam along the first layer. The addition of jam is optional, just to add another layer of the strawberry flavour. Top the jam with a layer of Buttercream. Top the buttercream with sliced fresh strawberries and top with the second cake layer. Repeat the jam and buttercream layers, then place halved strawberries all around the edge of the cake. You can add grated white chocolate, or go for more fresh strawberries in the centre.

Strawberries n Cream

Cake 2 - Summer Berries & White chocolate: When your cake is completely cooled, soak the first layer with Vanilla Syrup, then top the layer with buttercream frosting and sprinkle white chocolate shavings on top. Place the second layer on top of the first frosted layer and spread a thin layer of buttercream over the top. Place mixed Berries on top of the buttercream in the design of your choice, then sprinkle some white chocolate shavings on top or dust with some icing sugar.

Summer Berries & White Chocolate Cake

Cake 3 – Mocha Cake: When your cake is completely cooled, soak the first layer with Coffee Syrup, top with a layer of Coffee Frosting and sprinkle with grated dark chocolate. Top with the second layer and repeat the coffee syrup and coffee frosting. You can frost the sides of the cake as well or you can leave them open.  Dust the top with Cocoa Powder Then top all with grated dark chocolate and some red currents.

Mocha Cake

Store these cakes in the fridge, covered, for up to 2 days.

This recipe is only an example of how there is many ways to go about anything. How we can achieve different results doing the same thing slightly differently. I always find myself thinking there is no universal rule that applies to everything, there is always variation, and ways for looking at things. So it is best to keep an open mind and go where the road may lead. Better yet is to create a road to follow wherever there is no lead. All is made possible when we have the knowledge, so seek that and you will always open new doors. 

Thank you for coming back, and make sure to drop by again soon :)

PS I will resume offering my courses in September, hope to get a chance to get to know you in person at these courses. Till then keep checking this space for fail- proof recipes ;)

Always Love & Be Peaceful ...

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Summer Break - A Spiced Apple Cake

"If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas."               -  George Bernard Shaw

Are you ready for summer? It sounds funny, asking this question - now - when you live in a city like Dubai! Where summer is just kicking in, the world over, over here it seems we have been living in summer for ages. Dubai is super hot now, or has it always been?

Who doesn't like summer? Remember back when we were kids in school? Summer was the time when we were off school, no homework, we stay up late, we go out every day of the week, we watch TV whenever we liked, we are outdoors most of the time...  Ever since I graduated from school, I never thought I would be as excited about all these very things. I thought student life was a thing of the past, and that summer to me would become like any other season. But here is the thing about having very young children in school. You end up doing homework again, they still can't do it on their own, and are of course not too bothered with it. They are indifferent until you insist they must! You end up sleeping early during school days! Someone has to take them to school early in the morning. During school days, there is activities, play dates, birthdays, drop offs, pick ups, projects and all sorts of things that will have you driving around all day, that when they are off to sleep, you just want to tuck in! It goes on and on. So Yeay! It is summer break! (Saying it like a school child, jumping up and down lol)

How to make Apple Wafers

Like Dubai Summer that seems to last all year long, this cake recipe here is one that has flare regardless the season you serve it in. I like to call it: The All Year Round Spiced Apple Cake. All year round, you will find good apples to munch on. The snowy effect of dusting the cake with icing sugar, makes it ideal for winter and the festive season. The use of spices and their aromas evoke an autumn feel. The Apple Wafers like autumn's leaves falling. Then the green apples add a tone of spring, from their colour to their fresh flavours. And the caramel brown colour, like beach bodies tanned by continuous exposure to the sun is very summer to me. This is a cake I make very often, and one that everyone loves. It is delicious.

The way you serve a cake can make a huge difference to the over all eating experience. The same cake can produce, massively different results according to how its served, and which accompaniments you go for. This cake is, in that sense, very universal. It is a perfect coffee cake, as it's sweetness contrasts the bitterness in coffee. It goes very well with flavoured teas as well making it a perfect afternoon treat. You can also serve the cake with thickened cream or a brown sugar cream as cream, cinnamon and apples are the reason why threesome is a word. The extra moistness from the cream - not that this cake needs it, it is super moist - makes it become more like a pudding in experience. But my favourite ever way to serve this cake is along side a Fruit Salad! Yes you hear right, along side a Fruit Salad. You cannot believe how this cakes marries a fruit salad. The flavours just compliment each other and bring out all the goodness in each bite.
So I would usually make a bowl of fruit salad, and this cake. Then when I slice the cake, I place it in the plate and top it with a large scoop of fruit Salad and dress it with its juices. Ah! Heavenly! You have to give it a try, you will love it. Besides it is very different to the traditional approach to cakes, and fruit salads for that matter. Use any available seasonal fruits for making the salad and go for this option for your next dessert menu. The whole thing is light, flavoursome, fresh, will never leave you feeling overly full, and you will most certainly reach out for seconds.

One of he things I love about this cake is its look. This is not one of those straight perfect looking cakes. It looks more like a home-made country style cake. In terms of texture it is super moist, due to the use of Muscavado Sugar, which is moister than other sugars. You get an occasional crunch from pieces of apples that did not overly cook to a mush, but some bursts of juiciness from those that did cook to softness. The spices are optional, you can go for one, or more, you can even add some ginger and cloves when you make it during the festive season. These spices, give depth to the flavours, and make it all the more aromatic, so all your neighbours will know you are baking lol. Teamed up with the fruit salad is just layers upon layers of flavour and texture.

Make this cake for your friends and family during these summer reunions, and add goodness to the whole get together. What better than good food to freshen up a reunion ;) 

All Year Round Spiced Apple Cake

You Need
3 cups all purpose flour
2 cups firmly packed Muscavado Sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup oil (any tasteless cooking oil)
3 cups green apples, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp vanilla
fine zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground star anis (optional for a spiced flavour)
a pinch of allspice (optional for a spiced flavour)
a pinch of salt
1 cup roughly chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
Apple Wafers for garnish and to serve on the side

Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease and lightly flour your baking pan, I prefer to use tube pan for this cake for the very home-made feel, but you can use any pan you like. 

In the bowl of your stand mixer beat together the eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla on medium speed for 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, mix together all the rest of the ingredients except the apples and pecans. 
After the 2 minutes are over, add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in the stand mixer's bowl and beat on low speed until all the ingredients are combined. 

The mixture will look like there is too much apples in it. That is ok,
these apples will soften and shrink while baking, adding flavour and moisture to the cake.

Remove the bowl from the stand mixer, and fold in the apples and pecans. The mixture will hold together and may appear as though having too much apples. That is what we are after, as these apples will soften and shrink during baking, lending their juices to the cooking batter around them, making it all the more moist and flavoursome. Transfer the batter into the prepared baking pan, and distribute as evenly as possible.

The Muscavado Sugar gives this cake a caramel colour and hints of caramel and molasses flavours. Combined with the apple and spices..... Oh My!

Bake the cake for 1 hour in the preheated oven, or until a tooth pick comes out clean when inserted near the centre. Remove from the oven, and place on a wire rack to cool completely. You must allow this cake to cool, or it will fall apart if you attempt to flip it while still hot. Once cooled, slide a knife around the edges to loosen the cake, flip over to a serving plate, sprinkle with icing sugar and place 12 the apple wafers along the top, one wafer for each slice, and serve with extra wafers on the side for those who wish to have more. You can also serve with some thickened cream or my way: with fruit salad on the side.

Store this cake in the fridge, covered for up to 4 days. That is if it lasts this long lol

You are now ready for summer, have a fabulous time whatever you do. Yeay! It's Summer Break!
I hope you like this post, let me know how you like this cake once you make it :) & Do leave me a comment before you go, you know how much I like to hear from you ;)

Always Love & Be Peaceful ...

Thursday, 14 June 2012

What is a Naked Pizza? It is a philosophy of lifestyle! ....

N_K_D Pizza is the first and so far only international store for the original Naked Pizza
which came to life in New Orleans, USA. 

"Naked Pizza is about meeting half-way. It is about approaching life as Naturally as possible. It is about bringing the healthiest possible equation to fast food. It is allowing you to enjoy a take out without worrying about the nature of the ingredients, the health issues or even compromising your lifestyle."            - Ian Ohan,  CEO N_K_D Pizza Dubai

Growing up, we had a tradition at my parent's that every Saturday, we gather up for a 'movie afternoon'. It was the most fun thing ever. Myself, brothers and sisters along with Mum and Dad would choose a movie to watch together and order pizza for nibbles while watching. You see, my parents were never big on the fast food option for lunch, and they always made sure we ate healthy home-cooked meals, which eventually became my definition of a home. However, my parents have always been advocates for moderation. They believed that we must be moderate people who do not over indulge in any theory. So on the weekend we got to consume some fast food. In Jordan, there is this amazing pizza joint called 'Pizza Reef" who make these fabulous grilled pizzas over a charcoal oven. Their pizzas used local produce for ingredients, were thin crusted, and you got to choose any combination of flavours you liked. It was very avant garde for the Jordanian market, because back then whoever heard of a healthy pizza?! Health though was not the reason why this pizza was and still remains one of the best loved in Amman. These open pies of goodness are supremely delicious, and without the greasy yuckiness of the other fast food pizzas. So on our movie afternoons we would pick up our pizzas and sit for a nibble and a good movie.

Read on for the full article...

Friday, 8 June 2012

Let's do breakfast Arabic style

If you want to refine the experience, instead of a traditional spread, go for these options in minis and serve individually
"Yeay! It's weekend :)"    -Me

Nothing like a good breakfast to make us feel the love of being off work. Let's be social, Let's do breakfast this weekend. Let's gather up friends for an amazing breakfast/brunch the Arabic way?

In Arabic tradition, breakfast is like mezze, we like to have a spread of different small platters of goodness, where each picks whatever they like to have. It is like a buffet of sorts. We then gather up around the table, and have scoops of the different items in the spread, place in our plates and eat them with crispy or soft warmed pita bread. Traditionally, we serve tea with breakfast, which also compliments the flavours of food. Most will  finish the meal with a dessert, traditionally Knafeh. Then Turkish coffee is served, and the lot gather up in the living area talking latest news (who is getting married, who had a new child, who graduated...) and of course discussing politics (the most favourite pass time lol ). Sounds like heaps of happenings, but these breakfast gatherings are in fact so much fun.

Most people like to listen to Fairuz in the morning (a very famous Arabic Singer from Lebanon). Not only does she have a sweet voice that's been celebrated the world over, but she also sings beautiful songs relative to many aspects of our culture and lifestyles. Fairuz's music is seen as one that gives you energy and sets a positive vibe for the rest of the day, and many people would have her music playing in the background in the mornings. So if you want to go all out with an Arabic style breakfast and would like to play her music, you can finds lots of her best loved songs here.

There is an array of breakfast options in Arabic cuisine. All equally delicious. You can choose any combination really, and whatever you end up choosing will never disappoint. In this post, I am choosing a menu of the most traditional, and best loved breakfast options that are easy to make, and spell Arabic breakfast anywhere.

Arabic Breakfast Menu
Zaatar o Zeit
Labneh bil na'na 
Fattet Hummus
Scrambled Eggs
Pita bread (toasted and soft warmed triangles)

Filo Chocolate Parcels 

Traditional Yellow Tea with Mint
Turkish Coffee or Ahwe Sada (Traditional Arabic Coffee)

Home-made Zaatar

To Prepare...
Zaatar o Zeit
Zaatar is a relative of thyme and oregano, it has the same flavour palate. The Arabic zaatar comes from a similar plant, it grows wild in the region, as usually referred to as wild thyme. The leaves of this plant are separated from the stems and are then semi-dried in the sun. After that they are rubbed between the palms to produce the almost powdered texture. Different areas then prepare it in different ways. Some add summac, sesame seeds, and even spices. I love the version my mum makes, in which she adds just a little bit of toasted sesame seeds, and a hint of salt, mixes all together and it is ready to eat. I find this to be the best tasting version as it celebrates the zaatar without too many flavourings. If zaatar is not available in your area to make at home, you can always purchase ready made zaatar from supermarkets and spice markets.
For breakfast, we usually place zaatar in a small plate, and place a bowl of good quality olive oil next to it. You would dip the pita bread in the oil, then the zaatar and eat. This also works very well with sliced tomatoes and you will see how the flavours mesh like a melody.
Another traditional way of serving zaatar is zaatar pastries (mana'ish). Topping raw pastrie disks with a mixture of zaatar and oil, then baking till done. Kind of like a zaatar pizza.

Labneh bi Na'na' (labneh with mint)
Labneh is similar to sour cream, however it is slightly thicker in texture, kind of like cream cheese. Arabic labneh, unlike its Turkish counter part, is tangy, while the Turkish one tastes more plain (more like cream). If you cannot find Labneh in your local store, follow this link for how to make Labneh at home.
We mix Arabic Labneh with 1 tsp of dried mint, a pinch of salt and place in a small plate, then drizzle all with olive oil and serve. Labneh is eaten with pita bread.

Fool (Brown Fava Beans Mash)

Fool (Brown Fava Beans Mash)
This is an awesome way to prepare fava beans. There are many ways to make it, but are all the same in essence. Basically, the beans are boiled or steamed till fully cooked and tender, then mixed with a mixture of Tahina and lemon. Usually flavoured with garlic, salt and black pepper. I like to add aromatics and vegetables to Fool, and like to dress it with Arabic green sauce as I find it to be enhanced this way. Here is a link to my Fool recipe. Feel free to omit the vegetables and aromatics for the plain Fool option.

Hummus is a breakfast option in Arabic cuisine as well as being an appetiser option. In fact, many people regularly have hummus for breakfast. Find my Hummus recipe here, it is super easy to make and super delicious.

Fattet Hummus
Fattet Hummus
Yes, it is very common to serve both Hummus and Fattet Hummus for breakfast. They are two different preparations. But if you feel you are over Hummusfied, choose one or the other ;) Fatteh is a very traditional and loved preparation in Arabic cuisine. For breakfast, we serve Fattet Hummus, but there are many other fattehs that we serve as appetisers to a meal (Fattet Beitinjan, Fattet Fool, Fattet Djaj, Fattet Kharoof, and even Fattet Mlookhieh!)
This recipe is the best ever for Fattet Hummus and it actually works. All those who have tried my Fattet Hummus recipe, loved it and said it was super easy to make. Do give it a try, you will love it.

Who doesn't like Falafel? Super easy to make and super delicious, this is a staple recipe and a staple breakfast item. Follow the link for my Falafel recipe and some cool serving suggestions :)

Scrambled Eggs
Scrambled eggs are scrambled eggs everywhere. We tend to add some spices to our scrambled eggs though. We will make scrambled eggs the regular way, but will then sprinkle the tops with either cinnamon or ground all spice. It is a welcome addition, as it gives a plain scrambled eggs extra depth.

Toasted or Soft Warmed Pita Triangles
We eat everything above with pita bread. You can either spread things on the bread using a knife or - traditionally - scoop them out with the bread, without your fingers touching the food. To prepare the bread for breakfast, quarter the small round of pita bread. Place in preheated oven, once warmed take out half the quantity, and keep the rest to toast until crunchy and slightly browned.

Filo for Dessert
No get together is complete without dessert. This is a crowd pleaser, both kids and adults will love tucking into this ooziness of chocolate and pastry. Delicious! Follow this link for the recipe.

Arabic breakfast is traditionally served with mint tea
Traditionally breakfast is served with mint tea, however there are a million other beverages and flavours that can be served with breakfast. Follow this link or hot beverage options, and this link for nice cold drinks, since it's summer :)

There it is, your complete breakfast or Brunch like an Arabian star Menu. Get your friends together before everyone is out on Summer vacations and celebrate the Flavours of Arabia :) You can even carry out this menu when back home to share with your family a part of your experience here...

Hope you give these recipes a go, and that you have a fabulous breakfast with your friends and family ;) Come back again soon for more. Meanwhile, share the love and leave me a comment xx

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Making Friends - with the nature of things - Fruit Wafers

Green Apple Wafers, made using classic method

"Funny that.... Friendships..."     -  some actor on friendships

Last night, I was hanging out with my very good friend Kari from Chef and Steward and her friend Bev. You know us girls, getting together, talking fashion, diet, newest lipstick, with high pitched giggles and having pink feathery pillow fights..... NOT!!! I am sorry guys to rain on your fantacy, but when girls get together they hardly ever have pillow fights! :)) Some of the most profound conversations, selfless acts of care, and best advice come from Girl friends and are usually the happenings of a girls' hangout.

In fact this is a very good chance to bust some myths about Girl Friends... so read on and enjoy :)