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Friday, 27 June 2014

Ramadan Tents, The Best Loved Activity During Ramadan - Asateer, Atlantis The Palm

Arabic desserts display at Asateer (Atlantis The Palm Ramadan Tent) is to die for!
All the fave desserts are included!

Look, I don't normally do reviews on this blog. I always recommend my personal experiences which I have found outstanding because I really love to share good experiences with you and encourage you to try them. This may sound like a review, and perhaps it is. However only because I found it extremely outstanding, and was very impressed by Chef Ali El Bourji's approach and menu choices; and therefore want to recommend that you make sure to go to Asateer this Ramadan and enjoy the Chefs amazing selection.

Ramadan is a couple of days away! And in spirit I was invited to the launch of Atlantis The Palm's Ramadan Tent 'Asateer'. I was happy I could make it, as I had to miss on so many other launches this year (working on the very special Ramadan Special 2014 videos). So the launch of Asateer came as a much needed break, and am happy it did because the Atlantis Ramadan tent Asateer lives up to its name (literally meaning legends). The tent is just gorgeous as ever, the food was divine and I got a chance to finally meet their Executive Oriental Chef Ali El Bourji, who is in charge of the hotel's all things Arabic and Oriental cuisine.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Healthy Ramadan Tips brought to you by OBE Organic

OBE Organic and I have put together a list of 'Ramadan Healthy Eating Tips' in order to help you enjoy delicious meals without sacrificing your health this Ramadan. These tips are also taking into consideration the long hours of fasting and how to maintain your energy levels in the best way possible, as well as of course keeping hunger at bay and remaining healthy throughout the month.

  • During Ramadan it is important to focus on eating more proteins as they help you keep hunger at bay. Because proteins are harder to digest than other food groups, they keep you feeling full for longer periods of time. Pair meats with complex carbs (such as barley, lentils, whole wheat, green wheat, semolina…etc) and high fiber foods such as (beans - white, red kidney - , corn, broccoli, artichokes…etc) all of these food types sustain you from hunger for longer times, and keep your body healthy. OBE Organic has an array of Organic, grass-fed and Halal beef cuts to choose from, keeping your options varied.
  • Don’t sacrifice your health during Ramadan. People tend to over indulge after breaking the fast, which troubles their digestive system and causes them to put on extra weight even though they fast the whole day. Beef is generally leaner than other red meats and it is important to choose healthier during Ramadan. OBE Organic cubes are perfect for stews and help you minimize the fat content of these stews.
  • Ramadan is a month where you can detox your body from all the toxins that could be building up and what better way to do this than eating only organic and grass-fed beef. Take this chance and choose OBE Organic Halal and Grass-fed beef that contains no chemicals or any toxins whatsoever and help your body detox. Visit our (blog, page, website etc) for a selection of delicious recipes to choose from.
  • Cook amazing meals this Ramadan without laboring too hard in the kitchen! Slow cooking is an excellent method to cook beef cubes, that intensifies the beautiful flavor of OBE Organic Halal Grass-fed Beef and produces very tender meat as well. Slow cooking in a slow cooker or the oven, not only helps you produce succulent food, but it also allows you more free time to rest and spend with your family. Slow cooking is also an excellent way to have Suhoor ready without spending hours at night preparing the meal. Simply prepare before you go to bed and wake up to a ready meal.
  • Proteins are a better source of energy than any other food type and you need to sustain your levels of energy during a long day’s fast. Carbs turn into sugars inside your body, which give you instant energy but then cause the energy levels to drop shortly after. While proteins give you a more enduring energy that lasts you way longer. Therefore it is best that you consume more proteins during the Holy month. OBE Organic, Halal, Grass-fed Beef is an excellent source of energy and comes in a variety of cuts to accommodate different styles of cooking.
  • OBE Organic, Halal, Grass-fed minced beef is an excellent choice of proteins to have for Suhoor without having to spend a long time in the early morning to prepare this meal. Minced meat does not require a long time to prepare and can be cooked and added to a lentil or barley pilaf, or fried with eggs, or made into oven-grilled kafta patties to be had with yogurt, all of which can be prepared real quick but will sustain you for a long time, enabling you to fast a long day with ease.
  • OBE Organic, Halal, Grass-fed beef is all natural and therefore really delicious. Healthy does not necessarily have to be tasteless and OBE Organic beef is full of flavor, therefore it does not have to be fried or rely on added fats for flavor. The various cuts of OBE Organic beef lend themselves very well for healthier cooking methods such as grilling, dry frying, and stewing.

Try to keep it balanced this Ramadan, and remember you want to focus on long lasting energy therefore carbs and sugars must me minimised as they quickly deplete your energy. Below is a list of relative links including links to some healthy recipes for you try this Ramadan (do browse this blog for more healthy recipes as there is many other ones that you will enjoy too).

Monday, 23 June 2014

A - Z of Minced Meat & unfortunately including Pink Slime!

has your mother ever told you that if you want to use minced meat (AKA ground meat), you should mince your own? I know many people (myself included) whose mothers are against buying ready ground meat from supermarkets, and instead instruct us to mince the meat ourselves, or at least, pick a proper cut of meat and ask the butcher to mince it in front of us. In fact, I was chatting with a friend yesterday who happened to tell me that her mother insists she does not buy ready-ground meat and instead grind it herself. What is the big deal? Well, there is a reason why many people are not too excited about purchasing ready-packed minced meat, however that does not mean we should steer away from minced meat sold in supermarkets. We just have to choose right. Read on as I explain...

Before we begin - and since we are at it - why don't I let you in on all things minced meat in this post? If you are beginning in the kitchen, this will be useful information, and if you have been cooking for a while, you might find some useful information here too...

Minced Beef / Ground Beef
The Mince
Minced meat is simply a meat that had been passed through a mincing machine to break it into small pieces. Ground meat and minced meat are eventually the same, however some argue that technically there are a few minor differences because the two processes are different (grinding and mincing). You really do not need to worry about such details, because functionally the both are the same and used in the same manner for cooking.

Why and what do we mince?
After the animal is slaughtered, it is cut up into different pieces (known as the cuts), these different pieces and because they come from different parts of the animal, have different properties especially where cooking is concerned. Some cuts are fattier, some meaty, some with bone, some are tougher and others are tender... Therefore, the different cuts have become synonymous with different preparations, for instance it is a crime to use a tenderloin in stews, because this is the most tender part of the animal and you do not want to overcook it. While tougher cuts of meat can benefit from prolonged cooking and so on. As mentioned in my previous post (Your Guide to Cooking Meat To Perfection - Answering your most frequently asked questions) mincing is one way to tenderise meat, therefore it is usually made out of the tougher cuts (again not the tenderloin!), which enables us to experience such tougher meats more pleasantly. Minced meat is also in a way a means to maximise on the meat content of a recipe, as less quantity goes a longer way when using mince (and we are already using the less expensive cuts to create the mince). This is especially true in the case of using the mince in soups, with rice, in lasagne with spaghetti...etc. Therefore minced meat had become a main cut that is very frequently used.

Ready-packaged mince is usually made using the cheap cuts of meat, such as the front shoulders, the flank, and at times could also include scraps of trimmings from other parts that are leftover from creating other cuts such as steaks. That is of course provided that you are dealing with a trusted butcher, and the meat comes from a trusted source, because other things can certainly be used in the making of mince, especially true when you consume meats that are not organic (more on this below) .

Mince comes in different grades and therefore in different prices. These grades are usually determined by the fat content of the mince, as you know there is the full fat version and the other low fat version. It is important to know that fat has to be part of mince as there is no naturally fat-free meat. Fat usually adds flavour to meat, and in the case of minced meat, it is important as it prevents the meat from clumping together as you cook, because the fat will help keep the meat small and separated. Lower fat versions are desirable though for creating meat balls, that you want to clump together and not break. On the other hand, excessive fat content, does no good for flavour nor texture, and with such meat, you are most likely going to have to drain the meat while cooking and so on. Because using less fat in the mince mixture means using more meat, the lower fat versions are more pricy than the fat-laden counterparts.

With that said, by lower fat mince I mean mince that's created by mincing real meat, where the fat content is determined by how much of the excess animal fat that surrounds the meat is actually minced with the meat. I am in no way referring to processed low fat meat here!

Then you will find the organic minced meat, which is becoming more and more in demand these days, especially for people who are more health conscious and do not want to consume chemicals, antibiotics, hormones, additives and so on. The "certified-organic" label means that the animal was reared to organic standards (which include all aspects of the animal life: rearing, feeding, conditions of life, health care, transportation, slaughter and any post-slaughter handling). Organic meats can be slightly more expensive than other meats (not always), but as mentioned above organic meats are real natural meats, where they do not go under any chemical processing nor do they include any additives or processed food alternatives, therefore are in fact more expensive to produce, however are the most trusted for purchasing from the supermarket. Bear in mind that here is a situation where 'you get what you pay for'.

(please note that I do recommend you go organic, at least where meat is concerned, and also recommend OBE Organic meats, including their minced meat as they are clean and really outstanding.)

Uses of Minced Meat
Delicious Kofta rolls made with OBE Organic Minced Meat
Minced meat is used in a variety of applications. Perhaps the most popular is in making hamburgers, as well as a variety of sauces such as chilies, ragus and meat sauce for pasta (lasagne, bolognese...), meatballs, as stuffing for various leaves and vegetables, topping for pizza, famously used in tacos as well, and in meatloaf, as well as being regularly used as a garnish in Arabic cuisine, where it is pan fried and poured over many rice dishes, hummus...etc. Not to forget the best loved Koftas and Kebabs. The cut is also used in soups, and mixed in with rice... Really one of the most versatile cuts.

How to mince meat?
While a meat grinder is the most optimal way to produce excellent ground meat in a variety of textures (rough ground, medium ground and fine mince), some do not own the machine and some find it too laborious. Really it is a matter of passing the meat through the grinder, and it allows you to control the content of the mince, and ensure using better quality cuts. However, and to a certain extent, I do understand the modern fussiness about time, ease of prep and magically appearing dishes on the family table. If it makes it any easier you can use a food processor to grind your meat.

You must cut the meat into smaller cubes before processing, this ensures a more homogeneous texture to your mince. Also part freeze the cubes before processing to ensure you do not end up with a paste. So lay the cubes onto a lined sheet and freeze right until the edges firm up and start to freeze (about 20 minutes in the home freezer). Once ready, process the cubes in batches (not all at once), pulsing instead of continuously processing. About 15-20 pulses should do the job. Then either use the mince immediately to cook, or immediately wrap and freeze for a handy option later on.

Safety First
When it comes to meat, safety is of the essence, because meats can become contaminated and pass on many diseases that can at time be life-threatening! Therefore when handling meat, you should always make sure:

  • Not to refreeze thawed meats.
  • Keep meats cold in the fridge for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
  • Never allow meat to come to room temperature except once, if you must, right before cooking.
  • Always make sure all work surfaces are clean, as well as your hands before, during and after handling meats.
  • Cross-contamination is usually the culprit of most foodborne illnesses. This means using utensils and boards for handling raw meats, then for handling vegetables, or foods that are not going to be cooked. Therefore always use separate boards for meats, vegetables, raw and cooked foods. Knives have to be thoroughly washed in hot soapy water after handling meat and before being used for cutting anything else.
  • Meats have to be cooked thoroughly, 72C / 160F to ensure all bacterial contamination is killed.

Now that we have the facts and perfect scenarios covered, let's get back to the real world! And allow me to say, without any introductions, What The Hell is wrong with today's food industry? The other day, I was appalled to read that "Pink Slime" is making a come back! The industry are justifying that by saying that meat prices are rising and therefore they have to supply cheaper alternatives!! Focus here is on the word "alternatives"! No wonder many people are going vegan these days. I know most look at those as buzzwords, however to some the issues are so severe that they prefer to go off meat than to support such ludicrous industry! Hormones, antibiotics, post-antibiotic era, chemicals, pink slime.... all that is left really is for them to feed us manure and blame it on rising prices! And who knows we may just have! And this alone is reason why we should not consume anything that is not organic.

Pink slime, otherwise known as LFTB (lean finely textured beef), is a beef product that produces what is referred to as the lean finely textured beef. This product is an additive that is used as a filler to reduce the fat content of ground beef. It is produced by processing low-grade beef trimmings and other meat by-products such as cartilages, connective tissues and sinew that contain fat and a small amount of lean beef. The process mechanically separates the fat from the lean beef, and the recovered beef is then heated and treated with gaseous ammonia, or citric acid to kills bacterias such as e-coli, salmonella and others... This gassing process when in contact with water produces ammonium hydroxide which wreaks havoc in our bodies!
Pink Slime!

Pink slime is believed to have been used as pet food and cooking oil, and then been approved for the public "in limited consumption" in 2011 before it became used everywhere, without the need for any labeling!! The whole issue was brought to public attention in 2012 when ABC News ran a series of reports about the product, including statistics that approximately 70% of ground beef sold in the US supermarkets contained pink slime. Not only that, but that many ready-sauces and products that contained beef were in fact using the pink slime alternative. From then on, the whole issue spiraled and the whole industry was debating the issue, and ultimately many companies and organisations discontinued use of pink slime and manufacturers had to shut down 2 of their 5 production units and law suits were all over the place, some of which continue. It is really a shame that such practices are not yet brought to the forefront and confronted. 

If we are to consume any alternatives, we have the right to be notified! And we have the right to choose whether or not we want to consume any!

There really was nothing wrong with the way
our mothers and grandmothers cooked.
But there is a world of wrong in our food today!
If that is advancement, call me backward thinking!
No wonder our mothers keep telling us to grind meat ourselves, and only purchase meat from trusted butchers and farmers. They want to make sure that we are actually consuming meat (if we must) and not some reconstructed alternative of rubbish perfumed with chemicals, sounding like the perfect health option, when it in fact is hazardous!

This is all the reason why organic is really not a buzzword, a trend, or a stylish fashion statement! Organic today is a must, and we must take back charge and be in control of what we eat. So yes, I do understand the modern fussiness over time, but I also understand how the shortcuts can have severe consequences. 

Slow down and cook from scratch, go organic, know the people who grow your food, go to trusted sources and support them to continue, and take charge of your and your family members' health!

If you are living in the UAE, then you don't have to worry about purchasing minced meat from the supermarket. Because OBE Organic beef which are sold in Carrefour (both in Dubai and Abu Dhabi), as well as Geant and Le Marche... are all organic and do not use any such additives. With organic meats you don't have to worry about such practices and OBE Organic farmers care about your health which is why they are adamant about supplying the market only with "organic beef". With a trusted source such as they, you can rest assured that you are eating clean!

Read more about pink slime, I am not sure what is the status of its use here in Dubai, would love to know if any of you have any information about that. Also stay on the safe side and make your own sauces, they taste better anyway, and the process is actually fun! When it comes to meat, always best to consume organic meats and in moderation.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Announcing Ramadan Special 2014 - Inspired by the great people I met On The Path Of Food

Photo Courtesy of Nofara Cafe Dubai

"No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee. "
- John Donne 

Earlier this year, I found myself thinking of my journey with food. I was working on a project - away from my usual surroundings - and in a clear moment found myself reflecting on the path I have taken, when I followed the path of food. There I was somewhere random, with random people, in an experience that forces one to find their bearings amidst all the randomness and its people's thoughts that force themselves upon you. In between collections of conversations and actions, in a project designed to be inspirational, I started trotting through my own journey (which I refer to as "the path of food"). Throughout that project and reflecting on all the action, a persistent thought kept ringing in my head. I kept thinking of John Donne's "No man is an island", which had me thinking of all the great people I have met on the path of food. Many people whom I cannot in anyway count and many interactions - filled with inspiration, knowledge and real passion - have helped me shape a passion that I already possessed, refine a skill that I was starting to learn, as well as challenge my very inquisitive mind...

Then, found myself thinking of how lucky I had been to have always worked with like-minded people on amazing projects that have enriched all my experiences.
I have done a great deal of reflecting on that phrase and now believe that there is no way to appreciate our experiences and current situation until we understand that we are who we are, but shaped by the people we cross paths with. When we are fortunate enough to meet great people, we should be humbled and appreciate what they bring to our lives.

I knew that this is where inspiration truly is, and knew I wanted to share this with you. What better time to do this than during Ramadan, the month when we reflect, give back and appreciate all the blessings that we have? Therefore, and since this blog has a yearly tradition of posting daily during Ramadan (what you have come to know as Ramadan Special), and since every year I go by a different theme throughout yet focus on inspiration, I thought to give you the chance this year to reflect on John Donne's "No man is an Island" to encourage you to think of all those people you rubbed shoulders with who somehow enriched your experiences and who you are. And also to ask you, to give back to the community within which you live - so that you too can be one of those great people - as well as give back to those great people in your lives, because there is nothing more blissful than telling those you appreciate that you do!

So with the help of my great people (whom I have met on the path of food), those who have been so valuable to me, who have supported my journey at different intervals, who have inspired me hugely by the way they are as human beings, and professionals, I present you with this year's

Ramadan Special 2014 - On The Path Of Food

You know I like to embrace new experiences, and always like to do things differently, so this 'Ramadan Special' is different because unlike the previous specials, 2014 Special comes to you in the form of a series of YouTube webisodes instead of the usual written posts . I thought that since I am celebrating my great people, I did not want to describe them using my own words, but rather wanted you to meet them and see for yourselves how they are great. So you will get to see them, hear them and hopefully be inspired by them, most importantly I want you to get to know the person behind the name. In this line of work, some people become very well known for what they do, but somehow the brand takes over. We tend to forget that behind brands are great people whose vision, style, thought and personality as well as dedication and hard work are really what allowed the brand to succeed. Yes there are many brands out there, many of which we come to like, follow and even become loyal fans of; but how many times do we stop and think of the people behind it or why it is so great? Through these little videos, I want to introduce you to the people and show you why they are brands I love and follow, hoping that you too will follow them, support them and show them some love.
With that said, I also hope that you will find the inspiration should you ever decide to become a brand yourself ;)

(do subscribe to my YouTube channel here so you don't miss any)

Each webisode is designed to pause a question for you to think about (the usual food for thought section of my Ramadan Specials). The webisode also answers the question as per the featured guest, however do take the time and think about these because they are all questions relating to our daily lives and the world we live in. Important to consider.

Since every featured guest has their own style, background and line of work, each will bring you their tips, expertise, as well as of course a recipe of their style. So yes, recipes are still part of Ramadan Special, we are making sure that you learn something that you can prepare this Ramadan and beyond. We are also making sure that these webisodes help you somehow with areas that you may find challenging in your life.

All the content, the recipes, the webisodes as well as the links for the featured guest's social networks will be posted as a blog post on this blog, starting the first day of Ramadan and daily from then. Make sure to drop by everyday and check out the new post with all its content and of course the featured guest. And as ever, do let us know what you think, we really love to hear your feedback.

So please help us make this an amazing Special and share with your friends, like, comment, connect with us, give us your feedback, follow the guests you are inspired by ... & give us back a little love :))  

Photo Courtesy of Nofara Cafe Dubai

Here we go #DSsecretproject #onthepathoffood all announced and looking forward to sharing all this love with you.


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Your Guide to Cooking Meat To Perfection - Answering your most frequently asked questions

OBE Organic Halal is an Australian meat brand that offers our market
a choice for excellent quality, 100% organic, grass-fed, grass-finished, halal beef.
You can find their amazing meat cuts (variety of steak cuts, cubes as well as minced meat)
in Dubai & Abu Dhabi (Carrefour, Geant, Le Marche...)

I love brands with a story, a philosophy that becomes their mission. I have huge respect for such brands, and they become my brands of choice. Because while the industry today is all for mass-production, ill-practices and inhumane approaches, which are far easier and more profitable to follow; these brands operate in such a market with their eyes on tomorrow (what becomes of the world and us if we continue with those practices), and therefore go about their business responsibly. OBE Organic are such brand that I absolutely admire and personally recommend to you, because they are determined to remain organic, to treat the animals humanely in the set up that nature intended them to be. Most importantly, because while they are a brand specialised in meats, they understand that eating meat is a personal choice and always recommend that meat is consumed responsibly. That is something I respect, as just because we do something for business it does not necessarily mean we do it at all costs! Ethics, responsibility and the wellbeing of all should never be over looked.
Watch the video on this link and see for yourself.

Therefore and while I am their brand ambassador, I want you to know that when it comes to OBE Organic, they are the brand of my choice and one that I personally (not just as a business brand) recommend that you choose too.

OBE Organic not only want to supply you with superior quality organic, grass-fed, grass-finished, Halal beef, but they also want to help you cook the meat to perfection and give you a collection of recipes that are delicious and good for you which you can easily replicate at home. They also want to assist you with general tips on healthy eating to empower you to take charge of your health, and since Ramadan is just around the corner, they also want to help you remain healthy and not sacrifice your health during Ramadan. Therefore we are teaming up again to do just that, and will be posting health tips, along with fast and easy recipes on my and OBE Organic's Social networks (see their links below this post) hoping that you will enjoy and benefit from them. And today we start with this post on how to cook your meat to perfection, as many of you have asked for advise in that regards.

So in today's post I will be giving you some information about cooking meat and how to perfect it. Included are the doneness stages and how to judge each, different cuts and best cooking methods, as well as tenderising meats (which is really not necessary, but among the questions you guys have sent me). I will use steaks as an example here, but these tips work on any other cuts of beef.

Do read on, and I hope you find the information useful. Do please let me know if any more information is needed or if you have any further questions regarding cooking meats...

Photo courtesy of OBE Organic
There are many elements that control the cooking time and the resulting doneness and texture of cooked meats.

The cooking time of meat is affected by:

  • The starting temperature - this refers to both the actual temperature of the meat right before cooking (room temperature of course cooks faster than cold meat), and also refers to the actual temperature of the cooking pans and/or oven) Searing hot pans will cook the meat faster and caramelise its natural sugars (which if prolonged charr the meat) and the same applies to ovens.
  • The number of times the meat is flipped during cooking, as well as the number of times the oven door is opened, or lids are lifted - all affect the heat and cause drops in the temperature of meat. (Of course this is sometimes required and necessary, it all depends on the final outcome you are looking to achieve. (more on this below)
  • The meat's fat content - you might think the meat's fat content speeds up the cooking process, when on the contrary, in this case it slows down the cooking process as it is less conductive than the meat's muscle fiber. Therefore fattier cuts will require longer time to cook, and mature fatty animals are more tolerant to over-cooking than young lean ones.
  • Filleted meats VS meats on the bone - while the minerals in the bones double its conductivity, the hallow or honeycomb interiors of the bones make it less conductive and work as an insulator. Therefore meat cuts on the bone take more time to cook. Usually we find that the most succulent pieces of meat are those closest to the bone, this is because closest to the bone the meat cooks slower and is usually less done due to reduced subjection to heat and therefore come out more tender and juicier than any of the surrounding parts.
  • How the surface of the meat is treated - Basted or naked, the meat evaporates its moisture through the surface. This evaporation cools the meat and slows down the cooking process. If the meat is coated by a film of oil, this forms a barrier which will hold back the evaporation and slightly speeds up the process.
Say the temperature is covered, and you have made sure all is hot and sizzling ready for the meat to start cooking, how do you judge the doneness of the meat?

While there are many gadgets to tell you the exact temperature of the meat (indicating the exact doneness), such as internal temp. thermometers, these actually work best on big cuts of meat and not so well on the smaller cuts. Thermometers are best used for roasts, while your eyes and fingers are your best bet when it comes to the smaller cuts. Another method is cutting through the meat and checking its colour and the flow or loss of fluid. Yes the most traditional methods are the best methods for judging the doneness.

Photo courtesy of OBE Organic

Stages of Meat Doneness:
As meat cooks, it goes through 4 main stages of doneness. All four stages are ones where the meat is cooked, but different people choose their preferred doneness differently. These are the main stages of meat doneness:

  • Blue Meat - the surface is cooked but the centre is just warmed through, remaining more or less unchanged. This meat is soft to the touch, feeling exactly the same as the muscle between your thumb and index finger when its totally relaxed. The meat is red at the centre and secretes little to no coloured juice, except some colourless fat that had melted during searing. Note that when tasted the centre feels warm to the mouth and never cold. Cold is raw meat, not blue.
  • Rare Meat - will be more resilient when poked, as some of its proteins will have coagulated. when poked, it will feel like the muscle between your thumb and forefinger when the two are stretched apart. As it cooks, red juices will start to appear as they begin to be secreted from the meat. The centre will be red, slightly lighter than that of blue meat (not a huge difference though) and will also be slightly warmer than blue centres. This stage is the most popular doneness, while still considered raw or too "bloody" for many. 
Note that the juices that run out of meat are not blood, therefore "bloody" is not a literal term. Meats are always drained after slaughter, therefore do not contain substantial amounts of blood when purchased. The red juices are the meat's own fluids. Meat contains fluids, which are a mixture of water and myoglobin (which is a component of its proteins). These are secreted during cooking. Myoglobin is responsible for the meat's red colour. Therefore, as it is secreted with the fluids during cooking, the juices are tinted red due to its presence. So these juices are not blood, but in fact a mixture of water and proteins.

  • Medium - done Meat - will be firmer to the touch as the collagen in its connective-tissue will have shrunk during cooking. When poked it should feel like the muscle between your thumb and forefinger when the two are squeezed together. You will start seeing red juice droplets appearing at the surface. When cut through the centre will be pink and hot. Many people, prefer this stage of doneness, although many cuts of meat such as the tenderloin (fillet) tend to be drier at this stage and are best experienced a little less done. However, it is worth knowing that at this stage the meat will have reached the required temperature for most microbes to be killed. It is therefore safer to have meat at this stage especially when not sure of the source.
  • Well-done Meat - at this stage, all of the meat's proteins have been denatured and is therefore evidently stiffer to the touch. Little juices, if any, are visible and both the juices and centre of the meat are dull in colour (dull brown or grey). While all the microbes will have been killed at this stage, the meat is dead too! The only way to revive this meat and restore a certain degree of its tenderness is prolonged gentle cooking which will loosen up its connective tissues.
Note that microbes are not a huge concern when the meat is purchased from a trusted source and is in good condition. As long as that is true and that it is kept in proper conditions after purchase (refrigerated, consumed within a couple of days; or frozen and consumed within a couple of month; never defrosted and refrozen; and never allowed to reach room temperature except once, right before cooking) then microbes should not really be a concern. This of course is more controllable at home, than when dining out.

Photo courtesy of OBE Organic
What about the texture? 
We all know texture is of the essence to any eating experience. It is one of the make or break factors for a good eating experience or a bad one. Who wants to chew on a piece of dry meat, or a chewy piece that will chew forever in the mouth?! Who chooses a piece of wood for meat? No one!

We all want to enjoy our food, we love textures that work with us, that are not difficult for our mouths. We like juiciness, tenderness and even a crunch, but we do not enjoy the in-betweens or the over the border! So when we cook meats, we have to think of texture, and texture is affected by the condition of the meat, however, more so by the cooking and doneness of meat. Not all cuts tolerate over-cooking, and some will be ruined by such practices. You will not have tasted meat properly, until you have tasted it at the right doneness. A tenderloin for instance should never be had a tad over rare, maybe medium rare if you must but best savoured blue. Otherwise it will be too dry and it will lose its characteristic tenderness. Until you have tried it that way, you have not yet enjoyed a fillet steak. A ribeye, for example, is one of the most flavoursome cuts, because of its marbling (the internal fats) that lends it some extra flavour. However because its a naturally fattier cut, it benefits from being cooked well. However never well-done, max medium-well. While the rump is best treated like a fillet, had rare, or max medium-rare. A striploin is best medium-rare to medium and always best to start the cooking on the fat side, then turn and let it cook in its own fat. You see, this is how steaks are delicious, and you must have noticed that no cut of steak should ever be had well-done! In fact, red meats are best never had well-done, except when cubes are used in slow cooking! Slow-prolonged cooking is not abrasive and therefore does not require the meat to shrink abruptly, which allows it to stay tender and relatively moist.

Photo Courtesy of OBE Organic
How about tenderising?
Personally, I never use meat tenderisers, especially those poor quality, chemical-laden stuff. What is the point of eating healthy and going organic if I am to use additives! However, I do believe in the traditional and natural tenderising methods, especially when it comes to tougher cuts.

Good quality meat, hardly ever needs tenderising, especially when cooked right. However, should the need arise I advise you to opt for the traditional healthy methods, rather than the use of the processed stuff.

Traditional Tenderising Methods:
These are the natural methods traditionally used to tenderise meats. Tenderising is basically used to minimise both the cooking time and the drying of muscle fiber, which are responsible for creating tough textures.

  • Physically changing the structure of the meat - by that we fragment the muscle fiber and the sheets of connective tissue. This is usually done by pounding the meat, or cutting or grinding. For instance, when we pound pieces of veal to create the escalopes or scallopini, what we are doing is making the pieces thinner, which requires less time to cook, therefore sparing them the loss of fluids and the pounding itself makes the meat more tender. The same applies to ground beef, and cutting smaller pieces such as the cubes.
  • Marinating Meats - While most people think that marinades are only for flavouring meats (which is also true), however they are also tenderisers. Marinades are usually acidic liquids in which the meat is immersed for hours (sometimes up to days) before cooking the meat. The acid cuts through the fat and weakens muscle tissues, as well as increase the meat's ability to retain moisture. The most common use of this method is in making stews, where the meat is usually immersed in a mixture of aromatics and an acidic liquid such as wine, left to sit for a while and then cooked in the marinade. The only draw back to this method, is the marinade usually takes long to penetrate the meat, which is why it is not an instant process and needs to be done ahead of time. As well as the fact that the marinated meats can be slightly sour in flavour especially with the use of lemon juice, vinegars and wines; but that is why you have other options for acidic liquids, such as: fruit juice, natural fig's extract, buttermilk or yogurt, all of which are traditionally used to soak meats. 
Did you know that meat marination goes back in time to the Renaissance, where it was used primarily to slow the spoilage of meat as well as give flavour? Today we use this method to both flavour and tenderise, but if the need should ever arise, it is good to know that marinades extend the shelf-life of meat, as acid kills microbes!
  • Brigning Meats - is one of my favourite methods, especially when it comes to turkey! (Off-topic but you must try brigning your turkey, it will never be more succulent, moist or tender. Furthermore, brigning your turkey takes away the need of rubbing it with massive amounts of butter!) Brigning is basically immersing meats in a liquid that is 3-6% salt. What this does is that the salt disrupts the structure of muscle filaments, making them weaker, so they can't coagulate into the dense aggregates as they cook, which makes the meat more tender. Moreover, the interaction between the salt and protein of the meat make it able to retain more water in the muscle cells, which makes for juicier meat (the osmosis effect). This whole process also increases the meat's absorption of aromatics molecules from any herbs or spices placed in the brine. What is not to like! The only disadvantage to this method though, is that drippings will be quite salty, which some would balance by including sugar or fruit juices...
  • Larding Meats - A more labourious and less likely method for you to use (but worth mentioning here to cover all) is the traditional French method referred to as 'larding'. Which is the insertion of slivers of fat into the meat by injections. Here you are changing the meat's fat content and the injected fat will break some of the fibers and connective tissue sheets, all of which will make for more tender meats.
It is worth mentioning here that there is another method to tenderise cooked meat. Say you have accidentally overcooked the meat and it became too dry, you can salvage the situation by shredding the meat and pouring the collected cooking juices over it. This will coat the meat with a film of their own lost juices. Juices cling better to cold meat, so allow it to cool, covered, before reheating. And the smaller the shreds the more liquid clings to the surfaces of the meat. Another method is to slow cook the shreds in their juices for prolonged time, which will always create more tender meats.

Photo courtesy of OBE Organic

For Successful Grilling & frying of Meat:

Because grilling and frying are cooking methods that involve high heat, they tend to overcook the outer layer of the meat while the interior cooks through. This can be minimised by one of these two methods:

  • Pre-warming the meat - the warmer the meat before you cook, the less time it requires to cook through, which means less time where the outer layer is subjected to heat therefore less dry.
  • Flipping the meat during cooking - If texture and moisture are more important than creating the perfect grill marks on your meat, then flip the meat every 1 minute. This reduces its exposure to heat, and allows it to cook faster, which lessens the drying of the outer layer. However, if you do want to have those beautiful grill marks, you should not flip the meat more than twice.

Always Remember: The key to cooking meat properly is knowing when to stop!


Relative links:

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Sunday, 8 June 2014

Food Styling & Photography Workshop 2014 - Dubai

We are back with 'The Dubai food photography and styling workshop' 2014! 
Diarize the dates: 11th - 12th October 2014 for a two day food styling and photography workshop in Dubai, UAE. 

Over the past few years I have worked with Meeta on a few projects, one of which is the annual 'Food Styling & Photography workshop' we hold in Dubai. Because this workshop is so much fun and always filled with energy, food, props for beautiful styling and a whole lot of clicking and images (all the things I love)... it quickly became one of the highlights that I look forward to the most every year.

Meeta K Wolff

Besides being my friend and the photographer of choice for my cookbook, Meeta K Wolff  is one of those people I love to work with. She is well organised, very talented and knows what she is talking about. I have seen her transform many a beginner photographers to ones who create sensational images with some fabulous styling sense.

Meeta knows what it takes, what needs to be covered and what the participants will benefit from the most. And I love classes that actually do teach you something in the end! Through this workshop Meeta will take you through the steps, technicalities and know hows of food styling and photography all of which will allow you to create mouthwatering food images, with a look and feel that will set the mood and create a moment out of the image rather than just a still shot!

But you are never fully prepared for outstanding food styling and photography if you can't prepare the food! After all food is the star and therefore essential for the final outcome. This is where I come in, to show you how to prepare and cook gorgeous food for photography and how to create out of the box concepts for your food shoots. All of which will happen through cooking demonstrations, hands on cooking and a session on food concepts, visual appeal and having your images almost tasted!

I am going with the 'Modern Arabic Bistro' theme this year, hoping to awaken your imagination to a world of possibilities when it comes to an under-explored area of a cuisine!


This year we also wanted to sizzle a bit more of that passion you are unveiling and therefore wanted you to get a feel of a professional kitchen, and see it in action. Photography is all about finesse and who best to surround ourselves with than the masters of culinary finesse; The School of Culinary & Finishing Arts - SCAFA. Yes, we have teamed up with the awesome SCAFA, located in Jumeirah Lake Towers, and will be holding our workshop there.

We will have exclusive access to the culinary school's professionally equipped kitchens where there will not only be the several cooking demos but also SCAFA's labs provide the ideal space for our photography and styling sessions with lots of natural light, individual workstations and presentation room. We will also enjoy relaxed meals and chill-out at their own restaurant Scafé.

As ever, the workshop is never complete without the gorgeous and absolutely delicious creations of Lafayette Gourmet's Russell Impiazzi.  Lafayette Gourmet's support, along with Russell's glorious creations have been invaluable to the success of this workshop. Besides providing all the fab ingredients for the workshop, the Welcome Brunch, prepared by Russell, not only tastes absolutely Divine, but puts us all in the mood for creating awesome food and marvelous pictures. It sets the pace for the workshop, instantly making you unable to resist clicking as you will want to capture every millimeter of the beautiful selection he prepares. You will also be treated to a just as great Finale Dinner, prepared by the master himself!

While last year, it was a North African tour, sampling the authentic cuisines of Egypt to Morocco, away from the glamour of New Dubai, and more in the tucked away hidden gems; this year is another tour in the same set up, however we will be devouring Meena Bazaar (Dubai's Little India), and tasting the flavours of Indian steert food with Arva Ahmed's Frying Pan Adventures....

Arva's passion, stories and knowledge of the backstreets of Dubai allow her tours to be so exciting and full of inspiration. And this will ignite your passion for food photography and capturing these food moments, be it for a client or for your own memories.

This workshop is all about allowing you to discover your passion, to tap your own creativity and improve your personal style. Therefore it is designed to inspire you, challenge you, help you develop... all in a fun atmosphere, filled with energy and excitement.

Therefore, do join us, we love nothing more than meeting you and enjoying all this excitement with you.

Here is the 2-day workshop schedule:

Day one - Saturday 11th October 2014

  • Brunch
    Meet and Greet Brunch to and Introduction
  • Photography Fundamentals & Techniques by Meeta Wolff
    Capturing the perfect shot: Mastering the camera, harnessing and understanding natural light, finding your focus, the angles etc. 
  • Styling Techniques by Meeta Wolff
    How to style your shot: composition and placement, creating a mood/atmosphere, the importance of props, color, texture etc.
  • Styling demo & the secrets of a food stylist by Meeta Wolff
  • Free-Style Photography Exercises - Group Work
  • The Eye Eats First by Dima Sharif
    The key elements to conveying food in photography (from a food perspective). Change the way you view food and take your concepts out of the box; the only way to be outstanding.
  • Indian Street Food & Dinner by Frying Pan Adventures
    Discovering the Indian in you!
    A delicious and unique food tour through the backstreets of Old Dubai. 

Day two - Sunday 12th October 2014

  • One-on-one time and Q&A
  • Enhancing your Images with Lightroom by Meeta Wolff
  • Cooking demo and cooking techniques by Dima Sharif
  • Modern Arabic Bistro Lunch by Dima Sharif
  • Intensive work on assignment - Group work
  • Evaluation, discussion & critique on assignment
    Constructive feedback, discussion and critique on exercises
  • Finale Dinner prepared by Russell Impiazzi
Further details for the announcement:
Event Cost: Euro 520 / AED 2650
  • 2 day food styling, photography and cooking demo sessions with Meeta & Dima
  • Friday: Meet & Greet Brunch and Street Food Tour & Dinner;
    Saturday: Modern Arabic Bistro Lunch & Cooking Demo, and Finale Dinner
  • Snacks and beverages during the workshop
  • Transport to and from the off-site assignment
  • All material/equipment is provided for the shooting /styling sessions
Does NOT include:
  • Travel to Dubai and venue, travel insurance
  • Accommodation (this can be arranged at a special rate upon request)
Workshop venue: SCAFA School of Culinary and Finishing Arts, Jumeirah Lakes Tower, Dubai, UAE
Limited to 10 participants
Payment: Full payment upon registration, no refunds
Please Note: The organizers reserve the rights to modify the programme should the need arise.
Presentations and main workshop language will be in English (instructors speak German, Arabic and Hindi and is aimed towards beginners, novice and advanced level participants). 

Our generous supporters and partners for the Dubai Workshop 2014 
SCAFA, Dubai’s School of Culinary and Finishing Arts (2012), is an innovative vocational institute focusing on guiding professionals and enthusiasts in learning culinary techniques and kitchen skills. Accredited by KHDA, SCAFA runs professional culinary programs that certify graduates as qualified chefs. The school also runs many enthusiast programs such as team building with cooking, children’s cooking classes, pastry and baking sessions, cake decorating, fundamentals of cuisine, etc.  In addition to offering a range of culinary programs, SCAFA has a student training restaurant Scafé attached to the school. At SCAFA, we don’t just practice recipes, we teach techniques!

"Students that enroll in SCAFA’s programs have varied reasons for joining the program. Many want a professional hospitality career, to become a restaurateur, a patissierre. We also enroll students with wonderful creativity whose interests lie in food styling and photography. We want our students to understand and appreciate the wider opportunities that lie in wait for them and SCAFA is the perfect setting for running the photography workshop. Working with renowned food photographer Meeta Wolff and celebrity chef Dima Sharif is a wonderful opportunity and experience for our students and we are thrilled to be the host of the 2014 Food Photography Workshop."

Lafayette Gourmet, temple to gastronomy and gourmandize, offers a whole range of flavors from all over the world.. Guaranteed to find all what it takes to fulfill your taste buds.Experience the diversity from 8 kitchens in one location: Indulge in Italian specialties and wood fired pizzas, great salads from The Mediterranean, Asian favorites, Indian tandoor and curries, primes steaks from the Grill, Foie gras and Caviar from the Luxury section, authentic Tapas and Paella from Tapeo to Just Falafel.

Lafayette Gourmet have partnered with Meeta Wolff's workshop again in 2014 supplying fresh ingredients and luxury ingredients for the multiple styling and photography sessions. Furthermore, Russell Impiazzi, Director of Lafayette Gourmet, will personally create a extravagant and special menu as a special finale dinner on Sunday and provide a luxurious welcome brunch for participants on Saturday.


Little India Tour by Frying Pan Adventures
We step off the beaten path to explore Meena Bazaar - Dubai's unassuming Little India. Amidst this bustling market of Bollywood style glamorous outfits, street hawkers and cheap electronics are family-run kitchens that effortlessly break stereotypical notions of what Indian food is meant to be. We'll show you how to eat the messiest of Indian street snacks, where to buy the freshest Indian bread and even how to drink frothy & freshly filtered South Indian coffee!

We all know that when it comes to the most exclusive, luxurious and out there fresh produce, then Lootah Premium Foods are the ones to bring it to the table. And they are so generously bringing these ingredients to the #DubaiFoto2014 table. They will be providing ingredients as well as goodie bag items for participants to feast on when all is said and done.

West Elm Middle East Our Partners who have generously provided the props for #DubaiFoto2014

If you haven't checked out @westelmmena in #Dubai#mall you really must, they have gorgeous stuff for your home and I especially love their kitchen and tableware absolutely gorgeous I had gone there to pick up props for the food styling and photography workshop @meetakwolff and I are holding this Saturday/Sunday and have honestly picked almost every piece they have!! Go check them out.

What is food if it is not including a little bit of sweetness? And what is a goodie bag if not including Balqees Honey! Our continuous partners Balqees honey are again generously offering their outstanding honey for participants to feast on and photograph.
If you have not yet tried Balqees Honey then you still don't know honey, because Balqees is the very definition of honey at its best, raw and uninterrupted absolutely Divine!

My amazing friends and #DubaiFoto2014 partners Baker & Spice Dubai are generously providing the second day breakfast and gorgeous breads, pies and other bakes for participants to practice their new photography skills as well as treat their taste buds with the famous and best loved Baker & Spice food's wholesome goodness. Not only that but participants will be taking home a goodie bag to continue feasting and deliciously photographing


Of course if anyone is to ever blow their own trumpet then we all know that person is I :)))
So here I am blowing...

But first, and most important Meeta K. Wolff. Who will be showing the works of cameras, edits, styles, scene, mood and capturing deliciousness as she does best at her Meeta K. Wolff Photography

As for me, you know I am the best out there to talk food heheheh focus is on "talk" then food because if food is not to tell a story then a very important ingredient is missing and it is the one ingredient that makes all the difference. So I shall be demonstrating cooking for photography, why the eye eats first and hopefully sharing with you the way to tell those stories through the food you prepare and eventually photograph and share.

I will also be contributing to your goodie bags as always with tasters of my most recent food stories and the precious Family Farm Palestinian Olive Oil.

So in short if you have missed this one#DubaiFoto2014, make sure you don't again and that you join us next year in #DubaiFoto2015