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Saturday, 31 January 2015

My Take On Flavour Development & Matters Of The Palate (a quick cooking class)

Going straight to the point...
The Very Mysterious Talent of Tasting!

Often times, when we taste food, our palate can tell if something is missing, or if there is too much of anything. We can immediately tell if the food needs more salt, less garlic, or even a squeeze of lemon... At times, you might even think, “something is missing”, without really knowing exactly what the food is missing! You see, "cooking is innate and the palate is the expert" as Sir Gordon Ramsey Says, therefore, allow it to be your guide.

Despite the world over complicating matters of the palate, by insinuating that one must know every flavour under the sun, and must be able to tell what is what without looking, furthermore, that the palate must be of professional experience; it is all not that complicated really! We all can taste food, and anyone who likes food and enjoys eating knows exactly what they are looking for. That is precisely why we reach for that lemon wedge, add a sprinkling of salt or pepper, or even add nuts to a dish, not only for flavour but also for texture. So, yes, there are palates that are more sophisticated. There are individuals whose palates are extremely sensitive to flavours and others who are naturally talented in creating unusual flavour combinations... but those are not the only ones who can cook. Each one of us knows a good eating experience, and we all have a vision or a memory that we are trying to replicate and we all have palates that can taste and tell whether a combination works or doesn’t.

Flavour Development

There is no better judge to help you achieve good flavours than your own individual palate. Therefore, and most importantly, in order to cook flavoursome concoctions
you must get in the habit of attentive tasting and smelling of your food while cooking as well as eating. There is no two ways about it: Season, taste then adjust. Add aromatics, taste and adjust. 
Also note that tasting the food after each addition will, overtime, make you an expert in creative flavour combinations. Because that exercise will show you how the flavour changes after any addition, as well as how different ingredients taste when combined.

Tasting does not happen only in the mouth, smelling is half the tasting experience.

Smell your food, smell the ingredients and smell the combinations, then taste. This is how you teach your palate the art of tasting. This is your only guaranteed path to flavour success.

Non-Professional Yet Effective Training

With that said, training your palate makes a huge difference. Approaching food open-mindedly and continuously trying new ingredients, flavours and textures always helps. Use your eating experiences as training opportunities.
Be aware of the food you eat. Notice the overall flavour palate and try to figure out which flavours are present. Is the food spiced (not necessarily hot)? If it is, then try to figure out which spices have been used. Are there hints of lemon or vinegar - sour? Is there sugar, honey or hints of cinnamon - sweet? Can you spot olives or zest – bitter? How about the seasoning – salt? Is the food well seasoned, over seasoned or under seasoned? You will find that the more conscious you are about the food you eat, the more expert your palate becomes.

In Conclusion

Experiment continuously with ingredients, flavours and combinations to find out what goes with what.
Keep in mind, that while we all cook somewhat similar recipes, the outcome always varies from one cook to another, as when we cook for others, we are sharing our vision and take on the recipe. Therefore, don’t be overly anxious about changing the recipe and adding your own touch and flavour to the dish. After all, it is your vision and you are generously sharing it with others through the food you cook and serve.

Have a flavourful day ;)

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Traditional Arabic Cookies Recipe: Oyoun Al Maha ( Eye Of The Gazelle)

This recipe belongs to the traditional Arabic desserts section. As such, it depends on sugar syrup for the sweet flavour. You can find the sugar syrup recipe on this link. If you wish to reduce its sweetness, add 100g of sugar to the ingredients and omit the sugar syrup.

You Need
1 cup semolina
1 cup flour
100g butter, softened
1/2 cup yogurt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Mix all the dry ingredients together then rub them with the softened butter. 

Add the yogurt and mix well into the dough, then knead. (This step can be carried out using the stand mixer with the dough hook)

Divide the dough into small balls, then roll into small tubes or as I tell my kids: little snakes! Press the edges together, keeping the centre separated to form a shape that resembles an eye.

Line the shaped cookies on a parchment covered baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven (350F/ 180C) until golden.

Remove from the oven and drench with sugar syprup while still hot, then leave to cool completely. Once cooled, line on a serving plate and keep covered. 
Lasts up to 1 week.

Devour with tea :)

Friday, 16 January 2015

Quick, super easy & delicious - Lady Fish my flavour of the week

I love lady fish and can never get bored with this almost dainty fish! Super easy to make but fantastic to have! 

Clean the fish well, pat dry then rub with a wedge of lemon. Coat with flour and fry golden. Make sure not to overcook, there is nothing worse than overcooked fish!

Serve hot with Tahina sauce: Tahina mixed with lemon juice to form a paste thinned slightly with water. Season with salt and black pepper and for extra zing add finely chopped green chilies to the sauce. 

Dip and eat. heavenly!!

Monday, 12 January 2015

Are You Bored Already??!! 15 Ways To Have More Fun Cooking!

My bistro twist on an otherwise old and forgotten Arabic classic!

Everything is more fun when it’s your choice, and not something you feel forced to do. This also applies to cooking. So instead of carrying out this "chore" Daily, why not think of it as your special time everyday, where you relax, shut the world off and enjoy an activity that is so rewarding. You will see that cooking is an amazing De-stress Activity!

Here are some tips that might help you enjoy a tad more...

The most fun in cooking is how it lends itself to your creativity. Try your own recipe variations and new foods. Cook a familiar dish in a completely new way. I like having my class participants add just one new spice or ingredient to something they already know how to make. You won’t believe the excitement that practice generates! A very familiar soup tastes really different with a teaspoon of curry instead of the same old all spice. You can experiment with less common herbs such as rosemary, lemongrass, lavender, tarragon or sumac. Or you can experiment with spices…etc. try the same recipe with different flavours and see how it completely transforms, giving you many options out of 1.

Enjoy the aromas, colors, and textures of your cooking. Not only will this make cooking more enjoyable, but over time this increases your understanding of ingredients, textures and flavours, which will allow you to create more interesting meals after all. Sample the foods as you cut and cook them... Smell the spices before you add them and taste before and after to learn the difference.

Take a cooking class. There is nothing like acquiring new skills and know how to ignite your passion for cooking. The more you learn the better you cook and the more interested you become.. It is a cycle that can only lead to better food. Classes are also a fun way to meet 'common-interest' people and share cooking knowledge and tips.

Make your kitchen the centre of your home, where everyone wants to gather. This will make you feel less isolated in the kitchen and will keep it as the family hub, which will eventually get your kids even more enthusiastic about food and less fussy as they are more involved. A fun kitchen is always a happy place where memories are made.
Make a day a week for cooking with close family members or friends. There is nothing more fun than
cooking with people we love. I cook with my husband everyday and cook with my sister almost every week. I frequently invite a few friends over and we cook together, am telling you there is nothing more fun. You get to socialize, catch up and not only that, but cooking in a group takes away from the daunting time required by demanding recipes such as making Kubbeh or pastries for instance. This means you can produce more food for later use and still have fun making it.

Always turn up the volume when in the kitchen, don’t cook in silence! Music really lifts up your spirit, puts you in the mood and instantly transforms the experience to more fun. When you are in a good mood you cook great food. So turn it up like no body’s business! You might even want to sing at the top of your lungs, why keep your talent confined to the shower curtain and walls!!
Cook the food that excites you. There is no rule that you should stick to any specific cuisine or food type. Change is always exciting both to you and your family.

Cook for others. The act of preparing a meal for friends or family can make cooking feel more fun as well as meaningful. Even if it’s not a special occasion, inviting a couple of people over to share your home-cooked meal can give you some incentive to make something fabulous. Also throwing a bash for the family and gathering over food is perhaps the most fun activity ever.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Even if you think you are not a good cook, everyone starts somewhere and no one was borne already a Chef! The more you cook the better you become, and the more you mess up, the more you learn about what works and what not! Don’t be too serious, cooking is fun and is not meant for scoring! Although you will hit the Jack pot once you reach a point where you can whip up amazing flavours once you become experienced.

Cook a theme dinner. Really, this is one of those things that gets me super excited about cooking. Pick a fun cuisine like Spanish tapas or Thai and go home with it. You will enjoy the process and the planning and your family and guests will have a great time too!

Create a signature dish for yourself, something you perfect and become known for, this usually creates enthusiasm as you get excited about people’s reactions and usually leads to more signature dishes.
Cook seasonally. Boredom and repetition are what take the fun out of cooking. Take these away by challenging yourself to cook only what’s in season. This way you force the creative juices to flow and who does not enjoy a challenge?! Besides seasonal flavours are not matched with thawed flavours that are jet lagged from long travel!!!

The fun of cooking starts way before the actual chopping and mixing! Make grocery shopping fun by allowing yourself to be inspired instead of planned. Try the farmers' market, where you get to sample the produce, meet the farmers, and ask them for tips on how to best use their produce… Farmer markets are so much fun and really inspiring, there is no way the food you cook with those ingredients is going to be boring!

Ask your mom for a favourite childhood recipe from when you were little. Not only will it bring back so many memories and get you excited, but it will also make your mum happy for showing her you appreciate the meals she cooked for you as a child :)) Mums love it when we ask for their advice.
Take your cooking to the next level. Get motivated and excite yourself with planning a whole menu that works together! Nothing excites me more than thinking of the flavours and matching the courses and planning a memorable meal that my family and guests will enjoy and most importantly make them look forward to the next time they come over!

Gather, Cook, Eat & Enjoy the company of those you cherish...

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Operating Specialty Cuisine Restaurants Abroad

When it comes to establishing and operating specialty cuisine restaurants abroad, one of the main concerns will be sourcing ingredients. Ingredients despite having the same namings at times, will taste quite different from one region to the other. Different terroir produces different produce and besides the variation in flavours, the produce can sometimes even behave differently in cooking. While today most produce is flown all across the world and specialty suppliers are capable of supplying you with just about anything that grows under the sun, to the restaurants and chefs who are considering seasonality, who are greener and "local" oriented, this does not make the cut. In fact, this type of produce is what they try to avoid. Instead they would go through a full exploration of an area's produce and research its workability with their intended menus and adjust their offerings as well as adapt their recipes accordingly.
On this link: See how Baker & Spice Dubai tackled this when they first arrived in Dubai from London.
Some may argue that this leaves no place to authentic cuisine, however, every chef I chatted with about this concern have all agreed that it is actually workable. A tomato is a tomato, they all seem to agree. Yes it tastes different, and at times has different consistencies, but a chef has all the tools to adapt and adjust any recipe to work and produce authentic results.

The authenticity is more threatened by infusing ingredients or produce that are non-existent in the cuisine and terroir of the cuisine's original region. It can also be lost with the use of some foreign techniques to the original cuisine, a good example of which are the very new Risottos that have been brought into Arabic cuisine lately. If people continue to produce these, then maybe in the future they will become integrated into the cuisine and considered part of the influenced authentic cuisine, however at this point these stand as fusions. 

With that said, using round zucchinis instead of Kusa in the making of the famous "Stuffed Kusa" dish, will still produce the same results. The recipe and cooking technique will have to be slightly adjusted as the skin of the round zucchinis is softer and more fragile than that of Kusa, however, nothing that drastically changes the dish, its flavours or authentic associations.

Ingredients - from flavour, texture, resemblance or difference from the original terroir's ingredients - are a major element to consider when thinking of establishing a specialty cuisine restaurant abroad.  Not just flavour and function wise but also from a cost perspective as flown in ingredients are definitely folds more expensive than local ingredients, which in the end affects a restaurant's bottom line and ultimately its market share. Perhaps then it is worth considering purchasing local produce?

During the Italian Cuisine World Summit that took place in Dubai last November, establishing Italian restaurants abroad and ensuring their success, was one of the topics expansively discussed by the chefs and restauranteurs. During my chat with with Master Chef Walter Potenza we touched on this topic, especially that he is no stranger to the whole 'specialty cuisine restaurant abroad' concept. After all Chef Walter left Italy to the United States of America when he was only 18 years of age and through the years he'd successfully established himself as a Master Italian Chef and an authority on Italian cuisine. Watch the video below and listen to him explain his take on sourcing ingredients for 'Potenza' (his Italian Restaurant in the United States). In his case and point of view, it is about Italian cuisine restaurants, however this could be applicable to any specialty cuisine restaurant.

I would love to hear from those who are experienced in "Specialty Cuisine Restaurant Abroad" their take on this. What do you guys advise aspiring restauranteurs in terms of ingredients? Do you encourage local sourcing? Or do you advise them to go the purist way of ingredients from the original terroir? I am sure your experience and advise will be inspiring and hugely appreciated.