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Saturday, 25 July 2015

Pickles & Cookbook

A couple of days ago, I dropped by Baker & Spice Dubai and found my friends having lunch and devouring my pickles. Truly nothing more pleasant in any given day than to find people singing praise for your flavours! So as we sat, ate and chatted I recorded this tiny video (meant to be comic, however heartfelt) and here you go: "Pickles & Cookbook"  lol :))


Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Mountain People’s Baqlawa

This is Baqlawa with a modern twist. And this is the inspiration behind this recipe:
I wanted to create a less sweet with more nutritional value dessert that is also traditional-inspired, however, better looking one with a story. Not much to ask right?
The outcome was, this decadent, apple-sweetened and aromatic dessert with way less calories (than the original Baqlawa) and way more nutritional value. A very impressive dessert when plated that told the story of mountain ingredients and sparked conversation whenever served. An all round pleasant food experience!
  • Making your own applesauce completely improves the flavours. Also allows you to control the aromatics used. When making your own, reserve the water of the first boil. Then simmer that water to reduce and thicken and drizzle that water over the dessert as you would with Qater (sugar syrup). Not only is it a less sweet and way healthier substitute to sugar syrup, but that concentration of apple flavor is just heavenly!

Serves 6

1 recipe or jar applesauce
1 Packet Filo Pastry, cut into 3 cm wide rectangular strips
300g walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
200g toasted almonds and roughly chopped (optional)
100g toasted pine nuts, roughly chopped (optional)
2 tbsp honey
2 tsp powdered cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground cardamom
150g butter, melted
100g brown sugar

For Cubed Apple Garnish
3 apples, peeled, finely cubed and placed in acidulated water
1 tbsp mixed brown sugar and cinnamon powder
2 tbsp butter
1 spring worth of fresh thyme leaves

Ashta (Arabic  clotted cream) Whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream

If making your own, then start by making the applesauce. Once ready, set aside to cool.

In a small bowl mix together the brown sugar and powdered cinnamon, set aside.

Line the baking tray with parchment paper and brush lightly with butter. Brush the filo rectangles with melted butter then sprinkle with the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Stack a few brushed sheets together and place on the lined sheet. Bake in a hot oven until golden and crisp.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl mix together the chopped toasted nuts and sprinkle with the ground spices and mix all to coat. Add the honey and mix again making sure to coat all very well. set aside.

Make the cubed apple garnish
Drain the apples, sprinkle with the sugar and cinnamon mix and toss to coat. Heat the butter along with thyme leaves and shallow fry the apples with the butter until golden.

To plate, pour 1 tbsp applesauce at the centre. Place one stack of the crisp filo rectangles, then top with the nut mixture, then with another stack of filo. Place 1 tsp of the cubed apple mixture on the side. Top the centre with a quenelle of ashta, whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream. Drizzle with concentrated apple water or honey.

Serve immediately.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

'Paris Meet Jerusalem' Savoury Tart

A Bake of Eggs, Potatoes, Goat’s Cheese, Black Olives & Artichokes; this tart combines the ingredients shared between Paris & Jerusalem. Also this recipe fuses two classic techniques and recipes from both cuisines that share more ‘in common’ than ‘different’ and as such a natural combination that lead to a blissful marriage.

Mffaraket Batata is a Palestinian dish of baked eggs with roasted potatoes usually had with toasted bread; and Quiche as you know is also a version of baked eggs in a dough shell to which you can add other vegetables and aromatics too. From these similarities this recipe was inspired.

  • I make my original ‘Paris Meet Jerusalem Tart’ using a large farmer’s bread roll. I cut out the top part and hallow out the inside leaving the roll’s shell in tact. I then use that as tart shell instead of a short crust shell. Looks and tastes heavenly too. 
  • For a gluten-free option remove flour and any wheat from the recipe and make a potato or chickpea crust instead. Another option is spelt (aka farrow) which is a perfect substitute for gluten-free baking.

Serves 6-8

For Pastry
185g all-purpose flour
100g cold unsalted butter, cubed
2-3 tbsp ice cold water
60g grated Parmesan cheese

For the Artichoke & Goat’s Cheese Filling
150g Soft Goat’s Cheese
100g Pitted Black Olives, halved or roughly chopped
200g Marinated/cooked Artichokes, halved
2 potatoes, peeled, cubed and roasted with olive oil until golden
1 Ltr double cream
3 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp zaatar or thyme
Salt & Black pepper to taste

Start by making the pastry
Place the flour, butter and grated cheese in the food processor. Then pulse until the mixture resembles crumbs. Turn the processor on medium speed and (working quickly) while motor still running, gradually add the water (1 tbsp at a time) until the dough clings and resembles a ball. Turn the machine off and transfer the dough to a clean work surface.

Gather the dough together using your fingertips and wrap it with cling film. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Blind bake the pastry:
Preheat your oven to 450°F/280°C. Lightly grease a loose-bottom pie plate or tartlets tray if making mini pies.
Roll the pastry (around ¼ inch thick). Line the greased pie plate or tartlet tray holes with the pastry and trim off any excess. Top with a sheet of baking paper and baking beans then bake the pastry in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Remove the baking beans and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F/180°C.

In a separate bowl mix together the beaten eggs, zaatar, cream and soft goat’s cheese seasoned with salt and black pepper. Pour this mixture over the blind baked pastry, filling only halfway. Line your ingredients (potatoes, artichokes, olives, and a few crumbles of goat’s cheese) over the cream in any design you like.

Bake the tart for 25 minutes for the large one or 15 minutes for the smaller portions or until the mixture is set (firm not wet) and light golden.

Serve along side a salad of assorted leaves dressed with a simple vinaigrette (1/4 cup lemon juice, ¼ cup olive oil, 1 tsp mustard, 1 tsp honey).

Monday, 13 July 2015

Bite Size - Mafrooket Fostoq (Arabic Dessert - Pistachio Paste Filled with Cream)

A traditional Levantine dessert that is both very famous and really delicious. In this dessert, pistachio is the star but as in most Arabic desserts semolina is a very traditional flour to use instead of the more modern wheat-based white flour used everywhere these days. Also as all traditional Arabic sweets are they are drenched with sugar syrup and therefore very sweet. I have adapted the recipe here with less sugar syrup than traditionally is used, and I even use raw honey to make this at times.

Try it, you will love it.
  • You can melt some chocolate and dip the bottoms in the melted chocolate and leave to set before serving. You can serve half the quantity chocolate dipped and the other half plain for the purists. 
  • Keep Mafrookeh refrigerated when stored if using fresh Ashta, otherwise the Ashta will spoil.

¾ cup fine semolina
2 tbsp butter
3 ½ cups peeled pistachio, finely ground
½ cup icing sugar
2 tbsp soft butter
4 tbsp rose water
2 tbsp sugar syrup (recipe on this link)

Toast the Semolina until golden. Mix with 2 tbsp butter and set aside to cool.

In a food processor, process together the finely ground pistachio, icing sugar and cooled semolina mixture. Add the remaining 2 tbsp butter and continue to process. While the motor is running add the sugar syrup and rose water, process until you achieve a smooth sticky paste.

Stir over low heat for 2 minutes.

Shape the mafrookeh to the desired shape and while in the mold, make a well in the centre and fill it with fresh Ashta (Arabic clotted cream), or Muhalabiyah (thickened milk Pudding) then tuck the top over the cream filling completely enclosing the filling.

Unmold and top with a small piping of Ashta on top, sprinkle with sliced almonds and pistachios and 1 edible flower or edible rose petal.

Serve cold and enjoy with tea ;)

Friday, 10 July 2015

Where to Stay When In Tuscany? Paterna Organic Farm & Winery (with pics from my stay there)

#WhereToStay when in #Tuscany if you are a #NatureSeeker

During my latest trip to Italy with the Italian Cuisine In The World Forum, I was meant to meet various local artisanal producers, get to know them, know their products and what makes them stand out. I had been so lucky to meet some amazing people, and get to know about some really outstanding artisanal produce as well as have the pleasure to stay at some of these artisanal production farms and residences. One such amazing stay was at the Organic Farm Paterna. I was most happy to get to know about Paterna because - besides the amazing produce - it's story and philosophy touch on everything I love and care for. 

Here is my full review and thoughts on that time, space and connection...

Let me go straight to it: One of my top recommends for places to stay when in Tuscany is the Organic Olive Oil Farm and Vineyard where I stayed last week. The farm is known as #Paterna. The farm is in Tuscany and exactly located between Arezzo and Florence. The area is a typical Tuscan landscape all of which compiles a natural reserve of medieval villages also containing many Renaissance Arts and Romanesque churches.

Around the farm there is a garden and many paths for hiking each leading a whole different landscape and area for exploration. Guests can relax in the garden with the farm's very friendly 2 dogs and 2 cats or as they go on a hike and collect various seasonal products. They can also ask for guidance to learn the path to nearing villages, or even ask the staff to inform them about the area's different plants/produce...

The farm contains
  • 2 renovated and independent apartments, each with a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen (recommended for long stay. Say spending your whole summer vacation there)
  • 3 double rooms with bathroom (total 15 sleeps)
  • A camping site at the large lawn with olive trees that has 6 pitches for tents or campers.
Their rooms are minimal, however, gorgeous as you can see in the pics below. They also do not have TV sets (who needs TV in such set up, really?). I love it. Absolutely the place to be when you need to relax and clear your mind, when you are looking to reconnect with nature and natural life, also when you are looking for those creative juices to start flowing... Say when you want to write a book maybe...
here are some pics of my room there

Paterna's Production & Heritage

Paterna are proud of their certified organic status and happily discuss with their guests and customers their organic farming practice. They confirm that nothing about their practice harms the environment in any way. In fact, they proudly tell you that they consciously have decided to keep their old olive trees despite the area fastly moving into more wine production and thus uprooting many olive trees.

"Because wine makes more money (the return of wine is bigger than that of olive oil) more and more farmers in the area started uprooting olive trees and replacing them with grape vines. As opposed to olive oil, wine can be aged and returns the investment after a few years, sometimes making more profit as it ages while olive oil must be sold within the year of production. This makes it more appealing to farmers and therefore, this area, which was originally and naturally more of an olive tree area had more and more become more about the grape vines and wine than about olive trees and olive oil.
We wanted to stick to our old and natural olive trees and wanted to continue producing our fine quality organic olive oil along with our also natural and original grape vines. We never uprooted our olive trees for vines and do not intend on doing so" 
As I was informed by Paterna Staff members 

One can't help but respect and appreciate the notion of preserving the culture and heritage of a place.  This is afterall the story of that space and those people. I found their philosophy to be very commendable and it makes this specific farm all the more appealing to me.

With that said my admiration for Paterna took an even higher note when I found out that they not only care about nature and preserving the heritage of the whole area all while providing their customers with really amazing olive oil and other products, however, they are also very proudly involved in social responsibility and giving back to the community to which they belong. They are proudly committed to working with people with special needs. The farm is even equipped to cater for special needs and especially movement impaired individuals, which I have come to learn is quite rare in the rural areas and the countryside of Italy. As I learnt, the disabled mostly can't take part in countryside activities and hardly can they enjoy being out and about in the countryside as the natural terrain is difficult to maneuver and most properties are not equipped to accommodate their special needs. Furthermore, being part of the Societa Agricola Cooperativa they have a committed kitchen that cooks local produce as healthy organic meals to be distributed to children's nurseries and especially for the disabled children. As such they provide the healthy, organic, wholesome meals to these nurseries. Therefore, their kitchen which used to be the farm's small restaurant is now unable to cater for the farm's guests and instead caters to the area's children's daily healthy meals.

They encourage guests to gather produce, fresh vegetables and fruits from the farm and its surrounds and cook outdoors together with friends as the traditional Tuscan way of eating happens to be.

Italian Chef Giuseppe Atzori of Vista Real/ Guatemala, his fabulous wife (both of whom stayed with me at Paterna
and whose company I enjoyed tremendously) along with the fabulous two ladies running the farm. Having Espresso and biscottis before heading out to Mercato Centrale (florence) for that day's activities

Paterna's Shop & Products
Paterna has been organic for over 20 years. The farm offers two main products Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Wine. However, they offer organic seasonal produce such as: Honey, seasonal vegetables and Salami.

In terms of wine, Paterna grows a host of indigenous grapes such as Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Colorino, Trebbiano and Malvasia. The farm is greatly interested in recouping indigenous varieties, such as Pugnitello, and are one of the few wineries that grow this ancient grape. The terroir is a mixture of sand and fine clay, where Sangiovese flourishes also because the farm is located near the Pratomagno mountain which serves as a barrier from the winds of the Northeast. With that said, the weather does fluctuate between day and night. All these factors create a unique characteristic to Paterna wines (Chianti Wine, Vin Santo).

here is a small video I took on the first morning there along with the text I posted that day on social networks.


After spending all of yesterday tasting unbelievable produce of different artisanal producers we were divided into small groups and each group went to spend the night at the farm/ producer's home... I was lucky enough to be at the organic olives farm and vineyard 'Paterna', where they make outstanding olive oil. They also have strawberries, and other fruits in small amounts. How fantastic is this morning, where you can actually hear nature converse with you? Along with the crisp Tuscan morning breeze!!! This earth has been greatly blessed. I LOVE ITALY #ArtisanalProducers #Organic #Italy #ItalianCuisineWorldSummit #ICWS #FifthItalianCuisineInTheWorldForum #CulinaryTravel #DimaSharif #OnTheRoad #Stories of #Food #Friendship #adventure #OnThePathOfFood #EXPO #Milano #MilanExpo #Florence #Tuscany #Market #Produce 

After spending all of yesterday tasting unbelievable produce of different artisanal producers we were divided into small groups and each group went to spend the night at the farm/ producer's home... I was lucky enough to be at the organic olives farm and vineyard 'Paterna', where they make outstanding olive oil. They also have strawberries, and other fruits in small amounts. How fantastic is this morning, where you can actually hear nature converse with you? Along with the crisp Tuscan morning breeze!!! This earth has been greatly blessed. I LOVE ITALY #ArtisanalProducers #Organic #Italy #ItalianCuisineWorldSummit #ICWS #FifthItalianCuisineInTheWorldForum #CulinaryTravel #DimaSharif #OnTheRoad #Stories of #Food #Friendship #adventure #OnThePathOfFood #EXPO #Milano #MilanExpo #Florence #Tuscany #Market #Produce 

Isn't it gorgeous!

If you are going to Italy this summer, I absolutely recommend that you take a few days to go to Paterna as a treat for your soul. The farm is gorgeous, the oil is tasty and waking up to the sound of birds and hues of blue and green is just good for you however way you look at it. You will thank me if you do so go for it :))

Learn more about Paterna and contact them on

Relative Links