Dec 20, 2012

A Birthday Tea Party to Remember!

When Seher told me she wanted a morning tea party to celebrate her birthday, there was only one place I knew would do justice to the menu, Baker and Spice in Dubai! I spoke with Yael Mejia, culinary mastermind behind this wholesome Dubai concept and we collaborated on the perfect selection of food that was appropriate for the occasion.  There was plenty of food and enough variety to appeal to all palettes, including eggs, muesli, cured tuna, and fresh fruits.  We kept the beverages simple and served cappuccinos and espressos compliments of the Nespresso machine as well as iced citrus tea in mason jars with the colorful striped straws.  
 Pictured below was a special request by the birthday girl, a seasonally inspired corn scone with pulled chicken and cranberry chutney.  The scone was crumbly and soft on the inside, but had a perfectly crunchy exterior that provided that necessary element to balance out this yummy original dish. This was the most popular item on the table and rightly so, as it was aesthetically adorable looking and scrumptious.  
 Taking all things seasonal and fresh and capturing the true essence of a morning treat was this roasted vegetable and poached egg dish topped with a spicy aioli.  The vegetables were beautifully roasted and seasoned. The perfectly poached farm fresh eggs had a yummy runny yolk, which melded harmoniously with the spicy aioli, then coated the vegetables and hit the spot.  We served this dish with home-made bagel chips to give it that crunch factor which balances out the rest of the soft textures. 
This item consists of a couple of new techniques being implemented by the Baker and Spice team.  A house  cured tuna, thinly shaved and delicately placed on a caper and dill infused home-made cream cheese, nestled on top of griddle toasted english muffins made from scratch.  My mouth is watering just writing about it.  A unique taste and a unique twist on the original bagel with lox and cream cheese.  
Pictured below is a hearty and elegant salad with the freshest pears I have ever tasted, sitting on a bed of mixed greens and covered with heaps of creamy goat's cheese, toasted walnuts, all tossed in a lemon Parmesan dressing.  The freshness and seasonality of a salad such as this makes it almost feel like a dessert!
 Now these little beauties were a special request by yours truly!  I am a pumpkin fanatic to say the least. I am not afraid to admit that I am obsessed with the spiced rich developed flavors of this sweet treat which I have grown to LOVE over the past couple of years.  When Yael informed me they had a new pumpkin cupcake on the menu at Baker and Spice, how could I resist. Not only did these cupcakes have a moist and delicate consistency, but they were filled with sweet and creamy center and topped with a spiced frosting that literally melted in your mouth.  Needless to say, there weren't too many leftovers of these little guys.  Perhaps it's a good thing they are only I seasonal item.  If  they were around year round, I would probably turn into a pumpkin as a result of frequent indulgence. 
 It wouldn't be a birthday party with out a cake, and if I know my friend Seher, she is the cake queen!  Notorious for ordering the best cakes in town from New York to Dubai, I had to make this one extra special. Yael and I discussed a couple of different options, and she suggested this chocolate decadence cake  which was layered with chocolate and coffee ganache and a meringue center.  The birthday girl was impressed as were the rest of the ladies,  the presentation alone was whimsical enough for anyone to fall in love.....with chocolate! 

The very happy birthday girl and myself hosted a lovely morning for the ladies of Dubai.  Seher and I love to throw a good party and between the two of us, we have really raised the bar on the food component for gatherings the city.  If anyone ever attends an event at Seher's or mine, whether it's a birthday, BBQ, or Thanksgiving, they know they will be going home with full bellies and big smiles, because that's the motto we stick by! Good food, and plenty of it plus the pleasure of great company including friends and loved ones is the winning combination for an outstanding event.

Dec 19, 2012

Eclectic bites at Rhodes Twenty10

Hmmmmm, where to begin? The meal at Rhodes Twenty10 was highly anticipated.  After meeting with the man, Gary Rhodes several times, and learning about his food philosophy as well as his innovative approach to modern British fair, I had high expectation of this restaurant.  After meeting the head chef Lee Frederick at the International Fine Food Festival in Dubai, the deal was sealed! I made my way down to Le Meridien hotel in Dubai's Marina area and entered another world as I set foot into this funky space.  We enjoyed the ambiance for a bit before sitting down for our meal.  The menu was eclectic, but it all seemed to make sense.  Elegant comfort foods from all over the world, presented in one modern and chic menu.  

We ordered a couple of  starters and the first to arrive at the table were these Crispy Duck Pastillas. A pastilla is a traditional Berber Moroccan dish, along the lines of an elaborate meat pie. The true Moroccan way is with a pigeon stuffing, however chicken is a common substitute. Chef Lee did justice to the Gary Rhodes version with tender and seasoned succulent duck with a mix of sweet and savory spices.  These were the perfect combination of flavors and textures and a warm welcome to our meal at Rhodes Twenty10. 

Next up were these Napoleon like stacks of some of my most favorite ingredients in the world, from Avocado, to Crab, and even Sesame Phyllo, how could you go wrong! The texture of the avocado was light and airy and the taste had a salty citrus hint to it.  The crab underneath was sweet and creamy, and when you took that perfect bite along with the buttery phyllo wafer, its was a wonderful balance of flavors and textures. 
Chef Lee really spoiled us and sent out the Rhodes Twenty10 signature starter, a chicken and prawn satay with a spicy peanut sauce.  The chicken and shrimp were cooked and seasoned perfectly and even along with the peanut sauce, it was a treat to enjoy something so Asian in such a unique setting. 
The star of the show however was this burger.Not just any burger, the Rhodes Twenty10 Burger.  Made with hand cut fillet, on a roasted confit potato with a perfect seared foie gras on top, this goes down as one of the most delicious burgers I've ever tasted.  It could be considered sacrilege to serve a burger without a bun, but once you bite into this juicy piece of meat with the rich foie gras juices infusing into it, you forget all about those silly little carbs, and tuck into something much more magnificent. 

Now after being served such hearty portions of food, it was difficult to even think about dessert, but Chef Lee was not going to let us leave without a taste of all of the signature sweets on offer at the restaurant.  He served us this tasting platter consisting of Sticky Toffee Pudding, Strawberry Shortcake, and Banoffee Cheesecake.  It's giving me a sugar rush just thinking about it.  They were all flavorful and delicious, however, I am partial to sticky toffee puddings, but the banoffee cheesecake and strawberry shortcake were a close second. 
The presentation was sublime and I have to say Chef Lee really did out do himself.  My expectations were very high going into this dinner, and they delivered some seriously good grub.  I look forward to my next visit, and will have to workout intensely for a week prior so I don't feel guilty about indulging in the elegant comfort food prepared with passion by the talented Rhodes Twenty10 team. 

Nov 29, 2012

A Quick Trip Home, but a Feast to Remember

My family has a reputation for not only being food aficionados, but also for preparing some of the tastiest meals in town.  With highly developed palettes and a passion for the culinary arts, cooking isn't just a past time, it's a right of passage.  My recent trip back home proved that again, when my sister stepped up to the plate.  She had never really expressed any interest in anything food related other than eating it, however over the past couple of years, with a big sister like me who is making a career out of food, she finally gave in. 

Sara decided it was time to embrace her natural talents and prepared a feast for the family.  On the menu were crab cakes with a spicy aioli, an herb crusted rack of lamb with a mint pesto, and Parmesan peas with caramelized onions.  Impressive menu, and even more so the confidence to pull it off with out any prior culinary training. 
 My adorable niece presenting her mom's dish.  We are starting them off young these days, with routine lessons on food, flavoring, textures, and ingredients.  Leila seems to be picking things up pretty quickly.  She's already got the developed palatte and is willing to try anything new.  Not too many 6 year olds I know that are as adveturous as she is when it comes to food tasting. 
 Slicing up the rack of lamb cooked to a medium perfection, it seemd to come with such ease.  She's really getting into it, and blew us all away with her time management skills as well as her attention to detail. I am proud that Sara, along with every other member of my family is as enthusiastic as I am about the culinary arts.  We share this passion and skill as a family and enjoy any festive occassion revolving around food.   
 Plating up and the final dish.  This was deifnitly a feast we all whole heartedly enjoyed, and will be remembered forever.  Thanks Sara for your hard work and effort in preparing such a fantastic meal.  Those rich and hearty flavors along side excellent quality of ingredients can be compared to any restaurant meal.  I'm looking forward to my next visit home, and for another gastronomical experience shared by my family and loved ones. 

Mughlai Style Cooking Lesson

Chef Akhtar of the Islamabad Marriot's Dum Pukht Restaurant has been trained in the art of Mughlai style of cooking.  This particular cuisine focuses on flavor development using nuts, creams, cheeses, fruits, and spices.  Staying true to its origins in preparation, execution and presentation, he doesn't stray much from the authenticity of these dishes. 

Chef Akhtar kept me busy for two days, showing me the Ins and Outs of his meticulously organized kitchen.  We explored everything from grilled seafood to biryani, and with no culinary stone unturned, chef Akhtar kept me intrigued by his unique and in depth approach to flavor development without an overwhelming use of spice common in other south asian cuisine. 
Featured below is a  popular item known as Kagzi Kebab, a chicken drumstick stuffed with seasoned chicken mince marinated in a saffron cream sauce. The stuffed chicken drumsticks are then grilled over an open flame for maximum flavor incorporating the smoky aroma of the charred wood complimenting the marinade and natural chicken flavors.

Next on the list was Lababi Kabab, a Mughlai signature style kebab. The base for this kebab is a mutton mince combined with cottage cheese and other aromatic spices.  Once all the ingredients are combined, the tricky part is actually skewering the meet, which requires a certain level of skill and technique.  It can be time consuming, because it is always done by hand, and it must be equally dispersed from top to bottom for the most even cooking.  Chef Akhtar is so seasoned, he could probably do it blind folded, and even informed me, that during banquet and wedding season, they make thousands of these a day!!!

Delicately frying away, we have the Hara Fried Fish. Hara which translates to green, refers to the color of the marinade the fish is coated in.  It consists of green chilli, mint, coriander, and green capsicum, plus all the other spices and seasoning.  The other secret ingredient chef Akhtar  tipped me off on was Ajwain, also known as carom seed or caraway, commonly found in seafood dishes.
Here we have one of my favorites I learned on this cooking lesson, a dish fit for kings called Raseley Jheengey.  This particular dish is unique because of the sauce it's served in.  A white sauce made with sesame, white onion, and cashews which are slow cooked for an hour then pureed with a touch of milk into a creamy delicious base.  The Shrimp are quickly poached in a lime and ginger and then added to the sauce which is sauteed with ajwain, ginger and garlic, chili flakes and finished off with lemon. A flavorful and rich dish suitable for special occasions!
This next dish is my second favorite, I remember enjoying this starter at the restaurant when I last dined there, and the combination of toasted sesame with cream and saffron crusted on the shrimp was just heavenly!  I could've made a meal out of it, but decided I needed to give everything else a fighting chance. Chef Akhtar has really outdone himself on this particular plate from the technique used to the chutney flower on the presentation plate, this dish is a winner all around. 
An interesting approach to a traditional South Indian dish, was chef Akhtar's version of a Dosa.  Unlike the south Indian type, this was made in a smaller crepe like size.  The crepe shell it self is made with a paste of white lentils, coconut milk powder, matray powder (dried yellow peas), rice flour, corn flour and egg, cooked on a griddle pan, then rolled with sauteed spicy vegetables, rolled again and pan fried.  This preparation is labor intensive, but the tasty bites are worth the effort and wait. 
Last but not least, the infamous biryani, which every ethnic contingent in the region claims as their own.  Chef Aktar prepared the Sindhi style of Biryani, which is a balance of sweet and savory using dried plums, cashew nuts, saffron, and chillies.  The biryani he prepared today used a special type of rice known as *Sella, which adds a beautiful color and aroma to the dish.  This had to be one of the tastiest and most aromatic biryanis I have ever enjoyed.  Thanks to Chef Akhtar who stayed true to the dish, and showed me the real way to make such an authentic delicacy. 

*Many a people have the misconception that Sella Rice is a different variety of Rice. This is not so, Sella is a Rice Milled differently i.e. the Paddy (Raw Material) is steamed and then dried for milling. The yellow color, which it adapts, is because of this process. The color can be also be darkened according to the requirements. Any rice can be milled with this process basmati or non- basmati rice. The advantage of this rice is that on post cooking each grain separates out perfectly hence it is widely used in preparing Biryani or Pulao (

The Dum Pukht restaurant is a landmark at the Marriott and Pearl Continental hotels in Pakistan.  It produces a variety of tasty dishes with a range of flavors, ingredients and textures.  The chefs are not only trained, but have competed against India in the Food-istan challenge, making their country proud. If you ever take a trip to Pakistan, no matter which city you visit, you will have access to this unique cuisine.  Come and check it out. 

Nov 27, 2012

Okryu-Gwan, Unique North Korean in the UAE

When someone recommended this restaurant to me, I immediately perked up!  I had enjoyed some delicious South Korean food, but never any delicacies from the North.  It was a journey trying to locate this hidden gem, but once we found our way, it went from good to great very quickly.

Hidden in the side streets of Deira close to Deira City Center, we were guided to Okryu-Gwan by the enthusiastic staff anxiously awaiting our arrival.  As we approached, the ethnically clad waitstaff lined the front of the restaurant smiling and welcoming us to their humble and quirky eatery.  Upon entering the room, we couldn;t help but notice the sounds of the Kareoke machine echoing throughout the rest of the quiet restaurant.   We were informed by the delightful staff, there were private rooms if we were interested in partaking with the joyful act of Kareoke. Since food was on the top of our agenda, we politley declined.....for now!

A couple of things to take note of when eating in this restaurant is the decor and eclectic table ware.  Surrounded by random vases of fake flowers, plus murals and paitings of cascading waterfalls and horses galloping away into the sunset, we couldn't help but notice a small stage set-up towards the back of the room.  My friends and I inquired about the dated musical equipment (i.e. keyboard/synthseizer and drum set. It felt as if we were in a time warp from the 80's).  The staff informed us they have live music on Thursday evening, sadly, we were there on a sunday.

Moving on, we realized we were so in awe of the aesthetics of this restaurant, we hadn't even looked at the menu.  First things first, an order of Kimchi was a must.  It arrived in this "Italian" themed plate, giving this funny little restauarnt even more character!
The next item, isn't somethign I would normally order, but it did seem to appeal to my lot of friends, who enoyed the sweet and tanginess of the prawns in ketchup sauce.  Presentation was decent, and the dish wasn't bad, but I am adamantly against anything made with or consisting of ketchup, it's one of thos artificial tastes that lingers on my palatte, but in all the wrong ways. 
Below we have a picture of something that resembles Japanese maki rolls, however the Korean version is known as Kimbap.  Filled with shredded beef and pickled vegetables, the balance of flavors and textures worked for me, and it was the perfect little size!

By Definition compliments of Wikipedia:
Gimbap is derived from the Japanese futomaki (lit. "large rolls") style maki-zushi sushi rolls[1] and became popular among Korean people in the modern era,but differs in the way the rice is seasoned and in the fillings. In sushi, relatively large amounts of sweetened rice vinegar is added to the rice and sesame oil is traditionally not used, as it is in gimbap. Korean gimbap generally does not contain raw fish and is prepared with sauteed beef, sausage, ham, fish cake, or crab stick. Unlike Japanese maki, gimbap is usually not served with wasabi soy sauce or sushi ginger, but is sometimes dipped in kimchi brine
I am a sucker for anything in dumpling form.  It usually packs a lot of flavor into a small well proportioned package.  These Yaki Mandu* were fried egg dumplings, and between the seasoning and spicy dipping sauce, I think I single handedly cleared that plate.

*'Mandu' means 'dumpling' in Korean and Yaki Mandu (also known as Gun Mandu) are the golden fried parcels filled with delicious east Asian ingredients like rice noodles, cabbage, tofu, eggs, toasted sesame oil, spring onion and seasoning. You will love biting into these crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside parcels of yummy goodness! (source:
This was by far the prettiest dish served, it's called Mul-naengmyeon, a chilled buckwheat noodle soup. 
The noodles are made with buckwheat and starch. Served in a chilled beef broth with pickled radish, sliced Korean pear and a hard-boiled egg. It is often served with a side dish of vinegar and mustard.  I love the presentation as well as the components, but it's somewhat of an aquired taste.  I am so use to having a warm broth served with delicate noodles, trying it cold, throws everything off.  But don't get me wrong, I would definitely go back for more.....
Lastly we were served some Korean style ice cream.  It was creamier than I am used to covered with chopped strawberries and a fruity syrup, It was a nice little taste of sweetness, but I couldn't have more than 2 bites. 
Overall the experience at Okryu-Gwan was a unique one.  Between the flavorful food, friendly staff, optional Kareoke, and 80's like decor, I think it's safe to say I will return to this hidden gem. I was fortunate enough to bring an adventurous lot of friends, and it really made all the difference.  If you do manage to make your way down, bring a group of foodies with a sense of humour, you will leave the restaurant with full bellies and tears in your eyes from all the food and laughter this place can bring. 

Oct 11, 2012

Singaporean Favorites at Peppercrab Restaurant

Peppercrab at the Grand Hyatt Dubai is an accurate representation of Singaporean cuisine.  The infamous locale of Singapore is an amalgamation of its residents ranging from Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, and European, and it's cuisine is an extension of that. This restaurant with it's welcoming facade and warm ambiance was a complete surprise, although it's reputation preceded it from many previous visitors.  I had the pleasure of enjoying this scrumptious meal with a couple of friends and we did some serious damage at the table. I wasn't able to photograph each item, simply because the aroma had enticed us to indulge before I could grab my camera to capture the moment. 

For starters, one of the most addictive dishes in pan-asian cuisine is the Fried Calamari with Salt and Pepper. No matter which restaurant I go to, if I see this item on the menu, it MUST be ordered.  Everyone has there own take on it, but the key ingredients are chillies and deliciously fried calamari! Peppercrab did justice to this favorite fried treat of mine.
The assorted satay with achar peanut sauce lontong was another common item seen on many Malaysian/Thai/Indonesian menus, but the Singaporean way took the best of all three worlds and combined them into this tasty treat.  The satay was a variety of beef, lamb and chicken, cooked to a juicy perfection.  The "acahr peanut" sauce was a tangy take on the Thai peanut sauce I had grown accustomed to.  They also served it with this lontong-is a dish made of compressed rice cake in the form of a cylinder wrapped inside a banana leaf, commonly found in Malaysia.  The texture worked, although it lacked in flavor, a little more seasoning cooked have served that component well. 
Next up were the Singaporean Roasted Duck Pancakes with cucumber, Spring Onions, and Hoi Sin Sauce.  Also commonly enjoyed in many Chinese restaurants, and this one stayed true to it's origins.  The pancakes were slightly more dry than usual, but the roasted duck was full of flavor as was it's crispy skin, that added that special touch when nestled into the layers of this great little "wrap". 
 The moment I have been waiting for, the star of the show finally arrived, the delicious Singaporean Peppercrab! The variety of crab itself is known as a Mud Crab smothered in black pepper, fragrant chili, and chili sauce......WOW! Getting down and dirty and enjoying this delicacy, to its fullest we rolled up our sleeves and tied on our bibs without any cares in the world.  Licking fingers and slurping up the succulent crab meat was completely acceptable in this elegant restaurant, but to be honest, there really is no other way.....The sweetness of the mud crab meat, paired with this aromatic and flavorful sauce was exactly what I had imagined it would be, foodie bliss. 
A couple of the other flavorful dishes we enjoyed were the Wok fried Singaporean Stir Fried Noodles, Soft Shell Crab, Spicy Prawn Curry, with fried Singaporean buns.  The only bit I was able to capture here were the fried Singaporean buns.  The Noodles were just the right balance between a curry and noodle dish.  With the strong essence of spices tossed with the egg fried noodles, and juliened vegetables, there was no stopping once this dish hit the table.  The Softshell crab was another decedent dish, covered in threads of wok fried butter, it felt like an artery clogger, but also put a BIG smile on my face.

These little beauties below, were just the icing on the cake.  often found in Chinese dum sum, asian style buns are commonly steamed.  These little morsels were a take on the traditional Chinese buns with a twist.  The base was similar, but they were actually deep fried for a unique flavor, texture, and richness.  It was paired with the spicy prawn curry as a vehicle to enjoy the sauce, however, they are rich enough to just enjoy on their own. 
Pictured below is Peppercrab's version of Air Batu Campur or Ais Kacang, a sweet Malaysian dessert consisting of shaved ice with palm seeds, red beans, sweet corn, black jelly, and sugar syrup.  For my Singaporean friend, this was a treat, for me, I would say this is more of an acquired taste. Many different layers of flavors and textures, and with the distinct red bean taste standing out, I understand why people from Malaysia to Singapore enjoy it so much.   
Although this was my first time at Peppercrab, the sights, sounds, smells and tastes were all strangely familiar to me.  From beginning to end they delivered on every course.  Some dishes more exotic than others, I felt a comfort level with the food and could easily enjoy it on a regular basis, that is if my waistline will allow it! 

For more information please click on the link below, you are in for a treat!

Peppercrab at Grand Hyatt Dubai


Oct 7, 2012

Best Of BiCE Brunch

The infamous BiCE restaurant in the Hilton, JBR Dubai is known for it's authentic Italian style hospitality and even more so, it's traditional Italian fare with a modern touch.  BiCE has recently introduced their Campari themed brunch every Friday, with a range of Campari cocktails and hearty feast of delicacies done the true Italian way.
The concept is to share a medley of starters and then to select one of the 3 main courses (also to share per every 2 ppl) to celebrate the family style festive meal.  I have listed some of my favorites below, but to really understand the entire gamet, you must indulge at the BiCE campari brunch, it's a right of passage in Dubai.     

As I mentioned, BiCE is known for their hospitality, and they really do spoil their guests with an overwhelming selection of starters ranging from the "BiCE Style" carpaccio below drizzled with their special Venetian sauce, this dish never seems to dissapoint at any meal. 

This colorful pile of fried goodes consisted of everything from Calamri to shrimp as well as Zuchini all served with a spicy tomato sauce.  Now I am a firm believer that anything fried is always tasty, and this dish proved that very point.  The only down side to fried food, is that it can be very filling, but the batter and variety of items in this dish was the perfect balance that allowed us to enjoy, but didn't keep us from indulging in other tasty treats at the table.
Another traditional dish, anyone can recognize at this point is the Caprese salad.  A staple at any Italian eatery, you can do no wrong with the creamy buffalo mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, and the sweet basil on top with a touch of extra virgin olive oil and pesto sauce, this is one of those items you expect on any Italian menu, and one can revel in it's simplicity.
Next up is the pasta course, we were given a selection of three, but the 2 below really stood out.  Since I am a sucker for anything with Truffle, the ravioli to the left checked the box there.  A Ricotta and Spinach Ravioli with a creamy truffle sauce and topped with truffle and hearty, one or two pieces is sufficient if you want to save room for your mains.  The dish to the right is the Paccheri shellfish in a simple oil, garlic, and peperoncino sauce.  It really is the simplest food that stands out sometimes, but to make simple food taste good, good quality ingredients must me used.  The tender fresh pasta combined with the seafood were the exact flavors I look for in a simple pasta dish. 
Now, if that wasn't enough food already, we still had the mains to go.....

Amongst the selections were the beautiful Salt Crusted Sea Bass (pictured below), a Mixed Grill Platter consisting of meat, and another consisting of seafood.  My table went all out for the two seafood choices, and I'm glad we did! Seafood is always the lighter way to go, and after already having such a hearty selection of starters and pasta, it was better, since we wanted to save room for dessert:)
No meal can be complete without a dessert in Dubai (whether you are on a diet or not) The BiCE desserts have alwasy been something to look forward to, and this time was no different.  They offered the quintessential Tiramisu (which was gibbled up before I could take a picture), the Panna Cotta with Raspberrie sauce and of course the Chocolate Souffle.

The Panna Cotta, silky and smooth was sweet and creamy, as a panna cotta should be.  Veyr few places can actually get the recipe correct.  It takes just the right ratio of gelatin to cream and the picture you see here is the accurate result of that.
The chocolate souffle, although common on many menus, is a fail safe item.  There will always be a request for this no matter where you dine out.

Overall the BiCE brunch was a delicious day!  Make sure you visit with a group of foodie friends that like to eat.  That really is the best way to take advantage of all the gourmet delicacies that await at this pictureque restaurant in one of the most desirable locations in town!