"The tea here is 10 times the price of the tea in the back alley!" exclaims my aunt as we ended our late afternoon stroll along the crab littered shores of Muttrah with a short interlude at a local cafe. Despite the first-rate views of the port district, the faerie lights illuminating the dusky waters off the coasts; my mind drifts to the 10cents tea we had in the afternoon at the dingiest of restaurants. An Indian restaurant you would normally associate with the quick flow of the Indian labourers during lunch hours, the three of us (my two aunties and I) found ourselves enveloped a sea of contradicting intense flavors as we dined, feasted and lingered on the tikka masala and tandoori chicken dished out on cheap metal dishes. The tea that ended the meal though, was worth the extra mention. Sweet, rich and incredibly satisfying, we then understood where these Indian laborers got their energy from. Remember the tea.
One recent afternoon, with the digits slowly creeping up on the thermostats, the urge to bake came along. And in a quiet suppressive move, I made a decision to make ice cream instead, in a silent admittance to the overwhelming power of the weather. The 10cents chai tea came to mind, my inspiration. When the churning paddle came to a stop, whining a little as though in verification of the richness of its contents, I felt compelled to eat it. With my first spoonful, you could hear guttural noises of approval emanate from deep within. Chai tea Ice Cream, remember the tea.
Just like one dollar Indian tea Chai tea Ice Cream
2 cups milk 1 cup cream 5 egg yolks 2/3 cup sugar 2 black tea bags (Darjeeling, English breakfast, etc...) 1 cinnamon stick 6-8 cardamon pods 4-6 all spice (whole) 4-6 cloves 1 star anise 1/4 piece whole nutmeg
1. Boil the tea bags in the milk and cream in a pot. Remove from heat and put in the spices and allow the mixture to infuse for 20 minutes. 2. Strain the flavored milk and cream mixture and bring it to simmer again. 3. Beat the sugar and egg yolks together until thick and pale yellow. 4. Beat the milk into the eggs and sugar in a slow stream. 5. Pour the mixture back into pan and place over low heat. Stir until the custard thickens slightly (around 70C). Use a thermometer, as at 75C the eggs will scramble! 6. Allow the custard to cool in an ice bath. 7. Freeze using a domestic ice cream machine.
It's tea time, you rule out the cliche choices of coffee and cake at the usual cafes and choose a more traditional approach to resolving the meal dilemma. Dates and tea at Bateel. You place your order for a mixed platter of filled dates and a dazzling spread of wrinkly sweets are plated. With a fresh cup of coffee on your right and Moroccan tea served in an ornate pot, you lick you lips and reach across the table for a piece of the action.
Then you realise that those delicious nuggets of saccharine vary very much in size and color. It intrigues you, and slowly you come to realise that there's so much more to these highly prized middle eastern sweets than meets the eye. Here's what I derived.
Some little info nibbles, dates grow from palm trees known as Phoenix datylifera. Yes, trees, in all embarrassment, I thought this to be a joke upon first hearing it in Muscat during a short explanation by the local guides. Cultivated for their sweet fruits, the date palm is an important traditional crop throughout the Islamic World.
So why do all these dates assume different appearances? and do they taste different? To cut the chase short, yes, there are three main groups of dates that exist: Soft (eg. the more popular medjool date), semi-dry (e.g.'Dayri') and dry (e.g.Thoory). The type of fruit depends on the glucose, fructose and sucrose content. And as a result of the variation, the different species taste significantly different from each other. In this round, we sampled the Khidri and Segal groups. Stuffed traditionally with fillings such as almonds, walnuts, candied orange and lemon peel, tahini and cream cheese, I took an immediate affiance to the caramelized pecan version and plain almond; mostly because I love the contrast of the nutty crunch from the nut together with the soft gooey innards of the fresh date.
And in the end, dates and tea seem ideal for sidelining a quiet intimate conversation, where retaining a dainty image whilst nibbling on one of these posh dates isn't that challenging of a task. Tea sounds like a good idea too!
Please can I have some more?
Bateel Festival City Dubai Festival City Ground Floor, North Oval Tel: +971 4 232 9976
Gourmands versus the Gourmets. Belgium has been called a nation of the former more than the latter, taking pride in it's hearty portions instead of the fine nitty gritty. Today, the four of us, Gwen, I and my two aunts, had our personal encounters. With gutsy appetites to boot, we were quick to meet our match at the Belgian Beer cafe.
In the starkness of the naked daylight, the interior of the Belgian Beer Cafe exuded the magnetic resonance and charm akin of a cave to a bat. With dim lighting, a flush of dark woods lacquered and gleaming surfaces; it was undoubtedly comfortable and strangely realistic in a European manner.
What's dining in a Belgian restaurant sans the beer? With a stroke of boldness, Gwen managed to sneak in a order of peach flavored beer under the watchful eyes of the elders. And for all it was worth, the beer was lovely. Sweet to the taster with her very first mouthful and then a slow releasing malt flavor envelopes the taste buds there after. The perfect fizzy drink for a light buzz in the early afternoon.
What better to go with your beer than mussels?
We had the Half Shell Mussels; served with garlic and herb butter. Best when eaten hot at the table. The tiny pieces of sauteed garlic providing dimension and flavor to the humble shellfish.
However, I would recommend the Hot Pot Mussels instead as these come in a huge pot large enough for two to share, with a pot full of ethereal juices sunken at the bottom of the pot; it proved a delight just drenching your Belgian cut fries or bread.
[Hot Pot Mussels:Mariniere; cooked in their own juices with celery, onions and fresh herbs]
Fish and Chips, the side salad executed perfectly. The fish on the other hand not so much with it's overcooked center and treacle-brown panko crust. Thank goodness for the lovely tartar sauce.
Goat's Cheese Salad with Toasted Walnuts and watercress. Lovely, with the mild goats cheese taking the stage, a boosted act supported by fresh greens, a lovely vinagrette dressing and the warm touch of toasted walnuts sprinkled generously.
The best for last, the Belgian fries and mayonnaise, on the side...
If you're looking for the comfort of a no nonsense Belgian menu with the likes of honestly good beer thrown into the package in Dubai, then this is the place to go.
Belgian Beer Cafe
Crowne Plaza Dubai Festival City - Dubai United Arab Emirates
Google the top 10 things to do in Dubai and you'll probably get a predictable list of responses which includes a visit to the stunning beaches (hmph), shopping in one of the thousand luxury malls scattered around Dubai (yawn) and skiing? Come on, if I can afford the hefty fees in the mall of the emirates Ski Dubai, I'm better off ploughing down the authentic fluffed up slopes of the alps.
One of the better and more palatable option is the dessert desert safari. Pardon me, but due to my usual dealings, I spelt the former as so even on my pictorial album. So putting aside the fascinating yet sneakingly deceptive stories that shroud this adventure, let me show you what a real desert safari is all about.
First, get whizzed out of in a resplendent hummer (by special request only)to the middle of the desert. Take a nap, snore, wake up at the slightest screech of the tyres coming to a halt outside a little settlement. Open the door, squint at the emergence of bright sun rays streaming in. You notice the large amounts of people lingering around the area, laughing and poking at a despondent monkey dressed fit for a Halloween party, only to be denied access to freedom by the little chain loped around its' neck. You ignore the Chinese and head over to the quad biking area.
After the tickets are paid for, hang tight to the bike as you maneuver/drift/fly over/sink into the sandy slopes in the designated plot of sandy lands. At this point, the level of exhilaration attained really depends on how much of a dare devil you are. Approaching the peak of a sand slope at full speed without an ounce of knowledge of the degree of caving on the other side can have disastrous outcomes. Flying off your bike (optional).
After a head pounding (more so due to the heat than the adrenaline) 20 minutes of cruising around on the sands, you adjourn to the awaiting hummer for refreshments. Quietly and almost a little fearfully, you entrust your lives in the skillful hands of the driver. It's about time for the dune-bashing experience.
A pre-warning to those who are prone to any form of transport sickness, exp: air sickness..: avoid sitting in the back seat at all cause. With every toss and turn, the driver spins at g-forces so great that your brain fluids are sent on a joy-ride (okay so i exaggerate), but trust me, don't act the gung-ho part if you aren't feeling it. With the driver's fixated motto to keep going with his gregarious 90 degrees sharp turns and spinning until you cry mercy, there is no way you can withstand the stomach wrenching motions for too long.
Take a breather at the two stops. Marvel at the immensely vast desert landscape from a higher vantage point. Run around on the sand dunes, feel the youth fill your cavernous soul like the soft sand between your toes, allow a moment for the melancholy to set in, then bounce up and down on the sands as a sign of rejuvenation once again. Life's too short to cry over spilt milk. Enjoy the setting sun over the orange sand dunes. Preferably with loved ones by your side.
As the darkness spreads over the land, the driver whisks you away to the gates of an Arabian desert camp. Far away from the mainroads, the place appears as if a oasis. For the adventurous, camel rides are available on the perimeters of the camp. Otherwise, retreat into the camps for refreshments or even kick back and relax with a round of shi-sha or a glass of wine at hand.
An entourage of entertainers inclusive of belly dancers and a troupe of spinning Arabic men entertain you as you chomp down on a dinner of selective grilled meats and Lebanese inspired side dishes. Do save a little space for the 'bread-pudding' desert after the meal. That takes the cake... by a mile.
and there you go folks, a real insiders perception of a desert safari.
To my more faithful readers, I'm sorry for my long and sudden disappearing act. And to my new readers, HELLO!
this shall be short and quick, I actually deemed this post to act as reminder for me to act upon the long pending list of awaiting posts. There's dinner at Saffron (the Atlantis), Japengo in Dubai Mall, photos from the dessert desert safari and more from the recent trip to Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman.
Be patient with me you guys. This site will be kind of laggy given the realities of work and liasing on the job. So bear with me... and stick here beside me as I maneuver my way slowly but leisurely thru the postings.
Meanwhile as I work on my next entry. Here's a sneak peek of what it entails...
Yet another week of baking along with the TWD Bakers.
Having baked this cake before, I was guranteed of an amazingly moist cake with the intense aromas of chocolate and coffee swirled through the creamy vanilla batter. A little bit of three nirvanas in a slice of humble cake.
And this week with 2 additional aunties and one perpetually hungry boy in the house, finishing the cake looks a whole lot easier!
Mocha-Walnut Marbled Bundt Cake Recipe Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup finely ground almonds
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 sticks plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup coffee, hot or cold
1 tsp. finely ground instant coffee or instant espresso powder
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use a 12 cup bundt pan. Don’t put it on a baking sheet – you want the heat to circulate through the Bundt’s inner tube.
Whisk together the flour, ground walnuts, baking powder and salt.
Set a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Put 2 tbps. of the butter into the bowl, along with the coffee, chocolate and instant coffee. Heat the mixture, stirring often, until melt and smooth and creamy. Remove from heat. (I do this step in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds. It doesn’t take long.)
Beat together the remaining butter and the sugar at medium speed for about 3 minutes – you’ll have a thick paste; this won’t be light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one by one, beating well after each addition. The mixture should look smooth and satiny. Beat in the vanilla extract. Reduce the mixer to low and add the dry ingredients and the milk alternately, adding the dry in 3 portions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry).
Scrape a little less than half the batter into the bowl with the chocolate mixture and, using a spatula, blend thoroughly.
Either layer the two batters or alternate spoonfuls of light and dark batter in the pan. When all the batter is in the pan, swirl a knife sparingly through the batters to marble them.
Bake for 60-75 minutes or until a thin knife insereted deep into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the Bundt pan to a rack and let cool for 10 minutes before unmolding, then cool the cake completely on the rack.
Ever felt a burst of energy for having to write a post after listening to a song?
I got my batteries recharged after tuning in to Mariah Carey's 'Through the Rain'. Not the best of her songs in terms of the raspy quality gathering in her voice but I guess the lyrics do have their plus points.
So moving on, more coconut bakes for the incoming summer! And I gather that I'm starting to actually enjoy it quite a bit. Perhaps I will give Bill Granger's Coconut Bread a go the next time round.
Coconut Jam bars.
Am i supposed to describe that?
a buttery biscuit base complimented with a thin spread of blueberry preserves and finally topped with a sweet crunchy layer of baked coconut.
Sinking your teeth into a slice is perhaps the closest thing I'll get to having Mariah serenade me in real life. Might as well do with the cheaper, stomach gratifying experience no?
Coconut Jam Bar makes one 9-inch square tin
1 cup plain flour 1/2 cup self raising flour 150g butter, chopped 1/2 cup icing sugar 1 egg yolk
1/2 cup strawberry jam
1/2 cup caster sugar 3 eggs 3 cups dessicated coconut
1) Line a lightly greased shallow 9 inch square tin with nonstick baking paper overhanging two opposite sides. Preheat the oven to 180 degree celsius.
2) Put the flours, butter and icing sugar in a food processor and pulse to mix until fine and crumbly. Add the egg yolk and process until the mixture just starts to come together. Press the dough into the tin and chill for 10 minutes.
3) Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Cool, then spread with jam.
4) Beat the sugar and eggs together, then stir in the coconut. Spread over the jam, pressing down with the back of a spoon. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until lightly golden. Leave to cool, then cut into pieces to serve.
Baker & Cook
DB Bistro Moderne
Wild Honey 2
Tarafuku Japanese buffet
Verve Bar and Bistro
Max Brenner's Chocolate Bar
Hansang Korean Charcoal BBQ
Jaan par André
Universal Bar and Restaurant
Little Part 1 Cafe
Belgian Beer Cafe
Rostang at the Atlantis
Almaz by Momo
Le Pain Quotidien
Lime Tree Cafe
Fundamentally-flawed is Lee Sihan. 25 going on 26, she is a dessert enthusiast,
food nomad, wanderer of lands and a pastry chef.
Fueled by a lifelong addiction to all things sweet, and a burning desire to travel the globe
follow her as she embarks on delicious escapades both in and out of the kitchen