Friday, December 26, 2014

delicious dubai

2014: The year I spent Memorial Day in Taiwan, and Thanksgiving in Dubai. Yep, this Midwestern girl learned what it was like to feast in the Middle East! I still feel slightly ridiculous telling people I went to Dubai... isn't that kind of vacation only for the 1%? Doesn't everyone over there drive Lambos and Bentleys? Don't the ATMs dispense gold bars and the restaurants all have a $250 minimum? How? Why? Would little old Iron Stef go? Well it turns out, Dubai is not just for billionaires! It helped that I have friends over there who I could stay with to save money, but an affordable vacation can be had. The beaches are free, there are tons of good eating options that won't break the bank, and it's just a really neat place to experience. (but there really are gold ATMs and more Lambos and Bentleys than average...)

This was my first meal in Dubai... my flight got in about 10 pm, so by the time we got back to my friends' apartment, it was pretty late. They ordered shawarma and a bunch of other Middle-Eastern delights to be delivered from a nearby Lebanese place. Late night shawarma delivery? I was loving this place already!

The first place that I insist you must go if you are so fortunate to visit Dubai is The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. They host traditional meals during which you learn about Emirate food, culture and people.
A volunteer speaker explains Emerati culture as the traditional buffet awaits.

The food was fantastic, a spread of pilafs, chicken, salads and more laid out in the middle of the floor. Everyone sits around on cushions while a guide talks about history and culture, and answers questions. So informative and eye-opening! 
No shoes allowed, but definitely bring your appetite.
chicken, rices, vegetables.
Sweet dough balls with date syrup.
I gotta be honest, I didn't plan well for this trip. When my friend asked me where I wanted to go during my visit, I didn't have many ideas... I just thought we'd go to the beach a bunch. I did know I wanted to go to a Shake Shack. I just think it's kind of crazy that there's several of them over there, yet I had never been to one here in the states. We went to the one on Jumeira Beach. I can see why Shake Shacks are so popular all over the world. The burger was impressive and the custard in my root beer float was the creamiest substance I have ever had. I wouldn't normally condone going to an American chain when overseas, but this was a great choice for beach day. Got me nice and drowsy before relaxing in the sun.
Shake Shack or Shieke Shack? Hahahaha. Really though,  best root beer float of my life.

It wasn't until I was already over there, but I did discover an Episode of No Reservations in which Anthony Bourdain was in Dubai. I had somehow missed that!! It came in handy... I will always go where Tony has been when given the opportunity. Of course, several places in the episode involved planning (reservations? wait a minute!, all-day activities, $$). Al Bait al Bagdhadi, an Iraqi restaurant, however, was totally doable. They specialize in the national dish of Iraq, a charcoal-roasted fish dish called Masgouf.  This was another late-night dinner... I think t was almost 10 by the time we got there! 
Our fish being weighed to show us how big it is.
They still had the fire pit going though, and immediately picked out a fish that was a good size for 3 people, and put it on the scale to show us. We then sat outside and ordered a variety of fresh Mezze (hummus, fattoush, Moutabbal)  and some of the scrumptious flat bread that is baked stuck on the side of a super-hot wood oven. The service was excellent, there was a group of Iraqi men having tea next to us, and a parking lot badminton game going on across the street. 
Flat bread, cooked by slapping it on the side of a special oven.
The extensive Mezze portion of our Iraqi meal
When I went inside to take a photo of our Masgouf cooking by the fire, the waiter saw me and waved me around the counter and into the fire room so I didn't have to try to shoot through the fogged-up glass window. It was embarrassing, but so nice of him! I'm sure they are used to nerdy food fans since Bourdain came through.

Masgouf roasting on an open fire...
The fish came out on a platter, and the waiter skillfully cut (well, more like, scooped... ) the tender charred flesh from the skin and deboned it and served us all. The pieces from the middle top were kissed the most by the flames, and tasted like fish bacon. Yep, fish bacon.

The finished Masgouf being carved and served by our waiter.
Dubai is not a dry country, per-se, but it is certainly less-boozy than I'm used to. My friend, knowing how hard it is for me to go 8 days without beer, suggested The Belgian Beer cafe. It's in a beautiful mall/hotel complex, with pretty views. I chose a wedge salad and this Kasteel tripel. The salad was a deconstructed wedge, but it was very good. This place is an international chain, but if you're looking for good beer in Dubai, this is one of very few options.

I wanted to steal that glass, but it wasn't worth the risk of going to Middle East jail.
Wedge salad wasn't really wedgy. It was scrumptious though. 
One night, my hosts had an appointment, so I was own my own for the evening. The thing about Dubai is that it's hopping at night, and very safe. I wandered around the area near Dubai Mall and Souk Al Bahar. There are tons of restaurants to choose from both at the mall and at the Souk. Most of the places at the Souks overlook Dubai fountain, so I chose one there. Dubai fountain is pretty spectacular... it's at the foot of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Every 30 minutes a "choreographed" fountain show would play... a ballet of water shooting high in the air. I got a cozy seat at the cute Lebanese restaurant Zahr El-Aymoun. The seats were all covered with shabby-chic fabrics and the decor involved lots of jars and such. I had what were sort of like Lebanese nachos... fettet zahr el-laymoun. It had all the flavors... creamy yogurt, sweet pomegranate seeds, roasty eggplant, savory onion and cumin. I could eat bowls of this! I also got some Labne... it was kind of dry, but good flavor.
fettet zahr el-laymoun ... toasted bread topped with grilled eggplant, chickpeas, onion, cumin, pomegranate molasses, garlic yogurt pomegranate seeds and crispy onion
And then I ate camel. Yep. At The Local House, the specialty is camel burgers and other camel-ized dishes. It's a lovely semi-outside place that offers free tea and Arabic coffee to weary people who have been walking around the Cultural centre all day. 
The Local House is super charming.
I got the burger, but next time I definitely need to try the Camel Wellington.
I ordered a date milkshake (camel milk, obvs) and a house burger, which was camel meat topped with egg, cheese and tomato salad. The shake was soooo good. Dates taste a lot like caramel, and caramel is one of my favorite substances on earth. Camel milk is creamier and richer than cow milk, so this shake was basically like an über-creamy caramel shake. Whoa. The burger, while overcooked, was good, too. Camel tastes similar to beef, but a bit richer, and with an aftertaste reminiscent of lamb. 
Date camel milk shake. They say camel milk is the new health drink, so...
Overcooked camel burger... oh well, it was better than overcooked beef burger.
Speaking of camels, there was a small cafe (there are several in Dubai) called the Majilis that had camel milk lattes and ice cream. This chocolate ice cream was the best chocolate Ice cream I've had, I think. Rich and very chocolaty. We had it twice while I was there.

Chocolate camel milk ice cream and camel milk chai tea
In the end I loved Dubai more than I expected to. I encourage you to consider it as a travel destination, just be sure not to get caught up in all the shopping and materialism. I mean the shopping is great, but make sure you seek out the local culture and traditions. There is so much to learn, and eat, from this oasis of international diversity. 

Bonus shots:
Traditional Thanksgiving buffet at a Marriot hotel. They cater to every culture here, I swear.

Persimmons on the balcony. The views and the fruit here were enviable.

Similar posts from the archives:

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

roasting, toasting & ranting with Ruhlman

When I went to find the link to my post about the first time I met Micheal Ruhlman, I was amazed to find the entry was 7 years old. So much can change in 7 years...2007 feels like ancient history... I was just starting to connect with other food-obsessed people in the area. The St. Louis Food scene was on the edge of becoming the force it is today.

BFFs (Photo credit: Sauce Magazine)

This most recent evening's dinner was to promote Ruhlman's lates cookbook, How to Roast. I was there for Egg, a book I can't believe I only just got, considering it's the year of the Egg here on Iron Stef.

I am glad I waited because I now have a signed copy! And wonderful memories of dining with and talking to Micheal Ruhlman. How many people can say they've had dinner (and drinks... too many drinks) with one of their favorite authors? I was on food nerd cloud nine for days (BTW, you can still have a wicked hangover when you're on Cloud 9).

did I mention the drinking?

The dinner, sponsored by Sauce Magazine, was planned and prepared by Chef Rex Hale at The Restaurant at The Cheshire and his team. The menu based on recipes and teqniques from How To Roast... roasted seafood, brussels sprouts, root vegetables, beef... even dessert was roasted - roasted pineapple. It was an abundant and wonderful meal, with wine pairings to boot.
All the glasses and all the flatware. Serious.

Roasted cod with root vegetables.
Roasted Brussel sprouts with pork belly.
Roasted strip loin with potatoes.

Before each course, the Chef would tell us about the dishes and wines, and Ruhlman would stand up and preach the importance cooking and of real food. The man is passionate, you guys. He is keyed up about food, and insistent that people learn more about it and, most importantly, cook at home, from scratch (queue "Turn Down For What?"). This night was not ALL about gluttony, I swear.

Marketing has taught us that cooking is hard and inconvenient, and that artificial foods are healthier for us... these beliefs are simply not true! Wholesome meals can be cooked very quickly and with minimum ingredients, if you just plan a bit and learn some basic techniques. To quote Ruhlman:"Before you start to cook in the kitchen, think!" Cooking is not hard and not scary if you just go at it with some common sense and practice. As far as the "health" foods in boxes on the grocery store shelf with their promise of Low-Fat," they are not good for us, and often contain more sugar and more chemicals to make up for the flavor lost when fat is absent. Again Ruhlman provides a battle-cry: "Fat is not bad. Stupid is bad." (That one got some cheers from me and my fellow diners.)

So here I am, spreading the gospel of good cooking and good sense. The gospel of Ruhlman. I'd suggest he start a religion, but that would limit the audience... everyone needs to hear these messages. Food should be simple and nourishing, case in point, the following 2 "recipes" I made in one day from both Egg and How To Roast:

In the introduction to Egg, Ruhlman talks about how Alton Brown told him "Yeah, I've always like to say that the egg is the Rosetta stone of the kitchen." Ruhlman elaborates on this spot-on metaphor: 
"Like the Rosetta stone, the egg, far more ancient, unlocks the secret language of the kitchen. Learn the language of the egg–understand completely this amazing and beautiful oblong orb–and you can enter new realms of cooking, rocketing you to stellar heights of culinary achievement.
The greatest of all our foods, the egg combines beauty, elegance, and simplicity, a miracle of natural design and, as food, bounty. Containing all of the nutrients required to create life, eggs give our bodies a powerful combination of proteins, amino acids, fatty acids, antioxidents, minerals, and vitamins, a package unmatched by any other single food."

One of the recipes in the book is for warm, hard-cooked, creamy-yolk eggs to be served with ham and cheese and bread. 2 eggs, simply and quickly cooked in water in the shells, with some bites of cheese and bread make a satisfying and enjoyable breakfast or lunch that is nourishing and requires minimal effort. Anyone can do this. It was lunchtime when I was reading through the book, and decided to make this for my lunch... 10 minutes later I had lunch and only one pot to (barely) wash. 

For dinner that same day I made roasted cauliflower from How to Roast. Also a low-effort, high-result, simple and healthful dinner. Both books (as with all of Ruhlman's cookbooks) are great for giving you the basic knowledge and skills to help you feel increasingly comfortable in the kitchen. Good for both beginners and people who already love to cook.

-Get in the Kitchen and cook... but think first. It's that simple.
-Eat REAL FOOD. Everything in moderation (except, apparently, alcohol when you're drinking with chefs, authors and magazine editors)
-Be passionate about life.
-Go to author dinners, even if you can't find friends to go with or if it's a bit over your normal dinner budget. It will likely be worth it. 

Similar posts from the archives:
An Evening with Trevor Corson
Meeting Gale Gand
Learning from Rick Bayless

Friday, September 12, 2014

smoked salmon potato quiche/tart

Sometimes I get a whole loaf of pumpernickel bread because I want one fancy grilled cheese sandwich. When this happens I stress about the unused majority of said loaf for a couple of days until I either throw it in the freezer in a panic or make croutons. This time it came down to the wire. 

I wondered if I could make a savory crumb crust... like the graham cracker crusts I love on cheesecakes, but with bread crumbs. I toasted the pumpernickel and mixed it with butter.... it was crumbly but seemed to work. I filled the crust with some of pumpernickel's best friends.... smoked salmon, red onions and capers. And, yep, eggs. Boom. Quiche. I added yogurt to the eggs and half & half to give that tang that a cream cheese would give a traditional bagel & lox. And hash browns because hashbrowns (I think these also helped add structure to the crumbly crust.) 

I don't know if this counts as a quiche because the egg mixture doesn't cover all the fillings, but it does act as a binder. Maybe it's a tart? Either way, it's a savory, hearty, interesting slice of fun.

Smoked Salmon Potato Quiche/Tart 
-6-7 slices stale pumpernickle bread (you'll want enough to make about 2 cups of crumbs)
-spray oil (or you can brush on olive oil)
-onion powder to taste
-4 oz. butter
-1.5 cups shredded potatoes (I used those pre-bagged hashbrowns. If you are shredding your own, make sure to squeeze them dry thoroughly)
-1 medium red onion, chopped
-4 eggs
-3/4 cup half & half
-8 oz. plain greek yogurt
-1 Tablespoon fresh chopped dill or 1 teaspoon dried dill
-about 4 oz. of smoked salmon scraps, pulled or chopped into bite-size pieces
-1/4 cup capers, drained 
Heat the oven to 375ºF. Place the bread slices on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Spray or brush with oil and sprinkle with onion powder and salt as desired. Bake until fully dried and crunchy but not burnt (this will depend on your bread, but mine took about 15 minutes). 
Meanwhile, cook the onions in a little bit of oil until they are soft and just starting to brown. Remove from heat.

Crush the pumpernickle toast or pulse in a food processor to create bread crumbs. Mix with butter and press into a springform pan or a pie plate, going up the sides as much as you can, while keeping the bottom well-covered. place the shredded potatoes on top of the crumb crust. Top with the cooked onions, then the salmon, then sprinkle with the capers. Whisk the eggs, half & half and yogurt together, and season with a pinch of salt. Pour egg mixture into the pie crust. It will not cover all of the ingredients like a traditional quiche.

Bake at 375ºF for 30 minutes until egg is set and salmon is starting to brown. Let cool for about 5 minutes before cutting into wedges and serving.

Previous Year of The Egg posts:

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Monday, July 21, 2014

green curry deviled eggs

I have my first garden this year! One of my successful crops is Thai Basil, so when I was invited to a food blogger potluck last weekend, I decided to show off my chartreuse-ish thumb by making something that requires LOTS of this fragrant herb. Green curry is my favorite thing to order at Thai restaurants, and making it from scratch was on my cooking bucket list. This version is a bit simpler than most recipes, but it has plenty of the bright, savory flavors that I love about green curry.

My grocery store did not have Thai chilies the day I went, so I improvised with a couple of other kinds of green chilies. I think this worked well... the jalapenos were the heat component and the Anaheim were that sweet, green flavor. Were you beginning to worry about the Year of The Egg? So was I. Luckily, this curry paste was destined for eggs... deviled eggs! The freshness and slight spice of the curry is so wonderful with the rich eggs.

Green Curry Paste
2 jalapeno peppers
2 Anaheim chilies
(or in the place of those peppers, 8 Thai green chilies)
1 cup Thai basil leaves
2 Tablespoons grated lemongrass ( I had to use stuff from a tube, but fresh would be best)
3 garlic cloves
3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 Tablespoon coconut oil
salt to taste (Be aware that fish sauce is salty)

Pulse everything in a food processor, then process until it forms a nice uniform texture and everything is combined.

Green Curry Deviled Eggs
24 hard-boiled eggs
1/2 cup green curry paste
1/2 cup mayonnaise

Peel eggs and cut in half, placing the yolks in a medium bowl. Add mayo and curry paste to the yolks and mash and mix until smooth. Place in a plastic zipper bag and cut a small piece of the corner off the the bag. Pipe into the empty egg halves. Garnish with Thai basil flowers, if available. Serve chilled.

Previous Year of The Egg posts:

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Taiwan eats: the unplanned delights!

When you are traveling out of the country for the first time ever, you do A LOT of research. You want to make sure you know what to expect, know what to see, know where to go, know what to eat. I had a pinterest board, a guidebook, and had read lots on the Internet about Taiwan. But this little country is so concentrated with culture and sights and FOOD. Here are some of the delights that I had read nor heard anything about... what a wealth of surprises Taiwan is!

BREAD. Bread and pastries in Taiwan is on-level with some of the best bakeries in the world. I never think of Asian countries when talking about bread... except for Vietnam's famous mastery of French Baguettes. Taiwan had bakeries about every couple of miles, and they fill the whole block with sweet, yeasty delicious smells of fresh-baked goodies. I could have eaten all my meals at one of these places... the variety was vast, and all of it sounded, looked and smelled delectable. 

MANGO ICE. Okay, a friend did tell me about this the week before I came, so I was able to seek it out, but you have to go to the college-town part of Taipei to really find the particular mango ice I was told about. As pictured, these places serve giant bowls of ice that's shaved so fine that it has the texture of a fluffy, smooth sorbet... like the cotton candy of sorbet. Piles of fresh fruit accompany it in the air-conditioned, modern decorated, hip-music-playing shaved ice joints. Such a dreamy refreshment in Taiwan's humid hot streets. There are also shaved ice places in the night markets, but the flavorings are usually sweetened condensed milk and various mochi and candy toppings. Those are also darn delicious.

ONION PANCAKES. These are the food I dream about most when remembering my trip. After we got the mango Ice we noticed a booth outside on the street with a line of people a block long waiting to get what these 2 ladies were cooking up. So we got in line to see what all these people seemed to think was worth the wait. Wow. These were naan-like flat breads, but kind of layered and a tougher bread. The women would place them on the grill and kind of stab them repeatedly with a spatula to loosen it up and make it tender, while giving it a fresh griddled browning. Then fresh herbs and quick cooked egg were folded up in it to make a kind of chewy, super savory, herby, street sandwich. I need one now.

FRESH LOCAL FRUITS. I don't know why this surprised me. I guess I was so focused on researching street food and places to go, I forgot that Taiwan is a tropical island, with a plethora of exotic (to me) fruits. Custard apples, the best mangoes ever, sweet watermelon, and a bunch of fruits I have never even seen photos of. Everything had that tropical sweetness you can't find anywhere else. A definite must if you visit is to hit a local market and try all the fruits you can find.

I WENT INTO A MCDONALDS ON PURPOSE. The apartment we stayed at was next to a McDonalds, usually a place I avoid like the plague (because it kind of is a plague to our society, isn't it?). But there was a sign out front advertising their Black Sesame McFlurry. After 5 days I couldn't resist any more. I love sesame, and this is a flavor of a shake I won't see in the states. I'm so glad I had it... so nutty, complex, sweet and delicious. I lovely late night snack. I am determined to make a sesame ice cream now.

7-11. I fell head-over-heels for the Taiwanese 7-11s and their mascot, "Mr. Open." Tea eggs, noodles, great ice cream, too many adorable junk toys, beverages with flavors I had never dreamed of... They were just a lot of fun and had some quite tasty treats.

PARKS. For not having much land mass, Taiwan is ripe with parks. Many of them had exercise equipment, like I am demonstrating above. The government really encourages the people to get regular exercise... this is smart of them because of all the wonderful food and the universal health care system. The parks were an oasis away from the fast-paced, crowded, visual-overload of the rest of the city... I went to parks to collect my thoughts and breathe. Taiwan would be a great place to retire.... hmmm....