Monday, July 7, 2014

Ramadan Special Guest Post: Exotic Fruit Cheesecake Pots (No-Bake)


I am so excited to share this amazing recipe for no-bake exotic fruit cheesecake pots over at Lubna's blog Kitchen Flavours. Every year Lubna posts a series for Ramadan called Joy From Fasting To Feasting, where for each day of Ramadan she shares a recipe from a guest blogger. I am grateful to have been asked to participate this year, not only because its for Ramadan, but also as it is my first time as a guest blogger anywhere! 

Lubna asked me to share a recipe that is made for Iftar in my house, and since I love coming up with sweet treats to enjoy during Ramadan, I decided to share these cheesecake pots. You might recognise that they are a twist on the cheesecake recipes I have posted before, but this time I added a sublime layer of pineapple, mango and kiwi fruit for an exotic touch. Not only is it great to make in Ramadan, but also for parties, summer BBQ's, and any get-together. 

To see my post with the recipe, head on over at Kitchen Flavours, and be sure to have a look at the other participating bloggers with their recipes! 

Joy From Fasting To Feasting - VII

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Dining Review: Café Blanc Lebanese restaurant at The Dubai mall


Growing up in London as a young girl, my dad was always keen on exposing my mum, older sister, younger brother and I to all types of different cuisines and foods. He would regularly make it a point to take us out for lunch or dinner on the weekend, especially during the warmer months. From when I turned about ten years old, my dad had an Egyptian friend who introduced us to Lebanese food for the first time. I remember feeling very tentative with every bite I took for that first Lebanese meal, not enjoying the new sensations and tastes, and neither did my siblings.  Still, my parents seemed to relish it, and it soon became a regular occurrence for us to visit the famed Edgware Road for its plethora of Arabic and Lebanese restaurants. Needless to say, I eventually grew to fall in love with Lebanese food…


I happily feel at home now in any Lebanese restaurant, and can easily order my favourites off a menu. What I have always loved about this cuisine is its freshness, simplicity and consistency. Piping hot falafels, smooth and creamy hummus, juicy and tender grilled meats - I know what I am going to get, and I know I am going to enjoy it.

That’s why I was delighted recently when Brand Terminus, a branding agency in Dubai invited me to dine along with my husband at Café Blanc, a Lebanese restaurant they look after. Situated on the lower ground of Dubai Mall, with an outdoor seating area facing the Dubai Fountain, Café Blanc is a restaurant which prides itself on combining traditional Lebanese food with a modern approach. The interior is sleek and contemporary, with pops of lively colour and geometry inspired décor - an aesthetic which is carried through into its food too.


We were talked through the ethos and history of the restaurant, before deciding to seat ourselves in the entrance dining area of the restaurant. Rather than ordering off the menu, we were presented with a variety of dishes to sample. For starters many of the well known appetizers were offered, including fattoush, hommos, tabbouleh, moutabel. stuffed vine leaves, cheese stuffed rolls, and fresh Arabic bread. In addition were a few hot dishes, most of which I admittedly have never sampled before – small chunks of beef seasoned in soya sauce and lemon juice, diced spicy fried red pepper potatoes, and delicious pan-fried mini spicy beef sausages.  All three were tantalising highlights. Something else I had never tried was the arayess halloum, a combination of halloumi cheese, parsley and onion, stuffed into flat Arabic bread and toasted – exactly the type of bread which the term ‘good comfort food’ takes after. With so many dishes to sample from there were those which I didn’t care much for, found satisfying in the familiar sense, or enjoyed enough to help myself with seconds. The moutabal was some of the best I’ve ever had. Smokey and smooth, it was delicately peppered with pomegranate arils, parsley and onion, and much creamier than most aubergine dips I have tried before.


Any true Lebanese meal is not complete without grilled meat. Our mixed platter came with one skewer each of chicken taouk, cubed beef and a minced lamb kafta. I was neither pleased nor disappointed as I found the meat to be nothing out of the ordinary and thought it could have done with being a little more juicy and tender. Once again, it was the smaller unattested dishes which stole the show. A creamy tomato dish with halloumi and chicken cubes was lip-smackingly good, as was the ras asfour – diced marinated beef with sautéed onions.  The syadiet samak, showcased a more traditional dish consisting of grilled fish with rice and fried onions, accompanied with a fish sauce.

All of the food was beautifully presented, in the same way that all regular diners would also receive their meals. Even though traditional style pots were used, touches of individual details and twists to the dishes are what made them stand out in a playful yet modern way – I carefully noted the freshness of lettuce leaves and accompanying sides such as olives. The custom-made tableware and cutlery added to the contemporary take on otherwise traditional fare.


To finish our meal, we were given a small glass of warm orange blossom water,  important to note as this what the restaurant takes its name after – Café Blanc, the drink beloved by generations of Lebanese as the perfect ending to a meal. Of course dessert came too, and again we were spoilt for choice. The familiar knefe and mouhallabieh were presented alongside aysh el saraya (soft juicy bread topped with kashta and nuts, and served with syrup) and byzance (a cheesecake topped with a layer of rose loukoum). As a huge fan of perfumed desserts (one only has to look at the recipes on my blog!) all four treats were sampled with delight, albeit on full bellies.


As this was a little different from the typical review style whereupon my dining partner and I would have ordered off the menu by ourselves, I felt that some of my usual reviewing crietira had to go out of the window. Instead I took the opportunity for what it was, graciously accepting the experience offered by my hosts. Infact it almost felt like having been invited around a friends house for weekend lunch, where traditional Lebanese fare had been laid out for all to enjoy, and with that touch of originality that comes with eating home-cooked food. By the end of our meal, the restaurant was packed to the brim, by many of whom were Middle Eastern customers.


It’s often lovely to stop by a dining venue where you are confidently secure the cuisine is one you are accustomed with. With so many restaurants to choose from in the Dubai Mall it is unlikely to be the type of place one would actively choose to dine at. However if it is Lebanese you are after and you do chance upon it, Café Blanc is a welcome retreat to stop by. Having also eaten at a couple of Lebanese restaurants within the mall, this was definitely my favourite thus far. There is something for all taste buds, and so much more variety to choose from than I have seen at most Lebanese eateries.

I have always felt that Lebanese cuisine is amongst the most ‘homeliest’ one can experience, and as a Lebanese establishment Café Blanc does this very well.



Photo credits – Brand Terminus

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Rose Saffron Baked Donuts


Hope everyone's Ramadan is going well! It gets pretty hectic in the kitchen in the hours before iftar time, and with so many little dishes to prepare I often just want a really quick and easy sweet recipe to enjoy with a cup of tea for those later hours!

Naturally I scoured my blog for some ideas, and came across my post for Chocolate Glazed Baked Doughnuts. I loved how sweet and perfectly bite-sized these doughnuts were and thought I'd give them a little twist by turning them into something a little more suited to Ramadan.


These rose saffron baked donuts are great for fixing that sugar-craving after a day of fasting, and you don't have to eat too many, just one or two if you are trying to stay away from refined sugar. They are like little bite-sized pieces of cake - share them with family and guests over tea and watch them disappear as quickly as they were made!



Rose Saffron Baked Doughnuts

Makes 14-18 mini round doughnuts or 8-10 large

Doughnut pan or small round moulded pan
Oil, for brushing pan
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
Seeds of 2 cardamom pods, crushed 
Half a large egg, beaten
3/4 cup milk
1 tblsp butter, melted
2 tsp rosewater 
Few strands of saffron

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Brush doughnut pan with oil, then sieve a little flour all over pan. 
2. In a large bowl, sieve together the flour, baking powder,  and mix in the sugar and cardamom. 
3. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, melted butter and rosewater. Mix in the saffron threads. 
4. Pour into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined, without over-mixing. Pour batter into the moulds of doughnut pan, until the moulds are only half full. You do not want to fill them too much as they will rise when baking. 
5. Bake for about 15 minutes, until doughnuts are puffed and golden, using a toothpick to test for doneness. Leave to cool 5 minutes before removing from pan and adding sugar glaze.

For the rosewater glaze:

1 cup icing sugar
3 tblsp water
1 tsp rosewater
Pink and/or yellow food colouring
Pistachios, chopped, for decorating
Dried rose petals, for decorating
Saffron, for decorating

1. While doughnuts are cooling, make the glaze by mixing together the icing sugar, water and rosewater in a small bowl, until all the icing sugar has dissolved. The glaze should be a glossy white in colour, and not too thick or too runny. If the glaze is too thick, add a few drops of water, or a little more icing sugar if it is too thin.
2. Divide the glaze into two small bowls, and add a drop or two of pink and yellow food colour in each bowl. Mix to achieve pale pink and yellow glazes.
3. Dip doughnuts individually into the glaze and sprinkle chopped pistachios, rose petals and saffron strands over the top. Glaze will set after a few minutes. 

Store glazed donuts in an airtight container, and eat within three days. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Date & Walnut Loaf Cake


The holy month of Ramadan is only a few days away now, and as it was fitting, I thought it was about time I shared a more personal recipe closer to home. This is probably the first post where I am sharing a recipe which has been in the family for a pretty long time - across generations and continents, and for at least forty years.
What makes this date and walnut cake so special, is that as a young girl growing up it was only made on Eid. I have vivid memories of waking up on Eid morning's to a huge celebration breakfast prepared by my mum. This cake was always a welcome feature on the table and readily, one, two, three slices would be eaten quickly in succession! Apart from the two Eid days in the year, it was rare for my mum to make this cake on any other day.



Since it has been in the family for a long time I wanted to find out how the recipe came to be, and also why, as it definitely is not traditional or native to my Indian/East African heritage! So I naturally went about asking those who I knew had made the cake the most - my mum, paternal aunt, and paternal uncle. It was soon clear there was a little contention as to its origins -  it appears that though my great aunt (paternal grandfather's sister) was the first to start making the cake, it has since been adapted, tweaked and made to taste individually, as with any recipe which gets shared and passed down. 



My uncle can clearly remember this cake being made when he went to stay with my great aunt in the late 1970's, in a small town called Mbeya on the mainland of Tanzania. She had tweaked the recipe from a little cookbook, and as dates were not readily available back then she would only bake it on Eid and special occasions. The dates were bought in the market, open in hessian sacks, where you would choose the amount you wanted to be weighed by the shopkeeper - markedly different from the variety of packaging and labelled dates we are used to buying now! Once bought the dates had to be cleaned, before being soaked ready for baking. On rare occasions you could buy little bars of good quality dates, packed in cellophane, which were cleaner but more expensive.
A few years later my uncle landed in the UK for boarding school, and happened to come across the same book in a sale at the school and bought it! As a result the book came to be shared with my mum on his visits home for the weekend, and thus the date walnut cake soon became a regular feature on our Eid breakfast table too. In the meantime my paternal aunt had also borrowed the recipe from my great aunt, and it similarly became a cake enjoyed in her own household. 


Still when I spoke to my mum, she maintained that at some point she had bought an Australian published baking book in the supermarket, when she became interested in baking cakes, also containing a recipe for a date walnut cake. It had less flour and more dates than the original older recipe, and its this method which my mum started to use instead, and which I came to know and love.

Unfortunately since moving to Dubai, my mums version has become misplaced and so its the original inspiration for the date and walnut cake which I have shared here, kindly given to me by my aunt. Its just as delicious and moreish though, making a perfectly loaf sized cake to share with the family! If preferred, it can be baked in a larger square tin, adapting the baking time as below. Don't over bake it though, as I clearly did in these images! Quantities less or more, I don't think you can ever go wrong with dates and walnuts in a cake! My aunts version also comes with a warm brown sugar sauce for pouring over the cake, which the sugar-craver in me loved! 
So there you have it, a cake born outside of tradition which has become tradition!


Special thanks has to go my aunt, uncle and mum for their insight, plus my great-aunt for bringing this cake into our family. To this day she is an amazing cook, and loved by all for her unique and interesting recipes.  

I might have broken the tradition by making this cake for the blog, but I know come Eid day I will definitely be keeping the tradition alive by making it again. As for my readers, whether you make it only for Eid, or for a rainy day, definitely do make it!



Date & Walnut Loaf Cake

250 ml boiling water
225g dates, chopped
1 tsp baking soda
75g butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla essence
225g caster sugar
275g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
50g walnuts, chopped

For the topping:
75g soft brown sugar
2 tbsp. milk
25g butter
50g walnuts, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 180 C, and grease a tin loaf pan, or square pan.
2. Pour the boiling water onto the dates, and stir in the baking soda. Leave to stand.
3. Cream together the butter and sugar, then add the egg and vanilla and mix well.
4. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt a little at a time, until all incorporated. Add the chopped walnuts, and then finally the date mixture, mixing to form a cake batter
5. Pour into greased tin pan and bake for 50-55 minutes if using a loaf pan, or 35-40 minutes in a square pan. Check for doneness.
6. Leave to cool in the tin.
7. To make the topping, heat together the sugar, milk and butter in a small saucepan. Boil for three minutes until all the sugar has melted.
8. Take off the heat and leave to cool slightly before spreading on to the cake, and sprinkling with chopped walnuts.

N.B. For those who don't want the extra calories, the topping can be excluded. It is still just as yummy!