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
210g soft brown 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!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dining Review: Mo's at the Citywalk Dubai

Having never done a restaurant review on the blog before, I have to admit I was a little tentative at first when I received the offer to come and dine at Mo’s. Do I want to go down this route on my blog? Am I upto the challenge of writing a review? And what if I don’t like the food?!
But simply put I swept my fears aside and told myself at the end of the day I had nothing really to lose by giving it a go. That and the tempting knowledge that the restaurant has an extensive dessert and milkshake selection! It is also part of the group that brings us Caramel in the DIFC – situated near my old work haunt, and a place known for attracting city workers.
Alas I am not a complete newbie having written a review for a magazine before, and thanks to being a part of Fooderati Arabia I felt I knew enough about what I was letting myself in for without completely throwing myself in at the deep end.

So about a week ago, off my husband and I went to Mo’s at the Citywalk Mall in Jumeirah, to sample what was to be an admittedly fantastic meal and enjoyable evening. Citywalk Mall itself is an outdoor lifestyle concept with various dining options and fashion brands, and is only about six months old. It boasts great cityscape views of the Burj Khalifa, and has a European piazza like feel about it, which makes it a great place for meeting with friends in the evening.

We chose to sit in a booth type setting by the wall, although the restaurant itself was spacious and very open in plan. I was expecting a stereotypical diner type d├ęcor concept, and was pleasantly surprised by how sleek and minimalist the interior actually was. There are no brash or kitsch colours here, and even the long milkshake bar didn’t stand out overbearingly.

Looking through their menu it was clear how highly extensive it is, ranging from a large breakfast menu, to starters, salads, burgers, sandwiches, mains, and a range of signature entrees too. And that’s not even mentioning the varied dessert menu.
Knowing that we wanted to leave enough space for dessert, we decided at first to order only one starter to share, and went with the queso fundido – a velveeta cheese dip with pieces of turkey chorizo, and served with crispy tortillas. I’m a sucker for munching on nachos and cheese whenever I’m at the movies, and dipping the perfectly crispy fresh tortillas into this dip was like dipping into the mother of all cheese dips!
However as a number of salads feature on their menu, we ended up giving in to our one starter rule, and were recommended to try their Chinese chicken salad. This was a crispy concoction of grilled chicken pieces, sprouts, cabbage, tangerines and an Asian peanut dressing. Give me a hearty, unleafy salad, and pair it with Asian flavours and I am in love. My taste-buds delighted in every mouthful, and my mind wanted to be able to recreate these flavours for myself. Even the husband, (who will avoid a salad at all costs) gave a great seal of approval.

Being the great burger lover that he is, it was only natural that the husband decided to go for a classic burger for his mains. And well, admittedly having overlooked the signature entrees and rather than ordering a sandwich, I went with a burger too, but was swayed by the veggie option. My edamame burger patty consisted of a mix of edamame, lentils, herbs and spices, and was served between a toasted whole wheat bun with tzatziki sauce. As far as veggie burgers go it was good – you could taste the quality, the bun was lovely and fresh. But as someone who would almost always choose anything over a burger, I did wonder if I should have ordered something different. Hubby’s classic burger came with a kobe beef patty, signature sauce, all the salad trimmings, and a toasted brioche bun. The quality here is also something he found worth remarking on, especially that of the meat. Both of our burgers came with delicious thin seasoned fries.

As if this wasn’t enough, we were soon guided towards the signature entrees and persuaded to try their TNT shrimp tacos – I loved how these were mini, and each taco could be eaten in three or four bites. Made up of battered shrimp, they reminded me of wasabi prawns, and were served with guacamole, slaw and chipotle mayo to slather on top. I enjoyed these much more than my burger, and made a mental note to come back with my seafood-loving mum for a lunch date.
We had milkshakes with our meals, only in true American style. Whilst my husband remarked that his vanilla milkshake was everything that it should be, I was a little disappointed with how under rich my Rocky Road was, but perhaps this at least meant I could consume my meal better!  

Stomachs near bursting we still knew we couldn’t leave without a slice of cake. We went for Jim’s carrot cake, a gigantic three tier cake slice which would be enough for even three or four to share. I’m not one to be disappointed easily by dessert, and found the cake to be perfect in its entirety, taste, texture, frosting and all.

Would I go back to Mo’s? Yes I would. I’m not a huge fan of eating breakfast out, but I would definitely go back to sample more of their lunch/dinner dishes, if not only to have that chicken salad and the shrimp tacos again. Portions were all very generous, the quality was fab, and their service was understandably impeccable and over-friendly, although I did notice attentiveness was met all round at other tables as well.  Having said that their business seemed a little slow, which we were assured was due to the area still being a grower. A dinner meal for two would probably set you back about 300-400 AED depending on the type of meals chosen. As an American casual dining concept, Mo’s is easily accessible to both families and couples, but doesn’t let you down in the way that the quality of most family restaurants do on food.

As far as a first review goes, my experience at Mo’s will be one I look back on fondly and I would only hope that their standards remain the same for all dining guests.  Fully replete, we left deciding to take a short amble around the Citywalk and with enough time to squeeze in a little shisha!

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