Artisinal Cheese from the Bavarian Alps

Germany doesn’t come to mind when I think of countries that produce fine cheeses. That’s exactly what Norbert and Manuela of the cheese company, Kaeskuche, would like to change.  Their shared passion for the dairy product prompted the duo to launch their business in 2006 (while still holding full-time jobs) with a mission to introduce handmade, artisanal cheeses from the Bavarian Alps to the world.

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So far, the venture has been quite successful, their products are supplied with gourmet purveyors such as Murray’s Cheese Shop in New York, to La Fromagerie in London and the Swiss Butchery in Singapore.  They were recently in Dubai and reached out to me after reading one of my blog posts. We met up for a chat.

Cheese Norbert and Manuela informed me that the cows pasture on the abundant grass and herbs that grow in the idyllic mountainous region of Bavaria, producing a cheese that is full of depth and character.  The farmers use the same methods they have for generations. Every part of the process is conducted with the utmost respect for the animal, the environment and the consumer. One farmer even refuses to cut the horns of the cows because “they look like donkeys” and she believes the end-product suffers.

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I was lucky enough to get a chance to sample some of their cheeses (the generous pair sent me home with a cooler packed to the brim). I have yet to go through the entire batch, but what I have tasted is exquisite– proving once again that products made with integrity are peerless.

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All photos courtesty of Kaeskuche. To learn more about Kaeskuche, visit http://www.kaeskuche.com/or their Facebook page. To order these cheeses in Dubai contact Karl H Dörfler, General Manager, J.M. Foods Dubai, +971 50 886 7996

 

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Toasted Coconut Meringues

If you need to use up leftover egg whites from yesterday’s Meyer Lemon Tart, here’s a quick and easy recipe. Crispy on the outside, and chewy marshmallow-y on the inside. It’s also a low-fat, gluten-free treat.

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Toasted Coconut Meringues

Makes 24

Ingredients

  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 pinches of salt
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp rum extract or vanilla for a subtitute
  • 1/2 cup flaked sweetened coconut, toasted in the oven until golden brown

Preparation

  • Preheat oven to 250°.
  • Combine cream of tartar, salt, and egg whites in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until soft peaks form.
  • Add sugar, a little bit at a time, beating at high speed until stiff peaks form.
  • Add extracts
  • Gently fold in coconut.
  • Drop by rounded tablespoons, 2 inches apart, onto 2 baking sheets covered with parchment paper that is sprayed lightly with non-stick spray
  • Bake at 250° for 1 hour until very lightly browned and almost crisp (I recommend
  • switching and rotating the baking sheets if your oven heats unevenly)
  • After one hour, turn the oven off and let the meringues stay in the oven for another 10 minutes.
  • Take out of oven, cool, and enjoy

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Meyer Lemon Mini-Tarts

The Meyer lemon is a citrus fruit native to China and thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. The smooth yellow skin reveals flesh that is sherbet orange in color. Commonly used as an ornamental tree in China, it was introduced to the U.S. in 1908 by a U.S. Department of Agriculture employee Frank Meyer.

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Chef Alice Waters rediscovered the fruit for culinary uses, and its popularity soared once Martha Stewart started incorporating it into her recipes. Meyer lemons are not as tart, and have none of the bitterness of common lemons. They are perfect for use in desserts and as preserves and are now in season and available at Waitrose and Spinney’s.

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Meyer Lemon Mini-Tarts

Serves 12

These miniature tarts are perfect for sharing. Cookie crusts are usually a bit fussy. They normally require pulsing the cookies into crumbs, combining with melted butter, pressing into the pan, and baking for a few minutes. I skip all those steps by placing a whole gingernap at the bottom of the cupcake liner, it fits perfectly and no one is the wiser.

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I also recently purchased a cupcake carrier. And although, I’m usually not a fan of any tool that serves only one purpose, I made an exception in this case because it’s just so darn cute and it makes it easy to transport and share my goodies with friends.

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Ingredients:

12 – 16 Cupcake Liners

Filling

  • 4 Large Egg Yolks
  • 1 Can (14 oz) of sweetened condensed milk
  • 3/4 cup of Meyer Lemon Juice
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F degrees
  2. Place cupcake liners in muffin tin.
  3. Place one gingernap cookie into each cupcake liner
  4. Then, with an electric mixer, beat all 4 egg yolks until they begin to thicken and turn to a pale orange/ yellow.
    1. Stop mixing and add the condensed milk.
    2. Then at a low mix speed, add the Meyer lemon juice
    3. Pour mixture into cupcake liners and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes until mixture is just set.

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Up in the Air: Survival Guide for Airline Meals

As much as I love travelling, one thing I rarely look forward to is airline food. Although, bland meals may not always be the caterer’s fault. Studies have shown that in a pressurized cabin the palate’s powers are reduced by 40 percent. What should one order given meager choices? In my experience, stews and rice dishes generally fare better than meat, which tends to always be overdone and impossible to cut with a butter knife. Try to avoid alcohol, coffee, and salt because of potential dehydration.

One way to ensure you have a great meal in the skies is to bring your own. Grain salads such as tabbouleh and sandwiches without mayonnaise keep really well. Pouring on some boiling “tea” water and draining it off, can reheat dishes such as chana masala or pasta with veggies.

I flew to Djibouti this past weekend (more on that later) and travelled on FlyDubai for the first time. Forgoing Dubai Terminal 2’s only dining option (McDonald’s), and the on-board choices (mystery meat and plastic cheese wraps), I decided to pack my own lunch.

The night before, I assembled a simple Panini of whole grain bread, cured meat, zucchini, parmesan and basil. The morning of the flight, I threw the sandwich on the Panini press and cut up some veggies while it grilled. On board a few hours later, I glanced at my seat mate’s Pringles and Coke snack and was glad I spent a couple extra minutes preparing.Image

Since travelling in the developing world can limit your dining options, I also prepared my own nut mix for snacking. I combined equal portions of my favorite nuts and dried fruit –cranberries, apricots, white figs, pistachios, pecans and hazlenuts. I tossed in a small bag of galaxy minstrels for the occasional chocolate treat. And since it’s never fun to “dine” alone, I made extra bags for my lovely travel companions.

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Bon voyage and safe travels.

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The Iranian Sweets Palace

Sweets are very important in Persian culture and there are a huge variety of them. So, it’s not surprising that Mr. Zandi (as he’s known to his staff)  would build a “palace” to house them all. Walking into this charming confectionary you’ll see towers of Iranian pastries, piles of jewel-like dried fruit and nuts, and lots of mirrors and gilded surfaces.

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There is even a spectacular eight foot tall, nine tiered wedding cake in the window, complete with sugared roses.

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Just the sight of it might give you a toothache, but unlike their Arabic and Indian counterparts, Persian desserts are more approachable and not cloyingly sweet.

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The store was established in 1986 and, in addition to traditional Persian treats, sells exotic variations of confections you may be already familiar with: saffron flavored cotton candy, pistachio and rose petal nougat, and various French-style pastries. There is also Iranian saffron, considered to be the best, and at 100AED for 8 grams, some of the most expensive in the world. 

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WHAT TO TRY

Faloodeh is one of the earliest known frozen desserts, dating to 400 BC in Persia. It originates in the city of Shiraz, but the term can refer to a variety of sweet concoctions made throughout the Middle East, India, and Pakistan.

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This faloodeh is something in between a granita and sorbet, studded with vermicelli noodles made of cornstarch. On the counter, there are small pitchers containing rose water, lemon juice, and sour cherry syrup.  You can top with your faloodeh with varying amounts of each as you please. The combination results in a wonderfully nuanced eating experience — cold, smooth, crunchy, sweet, sour and floral all at once. 

NAAN-E KHAAMEH-E, CREAM PUFF

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This pastry is close to the French profiterole, using choux pastry dough, but with two distinctions. The cream filling is very cold and dense—the result of whipping over a bowl of ice – until it is almost frozen. It’s also delicately scented with rose water to give an Iranian twist to a French classic. While there are lots of places in the city that sell similar cream puffs, but this is the only one I’ve discovered that adds a touch of rose. 

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 Iranian Sweets Palace, Dhiyafa Road, Satwa near the Etisalat building, +97143980164

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A chat with lifestyle expert, Antony Todd

Raised in Melbourne, Antony Todd worked in set design in his native Australia before arriving in the U.S. on vacation in 1992. Smitten with New York City, he decided to stay. His “big break” came in 1995 when White House press office contacted him about creating floral arrangements for a UN summit. (No one seemed to notice that while he was busy coordinating details with the Secret Service, he wasn’t even a legal US resident.) Todd who was initially known for his exquisite floral designs has since built a reputation for his event planning business, interior design and retail store. His impressive client list includes Graydon Carter, Martha Stewart, Amy Sacco, Condé Nast, Miramax, and the MoMA.

Antony Todd, was recently in Dubai as part of a tour of the region arranged by the luxury housewares store, Tanagra. In addition to sharing tips for floral and table arrangements, he also had few moments to chat with Dubai Bites about what inspires him, what he picked up shopping in Dubai and his love of cooking.

DB: What is your design philosophy?

I would say to work with quality products (both flowers and vases) and to have a creative eye (to be able to pay attention to detail and to be able to edit).

DB: How would you define your style?

My own personal style really reflects my life story and trips around the world. From pictures of my mother and my early childhood mixed with modern Italian furniture, an antique ottoman and fresh cut flowers from my garden – everything has a story.

In regards to my working style, I believe in keeping things simple but also creating an experience when you encounter the space or arrangement.

Todd is known for mixing styles. Here a traditional Syrian mirror anchors a contemporary table. The blue chairs add whimsy.

From the years of travelling I am inspired from the different cultures and people I have met. Having a early background in set design has given me a classic foundation. Over the years I have been able to explore, experiment and bring these different elements to my design.

DB: You have stores in New York and Istanbul, how has each setting inspire you?

It’s a matter of walking the streets, smelling the air, sitting and drinking a coffee. Both Istanbul and NYC are big cities and share a lot of similarities, both are surrounded by water but it’s the people that make the difference and give me the greatest inspiration.

DB: What is your favorite room in your home?

I personally love the kitchen! It’s a place of gathering, warmth and entertainment. I love to have people in the kitchen while I cook or prepare food – it shows an authenticity to food you are about to serve.

DB: What’s your favorite item that you picked up on your travels?

A centrepiece of hyacinths include those still with the bulb.

I actually picked up some great antique Bedouin bracelets here in Dubai! I plan to use them as napkin rings for a summer dinner party. Just to add that little something special that most people wouldn’t think of.

DB: What is the last place you saw that made you think, I wish I’d done that?

I actually stayed at the One and Only (Jumeriah) while I was here in Dubai and I was really surprised! I personally know the team behind the interior decor of the hotel – it’s a small world and there are only a few people how can handle such a big job. It certainly made me think what I would have done instead.

DB: Do you like to entertain at home? What would be your entertaining advice?

I love to entertain at home! There is nothing better than being able to conjure up a fantastic menu, bring to together new and old friends and create a dinning décor to take people out of their everyday lives.

Todd use oranges and orange roses for a tone on tone table setting.

Definitely take a walk outside in your garden – pick some leaves and local flowers. Mix together fruits (dragon fruit, dates on a branch) or vegetables (artichoke or onion flowers) and finish off with some fresh flowers from the market.

DB: Do you like to cook? What’s your favorite meal?

I love to cook – I enjoy foods from all regions! It’s hard for me to just pick one cuisine; it can certainly be anything from a Moroccan tajine to a Pakistani cashew green curry! As long as its authentic, fresh and made from the heart!

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Mango Madness: Mango, Lime, Mint and Chili Spritzer

It is mango season! At least it is on the Subcontinent, which means that our grocery shelves are lined with a plentitude of choices for these fleshy, delectable fruits. Though thick-skinned varieties of mangoes are generally available year-round, the majority of Indian and Pakistani mangoes have a delicate skin and a short shelf life. Varieties to look out for now include the perfumey Alphonso, the green-skinned Chausan, and the tiny Kesar, and the sweet-tart Badami. Mangoes are ripe when they gently give at their stem end, color isn’t a reliable indication of ripeness because some varieties remain green. They should be kept at room temperature, rather than chilled, to maximize their flavor.

When experimenting with mangoes, you may find that you’ve cut one too early, or have a variety you’re less fond of, or that you’ve let a few get overripe sitting on the counter.

Rather than tossing them in the bin, I chop up the mangoes, puree them with a bit of sugar, fresh mint, a chili and some lime juice and then pour the mixture into ice trays. When it’s time for sundowners, all you have to do is pop out a few of the cubes, pour on some soda water, sparkling wine or ginger ale for a drink that instantly make you feel as if you’re on holiday.

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 overripe, underripe, or in any way less than ideal mangoes
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar (adjust for taste)
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1 small bunch of fresh mint
  • 1 Red chili, de-seeded

Preparation:

Puree all ingredients in a blender. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze. For serving, pop out 4 cubes and top with soda water, sparkling wine, or ginger ale.

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Thailand and a 2 night 5 star hotel giveaway in Bangkok

Thailand has something for everyone –luxury resorts and budget travel, idyllic beaches and verdant mountains, opulent palaces and sacred temples. With such diversity, it’s no surprise that Thailand is often the first stop in Asia for tourists . Here they meet a hospitality industry that has been honed to an art form; a welcome that keeps you coming back.

I’ve been visiting Thailand since I was a child. My parents, like many South Asians, have had a long  been enamored of the country. History, landscape and culture aside, I think the draw is far more straightforward. It’s the food.

Thai cusine has a universal appeal. There are few people who’ve lived in urban centers and not tried Pad Thai or a Green Curry. Take-out boxes can play a huge part in cultural exploration. Through our taste buds we may discover how one region influences another and travel to places we’ve never been.

I could wax poetic about Thai cuisine for days –its play of hot, sour, salty, sweet. The harmonious assembly of seemingly disparate elements into one balanced dish. The freshness of the ingredients, lightly prepared and combined with strong aromatics. Luckily I won’t have to. I’m going to make it a little easier for you to experience the cuisine yourself.

In July I will be giving away a voucher for a complimentary two nights stay in a premier room, inclusive of breakfast for two people, at the 5 Star Siam Kempinski Hotel in the heart of Bangkok. The voucher is valid until Novermber 15, 2012. For entry, all you have to do is “like” my Facebook page, and/or follow me on Twitter and send me a message telling me why you want to visit Thailand.

Please also TWEET this message to your followers.

Please RT! Win 2 free nights @Kempinski Bangkok. Follow @dubaibites and/or like facebook.com/dubaibites. More details on http://wp.me/p1bqh8-bN.

The winner will be drawn at random on Aug 1.

Good luck and happy travels!

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Fresh from the Desert: Part Deux

If you’ve ever driven to Fujairah via Dhaid, you may have passed small patches of greenery interspersed with miles of red sand and rocky terrain.  Through the gates of one these oases, is one of Obaid Sager’s seven farms.  Golden fields of wheat, lines of crisp lettuce, flowering plants and greenhouses — a lush bounty thriving in the harshest of terrains. It is such an improbable sight; you may have trouble believing it’s real.  But this farm is more than real, it’s organic and environmentally sustainable.

Arugula or Rocket leaves that have begun to flower

Fields of Gold

The Greenhouses

Obaid of the Organiliciouz farm contacted me several weeks ago after reading this post on organic produce in the UAE.  He invited me for a visit, and I emphatically agreed. A few days later, my fellow bloggers Sally of My Custard Pie and Saba Wahid arrived for our visit.

Obaid and his cousin Khalaf walked us around the farm. The charming Emiratis belong to a more progressive generation, concerned not only with income-making, but also keen on innovation and social responsibility.  Obaid’s passion for organic farming grew from sentimental reasons. Two years ago, he discovered he was going to become a father. Like most parents, he began to worry about his child’s diet. He wanted his daughter to have only the best–organic, free of chemicals and pesticides.

Obaid and Khalaf

With no prior background in agriculture, Obaid’s farming methods are gleaned from a mix of careful research and mad scientist experiments. This system of trial and error must stem from their background tinkering with cars. The cousins tell me they can convert any car to an electric. In the greenhouse, there was a rather ingenious method of fertilizing strawberries, which I’m not allowed to reveal. A look up at the ceiling revealed an HVAC tube peppered with holes– evidence of a less fruitful experiment. Whatever the outcome, Obaid passes on his successful innovations to neighboring farmers, “I tell them ‘don’t worry, I’ll try it on my farm first.’” He is also in the process of converting Khalaf’s family farms to organic farms.

Organiliciouz also uses conventional methods of farming. The crops are fertilized with compost and  watered with groundwater that has been filtered to remove salt. Pest control is managed through companion planting, physical removal, organic pesticide and sometimes, just laissez faire. “If they want eat, let them eat,” Khalaf says about the little bugs hanging on a cauliflower plant.

Sweet and luscious strawberries

Broccoli plants that have begun to flower

Organiliciouz has only been operational for two years and is still a work in progress. One thing they have noticed, is that second generation seeds fair better, as if the plants are naturally selecting themselves to adapt to the newfound conditions much in the same way this generation of Emiratis have had to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of the UAE. .

Without government-set standards for organic farming and rearing, they are self-regulating with a great deal of integrity. When asked about the possibility of raising organic chickens, they explained that they could get away with calling a chicken organic if they refrained from using antibiotics and hormones.  But they also want to raise them on organic feed, which is more expensive.  “If we do it, we want to do it right.”

So far, they’ve been doing a good job of getting it right. Obaid and Khalaf are an inspiring pair. I’m looking forward to the next growing season to see what happens next on this desert farm.

Products from the Organiliciouz farm are sold at the Baker&Spice Farmer’s Market and some Union Co-op outlets. You can follow them on Twitter @Organiliciouz

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Hanging with Gary Rhodes

Gary Rhodes at Taste of Dubai. Photo courtesy of Hotelier Middle East.

This weekend I caught-up with the eternally charming Gary Rhodes– chef, celebrity, restaurateur and author.  Over the years, Gary has served as an ambassador for British cuisine. He did what no other chef was able to do—reinvent classic dishes and introduce the globe to a culinary heritage that was once dismissed as stodgy and boring. He has also acquired somewhat of a restaurant empire which have earned him a constellation of Michelin stars,  including three restaurants in Dubai and another one set to open later this year in Abu Dhabi. Keep reading to find out who’s his “chef crush,” and what he really eats at home…

DB: So many other chefs have had to depart Dubai, what do you think is the reason for your continuing success in the Emirates?

I am heavily involved in the restaurants here. Gordon Ramsey, who I have the utmost respect for…perhaps his irregular visits to the region played a part in his restaurant closing. Every project that carries my name represents me. I try to be here [in Dubai] as much a possible. Last year I spent about 4 months of the year here.

DB: What’s next? What do Gary Rhodes’ fans have to look forward to?

We’re opening a new restaurant in the St. Regis in Abu Dhabi. It’ll be distinctly different from the Dubai restaurants. It will have more of an Arabic influence.

DB: What is the first thing you ever learned to cook? How old were you, and was it any good?

My mother taught me how to cook, and the first savory item I learned to make was a shepherd’s pie. The first dessert was a lemon sponge cake with a lemon sauce. I still make them, the same recipes with a few tweaks. I started cooking with her when I was about 7 or 8 years old, and by the time I was 13 or 14, I had perfected those dishes.

DB: What’s the best advice or cooking tip you have for a home cook?

Eat simply. The simplest things are often the finest. Don’t overmask flavors. Buy in-season. The ingredient will express itself, it needs little help. For example, English asparagus is best in May/June and all you need to do is steam it and serve it with a bit of butter. Delicious.

DB: What dish have you created that you’re most proud of?

That’s a difficult question because so many recipes are built upon other recipes. I, of course, didn’t invent bread and butter pudding. But I don’t believe there is a better bread and butter pudding in any part of the world than the one we serve in our restaurants.

DB: What is the dish you’re least proud of? Did anything ever wind up on a menu that you regret?

I’m not telling.

DB: Is there a dish that you wish you’d invented?

There have been many times over the years where I’ve eaten at Guy Savoy in Paris. Every time I go there, I get excited and buzzed and at the same as the high I think,  “Why didn’t I think of that?!”

DB: Do you have a foodie crush on any other chefs?

I look up to the Roux brothers in London. They elevated London cuisine before any one else and have trained Marco Pierre White, and Gordon Ramsey. They really are geniuses.

DB: Gourmands like to keep their food clean. Is there any low-brow or junk food that you indulge in as a guilty pleasure?

I do not go to fast food, I’ve banned places like McDonalds. Now of course, when I was 18 and I couldn’t afford anything else, I’d eat fast food. But I do enjoy having a Heinz tomato soup out of the can, with a ham and cheese sandwich that I dip in the soup. And of course, baked beans… everybody eats baked beans.

DB: What would be your last meal?

I’d dine with Marilyn Monroe, Bill Clinton, Martin Luther King Jr,  Sir Alex Ferguson and, of course, my wife. We’d eat braised oxtail, and a lots of creamy mashed potatoes out of a big bowl. I’d be wearing an Armani suit but I would eat the oxtail with my hands and let it dribble down my shirt. And it wouldn’t matter because it would be my last meal, and as far as I’m concerned,  I’d be eating with style.

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