Halal Food Festival 2013

As this will be probably be my last post from London for 2013, I thought it would be fitting to write a review of London’s first Halal Food Festival which took place this past weekend!

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I was very excited about going, and my friend (SK) had booked us tickets over a month in advance. Overall, we ended up having a great time but the festival was… how can I put this… a bit of an anti-climax?! But let’s start on a positive note:

The Pros

The whole concept of a Halal Food Festival is such a great idea. Food lovers who only eat halal meat are often limited to restaurants and cuisines originating from Muslim countries (Pakistani, Arab, etc.). Most of the time when dining out, we have to skip things like Jamaican jerk chicken served at street-side joints, the best of haute cuisine such as that featuring veal, Italian desserts that feature alcohol, and the list goes on. The idea of an entire festival at which we could try whatever we want and therefore hopefully get a chance to taste cuisines we otherwise would not was very exciting!

Undoubtedly, Gaucho probably walked away the biggest “winner” out of this festival. The line for their famous Argentinian steaks swerved around about a quarter of the hall, and we stood in it for our burgers for over 40 mins!

Gaucho at the Halal Food Festival

Pic credits: @chittakookar on Instagram

Depending on who you talk to, the burger was either amazing or disappointing. I quite liked it, and especially liked the accompanying chimichurri.

Gaucho at the Halal Food Festival

The overpriced but pretty good Gaucho burger up close. Pic courtesy of @kiswaali on Instagram

Unfortunately, SK really disliked it so she had to fuel herself from the Maison Touareg stand.

There were lots of cake stands, presumably more to showcase young Muslim entrepreneurs rather than the non-existent category of “Halal Cakes.” There was one that stood out for me the most (The Enchanting Cake Co.) that had gulab jaman cupcakes! It was that kind of unique, fusion cuisine I went there to see… Another one that stood out was The Apple Blue Patisserie:

Apple Blue Patisserie at the Halal Food Festival

Pistachio Opera Cake from the Apple Blue Patisserie.

Similarly, there was a crepe stand, waffles and of course, halal sweets (free from pork gelatin).

Waffles at the Halal Food Festival

I would’ve been interested in trying the elderflower cream, but the wait was just too long…

The Creative Kitchen showcased some beautiful Eid inspired cakes, I was seriously tempted to buy some gourmet fudge from Yum Yum Tree Fudge to take back to Pakistan, but decided not to incase it melts on the way…

I did buy some Bee Mercy honey for my mama.

We also did some light celeb-spotting: Pearl Daisy was there in the flesh, manning her stall. Ali from the Great British Bake-Off was also there, and we caught the end of a baking “competition” he seemed to be running. Finally, Rachel Allen did cooking demonstrations and book signings!

The Cons

Let’s start with the vouchers debacle; it was made to seem like most (if not all) stands would only accept payment in the form of “Haloodi Vouchers” so we all bought some. Except most stands were not accepting them and only taking cash! As the vouchers were non-refundable, we ended up selling them to other people queuing up to buy them. What a hassle.

Secondly, the prices. I was expecting a lot more “tasters” or smaller portions at small prices, so everyone could try as much as possible. Not so. I paid a whopping £4 for a glass of lemonade! Ok, freshly squeezed. But still… £4?!

Lemonade at the Halal Food Festival

Fresh Lemonade Co.’s extortionately priced lemonade

Finally, and I think this is what disappointed me the most… the lack of variety. I can eat cake anywhere. But I can’t eat alcohol-free tiramisu everywhere! I wanted to see more variety of cuisines… For example, I know there are halal Brazilian restaurants in London; why weren’t they showcasing at the festival?

Instead, there were too many lifestyle stalls, in my opinion. I spotted a stall selling massage equipment (like chairs) and there was art, jewellery, calligraphy, and book stalls too. As well as that, there were live nasheed artists, so it was much more like a “Muslim Festival” than a “FOOD Festival”, which would’ve been fine if that’s what it had been advertised as…

All in all, I did have a great day with my lovely friends, but the best part of the day was sitting in Costa afterwards OUTSIDE the festival (which says it all really), kindly treated to lattes by NR’s husband :-)

But unless there’s more stalls, more space and lower prices next year, I probably won’t revisit.

Pastel de Tres Leches (Daring Bakers September Challenge)

This is my first ever Daring Bakers Challenge (woohoo!)

For those that aren’t familiar with it, The Daring Bakers is a online community of bakers that come together once a month to try out a new recipe (in secret!). Everyone makes the same thing, and reveals it at the same time (on the 27th of the month).

Inma of la Galletika was our Sept. 2013 Daring Bakers’ hostess and WOW did she bring us something decadent and delicious: “Pastel de Tres Leches” or Three Milk Cake, creamy yet airy, super moist but not soggy…

I have to confess, when I first saw the challenge I thought it seemed “easy” enough and was relieved as this was my first time participating in one! However, my first attempt was a complete flop, and if you follow my blog, you know I’m prone to cake disasters!

So the second time around, I calmed my excited-self down, read not only Inma’s recipe but also any others I could find on the Internet, and tried again.

I am beyond glad I didn’t give up; this is probably one of the best cakes I’ve ever had! As I made this in my mum’s house, there was a good five minutes where the two of us just sat there in silence eating our slices, with no other sound in the room apart from “mmmmmm!”

Daring Bakers Sept Challenge Tres Leches Cake

Its so moist, you can see some of the “three milks” at the bottom of the plate when serving!

A few things to note:

  1. Make this cake when you’re not in a rush, as you need to give the sponge enough time (preferably overnight) to soak in the milks.
  2. While making the sponge, take EXTRA care when folding the ingredients together. This was the hardest part for me: overfolding will ruin your cake. Underfolding will ruin your cake! You need to strike the perfect balance, which is totally do-able if you just pace yourself and concentrate…
  3. Don’t be put off by the very large amount of liquids in the recipe! I was sure it couldn’t be right, surely it would be too much, but trust the recipe and make it exactly as directed. You will not be disappointed!

Classic Three Milks Cake
(Servings: 12)

Ingredients for the vanilla sponge cake:
5 large eggs (separated)
½ cup (120 ml/4 oz) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) of vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml/5 oz) plain flour (sifted)

For the three milks syrup:
1 can (14 oz) (400 gm) sweetened condensed milk
1 can (12 oz) (340 gm) evaporated milk
1 cup (240 ml) double cream

Topping and filling:
2 cups (500 ml) double cream (whipped)
Canned or fresh fruit (to decorate the cake)

Making the sponge:

  1. Preheat your oven to moderate 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Line a square 9”x9” (23cmx23 cm) pan or 9” (23 cm) round cake pan with parchment paper.
  2. Beat the egg whites till soft peaks begin to form, then slowly add the sugar in small batches.
  3. Keep whisking until you get stiff peaks. Set aside.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks for 5-6 minutes until they are pale-coloured, creamy and puffy. Then stir in the vanilla
  5. Pour the egg yolks over the whites, gently folding until just combined. Try not to lose any volume from the mixture.
  6. Fold in the flour little-by-little, and mix until just combined (over-beating will result in a denser, flatter cake).
  7. Pour the batter into your prepared cake and bake for 25 minutes (or until the toothpick comes out clean).
  8. Let the cake cool while you prepare the three milks (see below)

Three milks syrup:

  1. In a saucepan, combine the condensed milk, evaporated milk and double cream, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and continue simmering for 5 minutes (gently stirring). Remove and let cool.
  2. Using a fork or toothpick, poke holes all over the cooled cake. The gently and evenly poor over the three milks liquid, and refrigerate overnight.*

*Note: if you use glass bakeware, you could pour the liquid over all at once. However, as I had removed the cake onto a plate, this would’ve resulted in a lot of liquid falling down the sides. Therefore I did this step in stages (i.e. poured a third, let the cake absorb it while in the refrigerator, then poured another third, and so on).

To decorate:

Evenly spread the whipped cream over the cake, and decorate with fresh fruit. I choose the last of this summer’s strawberries, but you could use any soft fruit you like, such as mangoes or cherries!

La Boqueria, Barcelona!

This time last year, I was in the sunny, welcoming, and all-round fun city of Barcelona! Since then, I’ve been meaning to blog about it, but time seems to have taken lessons from Usain Bolt these days, and here we are writing this a year later.

So you can’t visit Barcelona and not visit La Rambla (a famous pedestrian mall) and you can’t visit La Rambla without visiting La Boqueria–a huge food market! In fact, having grown up in London (home to the likes of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Sq.) I wasn’t blown away by La Rambla to be honest. But the food market made visiting it totally worthwhile.

Here are a few photos from what was my favourite spot in the city:

Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria... quite a mouthful right? Fortunately its referred to simply as La Boqueria!

Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria… quite a mouthful right? Fortunately its referred to simply as La Boqueria!

From a side entrance that we went in from, the first thing we saw was this fresh juice stall.

We strolled around the market for ages, grabbing snacks as we went along. Even if you’re not a “foodie” you’ll still enjoy being there and soaking in the hustling bustling atmosphere. But as a foodie, this place is even more fun!

La Boqueria Market

The most exotic selection of fruit! Check out the red mangoes in the upper left corner. The middle row includes star fruit, dragon fruit, and then in the bottom row there’s lychees, rambutan and much more!

La Boqueria Market

Spanish olives, anyone?

La Boqueria Market

Saffron (just look at that price tag!)

Fish section in La Boqueria

Fish section in La Boqueria

I’m actually not a huge seafood fan, but even I couldn’t resist a bite to eat from the neat little take-away stall pictured below. This was right next to the fish section in the market. There was a huge crowd there, being served freshly made variations of cod.

Fish n chips, Barcelona style

Fish n chips, Barcelona style

So fresh and delicious, even for a non-fish fan like me!

This photo was featured in my last blog post too, check it out for an easy mushroom “bundles” recipe!

One thing I must note is how nice and hospitable Barcelona’s residents are. I was a little unprepared in terms of how little English was spoken, and knew not a single word of Spanish! But no-one ever irritably brushed me aside as Londoners sometimes do to tourists :-/

One evening I was desperately craving a glass of milk and ventured into a nearby supermarket, but couldn’t find the milk aisle! I asked a shopper, and eventually a little crowd gathered, all listening with utmost concetration trying to figure out what this strange lady (me) was saying. Suddenly one man lit up and seemed to understand and led me to an aisle with the biggest selection of chocolate milk I’d ever seen! He was so proud of himself I really didn’t have the heart to tell him I wanted regular milk :-)

Note to self: stop travelling without Google translate

Note to self: stop travelling without Google translate

I’m not the only one who fell in love with this market! Here are some other blog posts you might want to have a look at if you’re planning on visiting it too:

Rambling Through La Boqueria
La Boqueria in Barcelona – A Place to Photograph Beautiful Food
The Barcelona Food Market Scene
Barcelona – A Food Odyssey

Mushroom Surprise!

I LOVE mushrooms!

Mushrooms in La Boqueria, Barcelona. This was a sight right up there with the likes of Sagrada Familia for me!

I had to adjust to a lot of things when I first moved to Pakistan (worthy  of an entire blog on its own!) and one of those things was the lack of fresh mushrooms (I kid you not, this was an actual problem for me). Ok, “lack” is not entirely true; you do get fresh mushrooms in Pakistan, BUT:

a) only in select grocery stores, which run out pretty quickly (I sometime phone up in advance and ask them to hide a box for me!);

b) being a novelty item, you get a handful of mushrooms for the price of a box of mushrooms in London; and

c) you don’t get a variety, just your regular closed-cup kind.

I was faced with the prospect of eating tinned mushrooms for months. Yuck. So my amazing mum asked around and helped me hunt down a market famed for expat foods before she left which, along with extortionately priced exported goods from Tesco, also sells mushrooms! And so my slight obsession with mushrooms began. I mean, I’ve always loved them, but you know when something isn’t easily available you suddenly you become obsessed with it? Yep. That’s me all over.

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When in London (as I am right now), there is a box of mushrooms ALWAYS in the fridge. It gives me a sense of calm to open the fridge door and see them there. Seriously.

So the other day I also had some filo (phyllo?!) pastry lying around and threw together this recipe for dinner with a friend. They looked pretty cute on our plates, next to roast chicken, vegetables and a leafy salad!

You could try these if you’re doing finger food for a party… And you can vary the recipe by chopping up the mushrooms as the Pioneer Woman does, who even adds some parmesan cheese. I’m going to try that next time. You could also make bigger bundles with larger mushrooms, like portobello (as a side note, WordPress is telling me it doesn’t recognise the word “portobello.” Um, what?! The nerve!)  so there’s definitely room for playing around with the recipe, and if you do, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

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Ingredients:

8 mushrooms (whatever kind takes your fancy. I went for organic closed cup. Try and choose something you can easily wrap the filo around. So chanterelles, for example, won’t really work)
150g filo pastry (about half a standard pack)
1tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp minced garlic
Generous pinch of garam masala*
Salt to taste

*see the ingredients section in my Fusion Pasta recipe for more info on this spice. You can use freshly ground black pepper instead if your prefer.

First of all, preheat your oven to 170 degrees Celcius (approx. 340 degrees Fahrenheit). Mix your garlic and butter together really well. It should be of an easily spreadable consistency. Set aside. Grab your mushrooms and season them well with the salt and garam masala. Don’t just sprinkle it on top; really rub it over the mushrooms well.

Now, open out the filo pastry and cut it half lengthways, so you’re left with two, long rectangular stacks. You’ll only need one these halves, so put the other back in the fridge. Then, cut the pastry into thirds, so you have three small stacks of square-ish shaped filo (see photo above).

Take a sheet at a time and brush on some of the garlic butter. You don’t want to go overboard and soak the sheets, just a light brushing. Top with another sheet and repeat, then repeat once more. So altogether you’ll have three sheets of filo.

Put a mushroom (stalk facing upwards) into the middle, and scrunch up the pastry around the mushroom. To do this, I like to put the stack in my palm and then use my other hand to bring up the filo around the sides of the mushroom.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper and lay your bundles onto it. Then, use some of your remaining garlic butter to brush the tops. This will make them go a gorgeous brown colour when baked. Bake for approx. 12 minutes, or until the mushrooms are cooked and the tops have browned. In my oven this took 12 minutes, but take it up to 15 if necessary.

Mushroom bundles in filo

Fellow mushroom lovers, here are some other recipes with this ingredient that sound really good:

Crispy Baked Portabello Mushroom Fries (Closet Cooking)
Mushroom Kale Lasagna Rolls (Tara’s Multicultural Table)
Mushroom Tikka (Veg Recipes of India)
Mushroom, Onion & Thyme Galette (Lea & Jay)

Turkish-Style Tortilla Pizza (and an Ode to Istanbul)

A few years ago, I got the chance to visit Istanbul for an unforgettable week. I absolutely loved the city and am itching to go back again some day. From the breathtaking architecture, to the delicious food, to the unique activities you have to put on your “to-do” list (like visit a hammam, for example!), Istanbul is one of the best holiday destinations.

Foodie-to-foodie, there are three things I urge you to try if you ever find yourself there:

  1. the mastic ice-cream (proper name being “dondurma”). You can’t miss it during the summer months; street vendors bang spoons against the steel ice cream containers to catch your attention!
  2. get off the beaten path and head to Ortaköy, famous for baked potatoes (Kumpir) but these are nothing like the British “canteen” fare with baked beans; these potatoes are stuffed with a multitude of ingredients ranging from sausages, to pickles and sweetcorn to ketchup and mayo, and so much more.
  3. finally, you can’t go to Turkey and not try Turkish pizza!
Pide, also known as Turkish pizza with pomegranate juice in a random Istanbul cafe.

Pide, also known as Turkish pizza with pomegranate juice in a random Istanbul cafe.

As I’m yet to master bread-making, I was really excited to try this well-known twist on Turkish pizzas, made using store-bought tortillas. It kind of reminds me of Lebanese “kibbeh” served in flatbread. Super easy to make and deceptively filling! Allow one tortilla per person as a snack, cut into “slices” like a pizza, and enjoy!

Turkish pizza

About to hit the oven

You can play around with the ingredients and add some more chillies if you like (I actually used some harissa, technically making this dish a fusion of Turkish, Mexican and North African cuisine!) Use good quality mince (I prefer lamb) and don’t worry about the short cooking time; as the layer of mince is very thin, it WILL cook, provided the oven is very hot when you put it in.

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Ingredients:
(makes 8 pizzas)

500g good quality mince (such as lamb)
1 small onion, chopped very finely
1 tomato, chopped
1/4 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp harissa 
1 tsp salt, or adjusted to taste
Black pepper to taste
Small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped 
8 flour tortillas

First of all, mix the lamb, onion, tomato, garlic, harissa, coriander and seasonings together. Use your hands to really mix it all together well, then set aside for about half an hour.

Now, preheat your oven (preferably grill setting) at the highest temperature it can go to; you want it to get very hot while you prepare the pizzas.

Spread equal amounts of the mince on each tortilla, using the back of a spoon to carefully spread it out in a very thin layer. Cover the entire tortilla, then place onto a baking sheet greased very lightly with a bit of olive oil. You will probably only be able to fit one pizza on a baking sheet, and so you’ll have to make these one at a time. But don’t worry, each one only needs about five minutes in the oven!

After five minutes, they will be ready to eat (you can tell when the mince has browned and “shrunk”) but the tortilla will still be relatively soft. I like mine like this, but if you want them to crisp up more, leave them in for a further 1-2 minutes.

Turkish pizza

Cake Disasters!

Lately, I seem to have set a baking pattern for myself: 1 great cake, 3 awful cakes. You can imagine what a high I’m on when a cake goes well. I start going through my recipe books at high speed wondering which cake I’m going to attempt next. And then comes an epic fail. And then another. And another.

A few days ago, one of my closest friends had invited me and our other friends over for dinner, so I decided to take along a cake. Not just any cake. A three-tiered, malt-flavoured, extravagantly decorated with Maltesers cake! (Is your mouth watering yet?)

And so into the oven went the first layer and out it came, looking (and smelling) divine. I was engrossed in a conversation with my mum about how easy baking really can be if you just keep practicing, and was taking the cake out onto a rack to cool when it literally BROKE into three pieces :-(

Not one to be put off so easily, I quickly made some more batter and tried the first layer again. This time, it over-baked. I hadn’t touched the temperature dial. I’d baked it for the exact same time as the first cake yet there it was, crispy as nacho!

Pic courtesy of Cakeboi

Still feeling determined, I made another layer and this time (drumroll please…) it didn’t rise. Same batter. Same ingredients. Yet the cake just shrunk inwards as if it was saying out loud “give up and leave me alone!”

Moral of the story?

Baking is complex. If you already knew this, well done. You’re obviously way ahead of me and I’m just getting my head around this. Everything from the type of oven you have, to the bakeware you use, to the ingredients of the cake play some sort of role. Get one thing wrong and there goes hours of hard work!

On the occasions that I do get a cake right (it happens, I promise!), I’ve found its when I’ve really concentrated on the whole process, read over the recipe a good couple of times and laid out all the ingredients before starting. Also, I’ve been extra careful with timing how long the cake is in the oven for (making sure to adjust when the size of the pan has been changed).

Here is one such example I like to look at to give myself hope when I feel like screaming “oh my gaaad I’m never going to be able to bake a cake properly!!!”

When cake goes right, it really is one of the best feelings :-)

When cake goes right, it really is one of the best feelings :-)

Summer in a Salad

I’m so glad that the first salad recipe on my blog will be this one. This is definitely one of my favourite salads! It goes perfectly with grilled/BBQ food, and is even tastier on its own for a light lunch. The combination of flavours and textures is really nice, from the softness and sweetness of the mangoes, to the crunchy and rich tasting cashew nuts. And who knew ginger and mango go so well together?!

Fresh, fruity, summery mango salad!

Fresh, fruity, summery mango salad!

The only downside is that the best mangoes are only available in the summer, so you literally have a couple of months to enjoy this salad at its best. My recipe is inspired by Anjum Anand’s grilled paneer and mango salad, but with a number of ingredients purposely omitted and measurements changed, simply because I wanted as much of the mango to come through as possible.

Having lived in Pakistan for a few years now, I’ve become well-acquainted with the different types of mangoes available there… from the Sindhi mangoes to the “langrahs” and the tiny “chaunsas”. The names don’t matter so much; if it’s a Pakistani mango, you can be sure it’s going to taste good (side note: mangoes are the national fruit of Pakistan. Does England have a national fruit?! Must Google that!)

Check out the links at the end for a few other recipes with mangoes in them from some of the blogs I like :-)

Ingredients:

2 mangoes (if you can find Pakistani mangoes, go for those. You won’t regret it)
1/4 of an onion, very thinly sliced
Generous handful of baby spinach leaves, washed
Handful of cashew nuts, toasted 

For the dressing:
3 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
Small piece of fresh ginger, approximately 1 inch long

To make the dressing, whizz everything together in a small blender until completely combined, or is as they say “emulsified” (see photo below):

Salad dressing

Next, peel and dice your mangoes into small cubes. Place in a bowl. Add the onion slices and spinach leaves (I like to tear some of the big ones up, but you don’t have to).

If you’re toasting the cashew nuts yourself, simply grab a small pan and throw them in and toast on a low heat till they colour (it won’t take long). Then let them cool before adding to the salad.

Finally, stir in the dressing and serve (best to leave this step till right before eating).

Mango salad

Other delish mango recipes:

Sparkling Mango Lemonade by Lawyer Loves Lunch
Saffron Mango Icecream by Slice of My Life

Mango Mousse by Fauzia’s Kitchen Fun