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Archive for May, 2011

Well I have been in denial but I think summer is upon us! I keep on stepping outside and thinking “Oh its quite warm today!” but I fear this is it guys, brace yourselves for the on-coming 45 degree heat that we all endure (somehow) every year.

What better vegetable to come to the rescue than the Cucumber! The Cucumber is cool and soothing and is packed full of vitamins and water. Here are a few fascinating facts about the Cucumber…..

The Facts:

1. It contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, Folic Acid, Vitamin C, Iron Magnesium, Phosphorous, Potassium and Zinc!

2. It is great as an afternoon pick-me-up as it contains the right amount of Vitamin B and carbohydrates, try it next time instead of reaching for that bar of chocolate.

3. When rubbed on skin the phytochemicals in the cucumber cause the collagen in your skin to tighten so it is great to put on your eyes if a little puffy or rub cellulite areas before heading down to the pool!

4. If  you’ve had a few too many and don’t want to wake up with a hangover, eat a few slices of cucumber before you go to bed. Cucumbers contain enough sugar, B vitamins and electrolytes to replenish essential nutrients the body lost, keeping everything in equilibrium, avoiding both a hangover and headache!!

5. If you want a “green” way to clean your sink, taps or stainless steel take a slice of cucumber and rub the surface you are cleaning, It will bring back the shine with no streaks.

6. If you are using a pen and have made a mistake, take the skin of the cucumber and slowly rub to erase the pen writing,(tippex may be a bit quicker!!!) it also works on delightful crayon graffiti that kids may have decided to decorate your house with!

Here is a delicious recipe for  Gorden Ramsey’s  Chilled Avocado and Cucumber soup, a perfect chilled lunch for hot summer’s day:

2 large cucumbers, about 14 oz each, chilled

juice of 1 lemon, or to taste

2 ripe avocados

2 tbsp strained plain yogurt

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

sea salt and black pepper

½ red onion, minced

1 plum tomato, seeded and minced

1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to drizzle

3–4 basil leaves, finely shredded

1. Peel the cucumbers, quarter lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Dice a quarter and set aside for the garnish. Roughly chop the rest, place in a blender with half the lemon juice,

and whiz until smooth.

2. Halve, pit, and peel the avocados. Mince one avocado half to use for the garnish. Squeeze over a little lemon juice and set aside with the diced cucumber. Tip the rest of the

avocados into the blender.

3. Blend the avocados with the puréed cucumber, strained plain yogurt, and Worcestershire sauce until very smooth. Season generously with salt and pepper, and add lemon

juice to taste. Chill until ready to serve.

4. For the garnish, combine the diced cucumber and avocado with the red onion and tomato. Toss with the olive oil and shredded basil.

5. Taste the chilled soup for seasoning and add a splash of cold water if it is too thick. Pour into four chilled bowls and spoon the garnish into the center. Add a drizzle of olive oil and grind over a little pepper.

So simple, I actually added a little milk as well as water to it as it was very thick. It definitely makes the weather a bit more bearable!

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I have just returned from Singapore where I attended the Food Styling Master Class for the second year. This is taught by LA food stylist Denise Vivaldo. It was wonderful to see her again and she was full of food styling advice, industry tips and of course fascinating Hollywood stories. There were three of us from last year who travelled from Australia, Russia and Dubai with new students from the Philipines, Hong Kong, Italy and Singapore.

As well as covering the all important hamburger and cheese pull, this year we covered packaged food, grill marks, plating noodles and pasta techniques, working with frozen deserts ie real ice cream, ice lollys etc, foam on beer, chocolate, pie crusts and cheesecakes and fake bbqs.

It was all fascinating to me, here are some images of Denise’s demonstrations and my work….

TIP: With frozen microwave food It is important to get the proportions right. Usually there isn’t much food so use smaller plates. This may seem a bit of a con but legally the weight is correct so it is not false advertising.

TIP: Noodle and pasta need a little support so place vegetable shortening, stiff mash potato or cotton wool in the base of the bowl so the noodles don’t slump down. Place the noodles on top and try to create some movement in the bowl. Small droplets of fat/oil in the sauce can create a jewelled effect on camera. Only add the sauce once the dish is on set to stop the noodles from going mushy.

TIP: Heat grill pan, and spray both the pan and food item with oil. Hold down and don’t move it around. It doesn’t matter if its not cooked through, no one will eat it. Spray with a darkening agent, kitchen bouquet or soy sauce. Fix lines with an eye brow pencil if you need to.

Other gems we learnt were:

  • Use red lipstick to enhance tomatoes and pears.
  • Paint lobster and prawns with a little pink nail varnish to make their colouring more uniform for the camera.
  • Spray varnish french fries after they have been cooked to protect them from the air and so from going limp.

There was so much more and these tips and techniques can all be found in Denise’s new (award winning!) food styling book, The Food Stylist’s Handbook. 

Once again, thank  you Denise for all your inspiration and humour! And thank you to Palette Sensations Cookery School.

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Last week I met Fadi Younes who is the proud owner of The Frozen Yogurt Factory in Dubai Mall. As you can imagine shooting anything frozen is tricky, with ice cream it is preferable to use fake as it can be controlled and therefore quicker in the long run. These yoghurts however had to look like Mr Whippy straight out of the machines. Sometimes these are made in resin by very talented props makers, but this is very expensive, takes time and once the model arrives there is only so much you can do with it!

I went down to the store earlier in the week to select some of the 50 toppings for our shoot, these range from fresh fruit, gummy bears, mini choc chips and grated oreos (one of the top sellers I was told!) I also had a little practice on the machines and as I suspected it was hard to get that perfect pyramid swirl! We also timed the yoghurts and worked out we had 3 to 4 mins to shoot each one! Scary!!

Fadi had three machines and the yoghurt mix, strawberry, mango and coconut delivered to The Studio the night before the shoot. Once the machine is turned on this mix is frozen in a matter of minutes ready to be dispensed, amazing! Luckily Fadi is excellent at making these yoghurt swirls so I concentrated on working on the composition and balancing the colours of the toppings. We worked out that freezing the yoghurt once a perfect swirl had been created gave us a valuable few more minutes on set!

Just after lunch, Fadi, whose background is in graphic design came up with an idea he wanted to try. We had earlier discussed that we like the yoghurt clean and I had placed the strawberries around it as opposed to on it. Fadi wanted to go step further and do circles in the flavoured syrups around the yoghurt and place the toppings in this. It made for a much more exciting image as there was movement as well as texture. I loved Fadi’s enthusiasm once we got going with this idea!

Frozen yoghurt is a much healthier treat than ice cream as it has a lot less calories. The Frozen Yogurt Factory has positive feedback in Time Out and when I visited the store there were people constantly popping in. One of the great things is that you pay by weight and it is self service so you can decide exactly how much of each topping you want.

Comment from Time Out reader

You will find the store by the cinema, opposite Sega Republic, Dubai Mall. If you are off shopping this weekend why not pop in for a guilt-free treat!

Thank you to Roger Payling, photographer and his assistant Selva and to The Studio and of course to Fadi for being such a creative and enthusiastic client!

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Last week we were at Palmonade, a kitchen showroom on the Beach Road for four days to shoot a Kenwood campaign. This time we were specifically shooting images for the Indian market which meant both the food and the wardrobe had a strong Indian influence. The photographer was Daryl Patni, the agency TMH and the crew and models from Bareface. Both Angie, the wardrobe stylist and I threw ourselves into it spending hours at a time down at Mina Bazaar, myself looking for pots, pans and rolling pins etc and Angie picking out the loveliest saris,(on one of the shoot days we actually counted her saying the word ”sari” 15 times in three minutes! Just a little obsessed!!!)

I had treated myself to two new cookbooks for this shoot, one for its incredible information on Indian spices, THE INDIAN KITCHEN by Monisha Bharadwaj and one on its fantastic propping, EAST INDIAN COOKBOOK by Manju Malhi mixing both Indian antique with modern western tableware. I was able to achieve something similar by buying props in Karama, Mina Bazaar, Zara Home  and Tavola.

We shot 4 to 5 machines a day over the three days with the last day concentrating on the the Kitchen Machine and the  Kitchen Chef with Chef Osama, who brought down lovely Arabic pastries from his own baker. The three new machines featured were the …..

HB 890 KMIX Triblade 5 in 1


This hand blender  comes with the the triblade, the soup XL and a durable metal balloon whisk as well as a chopping blade and shredding disk with the 1 litre food processor and is available in white, cream, black, silver and red. We shot the red model so we coupled it with a lovely green coriander chutney amongst other dishes.

The BL 480


This blender has three speeds and crushes ice, has a grating mill and a grinding mill. Ideal for those spices needed to make curries!

The BL718


This slick blender is a little more hardcore being more powerful with five variable speeds and metal body. It is the first Kenwood blender to have a thermal shock resistant glass jug which means both hot and cold liquids can be blended. I very much liked the weight of this machine!

Some styling tips when doing curries:

1. keep bowls small to make and curries more attractive by having a smaller mass of sauce as it is often brown in colour.

2. use ready made curry sauces (to save time but adjust colours if needed) and cook vegetables and meat separately and mix together  last minute to keep ingredients defined in the sauce.

3. think outside the box! I didn’t have any saffron to garnish my mango lassi so i cut very thin slithers of beetroot  to place on top. it worked a treat!

Here are some behind the scenes shots of this very fun shoot…..

A massive thank you to Rehana from Kenwood for being such a cool client, Zahra and Darine from TMH  and to Palmonade for letting us totally take over again! And a little special thank you to Ant for keeping my work space so tidy and functioning!!!

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If there is one thing Dubai is not short of  it is restaurants! Last night I was invited to the Ahlan top 100 restaurant event at Japanese restaurant, Benkay at the JAL hotel. The party spanned all three floors. We were offered endless glasses of bubbly and delicious sushi and yakitori skewers as we marvelled at the ice sculpture taking form before our eyes!

I don’t know how you choose the top 100 restaurants in this town but the magazine is a pretty comprehensive guide of  all the well-known places. It is conveniently divided into sections such as ‘seafood sanctums’, ‘see and be seen’, and ‘creme des chefs’ etc. And on each restaurant there is a little recommendation of what to try.

There are many restaurants that we have actually shot in for lifestyle or food photography so I am familiar with them but it does make you realize just how much culinary talent there is out there and how many more beautiful interiors there are to experience and how many more delicious flavours there are to savour! I think I’ll go out for dinner this week!!

Ahlan Top 100 Restaurants , pick up a copy!

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Well, I think I have just enjoyed the best morning ever! I was invited as a local blogger to the launch of the new Braun Multiquick 7 hand blender with Braun ambassador chef, Chef Osama at the Park Hyatt.  I had been generously given a hand blender  a month ago to test out and use in my own kitchen so was familiar with the product but we had no idea what they had prepared for us….

The Braun  Multiquick is available in shops now and is unique in that it is very sleek and cordless. This is so convenient as you don’t have to keep moving your food to the nearest power point! What I also like about it is that it is black and silver. It would look quite the  accessory in any modern kitchen. I know i will be using mine all the time.

Five food bloggers were invited, and on arrival we were told that there would be a cook off! It was like Masterchef!! ( Dilaila you would have been in heaven!) we were allowed to familiarize ourselves with our kitchen stations, the fresh vegetables available to us and our utensils( of which I have to say, there weren’t many! It just goes to show that professional chefs don’t need all the little gadgets we all fill our kitchens with!)

As you can imagine we were all a little nervous, we were told that we had one hour and would be marked on the food, the cleanliness of our stations and how we utilised the Braun hand blender. We donned our Braun aprons and got stuck in! I cannot tell you how quickly that hour passed! All the chefs from Traiteur were on hand, fetching random ingredients, advising on taste, washing up, creating ornamental garnishes, you name it those gorgeous chefs were doing it to help us out! Even Chef Osama gave little culinary tips to help us along.

After an hour and 15 mins ( Chef Osama was very generous with his timings!) we had several, very different completed dishes on the judging table. A few people had managed to make two dishes! There was coconut curry, tomato soup, grilled salmon with cauliflower puree, fish cakes, grilled chicken and guacamole bruschettas, all sorts! It was so much fun! I made salmon fish cakes with a soya mayonnaise and a mooli radish and carrot and sesame salad. The judges took a while to decide  and apparently it was all very close! And congratulations to Shaima for winning the first prize which was a night at the Park Hyatt.

We were then given goodie bags of delicious italian olive oil and balsamic vinegar and other such delights as well as a voucher for dinner for two at the Park Hyatt and a signed copy of Chef Osama’s Arabic sweets cook book! (of which we have all promised to make at least one dish.. watch this space) And then we were taken upstairs to Arabesque to enjoy a delicious lunch together! Amazing!!

Everything was so well-organized, I know alot of hard work had gone into this event so a huge thank you to Tejal, Heba and Omar from Braun, to Chef Osama, to the Park Hyatt and all the lovely chefs at Traiteur and to Rana from Porter Novelli who invited me to get involved in this event. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute!

the bloggers:

Nausheen Noor, author of DubaiBites blog, Sukaina Rajabali, author of LickMySpoon blog, Arva Ahmad, author for ILiveinaFryingPan blog, Shaima Al Tamimi, author of Lgeimat junkies blog and myself.

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