Recent Work: Gourmet Burger Kitchen

I loved working on this project with my team. Aliaa my fabulous food stylist used her unending energy and fabulous eye to grill up these fabulous burgers for me to shoot. Selva worked his magic with problem solving and his indefatigable attitude. Together we produced the following images for Gourmet Burger Kitchen Dubai who have just launched their new menu. I’ve also included some fun behind the scenes shots. I apologise in advance for drool on keyboards.

blue cheese chicken burger the grateful photographer

Habanero Burger The Grateful Photographer

Burger Amelia Johnson Photography

Burger 2 Amelia Johnson Photography

Sweet Potato Fries Amelia Johnson Photography

Texas BBQ Burger Amelia Johnson Photography

Aliaa styling our first burger:

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behind the scenes food stylist amelia johnson photography

.Behind the scenes photoshoot amelia johnson photographyI

If you’re now fasmished there are branches of GBK in the Marina and DIFC, both in Dubai.

January: Five things I’m lovin’ this month

What a crazy-busy month! It always takes a week or so for January to get rolling, but once it did this year, I was back to back with work. Just the way I like it! Here are a few things that have got me through the busy month.

1. Za’atar from the Palestinian tent, Global Village, Dubai

An old Palestinian lady behind a stall at the back of the Palestinian tent looked up at me smiling as she handed over a fresh piece of pitta, dipped in olive oil, and then covered with her lemony fresh za’atar. She handed me piece after piece, with different za’atars on to try. I selected the ones I want and when I asked for 200 grams she laughed: as most spice sellers do when I ask for my tidily western quantities. This Za’atar is out of this world good. Za’atar blends can be a bit dusty- particularly if they’re too heavy on the thyme. This one is heavy on the sesame seeds and sumac. I asked a Lebanese friend where the best place to buy Za’atar is in Dubai and she agreed with me. Here’s the link for more info about Global Village.

2. Unroll me

Until 2 weeks ago I would wake up to at least 30 newsletters in my inbox every morning. Then I saw a friend tweet about this amazing website. I was very pessimistic. A promise to get rid of all my unwanted subscriptions to newsletters? In 2 minutes? Impossible. I was wrong. Five minutes later, I’d set my email up with them and received a promise that I wouldn’t get any more emails from companies I unsubscribed from. And I didn’t. I’ve spent hours previously unsubscribing one by one, email by email. This service is amazing. And free at the moment!

3. Wingsters

Amelia Johnson Photography

Shameless plug, but nonetheless a very well deserved one, for my friend Ahmed and his amazing Wingsters restaurant in the Marina, Dubai. Ahmed has opened Dubai’s first themed mobster-style Buffalo wings restaurant. As someone who has visited the city of Buffalo wings, where they were invented, over ten times, I feel qualified to tell you that these are the real deal. For the daring amongst you, he’s running an ‘initiation‘ – a challenge only the hardest of chilli lovers should take on to confront his spiciest sauces and come out alive on the other side. Succeed and you’ll earn your photograph on the wall of fame. For those less adventurous the Buffalo wings rock my world. His make-your-own milkshakes are pretty darn good too. Not to mention how good his food photography is…. ;)

4. Frying Pan Adventures

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I met Arva, who runs Frying Pan Adventures in December and as soon as I met her I knew I had to join one of her tours. I went on the ‘Arabian Food Pilgrimage’. I can’t wait for my Mum to visit again so I can take her on this, and then follow it a few days later with the ‘Little India on a Plate’ tour. From start to finish Arva’s energy and enthusiasm for the food and history of the region was infectious. Although we didn’t cover a large distance physically, in food we went from Egypt, to Palestine, to Syria, Iran and back to Egypt. I don’t want to include any spoilers, but our group of 12 tried desserts made from a type of root which can also be used as soap, learnt how to make falafel and ate ice cream with our hands. I’ve lived in the Middle East for five years and learnt more than I ever expected to. Wonderful.

ps. I’ve just noticed they’re number 1 for activities to do in Dubai on Trip Advisor. If that isn’t a recommendation I don’t know what is!

5. The Lebanese Kitchen by Salma Hage

This is the kind of book you open up and dig straight into. Some books I work my way through, and bookmark with post it notes and scribbles about the type of occasion on which I might make something. not this one. Book propped up, cupboards open, oven on. As I received this for Christmas my husband was bombarded in the first week of the new year with fresh, healthy, home-style Lebanese food. I didn’t hear any complaints. The book is well laid out. The recipes are not complicated, perfect for the beginner. As a Lebanese friend told me the other day- a Lebanese person would never refer to a recipe book, they’d use their mother’s recipes. Well for those of us without Lebanese mothers, this is the book to use. I particularly enjoyed the sumac crusted tuna. Recipes to come on here soon. And on that note, I’m off to my kitchen to cook from it!

January Gardening Update: balcony gardening basics

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Last time I posted I had tiny little tomato plants that I prayed would grow strong enough to support just a couple of the heirloom tomatoes I was hoping for. The packet says they’ll grow to weigh 1lb- 2lb each!  This morning I counted TWENTY beefsteak tomatoes on my largest plant. TWENTY! Is it ok to admit that I count them most mornings?

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I don’t have any big secrets to share with you, no clever tricks or methods to help you grow a giant crop. Just one, simple tip: spend a couple of minutes every single morning caring for your plants. Use your common sense: keep them well watered, tomatoes are thirsty, trim dead leaves and keep the soil area clear of debris. Support your tomatoes with bamboo sticks, or purpose made cages from a hardware store. Use gardening wire to tie them to the bamboo sticks. Keep your tomatoes in quite a sunny area. That’s it, that’s all I’ve got.

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0E1A3856People ask how I manage to grow the plants on the 14th floor. To be honest, I see it as an advantage. I don’t seem to get any bugs up here. It’s a very controlled environment: I’m religious about keeping out anything that could bring harmful insects onto my balcony and I control how much water my plants get. The only disadvantage I find is the wind. I get a lot of bloom drop (when flowers grow on the plant, but wilt before they produce fruit) because it’s very windy up here. I am so grateful that the recent rain didn’t turn into storms. During last year’s storms I brought my tomatoes inside, but this year they’re tied tightly to the balcony and can’t be moved.

Here’s what a tomato looks like it when the flower has set and the fruit is just starting to grow:

0E1A3862The flower drops off the bottom as it increases in size.

All my tomatoes are green at the moment and will probably take another 60 days or so to turn red. I think they have to grow to full size (1-2lb!!) and then I have to wait 60 days for them to turn red. Or possibly yellow. I’m not sure if the 2 plants that are growing fruit are red or yellow Brandywine as they came as a mixed packet.

So now the bad news… I have six plants that haven’t yet borne fruit. Again, I think the wind is a problem. Also the pots are a little small. I’m hoping when it warms up they will start to fruit. I really hope they do- one is a purple Tomatillo, and the others are Black Krim, Golden Sunburst and Coustralee. I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing and hope the sun will do its thing. Check out this flower on one of the smaller plants just waiting fruit!

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So, how’s everything else doing?

Well… the mint is slower than last year and I’m not sure why… kinda strange. I think maybe I just need to plant some more. The coriander and thyme, both of which are quite hard to grow from seed are doing ok. Oregano is doing well, as is the parsley. To be honest, herbs are super easy to grow, as long as you keep them watered.

Check out my chillies!

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The chilli flowers are so pretty:

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And finally I’m not quite sure what’s going on here…

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Happy Gardening! Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to help.

A Postcard to myself: from Oslo

This is a rather self-indulgent post, to allow me to remember a wonderful weekend with some of my favourite people in the world. It wasn’t the weekend of partying it might have been just 5 years ago. It was quiet, and peaceful, nourishing, indulgent and slow. I travelled to Oslo, with my best friend Reema, to stay with my second cousin, and close friend, Mary-Ann and her wonderful family. They’ve been living in Oslo for 5 years as expats from Perth. Mary Ann is 8 months pregnant and we were all recovering from a busy year. It wasn’t my first time, and so we spent time bundled up, strolling through the Scandinavian streets and parks, catching up, counselling, encouraging and laughing. We drank too much glühwein, ate elk burgers and meandered through Christmas markets. We had a fantastic Spanish meal, drank an obscene amount of coffee, and played with Xavier and his toys. A wonderful weekend that made me so grateful for my incredible girlfriends.

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Living with Intention in 2014

Hello 2014! And welcome. 2014, you are so very welcome.

It’s January 6th 2014, and there is a whole year ahead of us. I mentioned before that I’d been doing Stratejoy’s Holiday Council at the end of the year. What a wonderful way to finish one year and enter the next. Through international calls, recorded interviews, work sheets, visualisations, asking and answering questions we each decided what we wanted to leave in 2013 and what we wanted to take into 2014. Then we made plans for 2014. Set priorities, intentions and thought about how we’d like to feel at the end of 2014. I am already a goal-setting, self-help loving, manifesting chick, but this made me consider how I wanted to feel, more than what I wanted to achieve, and thenhow I could achieve those feelings. I’ve kept my usual type of goals, continuing to work with and working with new fabulous clients, financial goals, continuing to spend a good amount of time with family and my oldest friends. I will always strive to improve my photography, the quality of work on here, and to quench my thirst for ambition and adventure. But the time I spent on this allowed me to think beyond those gals.

Molly from Stratejoy suggests making a theme for the year. Something that summarises your vision for the year. This is probably the part of the workshop that resonated most with me. We brainstormed around all areas of our lives. We wrote about abundence and cavities, looked at the ‘why’ and then reviewed which words kept reappearing. If you’re interested in creating your own theme for the year, Molly has a free recording on how to do that here: http://www.stratejoy.com/2011/01/how-to-create-your-personal-theme/

When I’m receiving and making 50 phone calls a day, am being bombarded by email, as well as whats’app and sms, I sometimes feel like I’m going a bit mad. My brain feels SO busy all the time. I am half way through replying to a message, only to get a phone call and forget about the message. At the end of the day I fall asleep with my head buzzing with tasks for tomorrow and next week, things I should have done today, people to contact tomorrow, wondering how I’ll fit in  some exercise, and visualising the perfect shot for my client the day after tomorrow. I can be oversensitive, and worry that people are not happy with what I’ve done for them, or that I’m disliked. I hate to fall out with people, it leaves my heart hurting a little, even if that person doesn’t play a large role in my life. And so,  the first word I chose for next year’s theme was peace. This quote summarises my thoughts well.

“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work, it means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart”Unknown

I’m the only one that has the ability to create peace in my heart. I have plenty of tools- I can run more, create a space in my home just for me, turn my phone off in the evening. It’s something I’ll be working on.

Secondly, I crave JOY! Oh how I miss my Uni days, where on Sunday mornings with our duvets wrapped around and bacon sarnie in hand, I’d sit squealing with my best friends, recalling the night before, or when bursts of giggles would lead to snorts of laughter, inevitably inducing more and more giggles and snorts. I miss being silly and a little carefree. But there’s no reason why I can’t have these things now. Of course, I have responsibilities, but there are still enough hours in the week to set some aside for girlfriends, and joy and laughter and snorting. Being an expat I miss my oldest friends terribly. And I’m so fortunate that I am able to see them so frequently. But it’s not the same as having them down the corridor, or a tube ride away. So, enough complaining and reminiscing. It’s time to do something about that. And because I’m not sure that I’d be able to convince them to leave their lives in England, America, Norway and Singapore, my intention this year is to make more friends. More friends with whom I can laugh and play, and be joyful. With whom I can share.

I’m nervously putting it out there, because I believe the best way to manifest things is to tell people what you want. So here’s the intention board I made:

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Wishing you all a year of Joyful Peace, and that all your intentions come true.

Post-Christmas Tomato and Bean Mexican Stoup

Amelia Johnson Photography Tomato and Bean Mexican Stoup

Stoup? Stoup is my greatest dieting weapon. Take a tasty stew, chili, or other tasty dish with lots of sauce, and increase the amount of water and or tomatoes until it’s thicker than a soup, but no longer a stew. The word ‘stoup’ is strictly a Rachel Ray-ism but I’d been making them long before I heard the terminology. Stoup is filling because of all the water content and lower in calories than a regular meal, but still packs a punch with the taste. I stoup-ify (sorry I couldn’t resist) with bolognaise sauce, chili con carne, tuna and tomato pasta sauce, amongst others.

This recipe makes a great post-christmas festivities lunch. Warming for those of you in chilly climes, low in calories, and won’t leave you wanting to snack that afternoon. It’s also easy to make!

Tomato and Bean Mexican Stoup

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large red onion

2 garlic cloves

6 mushrooms, chopped (optional)

1 chilli, deseeded and chopped

1/2 tsp cumin

300ml vegetable stock

350ml passata

200g cherry tomatoes

400g tin black beans, drained

1 tsp sugar

1 lime

1 tbsp coriander, chopped

1/2 avocado

salt and pepper

Method

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over a medium heat. Add all but a tablespoon of the diced onion. Fry for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic, mushrooms, chilli and cumin and fry for another minute.

Add the stock, passata, whole cherry tomatoes, beans, and sugar. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Season, then stir through the juice of the lime and most of the coriander.

Serve in bowls and garnish with avocado, onion and coriander.

Tastes-Good-With-Everything Peach Salsa

Amelia Johnson Photography Peach SalsaToday we’re going to talk peaches, juicy fresh peaches. Did you know that here in Dubai we get most of our summer fruit from Europe, and our winter fruit from the Southern Hemisphere*. For the first time since moving here 5 years ago I’ve found tasty peaches. I’m so excited! They’re South African and the only disappointment is that when you buy them, they’re hard. So I leave them next to a banana to ripen and a day later? They’re all ripe. What was I supposed to do with 8 ripe peaches?

I looked through some American blogs and found plenty of tasty peach recipes, but none of them were quite what I wanted. Peach cobbler, peach pie, peach crumble, peach crisp and peach ice cream. But none of them tempted me. Then I remembered an amazing peach salsa I had served with pork loin in peach country- Georgia. What I wanted to do was remake that food memory. I found a couple of different recipes and mixed ‘em up. I am SUPER pleased with the results. My husband had this with eggs for breakfast this morning and his first reaction was ‘wow’.

*  I do eat/cook local as far as possible, but living in the desert our produce is limited. Apologies to my British readers for whom peaches are totally, completely and utterly out of season right now.

AmeliaJohnsonPhotography

Tastes-Good-With-Everything Peach Salsa

Ingredients

6 ripe peaches

3 medium tomatoes

1/2 chilli

1 red pepper

1/4 red onion

1 tbsp fresh mint finely chopped

1 lime

1/4 tsp chili powder

1 tbsp muscavado brown sugar

salt and pepper to taste

Method

Dice the peaches, tomato, onion and chilli as finely as possible. Mix together with the fresh chilli. Add in the juice of the lime, chilli, sugar and salt and pepper to taste.

Mix together and store in a sterilized jar. This tastes best after it’s had at least a couple of hours for the flavours to marinate.

Store in the fridge.

 

Banana, Honey and Walnut Teabread

Amelia Johnson Photography banana honey and walnut teabreadI would love to be one of those homes where people don’t call before they drop by for a cup of tea and a slice of cake and a two-hour catch up. Where we threw big barbeques that start with a family or two and end up with friends of friends joining and kids running through sprinklers and people not leaving til 2 in the morning. Alas, our lives aren’t at that stage right now: we live an urban lifestyle on the 14th floor in a 2-bedroom apartment, and, more to the point, we’re rarely home! Anyway, if I did regularly have friends dropping by, this is one of many cakes I would have to hand. It has a fantastic texture, slightly crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, and has a great depth of flavour thanks to the honey and cinnamon.

Banana, Honey and Walnut Teabread

115g unsaturated margarine

115g light soft brown sugar

115g honey

2 eggs

225g self-raising flour

1 tsp cinnamon

2 large bananas

50g walnuts

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Grease and line a loaf tin.

Beat together the margarine, sugar and honey in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs.

Fold in the flour and cinnamon.

Mash the bananas in a separate bowl and then gently fold them into the mixture with the walnuts.

Spoon the mixture into the tin.

Bake in the oven for about an hour, until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. The top should be golden and firm to the touch.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

Eat sliced, hot or cold.

Za’atar Cheesy Biscuits

AmeliaJohnsonPhotographyCheesyZaatarBiscuits

Has anyone else found themselves spending a full day trying to put together an ambitiously fancy dinner party only for it all to be a little disappointing? To wonder why you didn’t just go a bit simpler? Six months ago I spent two hours putting together fiddly, fancy canapés- crositini with ridiculous things like fried sage leaves, and mini yorkshire puddings. They were met with polite compliments, but not much more. Two hours making canapés? I don’t have the time, nor the patience to spend two hours making  canapés! This Christmas I decided to keep it simple. Tasty and simple.

Now, my disclaimer is that they’re not the prettiest of biscuits. Especially after you’ve added the Za’atar, but the taste is SO good that these may disappear before you get the opportunity to try one yourself. Use a star shaped cookie cutter if you have one. That’ll pretty them up. And of course, put on a sparkly dress and everyone will be looking at you, not your food!

To continue on my theme of experimenting with local ingredients, I’ve added Za’atar to these traditional sharp, cheesy biscuits. Mum used to throw these biscuits together for Christmas Eve drinks parties. You can make them several days before as they’ll last for up to a week. I promise they won’t take you more than 10 mins prep.

Za’atar Cheesy Biscuits

Ingredients

200g strong grated English cheddar

50g soft unsalted butter

100g self-raising flour

1 tbsp za’atar

Method

Preheat your oven to 180°C/ gas mark 4/350°F.

Put all ingredients in a bown and mix together until a dough forms.

Bring the dough together into a ball. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface to half an inch thick. Use a cutter to cut out stars or rounds. Keep rolling, cutting and re-rolling until all the dough is used.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange your biscuits on top.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until the biscuits are golden. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack until cool.

 

Grannie Dunning’s Lemon Curd

Grannie Dunning's Lemon Curd

I feel like I’m committing family treachery by sharing this recipe. The photo above is from my Grandmother’s recipe book. Which means it came from her Paternal Grandmother, which makes me the fifth generation to make this incredible recipe, and now I’m sharing it with you.

It’s funny the things we remember about people from our childhood. I remember Grandma always got up at 5am. I’ve no idea why, she didn’t work, but she got up at 5am and she would always have finished her toast with lemon curd before I came down for breakfast. This to me, aged 5 and a half, was a significant characteristic of my Grandmother. I didn’t know anyone else who would get up so ridiculously early. Now as an adult, I can better understand why she’d like to start her day at 5am. Have a couple of hours to herself before anyone else woke up. Potter around in the garden without anyone interfering, listen to the radio, catch up with her reading, and eat her toast in peace. I love having people to stay, but the only thing I don’t like is having my morning routine disturbed. In the morning I get up and put the kettle on, water my plants, make breakfast and catch up on my emails.  Beware the guest that tries to chatter with me about the day’s activities before my morning coffee!

This recipe is divine. I have been known to swirl it through crème fraîche, add meringues and freeze it. You know you want to. Otherwise, simply spread on a slice of toast you will wonder why you EVER bought lemon curd from the store. There is no comparison.

In case you can’t read my Grandmother’s writing here’s the recipe!

Grannie Dunning’s Lemon Curd

Ingredients

Juice and grated rind of 4 lemons

175g butter

250g caster sugar

4 eggs

Method

Using a double boiler, or a bowl set over a saucepan of boiling water, melt the butter together with the juice and rind of the lemons. Dissolve the sugar in the mixture over the water.

Remove from the water and leave to cool for 10 minutes. (If you don’t leave it cool the eggs will scramble! Yuck!)

Beat the eggs together. Place the bowl of lemon mixture back over the boiling water and add the eggs, stirring constantly.

Keep stirring until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.

Pour into sterilised jars and keep refrigerated.