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.

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Habanero Burger The Grateful Photographer

Burger Amelia Johnson Photography

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Sweet Potato Fries Amelia Johnson Photography

Texas BBQ Burger Amelia Johnson Photography

Aliaa styling our first burger:

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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!

Za’atar Cheesy Biscuits

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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.

 

Chewy Chocolate and Raisin Rye Cookies

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These cookies were a fabulous surprise. Having bought a bag of rye flour to use 100g making a loaf of bread which didn’t turn out how I hoped, I had 1.4kg of rye flour sat in my cupboard. Every time I opened my baking cupboard it looked at me, asking to be used, and every time I reached over and picked out the self raising flour, or plain flour. What on earth was I going to do with all that rye flour? Dan Lepard had the answer. Chocolate and Raisin cookies. Well, they sounded a bit boring, but they ticked the boxes, I had all the ingredients and they use rye flour. I could also kid myself they were healthy with all the rye and raisin. (Ha- I ignored the 125g of butter!)

Well, as soon as my bag of rye flour is finished I’ll be straight out to buy another one. These are the best cookies I’ve had in years. A self confessed chocoholic, even with only 2 tablespoons of cocoa in them, these are rich and heavy and chewy and so very morish. I omitted the bicarbinate of soda from the original recipe, which means they don’t spread as much, and thus are chewy and dense rather than crispy and thin. If you want a crispier biscuit add half a teaspoon of bicarb to the flour. They are stuffed full of chewy raisins too.

These are particluarly scrumptious straight off the baking tray. But aren’t all cookies?

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Chewy Chocolate and Raisin Rye Cookies

Adapted From Short and Sweet, Dan Lepard, a book I can’t recommend highly enough

Makes approx 20 cookies

Ingredients

125g unsalted butter, room temperature

100g soft brown sugar

100g caster sugar

2 tbsp cocoa

1 egg white

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

150g rye flour

250g raisins

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/160 degrees C fan/Gas mark 4 and line a baking sheet with non-stick baking paper. Using a electric whisk combine the butter, sugars and cocoa, then beat in the egg white, followed by the vanilla.

Add the flour and with a wooden spoon beat everything together until smooth. Stir in the raisins and then roll the mixture into balls slightly smaller than a golf ball. Sit them on a baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes, until the raisins puff and pop through the crust of the cookies.

Leave to cool on the tray for five minutes and then place on a cooling rack.

All-Things-Good-For-You Cinnamon Granola Crunch

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Sometimes you need to refuel the tank with the extra good stuff. And here it is. This granola really packs a punch. Good oils, vitamins, minerals, more vitamins, more minerals. Top it off with low-fat yoghurt, fresh fruit or milk and you’ve got a tasty breakfast or dessert. When I have friends coming for brunch I always make a big jar of this for the table.

My one disclaimer at this point is that it can be quite pricey to make- all those nuts and dried fruit. Remember you can adjust your fruit, nuts and seeds to the proportions that you want, as long as you keep the weight about the same, relative to the liquid you add. You can either buy mixed bags of nuts and fruit, or make your own combo. What do you add to your granola?

All-Things-Good-For-You Cinnamon Granola Crunch

Ingredients

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

125ml maple syrup

2 tablespoons honey

2 fresh vanilla pods (or 1 tsp vanilla essence)

300g rolled oats

75g mixed seeds

40g walnuts

40g chopped almonds

100g dried berries (raisins, cranberries, sultanas, apricots, dates)

50g desiccated coconut

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 tsp salt

Method

Heat the oven to 150 degrees C. Mix together all the wet ingredients in a large bowl. Add the seeds from the center of the vanilla pod.

Stir in the remaining ingredients, except the coconut and dried fruit.

Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper. Spread the mixture evenly over the trays and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir through the coconut and dried fruit. Bake for another 10-15 minutes.

Leave to cool. Once cooled, put in an airtight container. Will keep very well- up to 3 months.

Four Minute Magic Pizza

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Four Minutes to make a decadent tasting but healthy, filling, nutritious meal? Can’t be done? Let me show you how.

Back when I was working in an office this meal became a regular answer to the question ‘What’s for dinner?’ It uses mostly store cupboard ingredients and less than 5 minutes prep. We coined the word magic pizza and it stuck. Seems magic to me- from fridge to plate in less than ten minutes.

The trick is to use Lebanese flatbread as the base of the pizza. This crisps up really nicely in the oven, and is very thin so you don’t feel stuffed full of carbs. Add some pizza sauce from a jar (the fewer ingredients on the jar the better), and then any ingredients you have in your fridge. A lot of the time we reduce the calories by leaving off the cheese, but of course a nice mozzarella, or goats cheese turns this into a treat.

Last night’s magic pizza was fig, mushroom and thyme. A fab combination. The sweetness of the fig was offset beautifully by the cheese and mushroom, and the hints of thyme made it taste really fresh. I suggest you add things like thyme after you’ve cooked the pizza, but it’s really up to you.

Stuck for topping ideas? Most veggies will work well on a pizza- some of them may need fry or bake before you add them, if cooking times necessitate. Anchovies, fresh pineapple, any herb, cold meats, chicken…. really anything you have in the fridge.

What’s your favourite pizza topping?

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Fig, Mushroom and Thyme Magic Pizza

Serves 1

Ingredients

1 medium Lebanese flatbread

2 tbsp pizza sauce (from a jar, I like American Garden’s)

1/2 fig, sliced

3 mushrooms, sliced

3 tbsp grated cheddar cheese

3 sprigs thyme

salt and pepper

Method

Pre-heat your oven to the highest temperature.

Assemble your pizza using the ingredients above.

Cook in your oven on a pizza tray or a thin baking tray until the edges of the flatbread are golden brown and your toppings are turning brown. This takes about 4 minutes, but will vary depending on your oven. Keep checking it.

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Get Planting! The Easiest Way to Grow Tomatoes

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We have some pretty good weather for growing tomatoes in the UAE, as evidenced by the plethora of local tomatoes in the supermarket. I know very little about growing vegetables on a large scale, but it seems to me that the UAE tomato industry is in the early stages of growth and is just figuring out how it can produce tastier tomatoes, on a larger scale, to a demanding audience. We certainly have the sunshine, maybe they’re just figuring out the technology. The little I do know tells me that you can’t test the value of a seed, or a growing method without allowing nature to take its sweet time growing the plant, the flower and then the fruit. I guess it’ll be a few years til we see really delicious locally produced tomatoes in the supermarket but in the meantime grow your own!

It’s really not too hard- you just need to get started at the right time of year (September to November, not March when the temperatures are searing, as my husband once did), buy some decent sizes pots and good soil, and then some tasty tomatoes from the market. It’s not too late to start right now though. Plant them this week and they’ll do great.

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Firstly, I could launch into a list of suitable items you could recycle and use as a pot, but let’s face it, we live in the Middle East and not many people have old wine barrels or beautiful vintage trunks lying around. I bought some plastic planters from Carrefour, and some pretty ceramic pots from Dubai Garden Centre. Both have lasted me 3 years and still look in very good condition. I scrubbed them out with some washing up liquid in September before adding new soil to get rid of any diseases that may have been festering. I doubt there were any though as they’d been outside in 50 degree heat all summer (yes, you can put your plates outside to warm or fry eggs on cars at this temperature).The general rule, for your pots- the bigger the better. I think my largest is 45cm across and I wish I had bought bigger. Cherry toms will need smaller containers than beefsteaks.

A watering can is useful, but at a stretch you could use a cup. I have a trowel but more often than not use an old spoon.

Ok, so here goes- my so-easy-kids-could-do-it, method for growing tomatoes.

Choose your favourite tasting tomato from the supermarket. What the heck- splash out, hedge your bets, and choose a couple. You can assume that a locally produced tomato will have more chance of success than another.

Fill your container with soil and soak through. It should be damp to touch. Put the container in partial shade. 4-6 hours a day should be plenty in this region. You can always move it if need be.

Take your first tomato and put a hole in it with your thumb. Then bury it in the soil about 3cm deep. You’re done!

Monitor the soil to ensure it’s always damp to touch. You don’t want to over water it as the roots may rot but tomatoes are thirsty. 1 really good watering every 2 days should suffice but it will depend on the position of your pots and how big they are. The bigger the pots, the less frequently they need to be watered.

You will need to thin your tomatoes out once they start coming through. Weed out the weaker, straggly looking plants and keep the healthiest. Don be tempted to keep more than will fit in the pot, this will just result in weaker plants which don’t produce much fruit. 1 plant per 45cm pot is about right.

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Steak your tomatoes using anything you can find once they start to look like they can’t hold themselves. I am still experimenting but Ace Hardware has some good options.

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You should expect to see fruit after about 60 days. It’ll take another whopping 60 days for that fruit to grow and turn red! You’ll need patience!

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Good luck!! Let me know if you have any questions!

Why I love… American Pancakes

Amelia Johnson Photography Food Photographer Dubai United Arab Emirates Abu Dhabi Best Professional Freelance drink portrait food stylist restaurant advertising commerical good excellent dessert fast food03

 

I don’t think you’re supposed to admit, as a 30-year old woman, that American pancakes is one of your favourite meals right? It’s not sophisticated and it’s not clever… but oh boy… they taste so good. My favourite recipe follows below, but first I must explain myself.

My husband and I live very busy lives. I work long hours and plenty of weekends, play lots of sport and have every hobby going. He works long hours, works long hours, works long hours. But when we’re on holiday together, we’re not doing anything other than being on holiday together. Phones and computers get switched off. Alarms have no place on our holidays, and all thoughts of chores and errands and laundry are put to the back of our minds. It’s just me and him, and our journey. We have spent a lot of time on holiday in the States over the last few years, and one of my favourite things to do is have a long American brunch before heading out for a day of sightseeing, driving, hiking or playing. Thanks to huge portion sizes, we rarely need to stop for lunch and so can keep going all day. When we’re at brunch together I get my husband’s full attention, over pancakes and maple syrup and bacon, planning and laughing and dreaming and sharing.

Occasionally I’ll make this recipe for dinner usually when one of us has had a bad day, to cheer us up. This really isn’t an everyday dinner dish. Otherwise, it comes out on my birthday, or when we have friends round for brunch.

Ingredients

180ml milk

30ml white vinegar

125g plain flour

25g sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

3g salt

1 egg

10g melted butter

spray oil

Method:

Combine the milk with vinegar and leave for 5 minutes.

Combine all the dry ingredients.

Whisk the egg and butter into the soured milk.

Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Whisk until all the lumps are gone.

Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat and spray with oil.

Pour in a ladle of batter and cook until bubbles appear on the surface. At this point, flip the pancake. Cook for another minute and then slide onto a plate.

Where to start with serving recommendations? I have to say, Americans have it right, with very crispy bacon and maple syrup. Don’t write it off before you’ve tried it! Blueberries, raspberries, chocolate sauce, strawberry sauce, cream…. all delicious.

 

Freshly Squeezed: Lemon and Mint Cordial

Amelia Johnson Food Photographer Dubai

Did anyone else spend their childhood destroying their Mum’s kitchen? Broken eggs on the floor? Failed doughnut batter on the surfaces? Hot sticky lemonade puddles on the kitchen table? Well that was me. And then my Mum would come in and ask me, what was I doing? And why had I started the recipe when I didn’t have all the ingredients in the house? And did I realise I would need to wait 8 hours whilst the batter rested? Sorry Mum but not much has changed…

Attempting to recreate my Grandfather’s old fashioned lemonade was a favourite. Not that it was homemade at his house, but it tasted like it was. He always gave it to me and my brother in jeweled tin cups, accompanied by cheesy crackers.

This time I think I’ve nailed it. And there’s a cheeky adult spin to it if you fancy too, with the addition of a spirit or two. This is a great cordial to keep in your fridge for a hot sticky Saturday afternoon. Add ice, lemon, mint and it’s perfect for the kids. Add some amaretto or vodka and enjoy as a sundowner.

Finally here’s the best tip you’re going to hear all week. Possibly all month. When you need fresh lemon juice, but your lemons seem a bit dry, pop the lemon in the microwave for 30 seconds. Soon enough you’ll have an incredibly juicy lemon, burnt fingers (if you’re not careful), and a bowl full of juice.

What was your favourite childhood recipe?

Food Photographer Dubai Amelia Johnson Photography

Adapted from What Katie Ate by Katie Quinn

Lemon and Mint Cordial

Ingredients

4 cups of castor sugar

Finely grated zest of 5 lemons

Juice of 7 lemons

Lemon slices to serve

Mint to garnish

Soda water

Optional extras: raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, vodka, amaretto, gin. My brother and I did a comprehensive tasting test on your behalf. Amaretto was my favourite, where my brother preferred the vodka.

Method

Put the sugar and 2 cups of water in a saucepan over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil and cook over a high heat for approx 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir through the lemon zest and juice.

Cover and place in the fridge for 5 hours or until cool.

Once you’re ready to drink it, build your drink in a tall glass. Add ice, lemon and mint. Pour over five parts soda water for one part cordial. Mix very well.

Add extras as you wish.

Recent Work: Atom/ Milano Coffee House

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There’s a new brand in town, and there are plans for it to be BIG. Milano opened their first branch in Abu Dhabi’s Bawabat Al Sharq mall at the beginning of October, and they asked me to come in and shoot their new menus and collateral.

Atom are a super agency to work with. They knew exactly what they wanted and gave me a really clear brief. Even better they did a super job of briefing our fantastic Chef, Mohamed, who pulled out all the stops to give us luxurious, colourful, playful food.

Be sure to check them out next time you’re in Abu Dhbai.

Cali SandwichAmelia Johnson Photography

Milano Asian Prawn Salad Amelia Johnson Photography Food Photographer Dubai United Arab Emirates Abu Dhabi Best Professional Freelance drink portrait food stylist restaurant advertising commerical good excellent dessert fast food04