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.

Walnut Bread

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I made a big mistake the first summer I lived in Dubai. I booked our summer holiday for the end of June. Ramadan was at the end of August. For those of you who are not familiar with summers in the Middle East, the temperatures go off the scale. The hottest temperature our thermometer has recorded in five years is 53 degrees Centigrade, and it hangs in the shade. Ermm… that’s hot enough to fry an egg outside, cause me to faint (numerous times), and HEAT PLATES.  That meant I had 3 stinking hot months ahead of me, with little happening and most people fleeing the heat for cooler climes. The kitchen was my refuge.

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 One of the best things about the heat is that I can use the balcony like an English airing cupboard, for my bread to rise. (In England the warmest part of any house is the cupboard with the water boiler in it, and it’s where we leave our dough to prove). For some reason I find this entertaining even five years on. In the summer when the sun only serves to scorch, I’ve found a use for it. On my balcony pretzel dough doubles, sourdough forms bubbles and doughnut dough rises.

So, here’s a recipe I discovered this summer. This bread is absolutely stuffed full of walnuts, and is divine served with goats cheese and figs. It’s easy to make- I’ve made 4 loaves and they’ve all turned out great. It just requires a bit of time. I normally get started with it on a Saturday morning when I wake up and by the time I’ve finished getting ready for the day, doing a bit of tidying and cleaning, with some low-energy kneading in between the loaf is ready for the oven.

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Adapted from Short & Sweet by the fabulous Dan Lepard who has taught me nearly as much about baking as my Mum.

Ingredients

300g strong white flour, plus extra for shaping

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 teaspoons fast action yeast

125ml red wine

75ml water

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

150g coarsely chopped walnuts

oil for kneading

Mix the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Using a liquidizer, blend the wine, water, oil, honey and 50g of the walnuts until smooth. Pour this over the flour and add the remaining walnuts. Stir to make a sticky dough. Cover and leave for 10 minutes. Knead the dough on a lightly oiled word surface, 8 to 10 times only. Oil the bowl slightly and return the dough to the bowl. Leave for 10 minutes. Repeat the kneading process and place back in the bowl. Leave in a warm place for 30-45 minutes until increased in size by 50%.

Line a tray with baking paper, lightly flour the work surface and roll the dough to roughly 15cm x 20cm. Roll the shorter side up to form a tight sausage and place this seam side down on the tray. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave outside again for an hour. Heat the oven to 200 deg C/180 deg C fan/390 deg F/gas 6. Lightly dust flour over the dough with a small fine sieve or tea-strainer and make rapid criss-cross cuts with a sharp knife. Bake for 40 minutes and then leave to cool on a rack.

 

 

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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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.

Gardening Update: balcony gardening basics

As I’ve mentioned before, I started my balcony garden 3 years ago. Apart from the chives, basil (miraculously) and mint, all the plants die over the summer and I start from scratch in September. Our balcony really is pretty small, as you can see below, and I want to show you just how much I can fit on it. Three of us had lunch out here yesterday- it’s a squeeze, but it works! I only get about 2 hours of direct sun on a small part of my balcony but that seems to be enough even for chillies and tomatoes in this hot climate.

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I start my vegetables in a seed tray. These are really easy. You fill them with soil from the garden centre, in this case, Dubai Garden Centre, water the soil, and then just pop in a seed or two per hole at the depth stated on the packet. I keep mine in the least windy part of the balcony, and in the shadiest part. I feel that in the Gulf we get a lot of indirect sunlight in the shade (my husband got burnt lying in the shade last week!) so they don’t need to be in the strong light. The light bounces off the buildings and glass all around to provide enough for growth. I water them once or twice a day to make sure the soil doesn’t dry out and within a few days I usually have seeds poking through the soil.

This year I started my herbs in individual small pots. I chose the herbs I use the most in the kitchen, coriander, parsley, basil, mint, oregano and thyme. I planted them individually so that I can move them around according to how much light they need, so that one won’t overpower another and to allow me to control how much water each receives. The coriander and thyme are in the shadiest part of the garden doing well. The thyme needs very little watering. I’ve planted a lot this year as I use it every day in salad and didn’t have enough last year. The parsley sits on the table and is mostly in shade. The oregano is in partial shade.

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I put the chillies in the place they’ll receive the most sun, and the tomatoes are also getting as much as possible. There is one corner where I don’t think they’ll get any direct sun at all, but we shall see how they do.

I repotted the chillies and tomatoes about a week ago and they’re all looking strong. Only the super sioux didn’t come through strong enough to replant, which surprises me as they’re supposed to be most suited to the desert.

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As you can see in the photos, I’m experimenting with stakes and cages for my tomatoes. It’s difficult to get something strong and stable enough to withhold the strong winds we get up here. I’m hoping these will work. The tallest look like they’ll be best and were about 80AED from Ace Hardware. The bamboo is very stable and strong, but I’m not sure it will provide enough surface area for the tomatoes. The sticks were only 10AED each from Satwa.

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And yes- that is the Burj Khalifa in the background. The world’s tallest building!

Do you have any questions? Let me know in the comments below. What’s your favourite thing to grow on your balcony? What have you had most success with?

Smoked Aubergine with Lemon and Pomegranate

Amelia Johnson Photography

Baba Ganoush would make it into my top ten foods of all time. This Lebanese meza dish just hits all the right spots. I love aubergine, and the smoky flavours are amazing. It’s always the first thing my husband orders when we go out for Lebanese food, even though he knows he won’t get his fork anywhere near it.

I’ll be honest- this isn’t the recreation of baba ganoush that I was hoping for. In order to get that extreme smoky taste you really need an open flame and my electric hob just ain’t cutting it. I grilled the aubergine, but again, without a flame it doesn’t work. For now, I’ll continue to rely on Reem Al Bawadi for my baba ganoush kick.

This dish is still delicious in its own right though. The smokiness is subtle and pairs beautifully with the fresh lemon. Be generous with the pomegranate seeds and you’ve got yourself a very tasty dip.

Smoked Aubergine with Lemon and Pomegranate

Adapted from ‘Jerusalem’ by Ottolenghi

Ingredients

1 large aubergine

1 small garlic clove, crushed

grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp chopped parsley

50g pomegranate seeds

Method

Score the aubergine with a knife a few cm deep, about 10 times and place on a baking sheet under a hot grill for about an hour, turning every 20 minutes. The aubergine will be black and very soft.

Allow the aubergine to cool and then scoop out al the flesh. Discard the skin and put the flesh in a sieve over a bowl. Put some foil over the aubergine, and then a bowl filled with water to weigh the aubergine down. Allow the aubergine to drain out the water for at least an hour.

Place the aubergine in a bowl and add the garlic, lemon olive oil and 1/2 tsp salt. Stir and  allow the aubergine to marinate at room temperature for an hour.

When you’re ready to serve it, stir in the parsley and check the seasoning. Scatter over the pomegranate seeds and garnish with a little parsley.

I served this with some pita bread and celery sticks. It would also be delicious served with other meze- humus and tabbouleh for example.

Easy Peasy Hokey Pokey

Have you done your Christmas shopping yet? The malls here are teaming with people… but really that’s no change from the rest of the year.

Today I made hokey pokey. Perfect for small gifts for neighbours and friends, it’s very easy and very sweet and very tasty and very fun to make. Get the kids involved once you’re past the bubbling sugar part.

Hokey Pokey

This recipe makes a small quantity but can easily be doubled or quadrupled as you wish.

Ingredients:

50g Caster Sugar

2 Tbsp Golden Syrup

1 Tsp Bicarbonate of Soda

To make:

Prepare a large sheet of greased parchment paper.

Combine the sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan.

Put the saucepan over a medium-low heat. Don’t stir it, just watch. It will start to bubble and after about 3 mins turn a rich maple syrup colour. Take it off the heat and quickly whisk in the bicarb of soda. The mixture will bubble up into a cloud of sugar.

Pour onto your parchment paper and leave to cool for about 15 mins. Store somewhere cool- mine melted overnight when I left it out!

Hokey Pokey