Friday, June 27, 2014

A Conversation with Vintage

I was the only guy there. Well, apart from the staff, of course. The presentation at MAKE Business HUB was indeed about vintage, but it had a decidedly female-oriented focus.

That's not to say it was a complete loss for me; presenter Rawya Catto delivered a pretty comprehensive walk-through on vintage trends in social media, food, film/TV and mainstream fashion, and also covered ancillary topics like the difference between vintage and retro (something to do with actually having been produced for use in the historical period). In addition, she listed a few local options, from high end dealer Garderobe to the more bargain-friendly Flea Market, and brought along a few samples for examination by the audience.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Strait-up Indonesian Cooking

To host my seven fellow Draupadi drama team members in celebration of our successful play, I selected the cuisine of a country which is only second to the homeland of the Mahabharata in the epic's popularity and cultural influence: Indonesia. Due to its location at the nautical crossroads of Asia, yhis cuisine has been influenced by those of lands near and far -- not to mention India, from where both the Mahabharata and culinary traditions were imported during the area's Hindu/Buddhist phase. In turn, it has traveled well regionally, and can also be found internationally, especially in the Netherlands, the homeland of its former colonizers. It has also made inroads in Dubai, and can be found in a few authentic restaurants in various parts of the city.

The rice base for the meal would be Nasi Kuning, favored for special occasions due to its bright yellow color reminiscent of gold.

It was fairly easy to make. 4 cups washed and drained jasmine rice, 2 tsp turmeric powder in 2 tbsp water, 4 cups of coconut milk, 4 cups of water, 2 bay leaves, 4 kaffir lime leaves, 2 bruised stalks of lemongrass and 2 tsp salt, brought to boil at medium heat and allowed to cook through on low until the rice was done (occasionally turning it to check).

I served it garnished with a few kaffir lime leaves. The herbs give it a good aroma, while the coconut milk used in the cooking process makes it a good complement for most any spicy sauce dish.

For the vegetable dish, I prepared Terong Balado, dish of eggplants in a sweetish chili sauce.

I first cut 4 long Japanese eggplants into large chunks, soaking them in salty water for a while, and then frying the drained eggplant chunks in a few tablespoons of oil until their color began to change (about 5 minutes).

Setting aside the eggplant, I ground 40g red chilies, with 10 shallots, 5 cloves of garlic, and 2 tsp salt into a paste, and fried this in the oil still in the pan for about 5 minutes, then adding 50g brown sugar (in place of palm sugar) and 20g tamarind pulp dissolved in 2 cups of warm water, to boil for another 5 minutes. For the next and final 5 minutes of cooking, I tossed in the eggplant.

The strong combination of sweet, hot, and sour flavors in the sauce went wonderfully with the Nasi Kuning.

The main dish for the meal was Ikan Bumbu, a dish of fish cooked in a spicy, nutty sauce. I rarely cook mackarel, so I thought I'd give that option a try, although numerous other white fish would have worked.

I rubbed in a kilo of halved fish with the juice of two limes and salt to let sit for a half hour. In the meantime, I ground 10 red chilies, 16 shallots, 8 cloves garlic, 10 macadamia nuts (in place of candlenuts), 2 cm ginger root, 2 tbsp tamarind juice, and a dash of salt.

I stir-fried the paste for about 5 minutes, and stirred in 2cm bruised galangal, 2 bruised lemongrass stalks, 4 bay leaves, and 6 kaffir lime leaves. I poured in half a litre of warm water and 2 tbsp Indonesian sweet soy sauce and brought it to a simmer, before adding the fish and letting it all cook until the sauce thickened and the fish was cooked.

The flavors from the herbs and chilies penetrated the fish to make it very tasty, and the sauce was rich and savory.

And for dessert, I chose a simple rice pudding called Bubur Ketan Hitam. In the absence of black sticky rice, I used 3.5 cups of red rice, washed and drained, and simmered them with 4 pandan leaves in 10 cups of water for about 45 minutes.

Finally, I added a cup of sugar syrup and cooked until most of the water was gone, then adding a pinch of salt and allowing it to cool before serving. It was good, but not very different from a regular rice pudding (except for a hint of pandan), and I someday hope to find and prepare it using the real black rice required for this dish.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Louisiana Lunch: Big Food on the Bayou

With one major American cuisine under my belt (in more than one sense), and having been to a few other countries since, I thought it about time to return to the States and have a go at another one for my party of seven guests. The logical remaining choice was the cuisine of Louisiana -- a fairly mature culinary tradition fusing those of the French, West Africans, and several others over the years.

Based on a "holy trinity"of bell peppers, onions and celery (the Louisiana version of mirepoix), it offers scrumptious options for fans of rice and seafood, and makes good use of local (to Southern America) ingredients. The cuisine is popular well outside Louisiana in America, and really should be more popular globally, since it includes a spice component that can be easily adjusted to local levels of tolerance.

As a welcome drink, I prepared the Ramos fizz, a New Orleans cocktail consisting of (per person) a shot of gin and the white of an egg, mixed with a tablespoon each of lemon juice, lime juice, sugar syrup and cream, shaken with a dash of orange flower water and some ice, and added to soda water.

For the soup course, I chose the crab and corn bisque (would have made a crawfish bisque if I could find some good crawfish). True to its French roots, the first ingredient was a blonde roux prepared by whisking 3 tbsp flour into 45g melted butter, cooking and whisking for a further 8 minutes. I then finely chopped and cooked a large onion, 2 cloves of garlic, and a large celery stalk in a tablespoon of vegetable oil for about 2 minutes, adding some Cajun seasoning, then a cup of chicken broth, 1.5 cups of corn kernels and 2 bay leaves.

After bringing this to a simmer, I poured in 475ml milk, 475ml heavy cream, and a teaspoon of liquid shrimp seasoning, and let it simmer for about 10 minutes before throughly blending in the roux, adding a pound of crabmeat, a quarter cup of chopped green onions, and a half teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce. 10 more minutes of simmering, and a I seasoned it with salt and pepper to serve.

It probably should not have been quite as thick, but it still went down a treat.

Thanks to the Hank Williams song and/or its covers, many of us have heard of "file gumbo". Believed to originate in the culinary traditions of West Africa, and with a little French influence, gumbo is centered on okra, which gives it the texture those familiar with Arab bamiya or Indian bhindi fry will recognize. As I already had a meat-heavy dish lined up, I decided to go for the vegetarian Lenten version called gumbo z'herbes, which (in this case) used mushrooms in the place of meat. I also had no access to file, so I had to make do with thyme as a substitute.

I first sauteed a finely chopped clove of garlic, onion, and green bell pepper in a tablespoon of oil, until tender, then stirring in stir in 225g thawed, frozen, and halved mini-okra, 225g thick-sliced mushrooms, a 400g can of diced tomatoes with the liquid, a 225g can of tomato paste, a teaspoon of thyme, 3 bay leaves, and a dash of salt and pepper. I stirred and cooked this about 45 minutes, before adding a dark blonde roux made with 2 tbsp each of oil and flour, cooking until it thickened.

I served it garnished with a little chopped parsley. It's great with rice, and very filling.

Shrimp etouffee is another popular New Orleans treat. I first sauteed the holy trinity -- a cup each of chopped onion, chopped green bell pepper, and celery stalk -- with half a cup of chopped green onion and 6 minced cloves of garlic in 90g of butter, until tender.

I then stirred in half a cup of chopped parsley, 5 tbsp tomato paste, 1 can of condensed cream of chicken soup, 700g of medium-sized cleaned shrimp, a dash of salt, and a teaspoon each of hot pepper sauce and ground cayenne pepper, cooking and turning for about 15 minutes.

This dish has a lovely spicy bite that complemented the milder gumbo nicely.

Rather than serving plain rice with the gumbo and etouffee, I just went ahead and made a jambalaya to serve as our starch. Also made famous by Hank Williams, this one was based on a recipe closer to Cajun style.

I sauteed pieces of 4 chicken breasts and about 350g of german sausage in oil, until lightly cooked, then stirring in 2 diced onions, 2 diced green bell pepper and 1 cup diced celery with 3 tbsp chopped garlic. Seasoning with half a teaspoon cayenne pepper, a teaspoon of onion powder, and some salt and ground black pepper, I let the pot's contents cook until the vegetables were tender. I then added 3 cups of soaked white rice, 6 cups of chicken stock, and 6 bay leaves, bringing to a boil so I could simmer it covered for about 20 minutes. Before serving, I stirred in 3 tsp Worcestershire sauce and 2 tsp hot pepper sauce.

Jambalaya is heavy, and like paella or biryani, can be a meal by itself. The meats were suitably tender, and the rice, having taken in the meats' flavors, also served as a tasty accompaniment for the gumbo and etouffee.

For dessert, it was Bananas Foster, an old New Orleans favorite. The only thing I had to cook for this was the sauce, made by stirring 290g dark brown sugar, 100ml rum, 3 tsp vanilla extract, and 1 tsp ground cinnamon into 110g melted butter in a hot skillet. When it started bubbling, I added half a cup of chopped walnuts and 6 bananas that had been split and sliced thickly, letting it cook for about 5 minutes before serving it hot over a good vanilla ice cream.

Simple, quick, and gloriously delicious.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Gayathri and The Unknown

A little over a year after the release of her debut album, The Unknown, Dubai-raised and sometimes -based vocalist and musician Gayathri treated the city to a special concert to kick off her international tour of the album. Incidentally, the crowd-funding campaign for The Unknown was the first such campaign in which I participated, and I was well-acquainted with her melding of visual art with music from her local concerts in 2011.

The concert -- held in a VOX Cinemas movie hall in the Mall of the Emirates -- did not disappoint at all, musically or visually, and was a heartwarming showcase of the camaraderie among many of the musicians in Dubai. The beautiful animated backdrops for the show were produced in partnership with The Animation Chamber, and other collaborators included vocalist Boyan (for a duet), harpist Diana Pandova (for a Hindi song), and other local musicians in her band. Gayathri's performance itself was top-notch, with her spiritedly belting out the best of her album -- including "Greatest Love Story", which I liked a lot -- and her other favorites, and closing on the audience-engaging number "The Elopement".

Friday, June 6, 2014

Rooftop Rhythms Dubai

Part of the revamp of the Boutique 7 Hotel near where I live was a new urban music and dance basement lounge they named "ego". I wanted to check it out at some point, and having previously attended a Rooftop Rhythms spoken word event in Abu Dhabi, I made their third Dubai installment (bottom) the occasion to visit the venue. The place has a cool look and the music during the post-event regular Friday night program was quite good, so I stayed afterwards a bit longer than I had originally planned (top right).

The event itself was very entertaining, including performances by spoken word artists both established in and new to the art. Two of the highlights of the evening were performances by hip hop artist Marcel Lteif (top left) and Dana Dajani (top right). Other notable performances were the first by a Filipino artist at RR, as well as a musical intermission by a talented flautist (bottom left). It also happened to be birthday of RR's founder and emcee, Dorian Paul Rogers, so the evening featured a cake moment (bottom right).

RESET launches with My Favorite Robot

Canadian DJ collective My Favorite Robot dropped in on Dubai for a gig to launch the RESET series at one of my favorite house music venues: Story Rooftop Lounge.

Awesome opening sets by Dubai-based DJs Somalie (top left) and Daylomar (top right) gave the early half of the night a peppy mood as party goers milled in (bottom).

MFR's Jared Simms headlined, serving up some very eclectic electronic music replete with ethereal effects and rich layers.