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Dubai Food Diaries - Asha’s Biryani & Kebab Festival

“A great recipe is like an immortal tune, it happens but only a few times in one’s life” -  Asha Bhosle.
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Seafood lovers of Dubai. Urban Seafood – Review

Being located right opposite the clinic where I take my kids for visit to the pediatric; I had noticed this outlet on many occasions. Then named as ‘Slapfish’. But not being a big lover of seafood, plus being tucked in the quieter corner of the mall, I didn’t get around to visiting it. Till recently, when I got invited to review  Urban Seafood  restaurant in Ibn Batuta. And realized that it’s the same joint, which has been rebranded. 

This time, I decided to cross the bridge & taste the grub, to know for real, what makes it ‘ modern seafood shack’. As claimed by the restaurant. And to get even more authentic review, I took along a hardcore seafood lover friend with me. Yes two to tango!

We visited the place on a weekday noon for lunch and it was very quiet. Not surprising for the timing of the day, week and location. We were welcomed pleasantly by the staff on arrival and were taken in to their bright modern style décor with some vibrant reds & warm yellows. The décor was bright & airy but lacked much of character or interest. The lack of crowd or music made the place much quieter too. Yet it gave us ample room to chatter freely, which many restaurants cannot boast of.

Soon we were busy scouring the menu, which had a nice variety with seafood as central ingredient. From ‘crab quinoa salad’, ‘fried calamari’ to ‘prawn kunafa’ in appetiser; ‘tandoori salmon’, ‘thai roasted seafood basket’, lasagna & crab in the main dishes. Alongside it also had ‘handheld food’ like ‘fish tacos’ & ‘grilled lobster cheese sandwich with fries’.  Not to forget the fresh juices & drool worthy desserts that was showcased. The menu definitely was well thought of and offered tasteful variety and good mix.

We ordered very simple meal, since we wanted to try the freshness of ingredients and flavour of the dishes. For starters it was ‘crab cake’ & ‘fried calamari” and for mains it was ‘grilled barramundi fillet’ along with fresh orange juice & mojito. The dishes were served promptly, which always works great on a weekday. All the dishes were absolutely fresh and delicious. My favourite was the crab cake – it was extremely tender & flavourful. So was the grilled barramundi, a delightful light dish for lunch. And the 'fried calamiri' added the contrast in texture, though I would have liked even more crunch. The refreshing mojito made the perfect complement to my food. In the end I so wanted to try their sinful ‘chocolate cake in jar with caramel sauce & toasted nuts’, yet I felt highly satiated with the savory ones. But surely will do on my next visit. And I’m sure of one soon.

My friend too totally enjoyed the experience, and we felt we should have visited the place much earlier, specially since its located in the mall we frequent so often. Moderately priced, Urban Seafood can become a cooler place if they add some energy in the restaurant, in terms of warmer hospitality, cooler décor, music just to liven up the place a bit. I would recommend you all to try this place if you are around the area. And I’m sure you will not complain.

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Rendezvous with royal Chef - Carolyn Robb

There are chefs and then there are royal chefs. And today we are talking about the later.
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Photoshoots and my learnings

Wow we have moved to 2016...time has a pace that noone can match. Specially not people like me who like to soak the sun and daydream. Anyone else out there? But 2015 was different, it gave me a new direction, a new dream.

We have always read about following your heart. But many times the heart is as lost as the mind. And for many of the mums who left their corporate life at the threshold of motherhood, this might be a familiar territory. Of loosing their own self in the demands of kids, family and home. The same was my story too. And I used baking & blogging to pursue my interests and to create my little world of creativity and passion. Blogging has given me a lot, apart from a hobby. It gave me lot of friends, numerous interesting events, umpteen yummy dishes and it introduced me to something new - photography. A passion, which grew over the years and made me a better blogger. Till last year, when I ventured into it professionally.

After over a dozen of such family/kids/party shoots in last few months professionally, I'm still a beginner, who is trying to create her space & style. But the important thing is that the journey has started. And like anything which is unfamiliar or new, it gets daunting & overwhelming at times. So I thought it would be good to keep making notes of my learnings & observation after every shoot. And today I want to share them with you....who knows when it might be useful to someone.

So here's my top learnings/some pointers for any of you looking to venture in the trade. Please note that its not a technical post nor do I claim to be a pro. But a glimpse of my learning...

1. Set the expectations right - This is of critical importance to understand, discuss and agree on all aspects of the shoot, like:
  • Duration of shoot -  (whether you are particular that 2 hours is 2 or max 2 hr 15 mins). Else someone might be free to expect you to stretch to 2.5 hr. Is that fine with you? So be specific for the duration
  • No of shots - whether you are going to give only 'x' number of edited pics of or going to share 'y' number of unedited pics as well. At least a good range should be decided upon. I have experienced that with a birthday party of same duration of 2 hour, some clients have been happy with 80-100 pics, which covered it all; while other client expected nothing less than 500. Of course I had to politely refuse that client, since I wouldn't have liked my quality of image to be compromised by capturing only quantity. 
  • Location/Props/ Clothes
  • Style/ Kind of shots - Apart from location, which I'm sure would be agreed upon, the style of shots should also be well discussed. Whether its fun style, or posed portrait or a candid shoot...share enough references with client to make them aware of your shoot plan. And for this pinterest is your best friend.
  • Delivery timeline
  • Permission to share on your social accounts/website - Don't forget to get a written/email confirmation of the same
  • Payment date & mode 
Be as detailed & specific in your communication as you can be, and it will save a lot of pain later.

2. Make a shoot plan - Once you have it all sorted with the client, then make your own shoot plan. Even if its for a quick family portrait shoot. Plan the sequence you want to do, for eg. - first group, then individual, then 2nd group in 2nd location/dress change. This helps me firstly to plan it in my head how to compose the shot, which lens to use, and how to use the lighting as per the location. Also if a small child is there, its a good idea to get the group shot quickly when he is happy & rested, and then to move to couple shots when he is napping. And of course the basic flow needs inputs from clients to know their dress change or kids schedule. 

3  3. Review your shots This might be a very obvious one, but in the flow of covering the event or family photoshoot, I myself am guilty of not doing enough of this. And that is - Click. Review. Retake. Once you review immediately, you would either find something that is totally wrong or something that can be improved. Like a blurry shot, or low lighting or eye blink....could be anything. But you can fix it there than to regret it later.

4  4. Change your angle - I'm discovering how much wonder a change of angle can do. Again an obvious tip, but only when you put it in practice you will notice the difference. It will make the mundane more interesting, like this one.

6  5.  Have fun - Don’t forget to get some fun, unique shots to make the most of the shoot. I can bet that would be the best of the lot and make the experience memorable.

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Diwali sweets that sets the mood

Diwali without sweets is like Christmas without Santa. Unimaginable.

The festive season has enveloped us with abundance of love, breezy wind and an exuberance in the air, that is simply infectious. It’s like falling in love once again. You can never get enough of this festive spirit, that brings family and friends closer, that celebrates love.

And Diwali is the King of festivals for our Hindu community in India. It celebrates the homecoming of Lord Rama and to do that, the homes are cleaned till shining bright, lit with diyas and candles, and the food table is laid with yummy treats to welcome the royalty. The tradition continues,  and we all try to keep it alive in our own ways.

We have spent almost all the diwali in India with our family, but this year we couldn’t manage to go. Though felt terribly homesick, yet the positivity of the festival and the bright anticipating faces of the kids, motivated me to recreate the feel of the occasion.

So the house was spruced clean; new idols of Ganesha and Laxmi were bought, as per the tradition; and then these yummy sweets were made. Many of you might be familiar with how tricky preparing Indian sweets could be.  Yes it requires lot more patience than a simple cake. So I decided to go both routes – traditional way of making sweet and other modern/quicker microwave version. So take your pick of which way to go. Or like me…..create both.

 I love all types of sweets made of besan (chickpea flour) like besan ka halwa, besan ke ladoo and this one – besan ki barfi. Ingredients are simple and few, but the trick is to be patient while roasting the flour. It’s a slow process, and you have to constantly keep stirring. Not stopping even for a minute. By following this simple thing, this delicious sweet will adorn your dessert box.

Besan Barfi Recipe
(A delicious fudge like Indian sweet made of chickpea flour)

Besan (chickpea flour ) – 2 cup
Sooji (semolina) – ¼ cup
Ghee – ¾ cup
Powdered sugar – 1 ¼
Crushed cardamom – ½ tsp
Crushed nuts – ¼ - ½  cup

In  a heavy bottomed pan, melt the ghee. Add besan and sooji on medium flame.
Fry the besan, while constantly stirring, till its nicely browned and smells wonderful. This might take 15-20 mins, but be patient.
Now add the crushed cardamom and mix well.
Then add the powdered sugar, and keep cooking till its well mixed and is coming together. Finally add the chopped nuts.

Grease a tray with ghee and put the mixture on it and make it even. Now keep in fridge to set for an hour. Then cut in desired shape and store in air tight container. Enjoy!

The second recipe is of instant peda, made in 3mins microwave. Yes you heard it right...just 3 min is what you need. The recipe I used is from here, which uses milk powder and condensed milk. The only variation I did was that I added 2tbsp cocoa powder to half the batch and also made chocolate barfi.  Great way to add variation to my gift box. 

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Quick lunch for the summers - egg chowmein

Hello gorgeous! Yes I'm talking to you my reader, and not to the bowl of yummy noodles. How have you been? Hope the summers are treating you nicely. What a question, you might say. Summers are to be enjoyed by soaking all the lovely sunshine, and with great picnics and beach parties. Yes of course, only when we are able to stand outdoor for like 5 mins, in the blazing Dubai. We would surely plan a beach party, but maybe indoors.

You might be wondering where did I vanish yet AGAIN. Yes again has a repeat value in my blogging life. Like a lost child, I keep meandering my ways in the busy life. But like a good friend, it keeps looking for me and takes me back home. And we start again, from where we left, like there was no pause in between. That's how it is with best friends. It gives such a comforting warmth to be back in your own space.

But this time I have been busy with good reasons. And much of it is thanks to my blog. Love you! Yes in last few months, I did so many new stuff, which I was sceptical to try. I did it and it was good fun. And of course I have to share it all with my lovely readers.

Just to refresh your memory, I have been busy taking care of my two cute brats and have been a home maker for few years. Of course baking and blogging is always there in this journey. But lately I took it to next level, by taking baking classes. I still can't believe that while I, who had never used an oven before coming to Dubai, was the one taking classes. But then, the eager smile of the ladies who wanted to learn. and the platter of cookies, pies and cupcakes, assure me that I had indeed learnt something worthwhile. In the same direction, I also made many cakes on order, which was again a first time baking for business. See, calories are not always bad :)

But the bit, that got me even more excited is that I started with my own photography business. Here, I said it!!! Melanger Photography is up and running. I did a portfolio shoot for a three year old, a birthday shoot for one year old and a birthday party too. Next I'm doing a commercial shoot for a dental care centre. Yes the variety is getting wider. Please do check my portfolio here  and let me know what you think of it. And if you like it, then do follow my facebook page, just to give me the much needed support. 

If these were not enough to keep me busy and occupied, well there was something else too. While net surfing on one boring day, I had chanced upon an "entrepreneurs' competition" and had submitted an idea that was running in my head. And that's it, I forgot about it, the pressed 'enter'. But then few weeks before I was travelling to India for my summer holidays I got a call, that I had been selected in this competition, which was being run all over Middle East and Africa. Hence coming in top 50  from over 3000 participants was also a great deal. Surprised, shocked, nervous and so much more. Yet thinking of making the most of this learning platform, I went ahead, and started shaping my thoughts. Next thing I knew I was in top 10. It surely was one of the most memorable days of my life. Thank God I had holidays soon after this crazy schedule. It helped me unwind, and recharge myself. 

After coming back, to the hot temperatures here, cooking and baking are not on top of my list. Specially the elaborate ones. They can wait for the cooler weathers. But hunger pangs can't wait till then. And for that, there are easy comfort recipes, that doesn't take time and yet always tastes yum! After all who doesn't like chinese food. I don;t see any hands out there :)

Easy Egg Chowmien/ Noodles Recipe 

  • 1 packet noodles of your choice (I used Ching's Hakka noodles) 
  • 2 tbsp oil (used in parts)
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 capsicum, cut in thin strips
  • 1 medium carrot, cut in fine strips
  • 2 tbsp shredded cabbage
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp chilly flakes (optional)
  • 1- 2 tsp soya sauce 
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 1 tsp chilly sauce
  • Salt, as per taste
  • Black pepper
  • Spring onion, chopped - for garnishing
  • 3 eggs
  1. Cook noodles, as per packet instruction - in a large pot of boiling water, with salt and little oil. Once done, drain and keep in broad platter with little oil, to avoid sticking.
  2. Keep all the veggies, chopped and ready. Heat a wok or broad thick bottomed pan. Add 1 1/2 tbsp oil and when it gets hot, then add chilly flakes and chopped ginger and garlic. Saute for 30 seconds.
  3. Soon after add sliced onion, saute for few seconds. Then add carrots. and then capsicum and cabbage. Keep stirring to avoid burning. Add salt and let it cook till bit crisp but cooked through.
  4. Now add all the sauces and vinegar and let the veggies absorb it al. Keep rotating the pan to avoid sauce getting burnt. Now add the drained noodles and mix it well.
  5. Add salt, as needed and black pepper. Toss for a minute or two and keep it aside.
  6. Heat another small pan, and add 1/2 tbsp oil. Whisk the 3 eggs in a bowl, with pinch of salt and pepper and add to hot pan. Cook it like an shredded omelette - or egg bhurjee, as in bit golden than the scrambled egg.
  7. Add the egg pieces to the chowmien and mix it well. Crush some extra black pepper and garnish with spring onions (which I didn't have)

Your bowl of yummy chowmien is ready. Just grab a cosy corner and dig in.  And with so many veggies packed into one, I'm sure mummies would also be glad to give to the little ones. A good dish for the lunchbox too. Most of the times, you need no side dish too. And when you do, we will make some chilly paneer. But that's for another day. Till then enjoy this one!!

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Review - Pantry Cafe, a gourmet neighbourhood cafe

The exuberance of Dubai is infectious. The excitement in the air, the buzz on the streets and the action around you, envelopes you. It prevents a shy one to hide in a cocoon. Rather encourages everyone to step out and mingle. To get introduced to different cultures, and to experience the diversity.

Thanks to being a mum and a blogger, I get to see this diversity of Dubai from various perspectives. And I keep discovering great places to be with friends and family.

One such new place that I discovered last weekend is Pantry Cafe, a friendly gourmet cafe. After the popularity of its Al Wasl branch, Pantry Cafe launched this new cafe, in Business Bay, Dubai. And they invited the blogger community for a taste of their vibrant menu and delicacies.

I visited the place with my family, which included my two kids, aged 6 and 3. And what I loved about the place, was the friendly warmth that it exuded. The cool ambience, the open kitchen and the cheerful smiles, made it all the 'friendly cafe' that it promises to be.

The tasting menu was elaborate and interesting. The kids loved their “Mango lassi” and “Cookies and cream” milkshake, along with the 'margarita pizza”. And as they got busy, relishing their treats, we got to trying their “Taster Menu”.

For starters there were some interesting options. From 'Savory Mushroom Waffles' with feta cheese, semi dried tomatoes and rocket, “Open Eggplant Sandwich” with sriracha, ricotta, roasted red pepper & tomato chutney and “Smokey tomato scramble”.

Then there was the middle eastern delight Shakshouka' - eggs cooked in a sauce of fresh tomatoes, red peppers, onions & spices, topped with crumbled feta & served with toasted pita bread.

The main course dishes kept the menu as interesting with “Baked Brie” and “Green Tea Noodles with smoked salmon”, “Mexican Chicken” and “Katafi Prawns

For us the highlight were the eggplant sandwich and the green tea noodles. With fresh ingredients, and nice flavour combinations, the dishes were light, fresh and delectable. In fact with every dish, one could see the thought process that had been put into, making the dishes unique, fresh and cafe – style. Perfect for the weekend brunch or weekday bite.

And of course the menu would be incomplete without some yummy desserts. Pantry Cafe lived upto this challenge of giving the final course, a delicious flavour. The dessert menu included – bittersweet chocolate cake, churros, pecan nut tart, lemon curd shortbread and blueberry cheesecake. Yes sinful indeed. And quite a task, to find your favourite from such gorgeous treats. Still for me the cheesecake was like the icing on the cake.

You know you enjoyed your meal, when each member of the family, had their own favorites and loved the place equally. Would definitely recommend this “gourmet neighbourhood cafe”, if you are looking for something beyond sandwiches and wraps. And to enjoy good food in good company.

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Eggless Orange Cake

Whisking a cake, is more than creaming butter and sugar. For me, it is equal measures of indulgence, fun and absorption. The thought of that elusive perfect cake, keeps lingering in my mind and occupies all the space, in my tiny mind. And I search for 'that' recipe. Everytime. 

Once the recipe has been settled for, the fun part of making the cake starts. Seeing few simple ingredients to come together to form a creamy sweet batter, is a pleasure. And then to see the evenly baked, perfectly done cake, emerge from the oven, is a mix of relief and delight.

After the cake, gets its due rest, it becomes my canvas to have fun. With sketchy ideas of the final look or even flavour combinations, and with even sketchier skill sets to decorate, I still jump into the game. And soon the game is won, with something simple and pleasing.

This time, the eggless orange cake became a "sunny" ground, with fluffy peaks. Inspite of it not at all being perfect, I loved this one - I guess, has to do with the bright color. Just made me feel happier and brighter. Yes, we all need some sunshine in life. And this one had some tiny butterflies also taking flights in the sun...as my friend described it :)

This cake was also my first cake on order. Felt good, doing it and hence I ensured that all requests were met: eggless - check, no chocolate - check, less cream - check, and no - butter too. Wow seems like a keeper of a recipe for easy eggless cake.

Eggless Orange Cake Recipe
Recipe Source: Here 
(Easy eggless cake, flavoured with fresh orange juice. Makes an 8' inch cake)

All purpose flour - 1 1/4 cup
Baking Powder - 1 tsp
Baking Soda - 1/2 tsp
Condensed milk - 1 can (400g) sweetened
Orange Juice - 1/2 cup
Oil/ Butter - 1/2 cup (I used oil)
Vanilla essence - 1/2 tsp
Powdered sugar - 1-2 tbsp
Lemon juice - 1 tsp
Orange zest - 1 tsp

  • Preheat oven at 180C. Line an 8" pan
  • Sift together, all purpose flour, baking powder and baking soda, to mix
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together - condensed milk, orange juice, powdered sugar, oil or butter, vanilla essence and lemon juice, till all mixed
  • Add this wet mix, to the dry ingredients and combine, till no lumps remain
  • Add orange zest and fold it in the batter. 
  • Place batter in prepared pan. Tap to remove air bubbles and bake for about 25mins, till tester comes clean
  • Keep aside to cool, before cutting it
Note: If using fresh juice, check for the sweetness level. For me even 1tbsp was more than enough. Or you can use packaged juice, and skip sugar, all together too.

For Vanilla Frosting:
(Its a very light and not very sweet frosting, so works great to make cakes bit lighter)

2 packets of Dream whip frosting
1/2 cup cold milk
Yellow food color
1 tsp vanilla essence

Add milk to the dream whip powder, in a bowl. With a hand blender, whip them together, on high speed, till it forms soft peaks. Add food color and vanilla essence and whip again. Put in piping bag, and use as desired.

Note - Adjust consistency, by adding drops of milk, if needed.

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