Sunday, 19 June 2016

JUMA Kitchen: Iraqi Supper Club with the AMAR Foundation

There’s a pretty limited menu when Iraq comes up in conversation these days. Perceptions of the country and its people are marred by the headlines, so much so that I now expect a routinely curious reaction when I reveal that I myself am Iraqi. Thankfully, London-based Iraqi chef Philip Juma has arrived on the scene to start shaking that all up, armed (sorry) with a refreshingly positive newsflash: there is so much more to Iraq than war.

Eager to attend one of his supper clubs, I jumped on board as soon as I heard he was collaborating with the AMAR foundation at the London Cooking Project recently to raise money for Iraq through their Escaping Darkness appeal. He has also joined forces with them again this month for their 'My Baghdad Kitchen' campaign, providing recipes for you to host your very own Iraqi Supper Club. There’s more on all this below, so keep reading!
I first heard about Juma last summer, and got a chance to try out his delicious food at ‘An Arm And A Leg’, an incredible evening of food, cocktails, and music organized by the Hands Up Foundation in aid of Syria. Juma has been heading up pop-up events like this all over London since 2012, when he traded in a career in the City for a life of foodie goodness by setting up JUMA Kitchen. He’s now on a mission to introduce Londoners to the wonderful and often forgotten world of Iraqi cuisine. 

Here's a little taster of what he had in store for us at his AMAR Supper Club.
With an open-plan kitchen and dining area, and Juma cooking his dolma as the guests arrived, the warm, friendly, and communal atmosphere was there from the start – just the right setting for a very homely cuisine that hasn’t often been exposed to the restaurant sphere.

We were in for an entire five course meal, so portion sizes were fitting. In traditional Arab style, we started off with some mezza: smokey aubergine Moutabal dip (or babaganouj), a staple Falafel with a drizzle of tahini, and Juma’s take on Lamb Sambousek (pastry filled with spiced minced lamb).
For those of you who know me, you’ll be aware that lamb is my foodie downfall. I just don’t like the stuff, hence why Iraqi food has never been my first choice (Iraqis seriously love their lamb…). Nevertheless, I went in with an open mind and gave Juma a chance to win me over - and the Sambousek managed to do just that. Not greasy at all, and with just the right amount of tender spiced meat enveloped in crumbly pastry, I could’ve had another.
Next up, we had Djaj Bilnarinj, crispy chicken thigh on a bed of potato served with a rich saffron sauce and caramelised onions, perhaps the most beautiful dish of the night. This was followed by Kubbat Hamouth, an Iraqi household favourite: homemade dumplings filled with minced lamb, served in a rich tomato soup. If I showed you what this looks like at home, you would understand when I say that kubbat hamouth never looked this good.
Then came Juma’s star of the show, the Dolma – vegetables stuffed with spiced and marinated lamb mince and rice, which he served alongside a lamb chop and a more traditionally Lebanese Fattoush salad. An Iraqi dinner party would just not be complete without Dolma. It's also notoriously labour intensive to make, so hats off to Phil – he nailed it!
Of course, I was most looking forward to dessert, which could be nothing other than Knafa, a dessert popular all over the Middle East and usually made in one giant cake-like portion. Juma made his with shredded filo to top the traditional melted cheese filling, drenched in blossom water syrup and topped with pistachios. He also went for individual servings, which were right on trend - the Iraqi cupcake, perhaps?

Clearly, Juma is aiming to use his experience of working in Michelin-starred restaurants to refine Iraqi food and rightfully bring it into the twenty-first century. It’s without doubt a great way to ease those unfamiliar with the cuisine into it. For the Iraqi audience, however, who will forever compare it to mama and bibi’s home cooking, stepping into Juma’s kitchen requires being open to something new. For me, he gives these traditional dishes the modern kick that they need to appeal to the outside world, with impeccable contemporary presentation and without straying too far from the original taste.
Whilst it’s easy to get caught up in all of the food, it’s also important not to forget why we were really there: to raise money for the AMAR Foundation. AMAR is a charity working out in the Middle East, particularly at the moment with those affected by ISIS violence. Their Escaping Darkness Appeal, which Juma’s supper club was raising money for, aims to provide women in Northern Iraq with the psychological support they desperately need after fleeing ISIS. A leaflet at our table revealed the shocking facts they are working to change: there are only 17 psychiatrists in Northern Iraq, 80% of clinics are no longer functioning, and Daesh’s sex slaves can be as young as 9 years old.

Having grown up in London, and having never been to Iraq, it’s surreal to say that these statistics apply to the country my parents grew up in. It’s hard not to feel so far removed from the situation and so helpless, which is why it’s important that we recognise our responsibility to give back. By sharing Iraqi culture through food, we are raising awareness of and humanizing a nation and a people that have been reduced to statistics and stereotypes.

Juma’s food comes with a message, a reminder that Iraq was once a great nation, the home of civilization itself. Whilst our country might now be in ruins, our culture, our heritage, our warmth, and perhaps what best sums up all of the above, our food, will endure that greatness for generations.

To learn more about Juma and his delicious supper clubs, click here: www.jumakitchen.com

To find out more about the AMAR Foundation and how you can help, click here: www.amarfoundation.org 
To host your own 'Baghdad Kitchen' and raise money using Juma's delicious recipes, click here: http://www.amarfoundation.org/my-baghdad-kitchen/

Friday, 29 January 2016

'Savse Super Blue'berry & Apple Smoothie Cheesecake - GUEST POST

The lovely people over at Savse recently asked me to create a recipe using their delicious smoothies. HOW COOL. After lots of fun experimenting with their crazy array of flavours, I decided to use my favourite ('Super Blue'), which is jam-packed with fresh fruit and veg goodness, to create this Super Blueberry & Apple Smoothie Cheesecake. With no cream, cheese, butter, or digestive biscuits (sadly but not so sadly) in sight, it's a lighter, more artery-friendly and January-detox-and-gym-routine-friendly alternative to an old favourite. You don't wanna miss this!

Check out my guest post over on their blog for the recipe, more photos, and a side of motivational January pep talk (as if this 'good-for-you' cheesecake could get any better).

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Lemon, Raspberry & Almond Friands

Friands are a winner. They're simple, they're versatile, and most importantly, they use up ingredients that I often have sitting in my cupboard (perfect to avoid making those dreaded trips to the supermarket for that one ingredient that like, nobody has at home). It also helps that they taste ridiculously good. I mean they're French, and they're cake, need I explain more?

They're also just fun to bake - you can experiment with them like crazy. Their light and fluffy sponge can be flavoured with basically anything, within baking reason. Fresh citrus zests work really well, but you could also add in a couple of drops of your favourite essence - try lavender if you're feeling crazy, or almond for something a bit more subtle. They look great topped with all kinds of berries, or you can try peaches, rhubarb, caramelised oranges...or whatever fancy fruit is in season. Figs anyone? Yah.
To make your friands a bit different, you can also use any shaped mould. I've just used a standard muffin tin here, but they also look great in little ovals, or mini loaves (multiply all of the ingredients by 1.5 to make sure you have enough batter for this). 

Bonus point - they keep well in an airtight container for 3-4 days, so you can make some and enjoy them for daaaays.

If you still need convincing, the super simple recipe will have you sold. Here goes...
Ingredients

200g unsalted butter
100g plain flour
200g icing sugar, plus extra to decorate
200g ground almonds
zest of 2 lemons 
pinch of salt
6 egg whites
raspberries 

Makes 12 friands in a muffin tray
Recipe

1. Preheat the oven to 180C and lightly grease a muffin tray.

2. Firstly, melt the butter. Then leave aside to cool completely.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour and icing sugar by hand. Add in the ground almonds, lemon zest, and salt and mix by hand until all are well combined.

4. Using an electric whisk or mixer, begin to whisk the egg whites on a low speed. As they form bubbles, gradually increase the speed to medium, and then high, whisking until they form stiff peaks. Be careful not to over whisk them (you'll know when this has happened as it'll look like cotton wool).

5. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, and scoop the whisked egg whites into it. Fold them in gently. 

6. Pour in the cooled butter and stir lightly until fully combined. 

7. Divide the batter equally between the muffin holes, and press two raspberries into the top of each. Sprinkle over some flaked almonds, and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with icing sugar, and serve!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Meringue Girls "EVERYTHING SWEET" Book Launch on The Thames

So I can confirm. The Meringue Girls don't just look awesome, they are awesome. I've been interning with them this summer, and I'm already hooked and trying to figure out ways to stay. They're not only ridiculously cool and talented, they're also just straight up lovely.
 
I was lucky enough to be around for the launch of their second cookbook last month, and it was everything you would expect a Meringue Girls book launch to be. The new book "EVERYTHING SWEET" landed for purchase a week later, so you can finish reading this post and click here to order one right after.
As any crazy glamorous party should be, the launch was on a boat - the Silver Sturgeon at the Savoy Pier in London. We arrived to set up around 10:30am, and spent the whole day pretty-fying and meringue-ifying the incredible interior and roof deck of the boat ready for one hell of an evening.
 
 The centrepiece of the night was the incredible dessert table. It was about three metres worth of sugar-heaven, with the classic MG kisses, meringue nests, white chocolate pyramids, and a crazy range of other desserts from the book itself. There was a pistachio and fresh honeycomb cake, an eton mess cake, a rainbow battenburg, a fairy floss cake, and SO MUCH more. The balsamic cherry and labnah pavlova was def my favourite! All of this couldn't have been done without the help of Fondant Fox and her insane cake skills, and not forgetting the drool-worthy peanut butter cups also on the table from Lotta at Eat Chic.
 The boat was decked out with the prettiest props, flowers, and party decorations thanks to some of the Meringue Girls' good friends. Hey Style Hire provided all of the crazy fun bits and bobs around the boat and on the dessert table. Rebel Rebel put together the most beautiful flower displays imaginable on the top deck, and provided each table with a gold-leaf pineapple filled with flowers that guests could take home afterwards (it was worth the stares on the tube). Pop Pop Papier brought all of her incredible handmade party tassels to pimp out the DJ booth too. There was also a photobooth from Boxless Booths which was great fun, and a nail bar from Blow Ltd where guests could get free manicures - amazing.
As Stacey's favourite food ever is popcorn, there also had to be a popcorn stand on the deck thanks to Joe & Seph's.
 But the gals aren't just about the sweet stuff. They know their good food. Working with the lovely Doug Gaunt, head chef of the Woods' Silver Fleet, they provided the most delicious savoury canapés, including polenta chips, ravioli, and sea bass. There was also an amazing salad bar with a range of healthy choices that I will definitely be attempting to recreate at home. 
Of course, the cocktails did not disappoint either. There were gin & tonics flavoured with crazy things like cardamom, and the striped straws did not go amiss. 
It has to be said though, the most magical part of the evening was when the boat set sail down the Thames. Timed perfectly, we were able to watch the sun set over the London skyline and see all of its beautiful buildings light up. I almost had to pinch myself!
 Although I may have spent the majority of the evening down in the kitchen with the other bakers making these canapés, which consisted of a brownie bite topped with sliced banana, whipped cream, honeycomb and caramel sauce, I had an amazing time. One thing is for sure, the Meringue Girls sure know how to throw a party.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Blogger Baking Masterclass with Bee's Bakery & The Happy Egg Co.

A few weeks ago I was invited along to a blogger baking masterclass organised by The Happy Egg Co. and the lovely folks at Mischief PR. It was a great afternoon jam-packed with baking madness, and was run by the lovely Bee Berrie from Bee's Bakery
I've been following Bee on Instagram for a while now, and it's been incredible watching her little bakery grow and flourish. I'm so excited for her to be releasing her first ever cookbook in March next year! Her biscuits have also been voted in London's top 5 - you can try them yourself at Harrods, Jamie Oliver's Recipease, or by ordering on her website. It was so great to have her run the masterclass and see how happy she is following her baking dreams (after deciding her old life as a microbiologist just wasn't really her thing...you go Bee!)
 The afternoon was hosted in the lovely kitchen at the Central Street Cooking School, and our afternoon was filled with a giant list of things Bee had prepared for us to bake. Of course, thanks to The Happy Egg Co., eggs were the star of the show.
With my good friend Katie who blogs over at www.katieskitchenjournal.com
We started off by making some puff pastry, which we left to set in the fridge until later for some custard tarts. We then went on to make some basic sponge cakes, but experimented by adding in with lots of weird and wonderful flavours. I went for orange & rosemary, Katie went for lemon & thyme, and the lovely Hattie from The Chaotic Kitchen went for lemon & rosemary. Pretty sure Elena from Eat.Wear.Travel got some basil involved too!
Katie and Hattie doing their thing.

Whilst they were baking in the oven, we made meringues with our egg whites, and then finished off by putting together our custard tarts using the yolks leftover from the meringue. Bee had also gotten us fresh berries and cream to use our meringues and create an Eton Mess. Egg-cellent!
The fluffiest and softest vanilla sponge ever - with a seriously creamy and perfectly sweet buttercream. I'm not usually a fan of rosemary in savoury things so I thought I'd give it a second chance, and of course, cake never disappoints - it was actually a delicious combination.
Crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside - meringue heaven.
It was a great afternoon spent in great company, and we all got to meet a bunch of other lovely food bloggers. Lot of laughter, lots of eggs, and lots of yummy treats to take home and devour at the end. Pretty good deal I say. Sending a massive thank you to Bee, Mischeif PR and The Happy Egg Co - can't wait for more blogger baking fun!