Baklawa and Baghdad Dreaming

The Baghdad I know is a patchwork of memories and faded photographs belonging to my mother and father. It might just be the sepia tone, or perhaps it's the nostalgia that laces their stories, but to me it's a magical, ethereal place with towering palm trees lining long and dusty roads, cool kids with round sunglasses and flares perching on the bonnets of convertible cars (I'm looking at you, dad), and the Tigris and the Euphrates stretching as far as the eye can see. 

One of the many stories that add to the magic of Iraq is that of my great grandfather, Jawad. I like to think that although we never met, we would have had a fair bit in common, and could've had some pretty great conversations. In 1903, jido founded Shakarchi Sweets, formally known as Al-Haj Jawad Al-Shakarchi & Sons. It was one of the country's most famous and popular producers of baklawa and other typical Iraqi sweets like mann al sama (a nutty nougat smothered in flour - I used to ask anyone that went to Iraq to bring this back for me!) and zalabiya (sticky, chewy, sugary fritters). 

Shakarchi Sweets had outlets all over Baghdad and remained popular for decades. Sadly, it shut down in the early 1990s as a result of sanctions, which caused the price of sugar to skyrocket and made it impossible to keep the business afloat. If one thing is for sure, it’s that Iraq hasn’t been as sweet since.

Nobody in our family has yet taken on the task of bringing Shakarchi Sweets back to life. Maybe one day I can change that. I know I’ll most likely never have a stall in Mansour, or a food truck pitched up on the bank of the Tigris, but maybe my sweets will give this side of the world a glimpse of that magical image of Iraq that my parents passed down to me.

For now, I’ll leave you with my baklawa recipe, inspired by Jawad Al-Shakarchi, and an incredible photo of Shakarchi Sweets that I recently stumbled across, taken in 1954:

Posted by @IraqiPic on Twitter (original post here)

Posted by @IraqiPic on Twitter (original post here)

As a foreward to the recipe, I will just say that baklawa comes in many different forms, but for the uninitiated, this is the most typical and the one to begin with. I really do encourage you to try making it. Baklawa has a reputation for being incredibly complicated, but in fact, it’s surprisingly simple. Working with filo pastry is always going to be fiddly, but the beauty is that it really doesn't have to be perfect, and once you've got the hang of layering the filo and the butter, you’re pretty much there.

You can also play around with fillings and flavours. The most traditional is a mixture of walnuts and pistachios, but pecans are my favourite so I decided to sneak them in too. If there is, however, just one piece of advice I’ll give you, it’s to leave your baklawa to soak in the syrup for at least 24 hours, or ideally even 48. The longer you leave it, the stickier, sweeter, and more delicious it will be. Just how jido would have liked it.

Recipe

Ingredients:

For the baklawa:
20 sheets filo pastry
200g butter, melted
270g shelled pistachios
250g pecans (or walnuts, cashews, or a mix of your preferred nuts)
50g caster sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom

For the syrup:

170g caster sugar
170g honey
170ml water
1 tbsp rosewater or orange blossom water (optional)

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 170C, and lightly brush a large baking pan or casserole dish with melted butter.

2. Place the pistachios in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Remove about 50g and set to one side to top your baklawa later on. Add the pecans, sugar, and spices to the mixer, and pulse a few times more until the nuts are chopped and all the ingredients are well integrated.

3. Carefully unroll your filo sheets onto a clean work surface. Whenever you're not using them, always cover the sheets with a damp (but not wet!) tea towel to keep them from drying out. If your filo sheets are too big for your pan, you can easily trim them down with some scissors.

4. Carefully place your first filo sheet into the buttered pan. Butter the top of the filo lightly with a pastry brush, making sure to go all the way to the edges. Repeat this process with another 7 sheets of filo, so you have 8 sheets of filo with butter brushed in between each. It doesn't matter if the pastry wrinkles or tears every now and again, you can always cover it up with the next layer!

5. Now add your first layer of filling. Scatter half of the spiced nut mixture over your top layer of filo, making sure it is evenly spread and goes all the way to the edges.

6. Place a filo sheet over the nuts and carefully brush with butter. Add another 4 sheets, brushing with butter between each.

7. Now add your second layer of filling. Spread the remaining nut mixture evenly over the 5th filo sheet, again going all the way to the edges.

8. Place another filo sheet over this second layer of filling, and brush carefully with butter. Repeat with another 7 sheets of filo, to total 8. Try to be extra careful with your top layer, trying not to wrinkle or tear it, but it doesn't really matter if you do.

9. Using a very sharp knife, carefully cut a series of evenly spaced diagonal lines from one side to the other to create the traditional diamond shapes. You can choose the number of lines you cut depending on how many baklawa you want to make. Bake the baklawa in the oven for about 40-45 minutes, or until the filo is golden brown all over.

11. Whilst the baklawa is baking, make the syrup. Place the sugar, honey, water and rosewater (if you’re using it) into a saucepan and warm over a medium heat. Bring to the boil and leave it to bubble for 10 minutes and until all the sugar is dissolved, being careful not to burn it. Remove from the heat and set aside.

12. Once the baklawa is ready, remove from the oven and carefully run a knife down the lines you cut earlier to make sure the pieces are separated. Pour the prepared syrup over the hot baklawa, making sure to cover the tops of each diamond and pouring between the lines too. 

13. Garnish each piece with the remaining chopped pistachios, and leave to soak for at least 6 hours, or ideally overnight, or even two days. The baklawa will keep well for about a week if stored in an airtight container.

 

Rhubarb, Almond & Cardamom Custard Cake

Rhubarb and custard is yet another quintessentially British combination that just reminds everyone of their childhood. It seems, however, to be another marmite-esque divider. It might be the general association of rhubarb with school dinner rhubarb crumble, which I won't lie, I don't think was that bad... but bad school dinner associations generally, yeah, I totally get that.  

In an attempt to make everyone love rhubarb a little bit more, and to improve your chances of winning the next pub quiz you participate in, here is some rhubarb history. The perky pink fruit may be quintessentially British, but it's actually yet another ingredient that came over here from Asia. I always used to wonder about the difference between forced rhubarb and normal rhubarb, and it turns out that apparently the forced variety came about when Asian supplies of the stuff began to run dry. In desperate need of meeting demand, farmers in the UK found that they could replicate the ideal environment by growing it in a dark, heated room (am I the only one now wondering if I can grow rhubarb in my yoga classes...?)

Forced rhubarb is generally thinner and sweeter, and is apparently picked by candelight around February time (roses are so last year...). Unforced rhubarb is, as you might have guessed, grown naturally outside, and it tends to be thicker and sharper in flavour. People who don't like rhubarb are therefore probably more likely to tolerate the forced variety, but let's be honest, either way it looks like pink celery, so it's basically salad and everyone should eat more of it.

That's my philosophy, at least.

Here's a rhubarb, almond & custard cake recipe to win you over if not. It worked for my brother, so there is hope! Also, I am definitely going to make a habit of baking layers of custard into my cakes. You should too.

Ingredients

For the sponge
250g unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
200g ground almonds
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder

For the custard
570ml milk
6 egg yolks
50g golden caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or seeds of 1 vanilla pod)
1 tsp ground cardamom

For the topping
4-5 sticks of rhubarb, chopped into lengths of about 8cm
1 tbsp golden caster sugar
1/2 tsp cardamom
50g flaked almonds 

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C and line and grease a 23cm round cake tin.
2. Start by making the custard. Place the milk, vanilla and cardamom into a medium saucepan and warm over a gentle heat - make sure the milk doesn't boil! 
3. In a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour to make a paste. Once the milk is just steaming, pour into the eggs and sugar in a steady stream, whisking constantly. 
4. Place the whole mixture back onto the heat, and gently whisk until it begins to thicken. Take off the heat and cover with clingfilm (make sure the clingfilm touches the surface of the custard so a skin doesn't form), and set aside to cool.
5. Next, prepare the rhubarb. In a small bowl, toss the cut rhubarb together with the cardamom and sugar, and set aside.
6. Now make the sponge. In a freestanding electric mixer or using an electric whisk, cream together the butter and sugar. When light and fluffy, add in the eggs one at a time, making sure the mixture is well combined after each addition.
8. In a separate bowl, combine the ground almonds, flour and baking powder. Gently fold this into the wet mixture with a spatula. 
9. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin, making sure it is level. Then, pour over a thin and even layer of your cooled custard. Finally, carefully and lightly place the lengths of rhubarb around the cake like the hands of a clock (be careful not to push them into the batter so that they don't sink) and sprinkle the edges with flaked almonds.
10. Bake in the oven for about 40-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. If it begins to brown too quickly, cover it with some tin foil, but don't open the oven for the first 20 minutes at least!
11. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Serve immediately with a good cup of tea, and bask in the fact that you are definitely consuming one of your five a day! 
 

Wholewheat Fig & Sesame Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns will forever remind me of a bakery we used to stop at on the way to school as kids. Contrary to your usual childhood nostalgia baking story, I actually never used to like them. Don't get me wrong, they smell great (seriously, give me copious amounts of cinnamon any day), but I've just never been a fan of the raisins in the dough.

This year I decided to put my own Middle Eastern twist on them, choosing to use dried figs and sesame seeds instead. I also used a mix of wheat, rye and barley malt flours which adds a lovely extra nuttiness. I suppose it's symbolic in a way, using typically Middle Eastern flavours in a very Western Christian baked good. With everything going on in the world at the moment, it's more important than ever to embrace each others cultures and traditions, and I feel like these little guys capture that pretty well.

Although my parents aren't religious, my grandmother was, and our culture and traditions are very clearly rooted in Islam. At the same time, I grew up in London, and I definitely knew way more about Christianity than I did Islam. I actually still probably do... I remember some family friends always used to ask why I didn't fast, or why we had a Christmas tree, but to me that's just who we are. We're somewhere in the middle. We grew up here and we love our British and Western traditions, but we still hold on to where we are from too. The two cultures aren't mutually exclusive, and it's totally possible to be both.

It might not be what you expect, but it works, just like these buns.

Ingredients

For the buns
250ml milk
30g unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
500g wholewheat bread flour (I actually used Doves Farm Malthouse Bread Flour)
1/2 tsp salt
1.5 tsp ground cardamom
1.5tsp ground cinnamon
0.5tsp mixed spice
50g caster sugar
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 orange, zested (I used blood orange)
7g sachet fast action dried yeast
1 egg, lightly beaten
140g dried figs, roughly chopped

To finish
50g plain flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
Honey, to glaze

Recipe

1. Place the milk, vanilla extract and butter in a small saucepan and gently heat until the milk is warm and the butter has melted. Remove from the heat and set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, cardamom, cinnamon, sugar, orange zest and sesame seeds. Make a well in the centre and add in the yeast. Pour the milk into the well and leave for 5 minutes to let the yeast dissolve.
3. Add the beaten egg and mix together to form a rough dough. Transfer to an electric stand mixer and knead with the dough hook on a medium speed for 5-10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. If you don't have an electric mixer, knead by hand for 10-15 minutes.
4. Transfer the dough into a lightly greased bowl and cover with cling film. Leave in a warm place to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. 
5. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and divide the dough into 18 equal parts with a knife. Roll each portion into a ball and place onto a lined baking tray about 3cm apart. Cover loosely with cling film and leave to rise for another hour, or until doubled in size.
6. Meanwhile, make the paste for the crosses. Place the plain flour into a small bowl and gradually add about 5-6tbsp water, one tbsp at a time, to form a thick paste. Transfer into a small piping bag and snip off the tip.
7. Once the buns have risen, preheat the oven to 190C. Brush them lightly with the beaten egg and pipe along the length and width of them all to create the famous cross pattern (I find the best way to do this is to drag the paste slightly above the buns and let it drop onto them neatly).
8. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Whilst they are in the oven, gently heat some honey in a small pan to loosen the consistency (or if you have runny honey, just use that as it is).
9. Remove from the oven, place onto a cooling rack, and lightly glaze with honey. Slice in half and serve toasted with a slather of butter. 

Adapted from Edd Kimber's recipe for traditional Hot Cross Buns in Waitrose Food April 2017

Pear & Pecan Spice Cake

One of the best things that came from my travels was the foodie inspiration - you know, alongside finding myself and being at one with nature. Much to the dismay of my waistline, Bali and Australia were filled to the brim with incredible cafés, serving up some of the most beautiful dishes I have ever seen. I genuinely don't think anyone can beat the Aussies on the art of plating.

pearcake.jpg

One dish in particular remains etched in my mind. It was at The Kettle Black, one of my favourite brunch spots in Melbourne, set in a beautiful old Federation bungalow. I ordered the bircher muesli, and out it came topped with all kinds of fruit - kiwi, orange, blueberries, pear - cut and arranged to perfection. Somehow they made the fruit look cool.

The beautifully thinly sliced pear in said bowl of muesli was the inspiration for this pear & pecan spice cake. I realise how ridiculous that probably sounds - I won't lie, it has to be one of my more niche sources of inspiration. It is inspiration nonetheless, and as the photos show, it's just amazing how a simple cut of fruit can completely transform a bake. 

Recipe

Ingredients

200g unsalted butter

3 medium eggs

250g coconut sugar (can use caster sugar or golden caster sugar, but reduce to 200g)

200g spelt flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp cardamom

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp all spice

50g roughly chopped pecans, plus extra to decorate

2-3 conference pears 

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line and grease a 23cm cake tin.

2. Peel, core, and finely slice the pears. Place them in a bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent them browning.

3. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or using an electric mixer until light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes).

4. Gradually add in the eggs one by one, making sure each one is incorporated before adding the next.

5. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices in a separate bowl, and gradually fold into the wet mixture in 3 inclusions. Carefully fold in the pecans.

6. Pour the batter into your prepared tin and arrange your sliced pears on top. Don't actually push them into the batter as they'll just disappear into the cake in the oven, so just place them on top. Scatter with your extra rougly chopped pecans. 

7. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

8. Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

9. Serve with a dollop of yoghurt and a cuppa!

Burbara: Middle Eastern Spiced Wheatberry Porridge

London's porridge sensation Alex Hely-Hutchinson, founder of 26 Grains, starts her cookbook by stating: 'Everybody has a story about porridge'. It's true. Porridge is eaten across so many different cultures and is made in many ways, based on different grains, methods, and flavours. Of course the Middle East has its answer, in fact, it has several porridge-like dishes, but I thought I'd try my hand at making the Levantine 'Burbara' with a bit of a 26 Grains twist.  

Burbara is traditionally eaten on St. Barbara's day by Christians in the Levant, and it's usually served as a dessert, be it hot or cold. Although it's loaded with loads of great stuff (nuts, spices, grains), it is normally very sweet, so I've toned it down to make it a bit more breakfasty. 

Recipe - Serves 2

Ingredients

100g wheatberries, whole wheat grain, or pearl barley (soaked in 250ml water overnight, or at least 30 minutes)
250ml almond milk (or milk of your choice)
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp aniseed
1/2 tsp nutmeg
maple syrup, to taste
a handful of pine nuts, toasted
a handful of pistachios
a handful of pomegranates
half an apple, grated or julienned
date syrup, to drizzle
a dollop of greek yoghurt


Method

1. Place your soaked wheatberries and their water in a pan on the hob. Add the almond milk and spices, and boil for 10 minutes. Turn the heat down and simmer for a further 30 minutes or until the wheat grains have softened, stirring occasionally so they don't stick to the pan.
2. When you're ready to serve, add in however much maple syrup you'd like to sweeten your porridge. Pour into two serving bowls and top with the nuts, pomegranate, apple, a drizzle of date syrup, and a dollop of greek yoghurt.
3. Serve immediately. Without the toppings this will keep well in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Halloumi, Sumac & Black Sesame Pull-Apart Bread

Baking bread really is a labour of love. It's a long, age-old process, but probably still one of the most satisfying things you can do in the kitchen. It's only right that after putting all your love into making it, your bread should be shared - but also because let's be honest who is going to chomp down all of those carbs by themselves. This pull-apart loaf from my feature for The Carton magazine's Decus in labore issue makes sharing a little bit easier for you by cutting out the knife (ironic). Get your hands on the mag here.

Recipe

Ingredients
375ml warm water
2 tsp dried yeast
2 tsp caster sugar
525g plain flour
¾ tsp salt
Olive oil, to grease
3 tbsp sumac
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp black sesame
80g halloumi cheese, thinly sliced
1 tbsp milk

Method

1. Combine the water, yeast and sugar in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside in a warm place for 5 minutes or until frothy.
2. In large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture. Combine using a wooden spoon or spatula, and then use your hands to bring the dough together.
3. Transfer the dough to a freestanding electric mixer with the dough hook attached and beat for 5-7 minutes, OR, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.
4. Brush a large bowl with oil, place the dough into the bowl, and cover with cling film. Set aside in a warm, draught-free area for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.
5. Once the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 210°C. Lightly grease a 2lb loaf pan with oil.
6. Punch down the centre of the dough with your fist. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 minutes or until it has returned to its original size.
7. Divide the dough into 18 equal portions, and roll each into a 5cm disc. Place 6 discs at the bottom of your prepared tin.
8. Combine the sumac and olive oil together in a small bowl to form a paste, and spread one third of the mixture over the 6 discs. Place a few of the halloumi slices randomly over and in between the discs, and sprinkle with 1 tbsp black sesame seeds. Continue layering the remaining dough, 6 discs at a time, topping with the remaining sumac, halloumi and sesame. Cover with a damp tea towel and set aside in a warm, draught-free area for a further 30 minutes.
9. Brush the dough lightly with milk, and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 30-35 minutes or until golden and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
10. Remove from the oven and leave the loaf to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.
11. Serve hot or cold with an extra drizzle of olive oil. This loaf is best eaten the same day it is made.

Middle Eastern Summer Charity Dinner Party: 'My Baghdad Kitchen'

For those of us in the Middle Eastern diaspora, food is often the strongest connection we have to where we come from. We might not truly know where that is, but the smells and flavours that remind us of our grandmother's cooking are enough to trigger a confusing yet comforting nostalgia for home, regardless of whether we are Iraqi, Syrian, Palestinian, or from anywhere in that beautiful but endlessly tormented part of the world.

DSC_0585 4.jpg

That food is a particularly special part of the Middle East, not just because of its incredible flavours, but also because Middle Eastern cuisine unites the region's richly diverse countries. Whilst each nation has its own cuisine, there is so much crossover between them all that Middle Eastern food is an entity in itself, and it is the most amazing amalgam of dishes. It is a kind of language in its own right, contaminated (or enriched) by the idiosyncrasies of neighbouring nations, and spoken both in and far beyond the region, in English and Arab-speaking countries, and even in Israel and Iran. If only the Middle East could achieve that kind of union in other ways.

In fact, I myself often feel more Middle Eastern than Iraqi, perhaps due to my parents' Turkish, Iranian, and Kurdish roots, but also as a result of growing up in London with friends from all over the Middle East, who, as my brother would say, are as 'equally confused' as I am. Our food, however, continues to make perfect sense.

Last month, the AMAR foundation ran a campaign called 'My Baghdad Kitchen', which encouraged people to host fundraising dinner parties to feed Iraqi families during Ramadan. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to bring some friends together and test out my own cooking skills for a good cause. I didn't want to just cook Iraqi food, but rather a range of Middle Eastern food, to remind us that what's going on at the moment is a regional problem, and that we really are better together.

Using family recipes, I put together a menu with food from all over the Middle East, including traditionally Levantine starters like Tabbouleh and Fattoush, a less known but incredibly tasty Saudi Arabian rice dish known as Kapsa (which is actually probably my favourite Middle Eastern rice dish!), as well as dishes popular all over the region, like the za'atar flatbread Mana'eesh and of course, Hommous and Babaghanouj. 

With the help of my magical kitchen assistant brother, we served up traditional dishes with our own twists. My personal favourite was the Shorbat Addas (lentil soup), which I served chilled in small glasses, topped with baked Arabic bread croutons and a hint of paprika. They were the perfect way to start the meal off. Clearly all the gazpacho I ate whilst living in Madrid has had an influence on my own cooking

Of course for dessert I had to make my Almond Milk Mahalabiya, which was a light and refreshing way to end the meal. I also finally tried my hand at Baklawa, mixing the usual pistachios with pecans rather than the more common walnuts or cashews, and served them up with a cup of Iraqi Chai to keep us warm as the night got cooler.

With the great British summer time on our side, we set up in the garden for what ended up being an enjoyable, balmy, candle-lit evening. We had Iraqis, Syrians, Palestinians, Muslims, Christians, and Jews all sitting beside each other, enjoying the familiar flavours that remind us of home, and sharing all too similar stories. Although it truly felt a world away from what the Middle East is today, it gave me a glimmer of hope for what the future could look like. 

Thanks to the generosity of our guests, we managed to raise over £155 for the AMAR foundation's campaign, meaning that we could feed 6 Iraqi families for a week during Ramadan. 

Although their meals would be nothing like what we enjoyed that day, by holding events like this, raising awareness, and trying to give back to a region that has given us so much, maybe one day we can be hosting supper clubs like this in Baghdad or in Damascus, where all of this incredible food was first made.

JUMA Kitchen: Iraqi Supperclub 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. 

 

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 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 less traditional but 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.

Of course, I was most looking forward to dessert, which could be none 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 it in blossom water syrup and topped it 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/

Honey & Saffron Loaf with Labneh and Fresh Figs - The Carton Magazine Issue 14

I always yap on about my love for Middle Eastern food culture, so I think I found my magazine soulmates at The Carton, a beautiful bi-annual magazine dedicated to food culture and the Middle East. They're based out in Beirut in Lebanon, with contributors are placed all over the world. I've been busy working with them over the last few months on their Decus in labore issue (No. 14) to create a series of 8 original Middle Eastern loaf recipes, so snap up a copy here and try your hand at baking them. For now, though, here's a sneak preview of what you can expect...

recipe

ingredients

250g clear honey, and extra to glaze
225g unsalted butter, cubed
100g dark muscovado sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
300g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp saffron threads
100g fresh labneh (optional)
5 fresh figs, quartered

method

1. Preheat the oven to 160ºC and grease a 2lb loaf tin. Grease and line the base and sides with baking parchment.
2. Place the butter, honey, sugar and ½ tsp saffron threads into a medium saucepan and melt over a low heat. When the mixture becomes liquid, bring to a boil for 1 minute. Take off the heat and set aside to cool for 15 minutes.
3. Once cooled, beat the eggs into the melted honey mixture with a wooden spoon.
4. Using a freestanding electric mixer or electric whisk, combine the flour and remaining threads of saffron with the liquid mixture at a low speed. Beat for 2-3 minutes at a medium speed to form a smooth and runny batter.
5. Pour the batter into your prepared loaf tin and bake for 50 minutes – 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
6. Remove from the oven and leave the loaf to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once cooled, top with the labneh if you are using it, along with the figs, and a drizzle of honey.
7. If using labneh, this loaf is best served the same day it is made. Otherwise, it will keep well in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Savse Super Blueberry & 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).

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!

Middle Eastern Mahalabiya with Almond Milk & Maple Syrup

I cannot deny that Middle Eastern desserts are some of my favourites. I've never really been a baklawa person, and that's often what first comes to mind when people think of Arabic desserts. But throw me some rosewater and an extra helping of pistachios, and I'm there. Mahalabiya, a rose water and pistachio milk pudding, is top of my list.

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I used to make this with my grandmother (bibi) all the time. She used to always make little pots - one for me, one for her, and one extra for whoever was coming over later. Because of that, I'll always prefer having my own little bowl of it rather than scooping some out of a big one, which is how it is more typically served.

 

It helps that my brother brought back some of the most beautiful handmade ceramic bowls from his recent trip to Palestine. I've been wanting to recreate mahalabiya for a while now, and with such pretty bowls at hand, I thought this was the perfect opportunity!

Traditionally, the dessert is made with whole milk and caster sugar. However, I thought I'd experiment with making it a little bit more healthy by substituting the normal milk with almond milk, and the sugar with maple syrup. I was pretty nervous as I had my grandma's sister (basically grandma number 2) on the other end of the phone waiting to hear whether my messing around with her recipe had worked or not!

Thankfully, it turned out just as I'd hoped. The almond milk makes it feel so much lighter and adds a lovely texture, and the maple syrup adds just the right amount of sweetness. Gluten free, dairy free, refined sugar free, and delicious!

It's actually also probably the easiest, quickest, and least-messy dessert I've ever made. You can whip it up in a matter of minutes, and just need a little bit of patience whilst waiting for it to set. 

Here goes...!

Ingredients

2 cups almond milk (plus 1/4 almond milk)
2 tablespoons rosewater
1/2 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons cornflour
1/4 cup almond milk

Recipe

1. Pour the 1/2 cup almond milk and the maple syrup into a saucepan and warm over a medium heat. 

2. Meanwhile, place the cornflour in a mug and add the extra 1/4 almond milk. Working quickly, mix these together with a spoon to form a paste.

3. Take the milk and syrup mixture off the heat, and add in the cornflour paste. Stir, and bring back onto the heat. 

4. Continue stirring until the cornflour has completely dissolved and the mixture thickens to the consistency of cake batter. Do not allow the mixture to boil!

5. Divide the mixture into small bowls, and leave to cool completely.

6. Transfer the bowls to the fridge, and leave them to set for a few hours, or even overnight. Decorate with ground and whole pistachios, and some edible rose petals if you have any!

Dinerama: Shoreditch's Summer Street Food Circus

Alright so we need to have a serious conversation about Dinerama. It's outdoor street food heaven, with neon lights for added awesomeness. So if you're stuck on how to spend your summer weekend evenings...look no further.

Dinerama is the third addition to Street Feast's crazy collection of street food markets around London. This one is based in the heart of Shoreditch on Great Eastern Street, whilst Model Market is in Lewisham and the original Street Feast is in Dalston Yard. 

Every Thursday - Saturday from 12pm to 12am, and Sundays from 12pm to 9pm, Dinerama hosts 6 street diners, 5 street food shacks, 6 bars, and several street food trucks - so you're sure to find something to tantalise your taste buds. It looks super busy in these photos, but because of the nature of the food, people are up and moving around all the time and we actually found a place to sit each time we wanted to. 

We arrived just before 7pm, so managed to catch free entry. It's only £3 entry after 7pm, but you'll probably want to arrive earlier anyway so you can soak it all up and try as much stuff as possible (obviously). It's also not just the food but it's the atmosphere that's great. There's a DJ playing music all night so you could easily spend your whole evening there!

These bad boys were so good, and still my favourite dish at the market. I would happily go back and eat 10. Most dishes on the stalls were £4 for one, two for £7, or three for £9 - so it's fun and more cost effective to share with your pals. Or just eat more for yourself, because why not?

You also can't miss the Chuck Burger truck as soon as you walk in. They do some great burgers, and actually have their own restaurant up in Hatch End.

 Yum Bun was another favourite of mine, and not just because of their super cool neon sign. We went for the crispy shrimp bun, which was awesome. But be warned, if you're not a fan of spicy food, ask for it without the green chilli - it will burn your mouth alive. 

There were so many stalls left that we didn't try, like a great looking Indian which had poppadom nachos...or 'pachos' as they called them. We also completely forgot to try the lobster rolls...so are definitely going back for those!! 

There were also so many bars in the market so you could just go in for a drink. We chose to go upstairs to the 'rooftop' section and hunt down the rum bar, obviously because they were the ones with the cool stripy cups. They had a great selection of crazy cocktails that were actually really good, which you can then enjoy on the grass up there. It's practically a picnic!

Whilst upstairs, we stopped off at Baja Grill which was offering coal-grilled sweet potato with chipotle butter for a beautiful £2. The salad on the side also made us feel a little bit less guilty for chomping on all those fried goods...

And for our final dish we were lured to Bird Box by the incredible smell and sight of the fresh rotisserie chicken. It was covered in some amazing chutney sauce and came with roasted garlic & thyme potatoes...dream. I should probably mention we did share everything...we aren't that bad!

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Okay so by this point, as you can guess from the amount of food we had, we were dying. But nothing was going to stop us heading to You Doughut! for dessert (separate stomach, right?) There were two flavours to choose from: salted caramel, and indulgent chocolate. We are suckers for cinnamon, but also couldn't not have marshmallows...so we just asked for the salted caramel but with marshmallows instead of pecans. I'm not even exaggerating when I say they are the most incredible doughnuts I have probably had ever.

We then ended up sitting and chatting for hours on end, right up until the market closed for the night. The weather was perfect, the people were lovely, and the music was just right, so there was no reason for us to leave! It was one of the best nights I've had so far this summer, of course with my forever foodie buddy Em. I'd definitely recommend you grab some friends and head on down there too.

If you fancy trying out Street Feast's other markets, you can view a list of all of the stalls available here.

Happy Street Feasting!

Daylesford Summer Festival 2015

“I believe in simple, good food, which is the result of organic farming; it is better for us, our animals and the environment.” - Carole Bamford, founder of Daylesford Farm

A few weeks ago I spent my Saturday eating copious amounts of great food (nothing new there, but keep reading), in the midst of endless beautiful scenery (almost there...), soaking up that oh-so-rare British sunshine (there we go!) at the Daylesford Summer Festival 2015.

Daylesford is a farm up in the Cotswolds that has been growing produce organically for over 30 years. They're committed to good quality, sustainability and they are all about real food. It's also one hell of a beautiful farm. After the success of their first summer festival last year, they opened up their doors again this May to give food and farming lovers alike an inside look into their organic farming methods and a great summer's day out - which it sure was!

At the festival, there were so many great food stalls selling their products and offering free samples, both from within and outside Daylesford. We tried some delicious artisan cheeses - there was one herb and goats cheese mix that was incredible. There were also pies, pastries, cakes, jams, chutneys, breads, healthy breakfast mixes and so much more. The event was so beautifully styled and typically British, and those of you who know me will guess that I was in bunting heaven!

As well as being able to have a more hearty lunch at the Daylesford farmshop on the day, there were several trucks selling hot food around the grounds. There was also a big barbecue going on with some amazing looking burgers. We made the tough decision of passing up the incredible smell of those to go for one of the Dayleford trucks, which were serving some tasty Beef Brisket Wraps. Eating those, whilst enjoying our first glass of Pimm's of the year and listening to the live jazz band on the grass was the perfect way to kick start our British summer - and look how pretty the trucks were!

Daylesford isn't really your average farm. It's like its own little Cotswoldian world hidden away in the countryside. There is the market garden, the animals, the bakery, the creamery, and the kitchens, but there is also so much more. Daylesford's onsite farm shop, for example, sells all their organic produce to the public. Alongside it, they've got their café, where you can eat fresh and delicious food made using everything they grow. There's even a spa and boutique.

There is also the most beautiful cookery school holding courses all year around about how to "eat to be healthy". At the festival there were several demonstrations and events in the kitchen, including a special appearance from Madeleine Shaw who was signing her new book "Get The Glow".

BUT I've saved my favourite part until last... which is the fact that Daylesford rent out their own dreamy Cotswolds cottages. My jaw dropped walking into one of the show-cottages on the day of the festival - and yes, those idyllic photos down there show you what I'm talking about! There are several beautifully designed and cosy cottages of different sizes, sleeping from 2 to 8 people, that you can stay in for a mid-week or weekend country getaway. Some of them are on site next to the farm itself, and some are just down the road further into Kingham. I can't think of a better weekend than staying up there, booking in a few spa treatments, cooking up some food using Daylesford ingredients, and just switching off!

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Aside from the festival, Daylesford is a great place to just go spend the day this summer. It's easy to get the train up from London Paddington, or drive through the beautiful British countryside if you fancy it. You could just go have a wander around the grounds, maybe try out the spa or a cookery course, have a bite to eat in the café, and breathe in some fresh country air. They also offer farm tours three times a year, and farm walks that you can just do yourself by picking up a map from the shop and following the signs.

If you'd rather stay a bit closer to home though, you can always try out one of the many Daylesford café's and farm shops around London. They've in fact just opened up a brand new one in Marylebone! The cafés serve delicious organic food using ingredients from back up at the Cotswolds for a nutritious breakfast, lunch, dinner, or simply afternoon tea and cake.

Whatever way you try it, make sure you have some sort of Daylesford experience this summer, and be sure to head to the Daylesford Summer Festival next year!

marrakech foodie guide

"marrakech taught me colour." - yves saint laurent

STAY: Riad Lola

This riad is the most beautiful little oasis tucked away in the city center just moments away from Jamaa al Fna, the main square. It is owned by a lovely Spanish lady, Lola, who has furnished it with local designs, mixing modern with traditional Moroccan to create this peaceful corner amidst the hustle and bustle of the chaotic souks. Spend your evenings gazing at the stars in the plunge pool on the roof, with not a sound from the souks to be heard, and head back up there in the morning for delicious breakfast. 

explore: the gorgeous souks

The magic of Marrakech lies in the souks. You could spend days on end wandering around and still not see them all. If you head north from Jamaa al Fna, upwards and past Café des épices, there are hundreds of winding roads lined with stalls owned by local men and women. You'll find spices, homewares, clothes, shoes, bags, jewellery, food, art and so much more. Just be prepared to crack out your haggling skills and you'll get some great bargains. The general rule is to aim to get the price down to half of what the seller first says. It's hard work but it can actually be pretty fun, and you end up saving yourself a lot of money. Be warned if you're a sucker for shiny things, you might want to pack light so that you have all that extra suitcase space...

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top eat: nomad

If there is one restaurant you have to go to in Marrakech, it's Nomad. It's fairly new on the block, and offers traditional Moroccan cuisine with a modern twist in the most stylish setting. The terrace, with its black and white zig-zag tables and lanterns hanging around the sides, has stunning views of the city. It is the perfect place to eat delicious fresh and local food whilst watching the sunset. They usually have two sittings for dinner, one at 7pm and another at 9pm, but I would definitely recommend going earlier so that you can watch the sun go down and see the atmosphere transform. One thing you cannot miss is the saffron scented date cake with salted caramel sauce for dessert - it is unreal! We loved it so much we went twice.

MadrEat: Madrid's Monthly Foodie Extravaganza (English + Spanish)

Move over music festival, hello FOOD festival. Seriously, it's the new best thing ever. What better way could you possibly think of to spend a sun-soaked Saturday in a beautiful city like Madrid than wandering in and around a bunch of beautiful food trucks offering food from all corners of the world? None, I tell you. There is no better way to spend your Saturday. 

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That's where MadrEAT comes in. Held every third weekend of each month (with the exception of this month!), MadrEAT is a celebration of global street food brought to you by restaurants and vendors from all over Spain. It's an outdoor food fiesta in the gardens of AZCA in Madrid's business district, where you could easily spend hours drifting between over 50 food vendors for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, satisfying your sweet and savoury cravings. 

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MadrEAT is the brainchild of the creative minds at food marketing and communications company Mateo&Co, who have clearly clocked onto the fact that Madrid is one hell of a gastronomic capital. They've brought together food trucks, market stalls, vans, and food carts to celebrate their love of gastronomy and offer you their culinary delights. Some of them have restaurants in Madrid or other cities, and some are simply one of a kind trucks! 

And it's getting bigger and better with each edition. Every month there are new stalls and dishes to try, so there is no chance of getting bored. The festival offers a magical union of great quality and great tasting food at affordable prices, meaning you could go grab your lunch and spend your afternoon there for less than 15 euros. 

It's also all about the atmosphere. If you're heading over with a group of friends, you can buy your food and drinks and make yourself a little picnic on the grass, or sit on the steps surrounding the fountains whilst listening to the DJ sound out a feel-good summer playlist. 

 If you're lost for a starting point, the delicious nachos from Gramabar (Calle Preciados, 40) make a great snack and starter to the festival. Then, you have to head straight over to Les Delícies d'en Nilthe Colombian food truck that travels all the way from Figueres in the north east. You can't leave without trying their patacón, which is a bed of friend plantain topped with your choice of spiced chicken, beef, or both, with mozzarella, fried onions, yoghurt sauce and guacamole. It's filling, it's delicious, and its only 6 euros. 

Last month MadrEAT also welcomed Casa Ernesto and their gourmet artichokes. The artichokes are coated in olive oil, grilled, and accompanied by toppings of your choice like some deliciously creamy burrata. There is also lots of meat on offer from the lovely guys at Restaurante MEATing (Calle Valenzuela, 7), Latin American Asian fusion at Chifa (Calle de Modesto Lafuente, 64), Spanish omelettes from Lucia's, pizzas from PICSA (Calle de Ponzano, 76), cheeses from The Cheese Truck, and more and more and more.

That's all without even mentioning all of the options to satisfy your sweet tooth. Tartas de Silvia (Carr de Canillas, 10) with their amazing Cupcake Truck offer an incredible range of cupcakes flavours, like passionfruit and piña colada. The crepes by Trisk'An Crepes & Galletes are also like no crepe you have tasted before. They are filled with brioche, which, together with nutella and banana, is a combination made in heaven. There's also plenty more on offer like Lisa and Leti's cookies (Calle de la Cruz, 12), De Cake's cake pops, and Mama Framboise (Calle Fernando VI, 23) with their delicious tarts and macaroons.

But for me, the highlight of MadrEAT is Toma Cafe's incredible nutella latte. They coat the cup in a thick layer of nutella before pouring a perfectly brewed latte in, meaning you get a bit of nutella with every sip (the best bit is scooping up all the rest at the end!). They also have a great selection of cakes and lots of gluten-free options too. I warn you - if you do try it out, you'll soon become a regular at their café on Calle de la Palma, 40. Unfortunately they don't actually have the nutella latte in the café, which gives you all the more reason to head down to AZCA!

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The next edition of MadrEAT is in fact this weekend, the 8/9/10 of May - so grab all of your friends and head down there for a Madrileñan summer foodie weekend you won't forget. ¡Que aproveche!

Where: AZCA Gardens
When: Every third weekend of the month (except this month only!) Friday and Sunday 12:00-18:00, Saturday 12:00-24:00.
How to get there: Nearest stations are Nuevos Ministerios and Santiago Bernabéu
Find out more at the MadrEAT website: http://www.madreat.org/ 
Click restaurant names above to find out more!

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Olvídate del festival de música, y deja paso al festival de COMIDA. En serio, es el mejor plan de los próximos días. Cómo podrías pasar mejor un sábado soleado en una ciudad tan bonita como Madrid que pasear entre un montón de foodtrucks que ofrecen comida de todos los rincones del mundo? No podrías, te lo aseguro. No existe mejor manera de pasar un sábado.

Aquí llega MadrEAT Market. Cada tercer fin de semana (excepto este mes), MadrEAT celebra la comida callejera global traída por restaurantes y vendedores de todas las partes de España. Es una fiesta de comida al aire libre en los jardines de AZCA en el centro de Madrid, donde podrás dejarte llevar horas y horas entre más de 50 vendedores de comida para desayunar, comer o cenar, y satisfacer tus antojos dulces y salados. 

MadrEAT es el producto de las mentes creativas de la agencia de marketing estratégica y comunicación de comida Mateo&Co., que claramente se han dado cuenta de que Madrid es un tremenda capital gastronómica. Han aunado foodtrucks, stalls, tenderetes, furgonetas, carritos y containers para celebrar su amor a la gastronomía y ofrecerte sus delicias culinarias. Algunos de ellos tienen restaurantes en Madrid o en otras ciudades, y otros son puestos únicos. 

Lo mejor es que está creciendo con cada edición. Cada mes hay nuevos puestos y platos para probar, ¡así que no puedes aburrirte! El festival ofrece una unión mágica entre comida de buena calidad y precios asequibles, así que podrías pasarte allí una tarde y comer por menos de 15 euros. 

Pero también se trata del ambiente. Si vas con un grupo de amigos, podéis comprar la comida y las bebidas, y hacer un picnic en el césped, o sentaros en las escaleras alrededor de las fuentes mientras escucháis el playlist veraniego del DJ. 

Si no sabes por dónde empezar, los deliciosos nachos de Gramabar (Calle Preciados, 40) sirven como un buen tentempié y entrante al festival. Luego, tienes que ir directamente a Les Delícies d'en Nil, el foodtruck colombiano que viene de Figueres en el noreste del país. No puedes marcharte sin probar su patacón, que es una base de plátano frito coronado con pollo al curry, ternera, o los dos, con mozzarella, cebolla crujiente, salsa de yogur y guacamole. Está relleno, rico, y solo 6 euros. 

El mes pasado MadrEAT dio la bienvenida a Casa Ernesto y sus alcachofas gourmet. Las alcachofas se hacen a la parilla con aceite de oliva, y vienen acompañadas con toppings de tu elección, como una burrata riquísima. También hay mucha carne gracias a los chicos de Restaurante MEATing (Calle Valenzuela, 7), una fusión de comida latinoamericana y asiática por Chifa (Calle de Modesto Lafuente, 64), tortillas españolas por Lucia’s, pizzas de PICSA (Calle de Ponzano, 76), quesos de The Cheese Truck, y más y más y más.

Y todo eso sin mencionar las opciones para satisfacer a los golosos. Tartas de Silvia (Carr de Canillas, 10) tienen una increíble oferta de sabores de cupcakes, como maracuyá y piña colada. También, los crepes de Trisk'An Crepes & Galletes son como ningún crepe que hayas comido antes. Se rellenan con brioche, y junto con nutella y banana, es una combinación perfecta. Encontrarás también las galletas de Lisa and Leti's (Calle de la Cruz, 12), De Cake's cake pops, y Mama Framboise (Calle Fernando VI, 23) con sus tartas y macarrones deliciosos. 

Pero para mí, lo mejor de MadrEAT es el increíble nutella latte de Toma Cafe. Cubren una taza con una capa abundante de nutella antes de añadir un latte perfectamente preparado, así que sientes un poquito de nutella con cada sorbo (¡lo mejor es sacar lo que queda al final!) También ofrecen una gran selección de tartas y muchas opciones sin gluten. Te aviso – si lo pruebas, te vas a hacer un cliente regular en su café en Calle de la Palma, 40. Desafortunadamente, no tienen el nutella latte en su café, ¡lo que te da una razón más para ir a AZCA!

La próxima edición de MadrEAT tiene lugar este fin de semana, el 8/9/10 de mayo – así que díselo a tus amigos e id allí para disfrutar de un finde foodie veraniego que nunca olvidaréis. 

 ¡Que aproveche! 

Dónde: Los jardines de AZCA
CuándoCada tercer fin de semana del mes (excepto solo este mes). Viernes y domingos 12:00-18:00, Sábado 12:00-24:00.
Cómo llegar: Metro Nuevos Ministerios y Santiago Bernabéu
Más información en la página web de MadrEAT: http://www.madreat.org/ 
Haz click en los nombres de los restaurantes para más información.

Nordic Bakery inspired Caramelised Pecan Cinnamon Buns

The best kind of days are the ones that you spend aimlessly walking around London with your best friend. If for nothing else, because they end up inspiring you to bake something new! Last week, we ended up at the Nordic Bakery on Golden Square in Soho. Every time I walk past that beautiful bakery the smell of the freshly baked cinnamon buns pulls me in. Who needs marketing?!

I'm not the biggest fan of hot cross buns, and seeing as it is Easter Weekend, I thought that cinnamon buns would be a great alternative. I will warn you, this recipe is not for the faint hearted as it's long and there are some very specific steps to follow which, if you get wrong, could completely affect the texture of the dough. But this is definitely some of the most fun I've had baking in a while. Working with dough is so satisfying.

I was inspired by the Nordic Bakery Cookbook, but I decided to add pecans into the buns themselves, and then also caramelise some to put on top. The sticky and sweet topping works really well with the soft, layered interior of the buns. If you prefer them without the nuts, just skip those particular steps of the recipe and they will turn out just as nice.

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Ingredients

For the dough:
230ml milk
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
50g caster sugar
515g plain flour
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
100g unsalted butter

For the topping:
80g unsalted butter
65g caster soft light brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g pecan halves

For the filling:
50g unsalted butter
65g caster sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
80g coarsely chopped pecans
2 tablespoons milk

Recipe
Preparation time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

1. Firstly, you'll need to make the dough. Combine the milk and the yeast in a stand mixer until the yeast has dissolved. Add the sugar and whisk until dissolved. Then, switch to the paddle attachment of the mixer and add in half the amount of flour, mixing until the batter is smooth (you can also do this using a wooden spoon if you prefer). Cover the bowl tightly with cling film and allow it to stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. When ready, break the eggs into the mixture one at a time, scraping down the sides and making sure they were well incorporated after each addition. Change to the dough hook on your mixer, and then mix in the remaining flour and salt. Knead the mixture at a low speed for 1 minute, and then at a medium speed for 5 minutes.

3. Add the butter to the mixture in about 20g at a time, making sure each addition is fully incorporated. When all the butter has been added and a dough has formed, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead a few times by hand. Shape it into a ball. 

4. Rinse and lightly oil your bowl and return the dough to it with the round side down. Then turn it over so that it is lightly covered in oil all over. Cover the bowl tightly with cling film and place in a warm place to rise for 1 hour 30 minutes.

5. Once the dough has risen, use your fists to punch it down a few times in the bowl. Cover it again and leave in a warm place to rest for 15 minutes.

6. Whilst you wait, you can make the topping. To do this, melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat and stir in the light brown sugar, honey and vanilla extract. Then stir in the pecan halves and mix well until they are covered with the caramel sauce. Grease a 12-hole muffin tin and spread this mixture evenly between each cup. 

7. Then, make the filling. Combine the sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Melt the butter and allow to cool slightly. 

8. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll it out into a large rectangle of about 9 x 18 inches. Brush the surface of the dough with the melted butter, and then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over it evenly. Then sprinkle over the coarsely chopped pecans. 

9. Roll the dough up carefully and tightly like a swiss roll, beginning from a long edge. Using a serrated knife, cut the roll into 1.5 inch thick slices. Arrange each slice on top of the pecan topping in the previously prepared muffin tin. Cover with cling film and leave to rise at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C.

10. When ready, uncover the rolls and lightly brush them with milk using a pastry brush. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until puffed and a deep golden brown colour. Keep an eye on them as they burn easily.

11. Once out of the oven, you should remove the rolls from the tin immediately. Do this by carefully inverting them onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Leave them like this for 30 seconds to allow any topping to fall down, and then remove the muffin tin.

12. The rolls are best served warm, but will also taste lovely when cooled, and should keep in an air-tight container for 3-5 days. 

MACERA TallerBar: The Latest Edition to Madrid's Bar Scene - Interview with Narciso Bermejo (English + Spanish)

Macerar: (verb) to macerate, to soak, to soften. You might already know that Madrid’s bar scene is nothing short of impressive. Walking around Chueca and Malasaña on a Friday or Saturday night, you have endless choice and incredible atmosphere wherever you go. It seemed that it couldn’t really get any better. That was until two weeks ago, when Macera appeared. 

What drew me in about Macera was that whenever I walked past it, be it in the early afternoon or late at night, there was something going on inside. It always has its beautiful wide glass doors fully open. I saw people having coffee, eating cake, or even working during the day, and at night it was bustling with people having drinks with friends, or rather, tomando algo.

I went back on Saturday night to give it a try myself, and I was not disappointed. I was with a group of six, so the chance of finding a table on a Saturday night for that many people is slim. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the big table at the back, which seats 12, had just enough space for us to slot in. There’s such a relaxed atmosphere and it’s so spacious that you could sit there for hours and not want to leave. The idea behind Macera is a lot to do with freedom and choice, and that’s exactly what the interior of the bar itself gives you.

Torn by the incredible choice of drinks on the menu, I asked the waiter what he would recommend. Instead, he asked what sorts of drinks and flavours I liked, and made me my own ginger and red berry mojito, which was delicious. All of the bottles in the bar have their own Macera labels, and as you might’ve guessed from the name, they infuse and macerate their own alcohol, so you won’t find any brands in there. Every time you have a drink, you really are drinking something unique. You can even take some home yourself, or ask them to make you your own macerado if you’ve got a dinner party or other occasion coming up.

I wanted to find out more, so I got in touch with the lovely owner, creative director and chief “macerador” Narciso Bermejo. We sat down and had a chat about his vision, and you can read the full interview below in both Spanish and English.

So, if you’re in Madrid, get yourself down to Macera as soon as possible. It might be the new kid on the block, but it is taking that block by storm!

INTERVIEW WITH NARCISO BERMEJO, CREATIVE DIRECTOR OF MACERA:

What is the idea behind Macera?
For us, Macera is a cocktail-café-bar. That is, it brings together all kinds of food and drink but it isn’t a restaurant. The front area of the bar is a more calm and quiet zone. There are lots of plugs so you can work in the mornings in a kind of “co-working” concept. We make juices, green shakes, biological mixes – and if we make a juice, it will be the best juice, not just an orange juice. It’s also all locally sourced produce. It’s always national. Our pineapples are from the Canary Islands, for example.

We try to use healthy products because at the end of the day, we know that alcohol is a depressant, and when someone drinks they knows that it’s not all positive for their body. So I also wanted the distillations to be healthy. You won’t find these in any other bar, there are no brands. The only brand here is our own. But we don’t actually distill the alcohol ourselves, we macerate it. We also have all kinds of coffee, the latest in coffee. For me, coffee is really important because I think it’s having its moment.

How did the idea come about?
I stopped working a year ago to think about Macera; what I wanted to do, how I wanted to present myself as I got older. So first I looked for a base. I looked within the identity of the country. I thought about the identity of Spain and it’s tradition with distillations, which is maceration. The use of herbs is really common here, like in paxtaran, the Basque liquor. It’s a manual technique that involves getting a base distillation, and allowing it to macerate. “Macerar” is that process in which the fruit or the product you put in the distillation will infuse it. How long it takes depends on each product. We wanted to bring this tradition to the forefront. We choose to specifically use gin, a specially selected 3 year aged rum from Martinique, and a 5 year old soft Scottish whisky. All of our drinks are very neutral, and serve as a kind of blank canvas to work with.

So it’s not a new concept?
The truth is that it’s not a new concept. It’s old. It’s been happening for centuries in Spain - in towns, at home, even my dad used to do it. They would go to the liquor store and buy alcohols, but always with aguardientes and always with fruits; there wasn’t much creativity. We’ve taken this tradition and are bringing it to the forefront.

Where do you make the drinks?
In the mornings I work with the distillations. We do it all here, and at the moment, for example, we’ve got a gin with lime, coriander and jalapeños (which you can see in the photo above). We’ve also got gin just with some juniper to make it drier, and one with coffee beans from Nicaragua. They’re either all done with local fruits or specific selections from abroad. There’s one with artichoke, and there's vermouth. We also have a gin just with citrus fruits. For four litres, we put in the skin of four lemons and four limes. We then use the pulp and juice in our green juices and cakes. We don’t throw anything away! These are from a citrus plantation in Toledo, and you can really taste it. But this one isn’t really meant to be had on its own, it’s better for mixing. 

Tell me a bit about the bottles themselves.
We wanted a simple design for the bottles that would allow us to present “Macera Craft Drinks” clearly. We put the date it was bottled, the base drink, the ingredients, and then a signature to show it’s our own work. We sourced the bottles in Catalonia, from a man that has been working with glass for years. I don’t want Premium products, because they’re not real. They’re just brand positioning, so that it costs 30 euros a bottle or 15 for a glass. Here, our drinks cost 7 euros.

What is there to eat?
We do a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s the best in Madrid, well, because it didn’t exist here before. There are four on the menu: the classic, the gourmet with a mix of artesan cheeses, an iberian and a vegetarian.

Who designs the drinks and the menu?
I design the drinks, and also whoever makes the cocktails. The menu in general is a participative process. It’s the work of many, like Ruben, the barman, who lent me a hand with the cocktails, and Marta, our nutritionist, with the sandwiches and the green juices. Step by step, it’s been a project that many people have worked on to make it the best. It’s for everyone. We always reiterate. It’s the work of many and it’s for everyone.

You always say you do everything with the “HEART”. What do you mean by that?
When the distillations come out of the alembic, the first drops are called the “head”, the middle zone is called the “heart”, and the last zone is called the “tail”. The head and tail zones contain impurities and are withdrawn. So we work with the heart. We do it with our heart. The art in the bar reflects this concept and was done by Happy Ending, a studio that are friends of ours. 

What does Macera mean for you?
For me Macera is more of a concept than an establishment. Macera is a concept that is to do with loving yourself. Love your qualities; love where you are now, and not where people told you you should be. I got here and I’m going to make it better. It’s for that reason that we do a lot of stuff in the streets – we go out into the streets, into markets. We are part of that educated generation that had so many expectations that haven’t been fulfilled. There is no quid pro quo between what you were educated in and what you have become, which can cause frustration. You saw yourself with a nice house, not a flat of 35m2, and today, a large portion of people in their twenties and thirties can’t go out every weekend. That’s where Macera comes in. To give you quality and freedom again, with something that you can afford.

Who was in charge of the interior design?
The interior was done by a guy called David, an architect. We got the location, which was another type of establishment before, but structually what we wanted to do was to recover a car garage that was here in the 80s. We tore it down layer by layer until we got to this. We worked together, I painted the bar. 

How long did it take from having the idea in your head to the opening of the bar?
I quit my job almost a year ago, in July last year. But I’d had the idea in my head a year ago. When I told David for the first time that there needs to be a bar without brands, he told me it was impossible. But 10 minutes later we were already working on the idea.

Have you worked in bars and restaurants before?
Yes, I’ve been working in this for I don’t know how long. My parents had a bar in a small town and I lived above it. I’ve always worked in a bar. But my brother helped me to study, and I did History of Art, and then after finishing I did hospitality because I realised that this was my life. I’ve gotten to the top, I’ve worked in Michelin starred restaurants in different parts of the world. I’ve reached the top of gastronomy. But when I got there I realised I didn’t give a crap about it. And that’s fucked up. I spent fifteen years working towards the top, and my friends couldn’t even come try it out. Never. And in the end, when you do something creative, you want there to be a part of you in society. Not in something exclusive. 

So, Macera is for everyone?
I always say that in Macera there aren’t any back doors, no speak-easy - which I think is absurd - no reservations, nothing private, whoever comes in, comes in. We wanted to do something so that everyone could come in. It was so exciting to see groups of people in their twenties coming in to have a cocktail last weekend, especially in a country like Spain which doesn’t really have a cocktail culture. We played around with things like tinto de verano and sangría, which are our cocktails. But we still need to work. We’re developing it every day. 

I, and all my friends from the same generation, are capable of taking on many responsibilities, but most of them cost millions. So, I had to create a product for them. An accessible product. Each glass costs seven euros, half of a Premium glass. Because it’s a standard. Take the standard, love it, give it some heart, and you’ll have a 100% quality product. Really, we just wanted to throw a party for our friends.

And what does “TallerBar” mean? (Taller = workshop)
The product is delicious and so simple, and so this week we are starting distillation workshops. I’m going to start holding workshops here on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays for 12 people. I’ll explain how it works and we’ll give you everything you need to do it yourself. The most important thing is that you know how to do it. We looked to do something for the people and want the people to do it too. Because I know that not everyone has the opportunity or the money to do it. I want you to do it, I want you to enjoy it, loving yourself.

And finally, what do you think about the bar and restaurant scene in Madrid?
Madrid didn’t have a big gastronomy and bar scene before. It started changing about 5 or 6 years ago. Before it was all quite classical. The economic crisis affected it all, but new things starting arising again. What interests me are places like Chuka Ramen Bar, Triciclo and Vinoteca Moratín – they’re awesome. There’s a new middle level being created by well prepared professionals that have travelled and want to have a good time. And it’s all affordable!

VERSIÓN ESPAÑOLA

Macerar: mantener surgido, ablandar, extraer


Quizás ya sabes cómo de impresionantes son los bares de Madrid. Al pasear por Chueca y Madrid los viernes y los sábados por la noche, te encuentras con un sinfín de elecciones y una atmósfera increíble por todas partes. Por eso, parecía que no podría ser mejor, hasta que Macera entró en escena hace dos semanas.

Lo que me atrajo de Macera era que cada vez que paseaba por el bar, ya fuese de día o de noche, siempre estaba pasando algo dentro. Sus ventanas, siempre abiertas de par en par, te permiten disfrutar del aire libre, como si estuvieses en una terraza. Durante el día veía a gente tomando café, comiendo tartas o trabajando, mientras que por la noche el bar se llenaba de gente que tomaba bebidas con amigos. 

Volví allí el sábado por la noche, y comprobé que no me equivocaba. Estaba con un grupo de seis personas, y normalmente sería muy difícil encontrar espacio para tantas personas un sábado por la noche. Sin embargo, resultó que la mesa grande al fondo del bar, en la que caben doce personas, tenía espacio. El ambiente es tan relajado y el interior tan espacioso que podrías sentarte allí durante horas y no querer salir. La idea que quiere transmitir el bar Macera tiene mucho que ver con libertad y elección, y el interior del bar refleja esto cien por cien.

No podía elegir una de las muchas bebidas en la carta, así que pregunté al camarero si me podría recomendar alguna. Este, con amabilidad, me preguntó sobre qué bebidas y sabores me gustan, y me hizo un mojito especial de jengibre y frutas rojas. ¡Estaba buenísimo!

Todas las botellas en el bar tienen etiquetas propias de Macera y, como podrías adivinar del nombre, maceran sus propios alcoholes: no encontrarás ninguna otra marca allí. Cada vez que tomas una bebida, estás bebiendo algo único de verdad. También podrías llevarte una botella a casa, o pedir que creen tu propio macerado si tienes una cena u ocasión especial.

Macera me atraía tanto que quería saber más, y me puse en contacto con el amable dueño, director creativo y “macerador” jefe, Narciso Bermejo. Nos sentamos a charlar un poquito sobre su visión, y puedes leer la entrevista entera abajo.

Si estás en Madrid, ve a Macera cuanto antes. Aunque sea nuevo, está arrasando.


ENTREVISTA CON NARCISO BERMEJO, DIRECTOR CREATIVO DE MACERA:

¿Qué es la idea que quiere transmitir Macera?
Nosotros entendemos Macera como un cocktail-café-bar, es decir, que aúna las ultimas tendencias de todo lo que tiene que ver con el consumo pero que no sea restaurante. Tenemos la primera zona del bar pensado como una zona más tranquila. Hay mucho enchufe para poder trabajar por las mañanas en un concepto de "co-working”. Hacemos zumos, y batidos verdes y mezclas biológicas – y si pongo un zumo, pongo un zumo top, no zumo de naranja. También, todo es el consumo cercano. Siempre es nacional. Tenemos piñas de Canarias, por ejemplo.

Todos son productos saludables porque al fin entendemos que el alcohol es un depresor, y cuando alguien bebe sabe que no es muy positivo para su cuerpo. Por eso intentamos hacerlo mejor. Esta zona es como la parte de Macera "salud". Yo quería también que los destilados fueran saludables. Estos destilados no ocurren en ningún bar, aquí no hay marcas. La marca aquí es sólo la nuestra. Pero nosotros no destilamos, maceramos. También tenemos café de todos tipos, lo último en café. Para mí el café es muy importante porque creo que ahora es el momento.

¿Cómo surgió la idea?
Dejé de trabajar hace casi un año para poder pensar en Macera; que quería hacer, como me quería que presentar en mi madurez. Entonces, en primer lugar busqué una base. Busqué en la propia identidad del país, en España, y pensé en la tradición de España con los destilados, que es macerar. El uso de hierbas es muy propio del país, como en el patxaran, el licor vasco. Es una táctica manual que consiste en coger un destilado base, ponerlo cosas, y dejarlo macerar. Macerar es este proceso de dejar reposar la fruta o la especie que colocas en el destilado. La duración del proceso depende de la pieza. Nosotros quisimos traer esta tradición a la vanguardia. En España siempre lo hacemos con aguardientes así que aquí destilamos para nosotros específicamente la ginebra, el ron seleccionado Martinica de tres años, un whisky escocés de cinco años que es muy suave, todas bebidas muy neutras que nos sirven como un lienzo blanco para trabajar con ellas.

¿Entonces no es un concepto nuevo?
La verdad es que no es un concepto nuevo. Es viejo, se lleva haciendo siglos en España en los pueblos, la gente en casa - mi padre lo hacía. Iban y compraban de una bodega de alcohol pero siempre con aguardiente y siempre con frutas marcadas, no había creatividad. Nosotros cogemos tradición para llevar a la vanguardia. 

¿Dónde hacéis los macerados? 
Yo durante las mañanas estoy trabajando con los macerados y los destilados. Aquí maceramos, y ahora mismo por ejemplo tenemos un gin con lima, cilantro y jalapeño (que está en la foto arriba). También tenemos un gin sólo con enebros para secarlo, y uno con café de Nicaragua. Todos son frutas cercanas, o especias lejanas. Hay uno también de alcachofa, y vermut. Aquí, por ejemplo, hay un gin solo con cítricos. Para cuatro litros ponemos la piel de cuatro limones y la piel de cuatro limas. La pulpa y los zumos los utilizamos en los zumos verdes y nuestras tartas. No se tira nada. Estas son de una plantación de cítricos en Toledo, y el cítrico está muy presente. Pero esto realmente no está pensado para tomar solo sino para mezclar.

¿Me puedes decir un poco sobre las botellas?
Con las botellas queríamos hacer un diseño sencillo que nos permitiera hacer muy claro lo que era "Macera Craft Drinks". Ponemos la fecha del embotellado, la bebida madre, y después los ingredientes, y una firma que muestra nuestro trabajo. Las botellas las conseguimos en Cataluña, de un hombre que llevaba años trabajando en vidrio. Yo no quiero productos premium, porque no son de verdad. Son un posicionamiento de la marca, para que cueste treinta euros, y la copa cuesta quince euros. Aquí las copas cuestan siete. 

¿Y qué hay de comer?
Hacemos el grilled cheese sándwich. Es el mejor de Madrid, pues porque no existía antes. Hay cuatro en el menú: el clásico, un gourmet con una mezcla de quesos artesanales, un ibérico, y un vegetariano.

¿Quién diseña las bebidas y la carta?
Yo diseño las bebidas y él que hace los cocktails. La carta en general es una participación. Es un trabajo con Ruben, el barman, que me ha echo una mano con los cocktails, luego Marta nuestra nutricionista con los sándwich y con los zumos verdes. Paso a paso, es todo un conjunto en el que participa mucha gente para que todo sea lo mejor posible. Para todos. Lo repetimos muchas veces. Es un poco el trabajo de muchos para todos. 

Siempre decís que hacéis todo con el “HEART”. ¿Qué quiere decir esto?
Cuando los destilados salen del alambique, las primeras gotas se llaman cabeza, "head", la zona central se llama corazón, "heart", y la zona final, la cola, "tail". Tanto la zona de la cabeza como la de la cola contienen impurezas y se retiran. Entonces, solo trabajamos con el HEART. Lo hacemos con el corazón. El arte en el bar refleja este concepto y se lo hizo Happy Ending que es un estudio que son amigas nuestras. 

¿Qué significa Macera para ti?
Para mí Macera es más un concepto, que un establecimiento. Macera es un concepto que parte de "quiérete". Quiere tus capacidades, quiere a lo que llegas ahora, no a lo que te decían que tenías que llegar. Yo llegó a esto y lo voy a hacer mejor. Y por eso nosotros hacemos mucho en la calle - salimos a la calle, a mercadillos. Como formamos parte de esa generación muy formada que tenía unas expectativas que no se han cumplido. No hay un quid pro quo para lo que te han formado y para lo que te has convertido, y esto puede crear frustración. Dentro de tu óptica tu te veías con una buena casa, no un piso de 35m2, y hoy, gran parte de las personas de veinte a treinta años no pueden salir todos los fines de semana. Para eso surge Macera. Para volver a darte calidad, libertad, con algo que tu puedes pagar. 

¿Quién se encargó del diseño interior?
El interior lo hizo un chico que se llama David, que es arquitecto. Nosotros cogimos el local, en el que había otro tipo de establecimiento antes pero estructuralmente lo que quisimos fue recuperar un garaje de coches que había en los años 80. Fuimos eliminando capa por capa todo lo que habían puesto. Trabajamos juntos, yo pinté la barra. 

¿Cuánto tardó el proceso desde tener la idea en la cabeza hasta la apertura?
Dejé de trabajar hace casi un año, en julio del año pasado. Pero hace un año ya estaba en la cabeza. Cuando yo dije por primera vez a David que hay que hacer un bar sin marcas, me dijo que esto sería imposible. Pero a los diez minutos estábamos trabajado en la idea.

¿Has trabajado antes en bares y restaurantes?
Si, llevo trabajando en esto no sé cuántos años. Mis padres tenían un bar en un pueblo y yo vivía arriba. Siempre he trabajado en el bar. Pero mi hermano me permitió hacerme los estudios, hice Historia del Arte y después terminé y hice hostelería porque me di cuenta de que era mi vida. Y yo he llegado a la cumbre, he trabajado en restaurantes de estrella Michelin, varios en diferentes partes del mundo. He llegado a tocar el cielo de la gastronomía. Cuando llegué me di cuenta que no me importaba un pepino. Y eso es jodido. Llevo quince años dedicándome a un nivel top, y mis amigos no podían venir. Nunca. Y al final cuando haces un trabajo creativo, quieres que haya parte de ti en la sociedad. No en una exclusiva.

Entonces, ¿Macera es para todos?
Siempre digo que en Macera no hay puerta de atrás, no hay speak-easy, que me parece absurdo, no hay reservas, no hay privado, aquí el que entra, entra. Queríamos hacer algo para que pudiera entrar todo el mundo. Fue realmente emocionante ver mesas de chicos el fin de semana de veinte pico años tomando cocktails, especialmente en un país como España que no tiene cultura de cocktails. Jugamos por eso también con cosas como tinto de verano y sangría que son nuestros cocktails. Pero más trabajar. Todo eso lo vamos a desarrollar cada día.

Yo, como todos los amigos de mi generación que son formados, somos capaces de llevar responsabilidades muy altas pero que cobran millones de euros. Entonces, tenía que crear un producto para ellos. Un producto que fuese accesible, cada copa costa siete euros. La mitad de una copa premium. Porque es un estándar. Coge el estándar, quiérelo, ponle corazón, y tendrás un producto cien por cien de nivel. Realmente queríamos hacer una fiesta para nuestros amigos. 

¿Y qué significa “TallerBar”?
El producto es muy rico y muy sencillo, y por eso es que esta semana empiezan los talleres de la maceración, macera. Voy a empezar a hacer talleres aquí lunes, miércoles, viernes y sábado para doce personas. Yo explico como se hace y te damos todo lo necesario para que lo hagas. Lo más importante es que tu sepas hacerlo. Buscamos hacer cosas para la gente y que la gente las haga. Porque yo sé que no todo el mundo tiene ni la oportunidad ni el dinero para hacerlo. Quiero que lo hagas, quiero que disfrutas, queriéndote.

Y finalmente, ¿qué piensas de los bares y restaurantes de Madrid?
Madrid no tenía una escena de gastronomía y bares antes. Realmente se produjo un cambio hace cinco o seis años. Antes todo era muy clásico. La crisis afectó todo también, pero volvieron a surgir conceptos nuevos. Lo que me interesa a mí son cosas como Chuka Ramen Bar, el Triciclo, la Vinoteca Moratín – top. Se está creando un nivel medio con profesionales muy preparados, que han viajado, y quieren pasárselo bien. Y es accesible. 

(Translated from Spanish into English by Safia S.)

Website/Página Web: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Macera-TallerBar/385185174987576

Federal Café: Madrid's Best Brunch

 

Brunch. That strange yet beautiful meal somewhere in between breakfast and lunch that just satisfies your soul on so many levels. Those of you that know me personally will know that for me, a day off often starts at 1pm - so you can see why brunch (sometimes verging on "brinner") is my favourite meal.

Brunch in Madrid is a relatively new phenomenon, but one that is very quickly becoming increasingly popular and popping up all over the city. Spaniards have clearly clocked on to the fact that it fits the timetable of the Spanish lifestyle pretty perfectly. Most places here do brunch up until the late afternoon, meaning you can get up quite leisurely after having come home at 7:30am from your usual Madrileñan night out.

Since arriving in Madrid in August, I've explored as many brunches as my stomach has possibly been able to handle, and I'm yet to be disappointed. I do, however, seem to keep going back to one in particular, and that is at Federal. Nothing beats it in terms of the quality and range of food, the value for money, and the laid-back atmosphere. Plus, they do avocado on toast with poached eggs. It won me over 10 seconds into reading the menu.

The brunch menu caters to all tastes, from granolas to croissants, french toast to toasted sandwiches, and morning hamburgers to eggs, however you like them. They've also got a huge selection of fresh juices, smoothies and milkshakes, all kinds of coffee and tea (they do an amazing chai latte), and alcoholic beverages for the more adventurous. What's great about Federal is that the menu also notes down the allergens in each dish. My "gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free" friend was seriously happy to find they offer gluten-free bread and vegan smoothies.

But it's not just the morning that Federal does well. It is open all day, every day, and the menu changes for lunch and dinner to offer some more hearty meals, like their amazing halloumi sandwich. There is also a great selection of cakes, brownies, and other sweet treats that are baked fresh each day. The low coffee tables are perfect for a drink and a chat, individual tables for a bite with friends, and a communal table for reading a magazine and striking up a conversation with a stranger from half-way across the world. The free wifi also makes it a good place to spend hours working. During the summer months, the floor to ceiling windows are opened wide, and you can choose to sit on the window sills or even out in the square.

Federal Madrid is in fact the second of its kind, with the first café having opened in Barcelona. Named after a small town in New South Wales, Australia, Federal oozes a relaxed Spanish atmosphere, but is coated with the style and simplicity of an Australian or even Nordic café. It is located in Conde Duque on Plaza Comendadoras, just on the edge of the city's lively barrio of Malasaña. It's popular with expats and locals, and the friendly staff speak both Spanish and English, making it a perfect choice if you're visiting the city or are a true madrileño looking for your next foodie adventure.

Website: http://www.federalcafe.es/madrid/
Address: Plaza de las Comendadoras, 9. 
Info: Open 7 days a week, breakfast until 1pm on weekdays and brunch until 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays.