Since moving to the UAE more than a year ago, I have rarely been inspired to cook. But now I have met a man who is going to change all that. Carl Moore is a chef who recently moved here from Leeds in England where he worked as a pastry chef and manager for a patisserie company, which supplied food for, among others, Leeds United Football Club. Moore has come up with the ingenious idea of giving cooking lessons for "Maids and Madams", which struck me as the perfect solution to my cooking block. If I wasn't inspired by the class then perhaps Schamanee, our housemaid who also participated in the lesson, might be.
Carl arrived at my house with a dinner party menu, a red toolbox full of cooking utensils, a Magimix and a vast amount of food. The menu sounded delicious: roast pumpkin and Camembert tart with salad to start, confit of shoulder of lamb with citrus pommes dauphinoise and chargrilled baby fennel for the main and apple galettes for pudding. We began with the pastry. Throughout my kitchen existence there have been thousands of dishes that were off limits for me because they involved pastry. And now I've learnt that there is nothing to it. At least not to short-crust pastry. Carl tells me that it is not worth making puff pastry yourself.
Carl keeps on giving fantastic tips throughout the lesson. Some of my favourites: if you worry about smelling like a Frenchman who has had a garlic baguette for breakfast, then simply remove the core of the garlic clove; when you're flouring a surface, flick the flour between your fingers with a shake of the wrist to avoid it clumping into your dough; flavour things like spinach and mashed potatoes with a small pinch of fresh, grated nutmeg.
We began with the preparations for the quiche. This included roasting the pumpkin in a hot oven with some crushed garlic (core removed), thyme and olive oil. The cooking lesson lasted almost four hours, after which we had a beautiful dinner. My children were very impressed; Olivia, my eldest, declared the citrus pommes dauphinoise much better than the more rustic ones I have tried to make in the past. The trick here I learnt is to add the juice of an orange and its zest to the cream sauce and to spread the sauce on after each layer of sliced potatoes rather than just pouring it all in at the end.
The apple galettes were another revelation. They looked so professional, but all we had done was open a packet of puff pastry squares, slice an apple on to them, pour some butter over that and sprinkle some sugar. They were baked for 30 minutes and when they were ready to be served we added some reduced apple juice (boiled until it is thick) to make the plate look pretty. The best news is that we still had masses of food left over for lunch and dinner the next day, so no need to cook, although I have to admit that after Carl's afternoon with us, I am far more inspired to put on my apron again. Schamanee found it useful too: "You need to write everything down because there was a lot to follow, but I learnt a lot and enjoyed it," she told me.
Which is good to hear, because if I can't face it or am working late, I can call Schamanee and she will be able to knock up a quick quiche and citrus pommes dauphinoise quicker than you can say "make mine an Indian takeaway". Helena Frith Powell Carl Moore's cookery lessons for "Maids and Madams" cost Dh400 for four hours plus food (our food cost Dh115). To contact Carl call, 050 277 1684 or e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org
Nightclubs around the world are regularly stormed by armies of funk-hungry toddlers for the Baby Loves Disco afternoon dance parties. Here, they are known as Baby Loves Carnivale, and the next one, at a huge indoor dance floor inside the Layali Beach Tent, Mina A' Salam, Madinat Jumeirah, takes place on Saturday, December 12 from 2-5pm. DJ Jeff Price will be playing a selection of tiny-feet stompers (he tells us that Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers are the big floor-fillers) and other attractions include dance classes, competitions, bouncy castles, storytelling, clowns and entertainers, face-painting and a free goody bag for every child. We also hear rumours of VIP appearances from Barney and Father Christmas, but don't worry, there is an under-twos chill-out lounge if it all gets too much. Admission is Dh95 (crawlers, that is babies that can't yet walk, get in for free and a maximum of two children per adult is requested for supervisory reasons) and includes an unlimited selection of hot and cold finger foods, drinks, beach access (buckets and spades are provided but not towels). Previous events have sold out fast, so advance booking is recommended. See www.timeouttickets.com or www.babylovesdisco.ae for details of other outlets.
Fairmont Bab Al Bahr We have a foggy memory of what good hotel service is like, largely from our adventures in other parts of the world: where restaurant service is smooth and the waiter is not afraid to ask how your meal was, where the valet snaps to attention when you step outside and whisks your car to the door, where the staff nod and greet you with a smile as you walk by. Well, after repeat visits to Abu Dhabi's new Fairmont, where white-gloved staff greet you with a cold towel to wash your hands, our memory has been refreshed. When we commented on how good the service was to the clerk at reception, he smiled and said "you just gave me goose bumps". Their service gives us goose bumps, in a good way.
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