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MasterChef – Oman!

Recently, a well-known concept was introduced to the Muscat culinary scene, the first privately owned culinary school opened in Muscat – MasterChef Institute of Culinary Arts.   I had the good fortune to join them for my very own MasterChef experience in Oman.

 

Chef Ali Abusbeih

I have been following the MasterChef series avidly on television so I was very excited to join a Master Class at the MasterChef Institute in Muscat.

The theme of the day was Pistachio Infusion with several dishes all containing pistachio nuts.

Pistachio Cake, Pistachio Kunafa, Pistachio Milk Cake and Pistachio Basbousa Cupcakes were on the menu while I have heard of all the dishes before prepearing it was unfamiliar to me so I was very eager to learn all about the preparation of each of them.

When I arrived the kitchen was all prepped up and ready for MasterChef action.

Chef Ali Abusbeih and his team were very helpful and soon had me kitted out in an apron and chef’s hat, ready to start the morning’s Master Class.

 

 

 

First of all, was the Pistachio Milk Cake.  This amazing cake contains ingredients like Pistachio paste, Condensed Milk, Whipped Cream and Rose water. With ovens pre-heated, lined baking pans, sifted flour, blended eggs and sugar and finally mixing the cake batter, the MasterChefs were on a roll.

All the sweet tooths out there will eat this and think they have gone to heaven.

It is just sooo….. good!

The batter ready for panning.

Into the oven with the batter…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just to wet your appetite, take a peek at the final products below filled with pistachio, coconut, rose water, pistachio paste with a hint of marzipan and dried rose petals.

 

Pistachio Cake

 

Pistachio Basbousa Cupcakes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pistacio Kunafa

We completed these four beautiful, tasty Pistachio Infusion treats in four hours.  The time flew by and I was sad to leave the MasterChef experience behind.  We had such a good morning and I am looking forward to the next MasterClass. I left with all the recipes in hand and I am ready to treat my friends to an Arabic cake morning.

Check out the MasterChef schedule and attend the MasterChef classes, it is truely worth the visit.

You can find MasterChef Oman on Facebook or email them for more information.

Macarons fit for a Queen

In Al Mawaleh, not far from where I live, you will find the cute pink “La Petite Paris” bakery. The name says it all! “The Little Paris”, a truly French experience in Oman.  Who doesn’t love the French and their patisseries, or more specifically Macarons fit for a Queen!

The bakers at this bakery learned their trade from the greatest pastry chefs, chocolatiers, bakers and ice cream makers. You can get your freshly baked bread, pastries, all to die for I might add, and don’t forget the delectable ice cream, in this shop every day freshly made.

But the one thing that stole my heart, the pièce de résistance, is their Macarons. 

Let’s not confuse Macarons with Macaroons, which so often happens.  Macaroons are the sticky little coconut mountains which is sometimes dipped in Chocolate.  Macarons, on the other hand, are beautiful little round pillows (made from meringue and almond flour), sandwiched together with the most delicate fillings.  La Petite Paris’ creative macarons include dark chocolate passion, raspberry  fruit, lemon, latté chocomilk Jivara and chocolate milk Arabic coffee with cardamom, to name just a few.

a Royal Macaron experience…

The best way to experience this delight is to put one of these Macarons in your mouth, wait for a couple of seconds,  the first thing that comes to mind is ‘this surely is candy floss’.  No it is not, yet it melts in your mouth and then comes that gooey sticky goodness! What a taste sensation, oh my word!

a little bit of Macaron history…

Macarons appeared in Europe in the middle Ages and at the time it was a sweet made of egg white, sugar and ground almonds which was baked to be crunchy on the outside and soft centered.  Although the French takes credit for this humble delicate sweet, the macaron was likely brought in from Italy in the 16th century by Catherine de’ Medici (daughter of Lorenxe II de’ Medici and of Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne, an Italian Noblewoman who was queen of France from 1547 to 1559, the wife of King Henry II).  We are told that macarons have been in production since the 8th century in Venetian monasteries and were also called “priest’s bellybuttons”.  Ok I leave it up to you to decide if the shape reminds you of a bellybutton?

To survive the French revolution two Carmelite nuns baked and sold macarons, this was way back in 1792. The spot where they produced the macarons was named after them in 1952 and France adopted their recipe as a local specialty!

the Macaron Parisien…

However, the macaron, as we know it today, made up of two meringue cookies sandwiched together with a smooth flavored filling originated in the French capital. Apparently the “Macaron Parisien” was popularized by Ladurée. The company was created by Louis-Ernest Ladurée in 1862, a baker who definitely knew his trade. The 2006 movie “Marie Antoinette” had an influence on the macaron industry because Ladurée macarons were used in the film and macarons became more popular and well known all over the world.

Mark your calendar Macaron fans, because the macaron has a dedicated day each year, March 20th, introduced in 2005 by Pierre Hermé, a famous French confectionary house.  I am told that this day is celebrated throughout the world and participating macaron shops offer free samples to their customers!

Well, enough said about the Macaron. It is most certainly fit for a Queen!

Do visit La Petite Paris in Al Mawaleh, Muscat (Oman), located close to the Holiday Inn.

Spoil yourself to their steaming hot and flavorsome coffees and try some of their breads or pastries but whatever you do, DON’T MISS THE MACARONS.  It is well worth the visit.

And if you are truly brave enough, do try Pierre Hermé’s recipe, click here for a ‘do it yourself Macaron experience’.

Aroma – the Italian taste

I just have to tell you about the latest addition to the Muscat Restaurant scene.

Yes, Aroma is the name and it is officially open since the beginning of July. When you go into the restaurant it reminds you of the Colosseum, Rome and Italy.

 

 

The Italian owners Ciro, Anna, Maria and co-owner Naif, all work in the restaurant and with their fabulous Italian chef, Fabio Amodeo, from Rome.  Fabio understands the love of food and he goes about it with so much passion.  I had the privilege to spend an early morning with him. Showing me a few of the sweeter Italian delights they prepare in this well organized open kitchen.  The hustle and bustle of early morning preparation and the smell of yeast hanging in the air was just amazing.

I am sharing just a sneak peak of a few of the decadent menu items that you absolutely have to experience.

Double chocolate cake…

prepared with so much attention to detail…

    

 

Then there is the Symphony!

 

You can also indulge in…

  

 

…a Frappe with a cup of Aroma coffee.  

Believe me, I am a coffee snob and this is one of the best coffees I have ever tasted.

And just as I thought it can’t get any better,  Fabio started making this beautiful coloured plate of fruit with “Crèma”.

 

 

Well,  need I say more?  Go and visit Aroma, the Italian taste at Al Muzn Mall, Street no.72, Mawalih North.

I haven’t even got to the starters, the pastas, the salads, the pizzas or the main courses, yet!

I promise to keep you posted, in the mean time, treat yourself to this Italian experience, it is well worth it.

rose petals & pistachios

Rose field on Jebel Akhdar

Al Jabal al Akhdar (The Green Mountain) in Oman is the place known for hundreds of rose bushes grown on terraces that are cut into the steep mountain slopes.

Every year in April, this rugged landscape turns into the most beautiful pink environment as these roses bloom and the rich fragrance of roses fills the air.

The rose petals are collected by hand at dawn each day.   The harvest is collected in colorful cloth sheets, bundled together and taken to one of the many traditional extraction units set up by villagers.

Omani rose essence outshines all other brands in the quality and flavor departments.

The Omani people add rose water (rose essence becomes rose water after the distillation process) to hot and cold beverages, halva, and as flavoring in homemade sweets and food dishes.

Each rose bush produces between 15 to 20 kg of petals during the harvest season.  It takes about 2 kg of petals to produce 750 ml of rose essence which can fetch as much as $ 13.00 in the market place.

When the rose season ends, many of the farmers on Jabal Al Akhdar turn to their pomegranate and other farming activities to support their families.

 

 

Freshly harvested roses


Being on Jebel Akhdar (the Green Mountain) with the fragrance of roses all around, rose water production in full swing; the beautiful pink roses with the morning dew shining on them; I just had to come up with something sweet and delicious.  I decided to try a Panna Cotta with a twist.

 

STEP 1:  Panna Cotta recipe

(Makes 6 to 8 servings)

  •  6 to 8 Espresso paper cups (waxed inside or sprayed ramekins)

    Fresh mountain dew on the morning harvested roses

  • 1½ cups of Coconut milk
  • 3 teaspoons of powdered Gelatin
  • ¼ cup of Sugar
  • 1½ cups of Coconut cream
  • 1 teaspoon Rose water
  • 1 teaspoon of pure Vanilla extract
  • Pinch of smoked sea salt

Method

    1. Bloom the gelatin. Pour the Coconut milk into a saucepan and sprinkle the powdered Gelatin evenly over the top. Let the Gelatin soften for 5 minutes until the surface of the milk is wrinkled and the Gelatin looks wet and somewhat dissolved.
    2. Over low heat dissolve the Gelatin.
    3. Set your saucepan over low heat and warm the Coconut milk ever so gently, stirring often.

      Sorted rose petals. Only the best petals will be chosen and used.

      The Coconut milk should never boil or simmer.  When you see steam, remove the saucepan from the  stove and let it cool down.  The Coconut milk should not become too hot; you should be able to keep your finger in the warm Coconut milk a few seconds.  The Gelatin will dissolve quickly as the Coconut milk warms. Gelatin melts at body temperature so the process goes quickly.  To ensure that the Gelatin has completely dissolved; dip a teaspoon into the Coconut milk and check the back of the teaspoon for grains of Gelatin.

    4. Stir the sugar into the Coconut milk and continue warming until the sugar dissolves. It should take about 5 minutes for the sugar and Gelatin to dissolve. Don’t let your mixture boil.
    5. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Whisk in the Coconut cream, Rose water, Vanilla and a pinch of Smoked sea salt.
    6. Pour the mixture into the waxed espresso paper cups or prepared ramekins. Place in a refrigerator to set, about 4 hours should suffice. To unmold cut the paper cups along one the side and carefully remove, you will be left with the perfect panna cotta. Panna cotta can also be served in a glass without unmolding it.

 

 

 

A traditional clay oven for the rose essence process. This traditional way of making rose essence is still happening on the mountains of Jebel Akhdar.

The rose petals are boiled until it becomes a brown color (rose essence)

The rose essence is being removed from the clay pot.

The rose essence is poured into a clay pot to cool down and ready for bottling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sugar syrup, rose buds, rose water and lime

STEP 2: Rose water and lime syrup recipe

  • 1 Cup of water
  • ¼ cup of sugar
  • Juice of half a lime
  • 1 teaspoon of Lime zest
  • 1teaspoon of Rose water
  • 1 table spoon of dried Rose petals

Cook all the ingredients together to form a reduction.  Pour the mixture it through a sieve and let it cool down in the refrigerator.  Poor the cold Rose water syrup over the Panna Cotta.

 

 

 

Pistachios, Rose petals and Cashew nuts.

STEP 3: Pralines recipe

  • ½ cup of Caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of cold water
  • ¼ cup of Pistachios
  • ¼ cup of dried Rose petals
  • ¼ cup of Cashew nuts

Line a baking tray with baking paper.  Combine sugar and water in a saucepan over low heat.  Cook, while continuously stirring until the sugar has dissolved. This could take about 5 minutes.

Increase heat to high.  Bring to the boil without stirring for another 5 minutes or until the mixture turns golden.  Remove from the heat.  Set aside for two minutes to allow the bubbles to settle and subside.  Add the Pistachios, Rose petals and Cashew nuts.

 

 

 

 

STEP 4

Allow the Pralines to cool, then break it into pieces and place in a blender. Blend the Praline until powdery.

Use a small cookie cutter to pour the Praline powder on a baking tray to form little round heaps of praline powder.

In a 150° C oven melt the Praline powder until it forms round Pralines. This happens quickly; carefully watch the oven to prevent the Praline from over cooking. Remove the Praline when all the sugar has dissolved and the Pralines are a nice golden color.

Now serve the Panna cotta with Rose water syrup and Rose petal Pralines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a Greek gem in our neighbourhood

In my search for authentic food in Muscat I came across a little gem in Al Khuwair. This new addition to the restaurant world in Muscat is a small, interesting, Greek restaurant off the beaten track.

Owner and chef, Elana, opened the restaurant a few months ago, originally from Greece; she is excited to share her passion for Greek cuisine with everyone in Muscat.

‘Greek Way “kouzina” (cuisine) is about sharing our passion for traditional culinary recipes from Greece.’ – Elana

Connect with Elana on facebook 

Beautiful artwork painted lovingly by the well known Mata Kamp, adorns the walls and contributes to the modern, yet authentic Greek atmosphere.

Upon entering the restaurant you a choice of being seated inside the restaurant or at an outside terrace while enjoying a meal or, having a cup of illy coffee.

I arrived at lunch time and was welcomed by Mata and her friendly staff. After being seated I was given a beautifully designed menu and decided to start off with a traditional Greek Salad.

 

Greek Salad

Spanakopita

Slouvaki

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh from the market tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper and onion, topped with calamata olives and creamy feta cheese, dressed in olive oil and oregano.

What a Greek treat.Next up was “Spanakopita”, a Greek spinach pie. Dill and spinach created the perfect marriage of flavours and the feta cheese gave it just enough richness. The homemade filo pastry was perfectly flaky and tasty. The Muscat community recently had the opportunity to attend a fun filo dough pastry course hosted by Chef Elana’s mother and aunt.

The “Slouvaki” was definitely one of my favorites. Soft, thick flat bread stuffed to the brim with Greek spiced chicken, fried potatoes, fresh onion and tomatoes and a tasty sauce. This is comfort food at its best.

Also worth trying, is their breakfast bread “Koulouri”. Incredibly crunchy on the outside with an amazingly soft and slightly chewy centre. “Koulouri” is bread rings covered with toasted sesame seeds and toppped with fresh tomatoes. Delicious!

Why don’t you visit Elana at Greek Way and experience truly authentic Greek “kouzina”. You will not be disappointed.

You can find more about their location, menu and daily specials on Facebook and Instagram
https://www.facebook.com/greek way kouzina/

Mani’s – sharing the taste, loving the experience!

Now, this is the place in Muscat where I go for my early morning coffee, followed by a scrumptious, “liberally checked” by its owners, breakfast.  Mani’s Café, was created by three Omani mothers, who shared the same desire: healthy eating!  They joined their creative culinary forces to form the perfect stop for my friends and I after our morning exercise.

 ‘Oh, the joy of sitting outside at the harbor area, sipping  freshly brewed coffee and devouring a healthy, fresh produce breakfast’.

One cannot help but feel and taste the owners’ goal of creating a homegrown concept, born out of their shared love of fresh, healthy and wholesome food.

Upon entering Mani’s, you are welcomed by the friendly staff and eye catching décor.  Don’t be surprised if you get this overwheling feeling to grab a basket and start filling it up with all their home-made products.  I had a hard time choosing between listening to my hunger pains or immediately selecting all the products I wanted to buy.  It is a delicatessen paradise with all the flavored olive oils, pestos, granola, bread and cookies.

   

Taking inspiration from the their worldwide travels, and their love of gourmet cooking, the ladies  compiled a menu that reflects their vast tasting experiences.

There is a selection of the most delectable smoothies, green juices, iced juices and chia, to name just a few.  A real treat for your tastesbuds and it is healthy too!

I highly recommend selecting a delicious option from the “All day Breakfast “menu, with all that fresh produce it certainly is the most appetizing breakfast around.

 

 

I am sharing just a few dishes with you, even the photos will get your mouths watering, so head to Mani’s Café for a tastebud explosion you won’t forget!

“Spicy Turkish poached eggs” with Mani’s home-made spicy sour cream sauce and a green salad.

“Mani’s Veggie Breakfast” avocados, chopped parsley on a slice of toasted sourdough bread drizzled with Mani’s home-made sriracha sauce.

“Eggs Benedict” two poached eggs on freshly baked English muffins with a choice of smoked salmon, beef bacon or spinach.

”Avocado and Smoked Salmon” topped with a soft boiled egg and side of English muffin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are so many more dishes to try and to taste!  Not only for breakfast but also lunch, dinner and last but not least, coffee with their cake of the day.

 

Mani’s is a place where you can feel the love that shares life’s treats with their customers.  Good food & good coffee. 

 

What are you waiting for?  Go and treat yourself as soon as you can!

 

Visit their website for more information.

 

 

 

 

Char-grilled Corn with Brown Butter and Parmesan

Don’t you just love buying your fresh produce directly from a fresh food market?  I really enjoy going to our local market early in the mornings.  The sights and smells of the fresh produce and being in the midst of the hustle and bustle of everyday life at the market, is a rewarding experience in itself.

The Al Mawaleh Fresh Food Market is open daily from 5 am to 5 pm, except on Fridays when they close between 12 and  1pm.  Why don’t you go and see for yourself, you might be pleasantly surprised and strike a few bargains too!

 

Last Monday, I found some lovely fresh local corn on the cob, perfect for a new recipe I want to try:  Char-grilled Corn with Brown Butter.

Brown Butter you ask?  The French calls this beurre noisette (burnt butter).  It is a way of cooking butter long enough to turn the milk solids brown while at the same time any water present in the butter evaporates.  Often described as tasting nutty, it has a deeper, richer, more intense flavor than melted or clarified butter.  Brown butter is traditionally served with fish, but it makes a delicious topping for any kind of grilled vegetables or other savory and even sweet dishes (for sweet dishes use unsalted butter).

Making Burnt Butter

  1. Cut the unsalted or salted butter (for savoury dishes) into small, evenly-sized pieces and place it in a frying pan. I recommend to use a light-coloured pan in order to see how the butter changes colour as it cooks.
  2. The temperature can vary from high to medium; either way, the butter will go from melted to brown in a few minutes. High heat will brown the butter very quickly, but do keep a close eye on it, the milk solids could sink to the bottom of the pan and burn before you know it. Until you are familiar with the process, I recommend to use moderate heat to slow things down so you can keep an eye on the process.
  3. Stir the pan constantly, until the butter becomes a light brownish color as the milk solids toast in the hot fat. Remove the pan from the heat because the butter will continue to cook with just the heat from the pan. Notice the change in color — it should be nut-brown and have a toasty nutty aroma. Pour the brown butter into a separate bowl to stop it from cooking any further.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Lightly browned butter goes well with vegetables.
  • Medium browned butter is the best for pasta and fish dishes, in baked goods and frosting.
  • Dark (but not blackened) butter is used in some traditional french dishes; it’s called black butter, or beurre noir.
  • When brown butter is made into a savory sauce, you can add herbs and/or garlic to further enhance the flavor.

Recipe:

Char-grilled Corn with Brown Butter and Parmesan

Corn on the cob with brown butter (beurre noisette) makes the perfect accompaniment to fish, chicken and meat dishes, or serve it as vegetarian main with a large salad.  Slightly charring the corn adds a lovely smoky flavor.

Prep time:  15 min      Cook time:  15 min     Total time:  30 min     Serves:  4

Ingredients:

  1. 4 Yellow corn
  2. 4 Tablespoons of brown butter
  3. Salt and pepper for seasoning
  4. 200 gr Grated Parmesan cheese.

 Instructions:

  1. Preheat a char-grill pan over high heat. Cook the corncobs for 8 minutes, turning, or until charred and just cooked.
  2. Once the corn is cooked, drizzle with brown butter and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Season to taste.  Serve warm.