Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dubai Restaurant Review: Hoi An - Take 2

We were at Hoi An in the Shangri-la Hotel last month and my 5/5 review inspired one of our friends to suggest that the four of us go there for dinner since we hadn't seen each other in a couple of months (time flies so quickly!) The big question was whether it would live up to our previous fantastic experience. The answer was...almost but not quite. I wouldn't hesitate to eat here any time as the service is so warm and friendly and the food is excellent so it is still worth its 5/5 rating, I just think my menu choice wasn't the best last night and hence the less satisfying meal.

Hoi An is doing a special summer promotion fixed menu of AED 160 for 2 people which includes 2 starters to share, soup, 2 mains to share and 2 desserts to share. Fantastic value but I just didn't find the menu appealed to me and it wasn't suitable for my current 'restricted diet' since there were spring rolls (fried), crab cakes (wheat), spicy main courses and ice-cream (dairy). Our friends shared the promotion menu and they said it was really good, although the poultry (we think it was quail legs but we couldn't remember what the menu said and they were way too small for chicken) was extremely spicy - it couldn't be faulted for value for money though. I should have asked if the menu changes on a daily / weekly / fortnightly basis since I presume it would do to encourage people to keep coming back.

Simon and I both had rice paper rolls, which are Vietnamese spring rolls - rice paper with prawns, vegetables and coriander inside and served cold not fried. They were gorgeous and I much prefer these to the Chinese spring rolls. We had actually had a small 'amuse bouche' beforehand in The Balcony Bar next door since we'd arrived quite early - chicken satay which was tender and flavourful although it had sweet chili sauce on it and I prefer the more traditional Malaysian style with peanut sauce. Since Asian food in general is quite light, we were still able to easily eat our meal despite the double-starters...although we couldn't manage a dessert!

I ordered sea bass wrapped in a lotus leaf for my main. We celebrated our 1 year wedding anniversary at Hoi An in March (since we got married at the Shangri-la last year we thought it apt to celebrate our anniversary there too) and I had eaten the sea bass then which I remembered as being really moist, delicate and 'wow'. This sea bass was served with a rather stodgy sort of herb covering which didn't taste bad, but didn't match up to my earlier experience of it. I wrote this on the comment card and Luyen (I think she was last night's supervisor) came to speak to me as soon as she read it and explained that because I'd asked for no garlic, the chef had made the dish differently to normal. She was extremely apologetic and even brought the chef out to see me so he could explain why the dish wasn't as I remembered it! Top marks for genuine guest care and for caring what diners have to say about their experience.

On this visit the temperature of the restaurant was a lot better than last time (not that I'd found it warm last time but Simon had been very hot). It was a Wednesday night and yet was absolutely packed, so the promotion must be working. My only slight issue with the set menu (noted last time as well) is that the service is super-fast; your next course comes the minute your plate is cleared. It's understandable at that price that they want to turn over the tables as quickly as possible but after the soup course I asked our waitress to give us fifteen minutes before bringing the mains since I just felt too rushed. As before, what really sets Hoi An apart is the free welcome drink and the hot towel you get on arrival which immediately make you feel special. Still a top choice.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dubai Restaurant Reviews: Arabian Ranches Golf Club

In a nutshell: great club community feel, excellent food but staff not all up to par

The Arabian Ranches Golf Club comprises not only an 18-hole golf course with golf academy, pro shop and restaurant/bar but also a hotel (just 11 rooms) although there's no pool or spa so it really is just aimed at those wanting to play some serious golf. The clubhouse is designed to look 'Spanish colonial' from the outside but the inside has very high ceilings, marble everywhere and is just a little too '5 star' looking to match my idea of a golf clubhouse. The restaurant itself has maintained that 'club' feeling though with dark woods throughout, carpeted floors, a bar stretching almost the whole length of the room and an outside terrace area. On the night we visited it was packed with golfers, families and other diners - it was a weekend so I don't know if it's so buzzing during the week.

We learned that every night has a different theme and Saturday night is Roast Night. The men all decided to go for the buffet which at Dhs 65 per person for 3 courses is excellent value. There were three salads - two were full of raw onions (shudder!) and the other was just lettuce leaves - plus a carvery of roast beef with yorkshire pudding, potatoes and veg with a choice of fruit salad or a shot glass of lemon mousse for dessert. So not very inspiring but still good value.

I opted for the coconut-crusted kingfish for my meal and was told by the waiter that it came with nothing, prompting me to order a side of steamed vegetables. When it finally arrived (I had to chase it up when the rest of my table were getting close to starting their dessert!) I was surprised to see that the fish was actually served on a bed of bok choy and spinach. So no points for the waiter's knowledge of the menu. Despite the confusion, the fish was fabulous. I have now learned what to use instead of breadcrumbs (which I now can't have) - dessicated coconut. Devine. The spinach and bok choy complimented it wonderfully but there wasn't a huge amount given so I was glad to have the extra steamed vegetables.

I kept the receipt because I jotted my notes on it and have just realised we were charged for 4 buffets plus my fish!! So the 4 of us were charged for 5 meals. That will teach me to check the bill properly next time. Another example of the less than stunning service though! Kingfish is quite a filling fish so I couldn't have managed a starter or dessert with it which meant that my one course at Dhs 72 was not too much more expensive than the others' 3 course buffet. Overall good value, a friendly atmosphere and great food - just need to train those staff.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dubai Restaurant Review: Cucina, Courtyard Marriott

In a nutshell: Fantastic food and varied menu

Simon and I live within walking distance of the Courtyard Marriot and have eaten there countless times. Cucina, as the name suggests, is an Italian restaurant (another one!) designed to resemble a family kitchen. The tables are wooden, the chairs are wrought iron & wicker and huge wine barrels are used as serving stations. The kitchen opens out onto the restaurant and there is outside seating looking out onto the Green Community lake. It succeeds in creating a family-friendly, unstuffy atmosphere - children are given colouring books and crayons when they come. Up a spiral staircase is the popular bar area with an outside seating area as well. When the hotel first opened 5 years or so ago they offered free tapas in the bar, but that was quickly stopped and now all bar snacks have to be paid for!

In the past Cucina has been plagued by incredibly slow and disorganised service as well as mediocre food. You may wonder why we keep going back but the fact that it's on our doorstep means that we have been willing to put up with its shortcomings for the convenience of being able to walk there, have a few drinks with dinner and walk home again. The Marriott hosts a comedy night every month and we decided to have dinner before The Laughter Factory. We gave ourselves 2 hours for dinner, expecting the usual painfully drawn out and frustrating service. How things have changed!! Not only was the service slick but the food was fabulous. We could not believe it and Cucina is now on our list of places we will look forward to eating at, as opposed to eating at out of necessity.

My starter of melon and parma ham with a balsamic sauce was well-presented and flavoursome, although you can't really go wrong with something so simple. Simon's caprese salad looked exactly how it should - unlike my Biella disaster! It was served with an avocado mousse, lending it that little difference to raise it above what you could make yourself at home. Simon had a ham & mushroom pizza for his main course; they have a real pizza oven so it came out lovely and fresh. My red snapper was absolutely amazing. It was served with potatoes and scallops with a saffron sauce - saffron sauces seem very popular in Italian restaurants! The entire dish was cooked to perfection with the scallops melting in my mouth and the fish not tasting 'fishy' at all. I ordered grilled vegetables on the side as well which were very thinly sliced Meditarranean veg, slightly crispy on the outside but tender inside. We were stunned.

The dessert menu was presented in a very original fashion: an old hotel registration card box had been filled with laminated cards describing each dessert. Unfortunately the raspberry & strawberry delight (cheesecake by any other name) we ordered to share didn't match up to the rest of the meal and I only had 1 mouthful and left the rest to Simon. The base was very dry and the top part quite sour. It didn't detract from the whole experience though - I'll just try something else next time.

The only real negative point at Cucina is the lack of recognition from the staff. After having been there so many times, greeting us with a 'Welcome back' or 'Nice to see you again' would really create that wow factor that is lacking in the service. It's fair enough if they can't remember our names, but I could tell that the staff recognised us and yet they didn't voice that in any way. We ate once at Dante's at the Grand Millennium and when we went back we were recognised as repeat guests - it just makes you feel that little bit special and lifts a restaurant up from 4/5 to 5/5.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fabulous Stuffed Vegetables

I am not the least bit inventive in the kitchen - I need a recipe to follow, which explains why I have so many recipe books. Most of the time what I cook wouldn't win any prizes but is very nice, however, occasionally I cook a recipe (such as the Flourless Chocolate Cake) that really knocks Simon and I out. These Stuffed Vegetables are one of those items. A few months ago I bought a cheap recipe book called 500 Main Courses, edited by Jenni Fleetwood. Wow! I usually struggle for inspiration with vegetables and end up just stir-frying them but this book has tons of vegetable dishes that could work as vegetarian main courses but that I use as accompaniments for our meat / fish. I defy anyone to make these peppers and not love them since they retain their moisture (Simon can't stand dry food), are full of colour and full of flavour. Plus they're very easy to make and I am sure will be weight watcher's friendly!

2 large ripe tomatoes
2 large bell peppers (yellow / orange - more vitamins and more anti-inflammatory than green and red ones)
60ml (4 tbsp) olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed (obviously I miss this out since I can't eat garlic)
50g (1/2 cup) blanced almonds, chopped (I used cashews since I found I have an intolerance to almonds)
75g (just under 1/2 cup) cooked long grain rice (I actually use brown rice)
15g mint and 15g parsley, roughly chopped (you'll be surprised how much mint this actually is, but once it's chopped then it suddenly looks like a very small amount)
2 tbsp sultanas (or raisins)
25g (2 tbsp)
Salt and pepper
2/3 cup boiling water
Chopped parsley to garnish

1. Preheat oven to 190 degrees centigrade (375 fahrenheit, gas mark 5).
2. Cook the rice ready to use later.
3. Cut tomatoes in half, scoop out pulp and seeds with a teaspoon (keep them!) and leave tomatoes to drain on kitchen paper with cut sides down.
4. Roughly chop the tomato seeds and pulp.
5. Half the peppers through the stalk (keep the stalk attached for presentation) and scoop out the seeds to hollow them out completely.
6. Brush the peppers with 1 tbsp of the oil and bake (cut side up) in an ovenproof dish for 15 minutes.
7. While the peppers are chargrilling, fry the onions in the remaining oil for 5 minutes then add the garlic and nuts and fry for another minute.
8. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the rice, chopped tomatoes, mint, parsley and sultanas - season well.
9. Take the peppers out of the oven and add the tomatoes (cut side up) in the dish.
10. Season the peppers and tomatoes with salt and pepper.
11. Spoon the rice mixture into the peppers.
12. Pour 2/3 cup of boiling water around the tomatoes and peppers and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
13. Serve garnished with fresh herbs.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dubai Restaurant Review: Biella, Times Square

Biella, as its name suggests is an Italian chain of casual restaurants - they're owned by Bin Hendi (same as Japengo, Cafe Havana and others). I have eaten at Biella many times and always had the salmon with salad and chips - usually followed by a lemon creme brulee and strawberries. I have always enjoyed my meal (except once when the salad was mouldy and had to be sent back!) Today I thought I'd try something else since all the salmon you get here is farmed and farmed salmon is quite negative on the inflammation index. Big mistake.

I ordered steak and salad and had to control myself not to spit my first mouthful of steak back out on the plate! That is how disgusting it tasted. The meat wasn't off but I think it had probably been frozen, defrosted and then cooked; I always find defrosted beef gets a really strong meaty flavour that turns my stomach. Either that or it was a very old piece of meat that was on the turn. Horrible. When I returned the plate the staff were very polite and apologetic but when the manager came over later he told me that it must have been because the meat had been pan-fried instead of grilled! Simon always pan-fries our steaks and they taste you cook a steak can make it tough but can't give it a taste to make you sick.

Anyway, being extremely hungry I orderd a mozarella salad instead - only remembering afterwards that mozarella is dairy and I'm supposed to be avoiding dairy. The salad was edible but even when I make mozarella salad it is 10 times better presented. I had to lift half the lettuce leaves off the top in order to see if there was any cheese or tomato on the plate. All in all not worth the time, effort or money. I would love to include a photo here but, once again, I forgot my camera.

My brother, Struan, ordered a chicken panini but had to push the bread to the side because there was so much pesto put on it that the bottom piece of bread was soaked through and fell apart and the top part of the bread was extremely doughy and dry. All in all not a good experience at all. Struan has had pizza and pasta there before which he says were both very good. So maybe if you stick to the real basics then you'll have a good meal - if not, you have been warned!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Travel: Yorkshire Dales, England

During our holiday in England in May, not only did we visit the Yorkshire Coast but we also visited the heart of Yorkshire: the Yorkshire Dales. A visit to this beautiful county would not be complete without a drive through the rolling hills and valleys of the Dales and a visit to at least some of the traditional old villages.

We spent a day in Grassington; a tiny village with just 2 roads running up from the cobbled main square to the top of the hill on which the village is built. The stone cottages that make up the village have been there for well over a hundred years and there were flowers spilling out of window boxes and over garden walls everywhere we looked. As with the majority of these villages, most of the cottages are now tea rooms, souvenir shops or pubs / cafes. As the streets are so narrow, the cottages open directly onto the road but I presume they have back gardens. Luckily we were able to find a pub with outside seating for our lunch and we later got an ice-cream and sat on a bench under a tree in the main square. There's not a lot to do in the village except take a leisurely stroll, have lunch and admire the 'old-world' feel of the place. Grassington has an amazing Dickensian Christmas Fair which we hope to visit on our next winter trip to England. Sadly I just realised that I don't have any photos of Grassington to include here!

Nevertheless, on previous visits to Yorkshire we have visited Grassington's neighbouring village of Linton. Linton is quite a bit bigger but the style of buildings is similar (see above photo) and it has just as much character, although the fact that it has a small stream running through it makes it even more picturesque. From any of the villages in the Dales you can go on fantastic walks through the Dales themselves. There are walks to suit all levels of fitness so there's no excuse to avoid it! Walking rather than driving really gives you that connection with nature. Especially coming from Dubai, walking through green fields, being surrounded by huge ancient trees, crossing rushing brooks of ice-cold water, seeing sheep and lambs (depending on the time of year) gamboling along and breathing in pure fresh air...Bliss. Even if it's drizzling, that just adds to the charm.

There are bigger towns and cities to visit in the Dales as well. We spent a day in Leeds, but unless you want to shop (you'll find all the top brands in the city centre) I would advise you not to bother going. There are no major historic buildings of interest, no river to walk along and no real parks. I picked up a tourist information guide and all the places of interest listed required you to drive outside of Leeds. Outside Leeds city centre you'll find Roundhay Park which is a massive park housing the Tropical World butterfly house, cricket pitches, children's play areas and huge open spaces. On the day we visited, there were hundreds of people in the park with disposable BBQs having picnics and enjoying the sun. At certain times of the year you can be swarmed with butterflies inside Tropical World but luckily not in May (since I don't like things flapping around me) - we saw all sorts of tropical animals and plants but not a single butterfly.
We were staying in Bingley and whilst I wouldn't recommend you make a big detour to go there, if you're nearby there are some really interesting things to see. There is a river that passes through Bingley and the old part of town with cobbled streets and a huge old church, is built along the river. Bingely is also home to the Five Rise Locks which are one of the largest series of locks in the UK. As the area is so hilly, in order for boats to be able to get up the hills it was necessary to build what is quite simply an elevator. Click here for an explanation of how locks work. At the top of the locks is a canal with permanent houseboats moored up - it is a nice walk but isn't particularly scenic.

If you have a week to spare then 3 days or so in the Dales and 3 days or so on the Coast could be just what you need to feel completely refreshed and rejuvenated!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tissue Salts

When I saw Belinda Rennie yesterday she did a tissue salts test on me. Tissue salts are a homeopathic nutritional supplement developed by Dr. Wilhelm Schuesser in 1880 (so they've been around for a long time). There are 12 different salts based on the 12 most common mineral tissue salts found in the body and the rationale is that if you are deficient in any of these minerals then the result will be some form of illness or condition.

The test was very simple and how it works can't be explained. She used a 'wand' which had a wooden handle and a metal wand with a wooden circle attached at the end. I had to hold the bottle of tissue salts (so we did it 12 times since there are 12 bottles) and she then pointed the wand at my hand. The wand would either start to jump up and down (indicating I don't need that salt) or would wave from side to side (indicating I do need the salt). Similar to crystal therapy where the body's energy field supposedly tells the crystal yes or no to the question you're posing. I was rather dubious but the movement of the wand was not coming from Belinda and the results were not exactly what Belinda had expected - so she wasn't controlling it.

The test showed I need just 3 of the salts and when she looked each one up afterwards, all 3 of the ones my body had 'selected' related to inflammation, connective tissue problems, joint inflammation or stomach issues. So very much relevant to IBS and Ankylosing Spondylitis - weird! The salts can even be given to children so they are very safe and I thought it couldn't do any harm to try them. So I have to take 2 tablets of each 3 times a day (so that is 18 tablets a day!) for the next month. You don't swallow them though, you put them on your tongue and they dissolve. Whilst they don't really taste bad, they are kind of chalky and not all that pleasant. Oh well, no pain no gain...

Bio-Magnetic Feedback

I had my bio-magnetic feedback session last week and have to admit that I'm undecided about it. The ankle and wrist straps are light rubber with electric wires connected to them and once they were on I couldn't even feel them. The head strap is also of light rubber but because it's velcro'd round your head, the pressure of the back of your head pressing into the strap became a bit uncomfortable after a while. Apart from the strap, I didn't feel anything - no tingling and no electric shocks! I lay there for nearly an hour and since the bed is not set up like in a spa (support pillow under your knees, low pillow under your head) I began to ache a bit since lying on my back is the most uncomfortable position for me unfortunately.

I didn't expect an epiphany but I though the results might be interesting. Sadly, the results didn't seem to show anything. She said she'd found no 'blockages' which means that my energy meridiens were all open and free-flowing and that the machine itself hadn't identified any food issues - not quite sure how it would do that anyway. The only two real things were that I use my head too much and worry about things and that I don't chew my food properly so it's hard for my system to digest it. So the advice was to chew properly before swallowing and to try and do a daily meditation to relax and release any anxiety.

Now that I'm more aware of my chewing, I realise that I do tend to have a few munches and then swallow it down half whole. Explains how it is I can eat so fast! So I'm trying hard to consciously make myself chew chew chew. The worrying is also true and I do try to rationalise everything and organise things to keep it all well-ordered (this whole search for answers to my IBS / AS is a prime example I suppose). Anyway, my Mum bought me a fantastic book on yoga about 10 years ago which has breathing and meditation exercises so I've dug that out. In my final year at university I was doing these exercises every day and I slept fantastically (no vivid dreams at all) and was really calm and never got bothered about things. I don't know why I stopped but hopefully it will get me back to that zen-state again!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Food Intolerance Results!

I collected my food intolerance blood test results the other day and it was very interesting. For the past 3 years I haven't eaten wheat or cereal products because my research had told me that these starchy foods could cause my IBS and then Ankylosing Spondylitis to flare up. My blood test results showed no intolerance to wheat / gluten / other cereals at all but rather a strong intolerance to yeast. So does this mean the IBS issues I would get from bread were from the yeast then? But what about breakfast cereals (which do NOT agree with me), do they have yeast in them? Lots of questions for my nutritionist when I see her tomorrow.

My highest intolerance came up as milk products (including butter and yoghurt). I'm not a big milk fan, but if I can't have yoghurt then how will I get my calcium? I am a big chocolate fan though - does this mean I can't have my beloved Twirl, Crunchie, Guylian Seashells....? Boo hoo!
Other lesser intolerances were okra (ladies' fingers), almonds, lobster, sunflower seeds, eggs and chilis (can't say avoiding chilis will be hard to do). So not too long of a list but yeast and dairy are two pretty huge areas since so many foods include one or both of these ingredients. Let's see what steer Belinda can give me in the morning.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Melanie's Flourless Chocolate Cake

Simon's cousin Melanie asked me to give her a recipe she can make and I thought a chocolate cake would be just the thing. The beauty of this one is that it doesn't use any flour - it has hazelnut meal instead. I have made this many times but this time I took it out of the oven a little too early so the lovely high cake that came out of the oven collapsed a bit and became what you see below. Still, I covered it with icing to hide the imperfect look and it tasted just as good. Warning: this cake is very rich and won't do your waistline any good but it is AMAZING.

35g cocoa powder
80ml hot water
150g dark eating chocolate
150g butter
295g brown sugar
100g hazelnut meal
4 eggs - separated

You don't need to buy hazelnut meal, just simply put 100g of whole hazelnuts in the food processor and whizz them up to make the meal (flour). Easy.

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade
2. Grease a deep 20 cm cake pan and line it with baking paper
3. Blend cocoa and hot water in a large bowl until smooth
4. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a pan (no need to do it in a bowl over water, the butter will enable the chocolate to melt without any problem)
5. Add the melted chocolate and butter to the cocoa and mix together
6. Stir in the hazelnut meal and egg yolks
7. Beat the egg whites in a bowl until soft peaks form
8. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture in two batches - this will help the cake to rise so it's important to keep the air in the egg whites, if you stir them in then the air will disappear
9.Pour the mixture into the pan and cook uncovered for 1 hour
10. Stand the cake in the pan for 15 mins after you take it out of the oven and then turn it onto a wire rack

I always serve this cake with ice-cream to reduce the richness of it. Here's what the cake should look like so try it out and let me know if you succeed better than me! For more great chocolate recipes, look for The Australian Women's Weekly book simply called 'Chocolate'.

Finz, Ibn Battuta Mall

In a nutshell: some different menu items but a more limited menu than its neighbours

On future visits to Ibn Battuta Mall I wouldn't choose Finz over Zyng or Japengo (the restaurants right next door to Finz). The food we had was very good - bar one item - and the service was friendly but there weren't that many items that jumped out at me from the menu and its competitors win hands down in terms of choice.

Unfortunately I forgot to take my camera so can't include a photo of the very funky Espetada I had. This is a Portuguese dish and your choice of beef / chicken / prawn is cooked on a metal skewer (like a kebab) and is then hung vertically off a specially made holder. The top of the skewer has a small metal bowl attached into which you pour your sauce which then drips down the meat/prawns. Fantastic presentation and fantastic taste. It's usually served with a sort of pilaf rice but I asked for salad. Well, I actually for salad in addition to the rice but our waiter got mixed up. It didn't matter though because I couldn't even finish the 5 jumbo prawns and gave one to Simon. I would definitely recommend this dish for the wow factor of the presentation as well as the flavour.

The one hiccup we had was that my friend Louissa asked if they had wholemeal bread, which they said they did. When her sandwich arrived it was clearly made with white ciabatta bread which the waiter assured us was 'homemade'!!! The manager came over and told us the flour was 'herbal flour' so was enriched with herbs and the supplier had advised them that this was actually better than wholemeal flour. Now, either the manager was trying to pull the wool over our eyes or he'd been successfully conned by the supplier.

Price-wise it is pretty much the same as the other restaurants in Ibn Battuta with mains ranging from 50-80 Dhs. We would go back - not for a 'wholemeal' sandwich though!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

My nutritionist recommended that I buy a book called The Inflammation-Free Diet Plan by Monica Reinagel. Extremely interesting reading! Apparently it is becoming more understood and recognised that inflammation inside the body plays a big role in heart disease, auto-immune conditions, Alzheimer's, diabetes, allergies and many other chronic conditions. People can suffer systemic inflammation (meaning it affects the whole body) without even realising it since this sort of inflammation affects your cells and so isn't seen or even felt in most cases. Reinagel's primary research focus was how to assess the inflammatory effect specific foods have on the body and her book explains this in a very clear and easy to follow manner.

Our bodies produce pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory chemicals (prostaglandins) in response to our immune system's signals, it does this by using the fatty acids in our food to make the prostaglandins. Omega-6 fatty acids convert into inflammatory prostaglandins and Omega-3 fatty acids convert into anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. It is vital to maintain a balance so that you don't produce too many inflammatory prostaglandins as this will result in systemic inflammation and an overload on the immune system. It is thought that in the Stone Age man ate roughly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 foods, in modern times the average person eats about 20 times more omega-6 foods than omega-3 foods! Why? We eat a lot more bread-products and highly processed foods - as I've complained before most snack foods are wheat-based. Plus livestock (cows, hens, sheep) and farmed fish are also fed a diet of mainly grain rather than traditional grass / plants (or algae and tiny fish for fish) which means their meat is also higher in omega-6 than it was historically.

Reinagel has developed an Inflammation Rating (IF Rating) using the research of the US Department of Agriculture and the research of the Glycemic Index Research Institure, Australia. By combining over twenty different factors for each food type, she has been able to create this rating system that is as simple as possible for a lay person to both understand and follow. Foods with a positive rating are anti-inflammatory and foods with a negative rating are pro-inflammatory. The inflammation-free diet is not a strict diet with a whole list of 'banned foods' - it is a question of balancing what food items you eat across the day to make sure you remain on the positive (anti-inflammatory) side of the scale. That's not to say that eating unhealthily and 'negatively' all day can be offset by eating one very highly positive food - it is a complete system to ensure healthy, balanced eating habits are developed and maintained. The average person should aim for a daily 'score' of +50 but for anyone who already has an inflammatory condition (such as my ankylosing spodylitis) then the aim should be at least +200.

Some of the key findings she made that she was surprised at since they didn't follow the standard thinking of nutritionists were:
1. Beans and legumes are slightly inflammatory - this doesn't mean they should be avoided, they just need eaten with anti-inflammatory foods to offset them.
2. Lean cuts of beef and pork are anti-inflammatory whereas chicken and turkey are actually inflammatory.
3. Meat from younger animals (lamb, veal) is more inflammatory than meat from mature livestock since as animals age their tissue composition changes and they build up a better balance of omega-3 and 6 fats.
4. Low-fat dairy products are less inflammatory than full-fat but even the full-fat products are not severly inflammatory and so can be balanced out with other foods.
5. Cold water fish (sardines, salmon, tuna, herring etc) are the best anti-inflammatory food source. However, farmed salmon is one of the most inflammatory foods so it's recommended to by only wild salmon (tinned is just as good as fresh).
6. Garlic, ginger, turmeric, chili peppers and curry powder are very anti-inflammatory; just a teaspoon of turmeric provides a huge anti-inflammatory benefit.
7. All grains (including wholegrain bread and brown rice) are inflammatory but again the key is not avoidance, it is balance.
8. Most oils and butter are inflammatory but olive oil and canola oil are anti-inflammatory.
9. Sugary, fatty and junk foods are inflammatory - no surprises there!
10. Most fruits are inflammatory - but again, moderation and balance are the buzz words.

The book itself is only 60 pages of actual explanation and the rest is then made up of lists of all the various foods with their IF rating (plus fat and carbohydrate content for those needing to lose weight). The foods are listed alphabetically and then by food group (all meats together, all fish, all vegetables etc). I would say that I am an extremely healthy eater but when I wrote down everything I ate on Friday and added up my 'score' I got a final total of -600!! Super-inflammatory. Using excel, I plugged in my intended foods for Saturday, Sunday and Monday and was then able to use the food group section to find alternatives to any highly inflammatory items. As an example, a baked potato is -258 whereas a baked sweet potato is +210 so that is an easy switch that immediately helps to raise the daily total.

I would by lying if I said that it's easy to start on this plan - it took me nearly 2 hours to work out those 3 days of meals. However, I know it will get easier because I don't eat thousands of different foods so I'll be able to simply copy and paste each food with its IF Rating and that shouldn't then take too much time. In terms of planning meals, I'll continue as before and will then plug all the foods into the excel spreadsheet and if it shows a negative balance then I'll look at the highly negative foods to see what positive alternatives there are. Simple! It's going to take at least a couple of weeks to have a noticeable effect but fingers-crossed...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

French Food - Success!

After my unfortunate Italian experience, I'm pleased to report that my French cuisine is a huge improvement! How could it possibly let me down considering it is my favourite country and food?!

We started the week with a smoked mackerel salad accompanied by boiled potatoes. I didn't find it in any of my French recipe books but I've had this dish many times sitting outside at a cafe in France and for a light meal, it is one of my favourites. The main difference between my version and the one you'll find in France is that the real French one would have been made with smoked herring - those were not be found in my supermarket unfortunately but the mackerel worked just as well. My French dressing isn't half as good as the one my Granny makes, or the ones you will find in France but it was not bad and overall a really good meal.

The next night we had chicken chasseur with courgette and tomato bake. I have a feeling my French cookbook is for dieters because there was no requirement to put cream in the sauce, so I didn't but in the past I would always have added cream and I found the sauce a bit thin without it. Despite that though, the flavour was mouth-wateringly good (if I do say so myself!) and the courgette and tomato bake (interlaced slices of the two vegetables drizzled with olive oil and topped off with grated cheese) was so simple but so tasty.

Finally, we had veal with tarragon sauce. My brother, Struan, was not impressed that we had veal but I wasn't thinking of the ethics / politics of it when I bought it - next time I'll just use minute steaks (plus I can't actually tell a difference in the flavour anyway). Again, the lack of cream lead to a rather thin sauce but I didn't want to repeat my mistake of 'improving' recipes again. With this dish I just made roast veg, not really French but delicious roast beetroots, local sweet turnips and juicy carrots apply to all European cuisines I would say.

A big thumbs up for all the French meals from Simon, so those will stay in my repertoire for the future. I was going to continue with French food for the coming week but I bought a book (on my nutritionist's recommendation) yesterday that has got me planning in a totally difference direction. More on that next time...

Prego's, Media Rotana

In a nutshell: very good food but restaurant lacks atmosphere.

Prego's is the Media Rotana's only real restaurant; the others are a pub, a buffet restaurant and a lobby lounge. It is a large open room with high ceilings which prevents it from having any sort of cosy, intimate feel. Nearly all the tables are set up for 4 people so Simon and I had to sit at a large table which did not feel in the least romantic considering we were on a 'date night' (luckily nothing like the Date Night movie). We had booked a table for 2, so it wasn't as though we just turned up and they didn't have time to prepare an appropriate table.

As the name suggests, Prego's is an Italian restaurant and since my own Italian cooking had not turned out too well (see earlier blog entry) we decided to erase the memories with a good Italian meal! The menu is mainly pizza, pasta and risotto but there was a page of fish / poultry / meat and there was 2 pages of 'charcuterie'. We were brought an entire loaf of bread! Just for the 2 of us! A nice idea since it was fresh out of the oven, but very wasteful and how would you manage a 3 course meal if you had eaten half a loaf of bread before you had even started? The kitchen opens out into the restaurant and on the bar area there was a huge dish with a massive Parmesan cheese inside which they scoop out to serve with the bread - another original touch.
The meal was very nice: my mushroom soup was light and flavourful and my sea bass was tender with just enough vegetables to accompany every mouthful. However, the 'roast potatoes' appeared to be deep fried rather than roasted and I the saffron sauce was too strong and overpowered the other flavours. Simon's carpaccio of beef was tender and his hammour, served with mixed salad leaves and boiled potatoes was light but substantial enough that he didn't have room for dessert afterwards.

Although the food was very good, it didn't blow us away like Dante's at The Grand Millennium (see first blog entry) and the lack of atmosphere didn't help. Without a Rotana Rewards card, the prices are very much the same as any other hotel (around Dhs 50-80 for starters and Dhs 80-130 for mains) but thanks to our magic card our evening cost just Dhs 100 each. Plus Rotana are doing a summer promotion that rewards you with a voucher for 50% of the value of your meal to use in the future (in our case, Dhs 100). So although Prego's doesn't rate as my top Italian restaurant, I can't complain about the value for money we got!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Travel: Yorkshire Coast, England

Since Simon and I like to travel as much as possible, I thought, "Why not include our trips with recommendations on what to do and what not to do on Bon Appetit?" It's not food-related, but the food article on our trip to England was quite a long one, without writing about what we did and saw as well! So here's the first Travel article, comments would be much appreciated!

The beautiful English east coast in Yorkshire

England is often overlooked by holiday-makers because of the uncertainty about the weather. Such a shame because there really are gorgeous places to visit. Emirates flies directly from Dubai to Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow. There's no price difference if you fly into one city and out of another which gives fantastic flexibility. We flew into Manchester to visit my family living there. My family live south of Manchester, near the airport in the Stockport / Wilmslow-area. In all my years of visiting them I have still never actually been into the City of Manchester! Manchester is an easy airport to get through as it's not very big and it links to the train station so you can get quickly to wherever you need to be. As an entry port to the UK, I would recommend it. As a city to visit, unfortunately I can't comment.

View of the area near Leeds-Bradford Airport (at Christmas - not in May!)

From Manchester, we drove to Yorkshire to see Simon's parents and family. You drive over the Pennines which are a mountain range that lie down the middle of Northern England in an almost vertical line up the country from Derbyshire to the Scottish Border. By mountains, I am not talking the Alps - the highest point of the Pennines is only 893m (2,930 ft) - but it is a beautiful drive past fields, sheep, huge farmhouses and reservoirs. You can do serious walking along The Pennine Way - 270 miles (434 kms) - but although we considered it (!) we chose to take the easy route and drive across. The drive is just over 2 hours, so not far at all.

The bleak Yorkshire Moors

We met up with Simon's sister, Louise at Leeds-Bradford Airport (where we returned our hire car) and she then drove us over to the the Yorkshire Coast where their Dad had rented a house in Sleights for a week. The drive from the airport to Sleights took about 2 hours and we saw more pretty country-side and passed over the bleak moor top before dropping back down to green pastures and yellow fields of rapeseed. The cottage was rented through a website called Owners Direct and it was perfect for a family holiday. With 6 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a large living room, kitchen and dining room it gave us all the flexibility of feeling like we were in our own house and enough space for us not to feel crowded. Over the course of the week John (Simon's Dad) and Sue (Simon's step-mother) were there, all the family came to visit for a few nights at a time. Great idea!

Stunning Robin Hood's Bay

We had been told by my aunt that Robin Hood's Bay was a must-see, so our first afternoon we headed straight there. As the name suggests, it is a bay although I don't know where the Robin Hood comes from. A picture-perfect fishing village, it also used to be a smugglers' haven in days gone by. The car park is at the top of the cliffs next to The Victoria Hotel and the flat part of the village. From the top you get magnificent views of the old fishing village built all the way down the hillside to the beach, the rocky headlands jutting out on either side of the bay into the North Sea, wild grasses growing down to the edge of the beach, old fishing boats, pebble and sand beaches and coves...Gorgeous. Walking through the old village down the hill you find almost all the shops are tea rooms, bed-and-breakfasts or souvenir shops. At the bottom of the hill we found an ice-cream van parked right on the beach selling the famous English 99s (soft Mr. Whippy ice-cream in a cone with a chocolate flake stuck in) and we had our first of what became a daily 99!!

The hill up from the beach at Robin Hood's Bay to The Victoria Hotel

In the rain I can't imagine that Robin Hood's Bay would have the magical feeling that it did in the blazing sun - and even in the sun there was quite a wind along the beach once you weren't protected by the houses any more. We returned to the top up the scenic path which was a small dirt track through the grass, passing some upturned fishing boats but no buildings and no other people. We didn't walk along the beach and could have spent a good few more hours there exploring the various walks around the time.

Whitby with the Abbey on the headland

Our way home from Robin Hood's Bay took us through Whitby where we stopped at the famous whalebone monument which is made of a whale's actual jawbone - enormous! Whitby used to be the centre of England's whaling industry and is also where Captain James Cook (who 'discovered' Australia) is from. We spent the whole of our second day in Whitby and could have easily spent a few more days exploring all the little alleys and shops and walking along the seafront. As I mentioned in my food article, Whitby has the widest, longest, most perfect looking beach I have ever seen. The main town lies around the harbour but houses and hotels then stretch from the harbour mouth all along the seafront to the village at the opposite end of the beach at Sands End. There is a very small area of flat land around the harbour so the houses climb the hillsides with graceful terraced gardens stepped down the hill.

Whitby's amazing beach

The north side of the village houses a large visitor centre, the arcades (slot machines, those impossible games where you try to pick up a stuffed toy with a claw etc), a pier to walk out to the harbour entrance (bring a warm hat to protect your head and ears from the wind blowing off the sea), the whalebone monument and the amazing beach. The south side of the harbour houses the old part of the village with narrow cobbled streets, souvenir shops and up high on the clifftop lies the famous 13th century ruins of Whitby Abbey. If you want to visit the Abbey, or the functioning Church, you have two choices: walk up a steep (but not too high) series of steps to the top of the cliff or drive round and up to the top to the car park. Not being entirely lazy, we walked up and drank in the spectacular views of Whitby, the harbour, the sea and the fields in the distance.

The steam train and Yorkshire countryside

Prior to visiting Whitby that morning, we drove across to Grosmont as it is renowned as a picturesque village. As we entered it, we saw the famous Yorkshire steam train was on the station platform ready to leave so we forgot about the idea of visiting Grosmont and jumped on board the train instead! The train interior is made of wood and stepping inside you feel like you've been transported back in time. Ignoring the signs telling you not to put your head out of the window and not thinking about the fact that the steam to drive the train is produced by burning coal, I stuck my head out of the window to take photos and promptly received a small spark of coal dust in my eye. Saved from blindness (!) by Louise and not wanting to miss my photo opportunity, I put my head straight back out and lasted quite a while before the next piece of coal dust attacked me! The price you pay to feel the wind in your hair! On arriving into Goathland, John was there to meet us. An English TV series, Heartbeat, was filmed in Goathland and there were various memorabilia pieces from the series placed around the village. Apart from a small strip of souvenir shops and a lovely tea room where we sat in the garden and basked in the sun, there wasn't much to see there though - unless you're a Heartbeat fan.

A fishing boat stranded at low tide
Our last day on the Yorkshire Coast, we drove down to Scarborough. This was the biggest town we saw but it still maintains that old-world charm. Scarborough is split into two separate bays by a large headland with the ruins of Scarborough Castle on top. North Bay is the less touristy side and South Bay houses the harbour and all the arcades that Scarborough is famous for. In North Bay we visited the 100-year old Peasholm Park which was designed to resemble an oriental garden and therefore has pagodas, Japanese bridges and weeping willows as well as ducks and geese in abundance. Very peaceful in May although in the summer there are apparently concerts played in the bandstand in the middle of the lake. Both bays have fabulous wide beaches, although the North beach is longer than the South one. The East Coast has huge tides and, as we also saw in Whitby, at low tide all the boats are literally grounded on the muddy bottom of the harbour - an amazing thing to see.
The Yorkshire Coast is a DEFINITE in terms of places to visit. Our three days there were so relaxing that we felt like we'd had a full week's holiday! Basing yourself near Whitby means that nowhere is too much of a drive to get to - it's also not far from the City of York which is an amazing medieval city and well worth a day trip. Renting a cottage is also a very economical way to do a family holiday and staying just outside of Whitby (rather than in the town itself) will give you considerable savings. We will certainly be going back there in the future.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Food Allergies - The Key to IBS and Ankylosing Spondylitis?

I had a very interesting session with a nutritionist yesterday (Belinda Rennie at Cooper Health Clinic). I went to see her to discuss my diet as I have a couple of conditions that I believe food allergies can make worse. After managing my diet myself for three years and excluding foods that my web research told me could be 'trigger foods', I decided it was time to get some expert advice since how foods interact with each other and within the body is pretty complicated stuff once you look into it in detail!

I suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Ankylosing Spondylitis. What are these? IBS is a malfunction of, strangely enough, the bowel and gives you stomach pain, bloating and other unmentionables! Ankylosing Spondylitis is an auto-immune condition (similar to rheumatoid arthiritis) which means that the immune system goes into over-drive and attacks your joints and the ligaments between them causing inflammation and pain. Without treatment, the body's natural healing method is for the ligaments to slowly calcify into bone resulting in fusion of the joints together into one solid piece of bone.

The interesting thing my research had told me was that a lot of people with Ankylosing Spondylitis also have IBS. Coincidence? I don't think so. The thinking is that if you eat foods that don't agree with your system then this triggers the immune system, resulting in an IBS attack which can lead to the immune system getting a bit too excited and then attacking your joints. I had learned that a low starch diet could really help and as a result I stopped eating all cereal products (breakfast cereal, bread, corn, biscuits, cakes etc) and had a HUGE improvement. However, bread is a great food for making you feel full and almost all snacks you can buy are wheat based. So not an easy 'diet' to follow and hence my decision to see Belinda to understand whether it really is all cereal products I should avoid or whether there might be other options for me.

Two very interesting things came out almost immediately: 1. I suddenly became intolerant to garlic a few years ago - it makes me nauseous - and she said this could be a sign of a liver blockage (nothing serious, but could just need a detox or acupuncture therapy) and 2. buckwheat is not actually wheat, it is a seed and it can be cooked and eaten like couscous or in the form of Japanese soba noodles! She then went on to explain that it is widely believed in the nutritional community that food intolerances lead to inflammation within your body which in turn can lead to a huge number of chronic conditions (such as my two or others like psoriaris, type II diabetes, chronic headaches and more). This is because if you are constantly feeding your body a food that it can't tolerate then your immune system is constantly fighting that food and an overactive immune system leads to these problems. What can be done to identify these intolerances?

Firstly you can have a blood test done which then assesses your blood's response to almost 300 different foods; if your blood produces antibodies (immune system kicking in) to the food then it means you're intolerant. They grade the antibody response 0-4 with 0 = eat it without problem, 1 and 2 = eliminate for 2 months then reintroduce and see reaction, 3 = eliminate for 6 months then reintroduce and see reaction and 4 = eliminate for 12 months then reintroduce and see reaction. It's quite expensive to do it but I think will be well worth it if it means I'll know for sure how to arrange what I do and don't eat. They can also test for allergies but you would know if you have an allergy (although you might not know exactly what to) because you would swell up - luckily I don't have that problem.

Secondly, she offers Quantum Biofeedback therapy which involves a device being attached to you (head harness, wrist and ankle straps - sounds rather like an electric chair!) and a low electric pulse being sent through you to carry out an 'energy scan'. A good explanation she gave me was that all molecules are constantly moving so if a baby screams at the same resonance as a glass' molecules are vibrating then the glass will shatter. Other examples are an ECG that looks at your heart's electrical pulses and an EEG that looks at the brain's electrical wiring. So it is scientifically proven that the body has electric 'pathways' (in Chinese medicine these are energy meridiens). Quantum Biofeedback allows her to see if there are any areas of the body where the current slows down and this shows a blockage in the 'path'. The device itself can help to unblock your system, or acupuncture can do the same.

The blood test only identifies the foods that your body doesn't like, the biofeedback helps to identify areas of your body that aren't functioning properly (i.e. your liver) which could mean that you are perhaps not able to digest / metabolise the food you are eating properly. By combining both methods, you should get a much more accurate picture of what's going on. I'm starting with the biofeedback next week and will also have the blood test soon (the results take a week to come back). I'll keep you updated and if it works for me, you could try it too. I'll be the guinea-pig!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Italian Cuisine – Mamma Mia!

I decided it would be interesting for the blog and for Simon’s and my dinners to focus on a particular country’s food each fortnight. Simon’s favourite food is Italian so we thought that would be a good place to start. I sourced all my recipes online at BBC Good Food since I don’t have an Italian cookbook and I looked through a recipe book at the shop to see if it had anything more interesting – it didn’t. So was Italian cuisine the start of a great love affair?

A few things to bear in mind here are that:
1. I can’t eat wheat so pasta, pizza, gnocchi and apparently most typical Italian food is out for me. 2. I’ve been on holiday to Italy twice and both times have been entirely disappointed with Italian food. In Tuscany back in 2001, most places I went served pre-prepared and microwaved dishes. In the ‘proper’ restaurants I went to I didn’t realise everything had to be ordered separately so ended up one night with a plate of chicken and nothing else! Last year in Venice (for our honeymoon) we can safely say we had no outstanding meals at all – we got the impression that since everything has to be floated into Venice that it’s all frozen and then defrosted for cooking. In fact, our best meal in Venice was in a little Chinese restaurant we found in a back street!
3. When I eat in an Italian restaurant here I generally have fish with vegetables – yes it’s an Italian restaurant, but does that make it an Italian dish?

Our first meal was Italian Chicken with Ham, Basil and Beans. The recipe called for chicken thighs wrapped in prosciutto with 2 tubs of halved cherry tomatoes scattered around them in the roasting tin and a large glass of white wine poured over it all. It then had to cook for 40 minutes, add the beans and cook for another 30 minutes. Now, cherry tomatoes are quite juicy and when they get hot what happens to the juice? Yes, it all oozes out so after an hour in the oven I had a mush of tomatoes surrounding the chicken wrapped with extremely dried out prosciutto. Maybe if there hadn’t been so much wine in the dish then it wouldn’t have had such a tomato puree consistency. Simon thought it tasted alright – I forced myself to eat it.

Since I’d exactly followed the recipe the night before and come to no good, the next night I thought the Italian Beef Stew seemed very bland so I ‘improved’ it by adding some red wine to the mix. I don’t believe it was the red wine that ruined the dish, I think it would have been just as bland, thin and un-hearty without that bit of help. Beef, onion, a can of chopped tomatoes and a yellow pepper just don’t make the sort of stew that I am used to.

The third night of Italian cuisine was an improvement on the first two nights: Smoked Salmon and Lemon Risotto. I’ve never cooked risotto rice (when I make ‘risotto’ I just use normal brown rice and cook it with veg and wine) and could not believe that 1.5 litres of water was absorbed into just 350g of rice. The mascarpone, smoked salmon and lemon were stirred in and hey presto. I can’t eat high-starch foods (hence no wheat) but what I didn’t realise is that risotto rice is extremely starchy. I knew I was eating rice, but it tasted like pasta! As I used to find with pasta dishes (in the days when I ate them), after a few mouthfuls I wouldn’t be able to face eating any more but would still be hungry – too rich and creamy. Same with risotto. It did taste very nice, but only in small amounts and my stomach did not react well to it later!!

Finally, with my parents coming over for dinner, I chose to make Roasted Fish – Italian Style. Italian style seems to mean simply lots of tomatoes, olives and basil. With my last roasted tomatoes fiasco in mind, this dish only needed to be in the oven for 15 minutes so I thought it should come out fine. Simon and I don’t like olives but since Mum and Dad do and the recipe called for them to be included I scattered them over the dish. Sadly, the smell and taste of whatever brine the olives had been in inside the jar permeated through the fish and everyone thought the fish was off (which it wasn’t since there was no smell when I opened them and nobody was ill afterwards). Another really successful Italian meal!

One very nice Italian dish I made was the Mozarella Peppers (bell peppers stuffed with tomato, basil and mozzarella). Really juicy and delicious – a great take on the traditional caprese salad. So at least one thing I cooked last week turned out well. I was meant to cook Italian for two weeks but I’ve knocked that firmly on the head and moved on to my favourite food for this week…French. Will let you know how that goes.

The Perfect Poached Egg (or not!)

I’ve just finished reading Julie Powell’s book Julie & Julia which is about her foray into the culinary world through her decision to cook every single recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. It was very good but not a gripping page-turner; the film of the book (with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams) is similar – a light comedy. There is a whole chapter about Julie’s struggles to make a poached egg and it gave me an idea. I’ve always been able to make poached eggs…just not very perfect looking ones. So I decided to try out all the various ways I know of and see which one gave the best end result!

First up was the standard ‘get the water bubbling and crack an egg in over the water’ style. Into the same pan I added a second egg which was cracked into a ramekin and then gently tipped into the bubbling water. Did it make a difference? YES! The egg that was cracked straight into the pan spread out everywhere and looked anything but picture perfect. The egg from the ramekin stayed together a lot better and came out looking like a real poached egg. See for yourselves:

My Mum had breakfast at the Burj Al Arab once (something everyone has to do at some point with special visitors) and the chef there told her they wrap the eggs in cling film before poaching them. Interesting idea. Technically, if the egg doesn’t come into contact with the water then it isn’t poached – it’s coddled. Technicalities aside though, I gave it a try. It did work to keep the egg nicely together (how could it spread out when it’s confined?) but the lines of the plastic were left on the egg which did look a little strange. Maybe I should have folded the plastic around the egg instead of twisting it up like an Easter egg. Regardless, I’m not convinced about putting plastic into boiling water, isn’t plastic toxic once it gets hot? Hmm.

Finally, I tried cooking the egg in a ramekin dish in the water. Definitely coddled, not poached. Definitely not a good idea since the egg came out as hard as a boiled egg. The first day I tried it the egg cooked away for 30 minutes before I realised I should put a lid on the pan so that the top of the egg would get the heat! Runny yolk? No chance. The next day I immediately put the lid on but the top it still didn’t seem to cook – it stayed clear and wet – and when I finally decided that it must be ready it was once again solid as a rock. Not a success.

I could have tried with a poached egg pan (basically the ramekin concept but the dishes are built in to the pan) or with a silicon egg poacher (same again, just a small dish that hooks over the pan edge. However, I don’t have either of those and since neither of them would be genuine poached eggs I figured it wouldn’t ruin my experiment. It is possible that one of these methods would give the best looking egg though.

The conclusion: crack the egg into a ramekin, get a shallow pan of water boiling and then turn it down so it’s simmering and finally tip the egg into the water. Fail-safe plan? Sadly not. I tried the ramekin-dropped egg again a few days later and it didn’t turn out quite so well as the first time – certainly not as bad as cracking it straight in from the shell but not as tidy as the photo. In the end though (except for the hard boiled one) they all taste the same and that runny yolk, soft egg white and fresh toast taste just can’t be beaten.

Give it a try and post up your results!