Workshops at Noni’s Place!

After numerous requests from readers & instagram followers I am so excited to share that I will be starting mini workshops at Noni’s Place. The focus of the workshops will be to cover various areas of cooking and entertaining. These workshops will be for all levels but mostly targeted toward the home cook who needs a little help and inspiration in the kitchen. I am neither a professional chef nor a graduate of culinary school; instead I have years of cooking experience in my family home to my current home. Along with cooking I have developed a strong love and knack for the entire entertaining process including setting up tables, floral arrangements and other DIY aspects that add to the ambience of a gathering. Having worked for many years in public relations for luxury brands I handled many niche intimate events that further developed my experience and love for elegant place settings and tablescapes. I love stylish entertaining and most people often feel the whole process is too daunting. I will be showing you easy ways to entertain beautifully with everyday items just by getting a little crafty and creative. I am so excited to share my ideas with others who are ready to boost their cooking and entertaining skills!

What happens in the workshops?

Each workshop will have a theme that integrates cooking and an aspect of entertaining. Themes are customizable based on individual needs and requests. Each workshop will last from 1 1/2 to 3 ½ hours depending on the theme of the menu and set up. Most workshops will include three dishes (appetizer, main course & dessert), but can vary according to the theme. For example, if it’s a cocktail party we will focus more on appetizers and beverages rather than a three-course meal. Participants will go home with copies of what was covered for future reference. I would like to keep each workshop with a maximum of two to three participants in order to keep an intimate and casual vibe. I have a humble sized apartment and we will work on my kitchen counter. This isn’t your “culinary school” set up where everyone has their own stove; it’s more of a collaborative effort together as a group. It’s a completely open forum and relaxed environment.

If you are interested in signing up or finding out more information on themes, how it works, or just to say hello, please email me at: noreen.wasti@gmail.com

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Setting Your Holiday Table

Oh holiday season, why do you make me so emotional? I think the amount of times I’ve said “I’m feeling festive” in the past couple of weeks is borderline scary. I’ve pretty much deemed myself as half snowman till New Year’s rolls around. We put up our Christmas tree this week and now you can find me starting at it most of the day while listening to Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong Christmas duets. I somehow like to imagine it’s snowing outside and the ring at the doorbell are carolers (it’s actually my dry cleaning being dropped off).  A Charlie Brown Christmas and vintage Rudolph is what I’ll be watching.

I styled and wrote a piece for the December issue of Good Taste magazine on how to set your holiday table. The premise of the piece is to keep entertaining as simple and attainable for everyone as possible while incorporating DIY. I always say this and I will say it again, there are so many items laying around the house that can be put to good use with a little creativity. From mason jars to twine to herbs, it’s all useable! I used walnuts and cinnamon stick bundles to create a rustic feel. I also incorporated clementines as a centerpiece rather than focusing on an pricey floral arrangement. To elevate my napkins I used rosemary twigs tied up with twine to create a holiday feel. I also love mixing and matching plates, it really adds a lovely whimsicalness.

To get more tips for your holiday table click here to read the entire piece (I will upload a better quality version soon) or stop by your nearest Choitrams to pick up the issue.

These are a few of my favorite photos from the shoot:

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Local

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I remember back in 2010 I had heard that Baker & Spice was doing a farmers market on their terrace in Souq al Bahar. The farm town girl in me shrieked with excitement as the idea of a farmers market in Dubai seemed like such a farfetched thought. I remember passing by and seeing a small variety of breads, fresh produce and even a goat! Today things have changed and I find myself digging for produce on Fridays at the Farmers Market on the Terrace at Emirates Towers. Not only is it the most convenient 5 minute walk from my place, it holds itself on a completely differentiating level, because it is actually local. 

Recently I have noticed food has suddenly become the trendy and fashionable thing to do. Everyone is posting about their local farmer, local cheese monger and local butcher, it’s all quite cool isn’t it. That shouldn’t take away from the essence of what concepts like eating locally and supporting local farmers is about. Growing what we eat is truly a labor of love and the job of a farmer is unlike any other. It requires patience, resilience and passion. UAE farmers work maybe double or triple harder to create crops in stubborn terrain and harsh weather, so we must support for ours and their betterment.

It’s very very easy to not shop local in Dubai. The idea of seasonality is lost here because everything is somehow miraculously available year long. But that’s due to heavy import of produce only to deplete nutritional content and increase our carbon footprint.

The Farmers’ Market on the Terrace is the only authentic and true farmers market in Dubai. You are buying directly from the farmer here, there is no middle man. Produce is fresh, seasonal and hasn’t traveled 5,000 miles to get to your kitchen. We should eat what’s local, sustainable and seasonal, because besides being completely good for you, the economy and the environment, it is just the cool thing to do :)

The Farmers’ Market on the Terrace, every Friday 9am-1pm.

https://www.facebook.com/TheFarmersMarketOnTheTerrace

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Whole Sea Bream with Violet Potato Puree & Roasted Heirloom Carrots

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I actually have never cooked a whole fish before. Something about the whole process always seems daunting and asking my fish monger to fillet the fish is usually my go-to choice. Sometimes that gets boring. I find myself making the same dishes week in and week out just because I know it will taste good and it’s well…easy. With the encouragement of my husband to try something new, we went to one of my favorite boutique gourmet grocers here in Dubai: Market & Platters. They have a wonderful array of fine cheeses, beautiful seasonal produce and the freshest fish (including wonderful oysters & sushi) in town. Seeing all that beautiful fish through the glass counter finally inspired me to get into the kitchen and make something new. After we downed about four oysters each at the counter, we decided on a lovely whole sea bream originating from Greece. I always judge good seafood and fish on brininess; when the scent reminds me of putting my head under water in the refreshing salty sea, I know it’s fresh. The wonderful fish monger did the cleaning and butterflying which helped make the whole process much easier.

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I love the idea of stuffing a fish with herbs, lemon and spices to infuse the flavors. The look is just so rustic and Mediterranean. I used fennel, dill, garlic & lemon slices alongside glugs of olive oil. Maldon sea salt and freshly cracked pepper were the perfect seasonings. So simple, so good. The dill infused wonderfully while the fennel is always an excellent accompaniment with fish.

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I paired the fish with violet potato pureed with creme fraiche and goat cheese, indulgent and so creamy. I also roasted the most stunning heirloom carrots ever with garlic and thyme. I love interesting produce and these colors added such earthiness to my table.

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The fish was done in less than twenty minutes and the texture was flakey and reminiscent of the sea. Now that my fear has been conquered I see myself making this again and again, especially for a gathering.

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What’s the next fear I want to conquer in the kitchen? Duck confit. Gimme a few more weeks :)

Recipe

Fish (serves 2 generously):

1 whole fish of your choice cleaned & butterflied (sea bass or sea bream work great, our fish weighed 850 grams)

2 tsp Maldon sea salt

1 tsp cracked black pepper

1 fennel bulb sliced thinly

1 lemon sliced

3 cloves of garlic sliced

handful of dill

olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400F/205C. Place the fish on a parchment lined baking tray. Season generously inside & outside (both sides) with salt and pepper. Stuff the inside of the fish with the dill, fennel, garlic, and lemon till completely full. Drizzle the inside & outside generously with olive oil.

Cook in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Roasted Carrots (serves 2):

6 carrots of your choice

3 cloves of garlic (unpeeled)

6 cloves of thyme

salt & pepper to season

1 tbs red wine vinegar

olive oil to drizzle

In a preheated oven (400F/205C)  roast the carrots for about 35-40 minutes until they are soft and caramelized.

Violet Potato Puree (serves 2 generously):

7 violet potatoes peeled & cut into small cubes

3 tbs butter

3 tbs soft goat cheese

1/2 cup creme fraiche

1 garlic clove

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

chives

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add the potatoes. Cook until fork soft for about 7-10 minutes. Drain and transfer to a food processor and add the garlic, butter, goat cheese, & creme fraiche. Process until just smooth (don’t over mix). Season with salt & pepper to your liking. Garnish with snipped chives.

Walnut & Chocolate Pie

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When I was younger we used to have a forested path that went through the woods between our house and our neighbors house. Our neighbor had a daughter around my sisters age and I would always tag along with them to play in the woods. We used to climb trees and get lost in our backyards which stretched for acres and acres of forest land. We used to pretend we were characters in Anne of Green Gables or play “medicine man,” which involved picking wild berries & leaves and crushing them with rocks. I can’t imagine kids these days with their iPads and video games doing the same, but it made for an extremely memorable childhood. After long afternoons spent in the woods we used to head over to her house to have a snack. The best snack was a very special pie her mother used to bake. She used to call it “the willy wonka pie.” At such a young age, I hardly knew what was in it, but I knew I liked it. Whenever we used to go there I could smell that pie in the air and we would be ecstatic to have a slice. It was always so delicious and a food memory I will never forget.

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Almost 20 years later I still think about that pie. On a whim I googled “willy wonka pie” just to see if it actually existed. The only results were of blueberry pie recipes, I guess related to when Violet turns into a blueberry in the film. Maybe calling it “willy wonka pie” was her way of building our excitement. Recently that pie has been on my mind more than ever, and my foodie self decided to sit down and understand what exactly was in there. Frantically messaging my sister on whatsapp we pieced together our memories:

“…definitely some chocolate”

“…sweet & salty feel”

“…caramel gooey interior”

“…had to have nuts, either pecans or walnuts”

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So I googled and googled and googled, putting together the best parts of  different recipes for chocolate pies & tarts that I saw into my own concoction of a recipe. I made a cookie crust from the crumbs of some leftover vegan chocolate chip cookies made with coconut oil along with graham crackers & salted butter (not so vegan anymore). I knew the interior had to be soft so I used butter, corn syrup, a bit of flour, vanilla extract and brown sugar. And the nuts, I cracked about thirty walnuts to use in the filling.

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As soon as that pie hit the oven, I knew I had nailed it. The smell was oh so familiar and comforting. Letting the pie cool for three hours was an impatient process as I just wanted to dig in. Eventually I did and it was delicious, the type of wholesome dessert I could eat forever. Gooey, nutty, buttery, chocolatey, but not too chocolatey, melt in your mouth goodness reminiscent of my childhood.

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Recipe

Pie crust of your choice (I am partial to cookie crumb crusts when there is chocolate or citrus flavors involved, for a simple cookie crust recipe refer here or here)

1/2 cup melted butter

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 cup light corn syrup

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

pinch of salt

1/2 cup all purpose flour

3/4 cup chocolate (roughly chopped, I used a mix of bittersweet & milk)

1 1/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Pre-bake your pie crust according to the recipe till golden brown.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Using a hand or stand mixer, beat together the butter, eggs, vanilla, corn syrup, sugars & salt till combined (about two minutes). With the mixer on low gradually add the flour, chocolate & walnuts and mix till just combined. Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust and bake for 45-55 minutes till set. Let cool for three hours before slicing. Enjoy with confectioners sugar & whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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