Party On – How to Be a “Grate” Host

You’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties, especially my own. I have inherited my mother’s love of cooking for a crowd.

I have also inherited her love of reality TV, but that’s another story.

But everyone can hone their skills especially in this ‘Post Post Emily Post Era’, and the great people at King Island Dairy have produced a free guide for the perfect dinner party and cheese plate.

The Perfect Dinner Party is free to download and a wealth of foodie information.

http://www.perfectdinnerparty.com.au

There is some great a advice in here – like balance your ambitions with your abilities. I for one have been waaay too ambitious in the kitchen and had to dial a delivery for reinforcements. (Thank you Tandoor on Airport Road)

Part of that working within your limits is for me, my inability to cook dessert. I don’t have a sweet tooth and am terrible at making cakes. My solution is always cheese.

My favorite part of the guide is how to construct a perfect cheese plate – with advice on storage and pairings.

You KNOW I couldn't let this opportunity pass without a Lector pun!

You KNOW I couldn’t let this opportunity pass without a Lector pun!

Hello, is it Brie You’re Looking For…in Doha

When I tell people about this blog, I usually get asked two questions.

Why cheese? That answer is simple – why not? Usually delivered with an exaggerated eyeroll.

The second is: where can I get good cheese?

In Doha we are spoiled for choice. Recently I did a roundup in my monthly column for BBC Good Food Middle East.

Now you have it – a handy cut out and keep guide. Now I can be close to your heart…or wallet…always.

May BBC Good Food ME

May BBC Good Food ME

Got Greek?

I realized a couple of things this week. One is how much I LOVE Greek food and miss it done well here in Doha. And the other is that at age 42 I seem to have forgotten to get married.

One of those outstanding issues was resolved this week. No, there wasn’t a quickie wedding. Rather, the Sharq Village and Spa is hosting Greek Week.

Being Australian kind of makes me half Greek anyway. Melbourne is said to have the largest Greek-speaking population outside of Europe, after Athens and Thessaloniki, Melbourne’s Greek sister city. Even in Sydney’s west where I was brought up, you grow up fluent in Greek swear words and the language of their food.

And I do love the Greeks – their sense of humor and commitment to anarchism especially.

Greek food can sometimes be done very badly. We have all had an over salty taramasalata, tough souvlaki and dodgy Greek salad. Luckily for Sharq Village and thanks to visiting Chef Doxis from Athens, this is far from the truth.

Chef Doxis

Chef Doxis

Chef Doxis actually owns a Spanish restaurant in Athens called Cinco which may seen odd but as he explained, “If I was in Melbourne yes I would open a Greek restaurant, but in Athens, everyone has a Greek restaurant”. He also consults to a number of hotels around the world and has been to Doha several times in recent years.

The food itself at Sharq Village is a blend of the familiar and the new. Which reminded me that I really don’t get to this hotel enough.

You had feta believe it

You had feta believe it

Think deconstructed Greek salads, grilled lamb and of course seafood. I was beyond happy to see skordalia – the potato and garlic dip from Greece which i have never really found here in Doha.

Sweet as

Sweet as

But there are some twists. Omega Beetroot soup, Cretan Salad made of tomato, cucumber, olives, green peppers, whole wheat rusk and extra virgin olive oil.

Omega salad

Omega salad

The moussaka was a recipe from Naousa, in the northeastern corner of the island of Paros, was made of layers of eggplant, zucchini, potato, minced beef and cheesy cream had a smokiness I have really missed. It’s creamier than most other versions of this classic, but that should play well here in Doha.

You had me at halloumi

You had me at halloumi

Another dish which tasted far better than it looked was Hilopites pasta – a Greek version of seafood pasta with prawns, noodles and topped with feta cheese then baked. Worth breaking my rule of not mixing seafood and cheese. a bit of research informed me that hipolites are small, square egg noodles popular in some Greek dishes including soups. Don’t say I’m not educational.

Seafood pasta Greek style

Seafood pasta Greek style

Of course there is naked lamb served with a gravy as well as chicken seafood and other dishes.

olives

My aversion to sweets is always tested when the blaklava and loukomades are brought out. The baklava was as it should be – layers of flaky pastry and nuts smothered with honey. The other, well, they are fried donuts dusted in sugar. Enough said.

Layer upon layer

Layer upon layer

As is the norm in Doha, these are all served buffet style which means you can get a taste of everything and in my case, a bit too much of everything.

So I solved one of my dilemmas this week – the absence of good Greek food. The husband is a work in progress*

*sorry Mum

The lowdown: Fresh and interesting Greek cuisine that is class above what we have come to expect in Doha. Old Greek favorites sit side by side with some more adventurous offerings.

Where: Al Liwan, Sharq Village and Spa, Ras Abu Aboud Street, Doha.

When: From 25 May to 31. For more information or restaurant reservations call +974 4425 6666.

Note: Life on the Wedge was a guest of Sharq Village and Spa

Getting in the Mood For Dude Food

So it seems, Dude Food is a thing globally. And this phenomenon has arrived in Doha at an unlikely venue.

Opal by Gordon Ramsay at St Regis Doha has embraced this food fad and introduced Chilli Dog Tuesdays.

Apparently Dude Food is comfort food for those with a bigger appetite. It is not for the faint-hearted. Think burgers, burritos, big meaty things and hot dogs. The trend originated in the United States, with the street food movement of food trucks. It evolved from there, think junk food classics with a gourmet twist.

This is what we have at Opal.

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Opal is the more casual brother, sorry “bro”, to the sedate fining dining Gordon Ramsay next door offering pizzas, pastas and now chilli dogs.

Dogs all lined up

Dogs all lined up

The Opal version is a classic smoked beef sausage topped with slow cooked homemade beef chili and smothered with cheese and caramelized onions. As you know i am quite partial to the odd fast food indulgence and I know my way around a weiner or two.

Cough.

Ours had just the right amount of heat to make it interesting and of course, I requested more cheese on mine. The sausage was great quality and actually pretty lean and the bread itself the perfect wrapper for this melange of spice, fat and flavor.

Hiding the sausage

Hiding the sausage

I broke the habit of a lifetime and I enjoyed mine with an English Spitfire Ale. I’m not a beer fan, the result of too many cheap schooners when I was at University. But this beer which was surprisingly tasty and offset the spicy chilli.

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If this is Dude Food, then clearly I have been eating like a man for years.

The Details: Chilli Dog Tuesday is weekly at Opal by Gordon Ramsay at The St. Regis Doha is open from 6pm – 11pm. QR 100 includes unlimited chilli dogs, a side of fries, a selected beverage and ice-cream to cool down afterwards. To make a reservation please call +974.4446.0116 or e-mail opal.doha@stregis.com

A Touch of (Cooking) Class

I consider myself a decent home cook. By this I mean I can joint a chicken, cook pasta to al dente and I also do a line in a good jus.

But I can’t temper chocolate and frankly I wouldn’t even make the audition phase on Masterchef without threatening to cut someone.

But like most home cooks, I like to expand my repertoire even if it is just in theory.

I couldn't think of a way to incorporate a Swedish Chef joke here but I will gratuitously use this image

I couldn’t think of a way to incorporate a Swedish Chef joke here but I will gratuitously use this image

What seems like a lifetime ago when I was a pre-teen, I was sent on some holiday cooking classes run by the local natural gas company (it makes sense if you are Australian). We learned how to make tuna casserole with a packet of chips and a tin of cream of chicken soup. True story.

My tastes and abilities have become more sophisticated since then and I have been able to take cooking classes and “masterclasses” in places as diverse as the Maldives and Florence. Yes I am a tosser.

But for those in Doha looking for something closer to home, several places are running summertime cooking classes with, dare I say it, a touch of class.

Speaking of tossing, you can learn the art of Italian pizza making at Opal by Gordon Ramsay at the St Regis Doha. Learn how to cook the best pizza in town following Chef Elias (who has just returned from a tour of Italy) advice and cook your own every Tuesday from 11am.

The Four Seasons Doha is running a series of fabulously glamorous classes called “Taste and Learn”.

The next one is on Thursday, May 29th at 7:00 p.m., which includes a live cooking lesson with a four-course set menu at Il Teatro restaurant. Every guest will be able to watch the live preparation and will then taste what they have seen created. Guests will also receive a recipe brochure outlining each dish.

For more information go to Taste and Learn

FSDOHA

The Ritz Carlton Doha also dabbles in the art of teaching cooking to the masses. ‘Corso di Cucina’ teaches the art of preparing a festive Italian dinner hosted by Italian Chef Daniele Vacca. Starting at 10 am followed by a coffee break at 10:30 am and lunch serving time is 12 noon.

Check out the Ritz’s calendar of events for more information.

OK so cocktails may not technically be cooking but put enough fruit and other fixings on a toothpick and you can call it what you want. The Grand Hyatt Doha has cocktail classes every Tuesday hosted by their Aussie mixologist Anita. Guests can enjoy the cocktails and a selection of finger food for QAR200.

So now you have no excuse!

Paneer to My Heart

Paneer and dear. Pakoras featuring deep fried paneer

There was a seminal moment on my recent girl’s weekend to Amritsar, India. When, at a famous local restaurant, the Brothers Dhaba, we ordered two more parathas. This is a flaky Indian flatbread, buttery and oily in that perfect way, served hot from the oven and irresistible.

The waiter, stared at the already heaving table before our party of four, and said “but you heave two more dishes coming”.

Shoveling food into our mouths, we barely breathed, in unison we said “We don’t care!”. He backed away from the table like a man who had seen something very, very alarming.

We were just told there would be paneer where we were going

We were just told there would be paneer where we were going

There is something about India. I do love visiting – the sites, sounds and smells. But my main problem is that I can’t stop eating there. Literally I am hungry. All. The. Time. My friends experienced this phenomenon as well.

The only explanation is the smells – spices – they excite and delight the senses. And the food, is just so damn delicious.

Amritsar is an unlikely destination for four women for a weekend, but it was the perfect antidote to our daily grind. Close (three hours on Qatar Airways, manageable and filled with significance.

And then…there is the food.

Paneer and dear. Pakoras featuring deep fried paneer

Paneer and dear. Pakoras featuring deep fried paneer

We arrived on the day the Indian Election results were announced, to find the city a little on edge. So we opted to dine in on the first night, and the Hyatt Amritsar didn’t disappoint. The entire weekend was a parade of local and Indian specialties.

Butter Chicken...enough said

Butter Chicken…enough said

Samosa. Snack of the gods

Samosa. Snack of the gods

No food request was too difficult and we were happy for the delicious attention.

Hyatt-style welcome

Hyatt-style welcome

Breakfast South India style - dosa is a thin pancake stuffed with potato and served with coconut, coriander or tomato chutne

Breakfast South India style – dosa is a thin pancake stuffed with potato and served with coconut, coriander or tomato chutne

Our adventures took us far and wide across the city but like many locals and visitors, we were drawn to the Brothers Dhaba – one of the city’s most famous restaurants.

Punjabi cuisine is a world unto itself and Amritsar is considered one of the best places to try it. Their cooking is done with garam masala, green and black cardamom, bay leaf, black peppercorns, cinnamon, curry leaves, cloves, nutmeg. They use plenty of green and red chilli, in raw form, powder and paste, to bring a bite to their food. And they are fond of ginger and garlic as well.

The "world famous" Brothers Dhaba

The “world famous” Brothers Dhaba

Paneer Marsala from Brothers Dhaba

Paneer Marsala from Brothers Dhaba

Amritsari food uses mutton, chicken and healthy quantities of paneer. Mentioned in the Vedas, dating as far back as 6000 BC of India Subcontinent, Paneer is a fresh cheese frequently used in South Asian Cuisine similar to queso blanco. We tried it in many forms – fried, stuffed in bread, in a masala curry.

This was stuffed with paneer. Need I say more?

This was stuffed with paneer. Need I say more?

There is a post in process about the sights and sounds of Amritsar and it’s surrounds. But I wanted to pay my own homage to the food of this remarkable city. Now bring me those parathas before things get nasty.

Gone in a flash

Gone in a flash

The Grate Escape – Eating Pecorino in Italy

You may have heard, I recently went to Italy. To say this was a spiritual experience (bit like my visit to The ABBA Museum would be very accurate.

I spent most of my time in Florence like ralph

Florence is well known for many things. some bloke called David, the setting of a million films and novels and of course, its’ food.

I was there for the cheese – specifically Pecorino.

show us your pecs

show us your pecs

Pecorino is the name of a family of hard Italian cheeses made from ewe’s milk. The word derives from Italian pecora meaning ‘sheep’, which in turn is from the Latin pecus meaning livestock.

Like Parmesan we have all probably had some bad Pecorino – shredded, refrigerated and generally mistreated. Trying it “fresh” in Italy was a revelation.

Pecorino comes in a variety of styles depending on how long they have been aged. The more matured cheeses, referred to as stagionato (“seasoned” or “aged” ), are harder but still crumbly in texture and have decidedly buttery and nutty flavors.

The other two types semi-stagionato and fresco have a softer texture and milder cream and milk tastes.

Pecorino tasting in Florence

Pecorino tasting in Florence

A good Pecorino Stagionato is often the finish of a meal in Italy, served with pears and walnuts or drizzled with strong honey. I tried mine was a jam, which was sweet and played against the salty savory elements of the cheese. Honey is also a favorite, sometimes tinged with truffles from the local region.

Pecorino is also often used to finish pasta dishes as it is cheaper than Parmesan. This inspired me on my return home to try it with some unbleached pasta I bought in Florence.

Pasta with breadcrumbs and pecorino

Pasta with breadcrumbs and pecorino

If I squinted, drank several glasses of wine and completely lost my mind, I could have been back in Florence.

Damned if Fondue – Swiss Food Festival Returns to Doha

Nothing melts my heart (OK that was a cheap pun – even cheaper than the headline for this post) more than a proper Swiss fondue.

The Grand Hyatt Doha is bringing back its’ popular Swiss Gastronomic Festival for another year.

Melting Moments

Melting Moments

Running from 8 -16 May from 6:30pm until midnight. Enjoy live folk Swiss music and most importantly fondue, raclette and rösti prepared by Chef Heinz Ruifbach.

Call 77982400 for bookings and more information.

Melted cheese, potatoes, alcohol and sticks to stab things with. What’s not to love?

swiss

A Room With a View – Four Days in Florence

When I stepped off the plane in Florence last month, it dawned on me that it had almost been 20 years to the day since I was last in this city.

Why I left it so long, I have no idea. But 20 years later I was back – older, a bit wealthier, better dressed but in no way wiser.

My room with a view

My room with a view

I had originally planned to visit Rome. But then saw that thanks to Qatar Airways joining One World, I could now book a flight straight through to Florence with a short stop in Rome.

I’m relieved to say the city hasn’t changed. It just has more Chinese tourists. I have have more expensive taste in shoes.

While I was pleased to see the 2 star place I stayed in back in 1993 was still operating, my home for this visit was the exquisite St Regis Florence. From the moment I stepped out of the taxi to the time I left four days later, I have never been so well looked after in a hotel.

On the banks of the Arno with a glimpse of the Ponte Vecchio and just that little bit away from the tourist hordes to make it glam, this hotel was everything it promised to be. There was more than one occasion I didn’t want to leave. The beauty of the St Regis brand is that guests get their own butler. Mine did everything from bring me coffee and a paper in the morning to finding cheese shops for me to indulge my obsession.

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For those travel tragics who say that Paris is the most romantic city in the world, I beg to differ. Florence just never changes. Of course I did all the touristy things – gawped at David, cruised the Ponte Vecchio, bought shoes from Ferragamo and got lost in the uffizi.

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But let’s be honest. I was there for the food. And my culinary tour de force actually started at Rome Airport. With an hour to kill and the lounge miles from my gate, I found a bar serving Italian wine and of course, cheese.

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It’s hard to look cool and composed while sitting on a tiny stool and juggling your carryon, handbag and a glass of wine. But once the food arrived, it was on.

Culinary highlights from the trip are many and varied. I ate everywhere and everything. From Michelin Star cuisine to sitting at a bench munching a boiled beef rolls with workers from the central market.

Seafood pasta at St Regis, my first meal in Florence

Seafood pasta at St Regis, my first meal in Florence

Fruit tart and a coffee overlooking the Uffizi. Turns out this is one of the best known cafes in Florence. I chose it because the waiters were older and the clientele Italian.

Fruit tart and a coffee overlooking the Uffizi. Turns out this is one of the best known cafes in Florence. I chose it because the waiters were older and the clientele Italian.

Martini and olives at the st Regis. This would become my nightly ritual

Martini and olives at the st Regis. This would become my nightly ritual

Boiled beef roll from Nerbone at Mercato Centrale. Served by an avuncular man, this was the only option available Soup Nazi style. It's beef boiled, sliced thinly then dunked in a gravy. It's served with a salsa verde and a red spicy sauce. I ate it at a wooden bench elbow to elbow with old Italian ladies, workers from the market and Japanese tourists at 10am. Bliss!

Boiled beef roll from Nerbone at Mercato Centrale. Served by an avuncular man, this was the only option available Soup Nazi style. It’s beef boiled, sliced thinly then dunked in a gravy. It’s served with a salsa verde and a red spicy sauce. I ate it at a wooden bench elbow to elbow with old Italian ladies, workers from the market and Japanese tourists at 10am. Bliss!

Finally the cheese! Pecorino from a cheese tasting at a small enoteca near the market.

Finally the cheese! Pecorino from a cheese tasting at a small enoteca near the market.

A simple ravioli bolognaise from a tiny restaurant near my hotel.

A simple ravioli bolognaise from a tiny restaurant near my hotel.

Pecorino as it should be eaten

Pecorino as it should be eaten

Michelin star dining at Oro D'aria, which means "hour of air". This stunning restaurant is located across from the old women's prison. It's name refers to the hour of daily exercise for the the women. This dish is "The Hen, the egg and the eggs: the Tuscan Grandmother’s rituals".

Michelin star dining at Oro D’aria, which means “hour of air”. This stunning restaurant is located across from the old women’s prison. It’s name refers to the hour of daily exercise for the the women. This dish is “The Hen, the egg and the eggs: the Tuscan Grandmother’s rituals”.

This is slow cooked beef encased in a wafer thin pasta. I dined alone here but felt so welcome.

This is slow cooked beef encased in a wafer thin pasta. I dined alone here but felt so welcome.

Roast Pork belly

Roast Pork belly

What's a trip to Italy without Gelato? Also, it's Ok at 10am right?

What’s a trip to Italy without Gelato? Also, it’s Ok at 10am right?

The central market was a riot of color and smells. I stayed for hours sampling and chatting

The central market was a riot of color and smells. I stayed for hours sampling and chatting

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Champagne ritual at St Regis Florence. Really I need this in my life

Champagne ritual at St Regis Florence. Really I need this in my life

Florence has always had a special place in my heart. When I was 23 it was the city that truly made me appreciate art and living. I was hesitant to visit as I was worried it had changed and couldn’t live up to the postcard perfect memory I had. I need not have worried. It was everything I had remembered. And more.

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*Life on the Wedge stayed at the St Regis Florence courtesy of the hotel.