Eating out is such a big part of life in the UAE, but with the introduction of VAT some of us are looking to save some money, not to mention reviewing our eating and drinking habits.
It’s therefore worth considering swapping one of your daily foodie indulgences for a homemade alternative – you’ll soon see a real difference in your hip pocket.
Swap: takeaway pizza for homemade
If you find yourself hitting the pizza delivery button more than once a week, it’s time to try your hand at making your own – doing so will not only save you dirhams, but it will benefit your health too.
Stefano D’Orazi Flavoni, manager and co-owner of Rossovivo, a group of pizzerias known for their delicious Neapolitan-style style offerings, is a man who takes the subject of pizza-making seriously.
“It’s a lot like sushi: only a few building blocks, but a huge diversity of results based purely on the quality of the elements and the techniques of the chef,” he says.
So first up, forget about producing an authentic-looking and tasting pizza at home and think of your creations as different, rather than inferior. That doesn't mean scrimping on the integral ingredients though; for best results Flavoni recommends seeking out San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and 00 flour – all Italian, of course. Pizza bases are cheap to make – flour is the main ingredient after all – but you'll need a good recipe. Jamie Oliver's basic dough is a reliable option and Jim Lahey's no-knead pizza crust has hordes of converts (both are available online).
To get ahead, make a double or triple batch and freeze the rolled-out bases individually, so you can pull a base from the freezer in the morning and have dinner ready in less than half an hour the same evening.
Toppings are when homemade pizza comes into its own, particularly from a health perspective: be sparing with the cheese, go all out, or skip it altogether. This is a great opportunity to load up on leafy greens and veggies, too. Don’t just slap them on though (too many toppings equals a soggy base) and give some consideration to the flavour pairings: try feta topped with asparagus, lemon and pomegranate; spicy kale dotted with ricotta or spinach, chilli and paneer.
The trick to achieving a pizza base that’s crispy, chewy, golden and flavourful is a super-hot oven, so crank yours up to maximum for as long as time allows on a weeknight, before adding the pizza.
Preheating a baking tray on the bottom shelf and then sliding the loaded pizza onto it also helps. Rotate the pizza halfway through the cooking time and move it from the baking tray to the oven shelf for the last couple of minutes.
Swap: a so-so latte for a hand-grinded well made cup
Coffee making is an art and sipping from a cup prepared by a barista who knows their craft is a real joy. The latte, cappuccino or flat white that so many of us absentmindedly pay upwards of Dhs20 for at a coffee shop chain on a daily basis doesn’t really fall into the category though.
Purchase some high-quality coffee beans and a French press (cafetière) and you really can make a brew that tastes better yourself.
“To prepare good coffee at home there are two things you need: fresh coffee beans and a hand grinder,” says Kim Thompson, who along with Matt Toogood is the managing director and owner of Raw Coffee Company, a business dedicated to sourcing and supplying ethically produced premium coffee beans roasted on-site in Dubai.
Thompson suggests starting out with a single origin coffee, purchasing a small, easy-to-clean hand grinder such as the Porlex Mini, and then using a French press to make the coffee.
For those who like their coffee to-go, the Belr Portable Self-lock French Press is an inexpensive bit of kit that might just change lives (or coffee purchasing habits at least); it acts as a travel flask and portable French press in one, keeping the coffee hot for hours, as well as filtering it and separating the coffee grinds to prevent over-extraction.
Toogood meanwhile says that precision is the key to making great coffee. “The trick is to measure everything – it really is worth using your scales at home. As a basic rule of thumb use 55-60 grams of freshly ground coffee per litre of water.”
Swap: a steak dinner out for a steak dinner in
Going out for dinner is one of the great pleasures in life and by no means are we suggesting you stop, but if steak is one of your go-to menu choices, bear in mind that this is a dish you can cook well at home too.
Although many people approach searing steak with a certain amount of trepidation, this is a meal that should really be celebrated for its simplicity – in addition to the meat, all you really need is a salad or pile of green vegetables and some fresh crusty bread.
If you want great results, great meat is imperative, so buy a piece with good provenance and be prepared to pay more than you might expect (but far less than you would in a restaurant). You will also need to settle upon your favourite cut, be it butter-soft fillet or full-flavoured sirloin. Alan Todd, the chef de cuisine at popular steakhouse Hunters Room and Grill in Dubai, advises selecting steak with a bright red colour and plenty of marbling without too much connective tissue.
When it comes to cooking your steak, Todd says that removing the meat from the fridge to allow it to come to room temperature is essential for even-cooking; as a rule of thumb, a 250g sirloin will take about 30 minutes to do so.
He advises seasoning the meat with fine salt only (pepper will burn in the pan) and using inexpensive neutral cooking oil with a high smoke point, such as vegetable or sunflower. The pan needs to be searing hot: don’t even consider adding your steak until you can feel a strong heat rising.
Cook the meat for a minute, then turn and rotate and continue to do so until it’s seared on all sides, adding a little butter and a garlic clove near the end. Cook until done to your liking, then remove from the pan, cover loosely with foil and leave to rest for 3-5 minutes, before seasoning with a little more salt and some black pepper.
Swap: store-bought cereal bars and bites for home-made ones
The oat bars you reach for at the petrol station, the energy bites picked up on leaving the gym, the granola and yoghurt parfait grabbed on the run from a coffee shop: while these snacks are convenient, when you consider how much they cost and how little you actually get in return, it’s enough to make you reconsider doing so, particularly when making your own is so easy.
Start with a homemade granola base. All too often granola is over-priced, overly sugary and has an ingredients list that’s longer than ideal. Prepare it yourself though (bulk-buy the oats, seeds and dried fruit to save money) and you can control exactly what you’re eating and adapt the recipe to suit your dietary needs or preferences – gluten-free, nut-free, low sugar, without those pesky raisins, it’s up to you.
Whether you follow our recipe or tweak it, work on a rough ratio of five parts oats to three parts nuts and seeds to one part wet ingredients. Once baked, the granola can then be eaten as is or turned into bars and bites.
Swap: expensive soft drinks for home-made flavoured water
We all know that sodas, sugary juices and energy drinks don’t do us any good, a fact reinforced by the recent move by many leading supermarkets in the United Kingdom to ban the sale of high-caffeine energy drinks to children under 16. Upmarket cordials, artisan-infused water and high-end tonics often contain high amounts of sugar too, as well as being expensive.
Simply chugging plain water feels rather boring though and certainly makes drinking the recommend daily amount more of a chore than a pleasure. Flavour your own water though and things become more interesting: as well as the standard lemon and lime slices, add cucumber ribbons, mint and even fresh sage. Alternatively muddle berries – raspberries and blackberries work particularly well – in the bottom of your glass or jug and then top up with water.
If you want to go all out in the pretty stakes (and add flavour at the same time), put chopped citrus fruit, tiny basil leaves and pomegranates in ice cube trays, fill with water and freeze.
Here you could also swap the water for diluted, unsweetened fruit juice for a touch of natural sweetness without the full-on sugar hit.
Coffee at home
Makes: 1 cup
20g freshly roasted and ground coffee (grind-size medium coarse); 300ml hot water at approximately 92°C
Put the coffee in the base of the French press or flask. Pour over 50ml of water and allow the coffee grounds to bloom for 30 seconds.
Add the remaining 250ml water in a steady stream, then leave to steep for four minutes and 20 seconds. Put the filter on and using a steady pressure, push down until it locks off.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 60 minutes
For the granola base
500g rolled oats
150g whole almonds
75g sunflower seeds
75g pumpkin seeds
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp runny honey
50ml coconut oil
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 egg whites, whisked until frothy
For the granola bites
1 banana, peeled and mashed
flaxseeds, coconut flakes or cacao powder, for rolling (optional)
For the granola bars
2 tbsp runny honey
70g butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line one large or three regular baking trays with baking paper.
Put the oats, almonds, seeds and cinnamon in a large bowl.
Warm the honey, coconut oil and olive oil in a small saucepan set over a low heat, then mix with the oats and stir together. Add the whisked egg whites and a splash of cold water. Mix really well to combine.
Tip the mixture on to the prepared tray or trays and spread out evenly. Cook for 20 minutes, then remove one third of the granola mixture and transfer to a bowl. Return the remaining granola to the oven and cook for 20 minutes more until crisp and golden brown.
Leave the granola that you removed from the oven first to cool slightly, then add the mashed banana and mix well. Use your hands to form the mixture into small walnut-sized balls and roll in the flaxseeds, coconut flakes or cacao powder, if using. Keep in the fridge and eat within 2-3 days.
Once the remaining granola has cooled, stir in the cranberries and divide in half. Keep the granola base in an airtight container. Add the melted butter and honey to the remaining mix, stir well and tip into a small baking tin. Smooth the surface and return to the oven for 10 minutes more. Leave to cool then slice into bars.
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